Batsmen who played lone hands, and those who didn't

BSI values of 1.62 and 1.61 respectively for Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul meant that they often had to play a lone hand in their batting careers in Tests AFP

Let me start with a perusal of Test No. 1201 during India's maiden tour of the recently readmitted South Africa. The boy prodigy, still in his teens, was playing in his 18th Test and was yet to cross 1000 runs - something he would do 14 more times in the next 21 years. Against a fierce bowling attack, he had around him the batting sextet of Ravi Shastri, Ajay Jadeja, Sanjay Manjrekar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Pravin Amre and Manoj Prabhakar. Not exactly a group that inspires confidence. Even so, Sachin Tendulkar scored a patient 111.

Let us move forwards 14 years and over 100 Tests for Tendulkar. The batsmen surrounding him in the Wanderers Test (Test No. 1823) in 2006 were Wasim Jaffer, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni. If the first group was tin, this one was almost platinum. There was no weak spot. The difference in the quality of the supporting batsmen in the two Tests is amazing. Tendulkar, with his 24-year career, could go through two complete generations of batsmen and had such diametrically opposite situations in his career.

However, there were batsmen who lacked any quality support right through their careers. Sunil Gavaskar, in his fourth Test, in Port-of-Spain (Test No. 686), had as supporting cast Syed Abid Ali, Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai, a raw Gundappa Viswanath, ML Jaisimha and Eknath Solkar. A couple of passable batsmen but nowhere near the group of the 2000s. This was not the case only with teams like India. Allan Border, right through his career, was in the company of middling batsmen. In Test No. 986, the other six batsmen were Steve Smith, Graeme Wood, Greg Ritchie, Kim Hughes, David Hookes and Wayne Philips.

Let us come to modern times. In Test No. 1857, Ricky Ponting had Phil Jaques, Matthew Hayden, a rampaging Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist to bat with. That is some line-up! In Test No. 1710, look at the array of batsmen supporting Kumar Sangakkara: Marvan Atapattu, Sanath Jayasuriya, Thilan Samaraweera, Mahela Jayawardene, Dilshan Tillakaratne and Chaminda Vaas.

Just to round this off, let me say something about the lack of support for George Headley. When he made 270 against England in Kingston in 1935, his fellow batsmen were Cyril Christiani, Ivan Barrow, Derek Sealy, Learie Constantine, George Mudie and Dickie Fuller. These six batsmen together just managed to cross 1000 runs in their career. And think of the usual support Habibul Bashar played with.

This fairly long preamble is to bring to the notice of the readers the importance of the need to analyse in depth the support received by a batsman during his career. This will let us assign suitable weights to the support measure when we do a selection of batsmen. In fact I used this measure in my selection of the batsmen to form an all-time Indian XI for Sportstar.

For this purpose I will only consider batsmen in the top seven. We are accounting here for support received from proper batsmen, not competent late-order batsmen. Also the consideration comes only when the batsman has batted. That four Bradmans batted when the batsman was sitting in the pavilion does not mean anything to him. The career-to-date home/away average of the other six batsmen are summed, averaged and multiplied by the runs scored by the batsman. This is summed across the career, divided by the career runs and we have the final number called Support Batsmen Average (SBA). I have also developed another dimensionless measure called BSI (Batsman Support Index) which is the batsman's average divided by the SBA. Since both are average runs, the index is perfectly valid.

Let me also confirm that I have treated the first few innings of the batsmen with kid gloves: After all, we have to account for the likes of Atapattu (one run in six innings) and Jacques Kallis (57 in six innings), as much as we do Azharuddin (442 in six innings) and Javed Miandad (504 runs in six innings).

What does this index indicate? Just think of the sentence "The batsmen had an average of 50 while receiving an average support of 30" as against "The batsmen had an average of 50 while receiving an average support of 40." The ratios 1.67 and 1.25 clearly bring out the nuances of this analysis. Of course, the higher the BSI value is, the better the batsman's performance, at least as far as this analysis is concerned.

I take care that any batsman whose average batting position is greater than or equal to 8.0 is excluded since that is clearly a nightwatchman situation. In this situation, only the qualifying batsmen would be included for averaging. This is quite logical.

What sort of numbers are we looking at? Let us hang our hat on some interpretations.

Below 20: Very poor support through the career.
20.0-30.0: Fair support through the career.
30.0-40.0: Good support through the career.
40.0-50.0: Excellent support through the career.
Above 50.0: Almost non-existent. Through the career, average of 50.0. One batsman qualifies.

Let me clearly differentiate this expected support from the actual support the batsman receives during his innings. Take the case of Kapil Dev in Port Elizabeth in 1992. In the second innings his SBA was placed at a good 37.5. That means he could expect reasonable support from the likes of Shastri, WV Raman, Manjrekar, Tendulkar, Azharuddin and Amre. But what really happened was that all these six players chipped in with single-digit scores, totalling 25 runs. Kapil ploughed a lone furrow for a remarkable innings of 129, adding 184 for the last four wickets. So he received negligible actual support. I use that information in my Innings Rating work.

I will provide the tables containing the SBA values for the top run-scoring batsmen, batsmen with top averages, batsmen with top SBA values, batsmen with low SBA values, and finally a look at a few Tests with extraordinary SBA values.

Tendulkar had two parts to his career. During the first seven years or so he received only fair support and had a cumulative SBA value of around 35. Then Ganguly and Dravid came along and slowly Tendulkar's support became much more stable. He finished with an SBA of just below 40. Ponting, on the other hand, always had excellent support, and this is shown by the fairly high SBA value of over 43.

Kallis is somewhat like Tendulkar. Some indifferent support to start with, which stabilised later. He has a fair SBA of over 37. Dravid's SBA is almost identical to Tendulkar's. When Dravid made his debut, Tendulkar was around, with a good average of 52. But Dravid and Ganguly were just starting their careers and there was no Laxman or Sehwag yet. Sangakkara had Jayawardene and Samaraweera, but also had at least one or two average batsmen around.

Brian Lara is the first of the top batsmen to have a really low SBA. He and Shivnarine Chanderpaul have SBA values either side of 32. This clearly indicates that they did not have great support during their careers. Let us not underestimate this number. On an average, for each run he scored, Lara received 25% less support than Ponting did.

Jayawardene is almost at par with Sangakkara. Border's support is below par: just below 35. Steve Waugh and Alastair Cook are well off as far as SBA is concerned. Finally, Gavaskar, who on average received less support than even Lara: his SBA is below 32. Let us give the due credit to this great batsman. For 16 long years, this 5'6" marvel carried the Indian team on his shoulders.

Let us now look at the BSI values. Lara and Chanderpaul top the table with BSI values of around 1.62. A very clear indication of what these two diametrically opposite southpaws brought to the West Indian cricket scene. Gavaskar is quite close behind, at 1.60. Tendulkar is somewhere in the middle, with 1.36. Ponting and Cook have the lowest values, with BSI figures just short of 1.20.

As expected, Bradman's SBA is not great. It would be interesting to see the SBA values for the other batsmen who batted with him. Arthur Morris, for instance, has an SBA of 38. Lindsay Hassett's SBA is 40.3. Stan McCabe has a value of 39.0. These are as expected. But look at Bradman's BSI. It is over 3.0.

Graeme Pollock's SBA is not that high, at 32. However, have a look at Headley. He almost always had novices supporting him. His own average was 60-plus, and the average support he received was below 20. That means a higher BSI than Bradman: 3.05 to be exact. This single figure speaks volumes about Headley's contribution to West Indian cricket a la Lara and Chanderpaul.

Then come a series of similar figures. SBA values of around 36 and BSI values all in excess of 1.50. Jack Hobbs has the highest BSI value of 1.78. His support level drops to just below 32. All those non-Sutcliffe years taking their toll.

As expected the table of batsmen with high career SBA values is dominated by Australians of recent vintage. Hayden, Gilchrist, Damien Martyn, Justin Langer and Simon Katich helped each other get their SBA values above 45. Alviro Peterson is the only non-Australian batsman in this list. As expected the BSI values are quite low, some even below 1.0.

Just to give an idea of the real high SBA values, I have provided figures for four batsmen who have SBA values above 45 but have not scored 2000 Test runs. Symonds is the only batsman in history to have an SBA value above 50. And look at his BSI value of 0.78. Darren Lehmann has somewhat similar figures. Two Indian middle-order batsmen who did not command regular places in the team, Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik, complete the table.

As expected the batsmen from weaker teams lead the table of batsmen who have very low SBA values. Bashar had very little support and this is reflected in the low SBA value and high BSI value, despite the pedestrian average of 30. I have already mentioned Headley. Then come three New Zealanders from the 1950s who did not have great support, Bert Sutcliffe, John Reid and Graham Dowling. Interspersed in between are two South Africans, Dudley Nourse and Herbie Taylor.

Interestingly, Hanif Mohammad and Vijay Hazare complete the table. These two lone warriors provided the backbone of the Pakistan and the Indian teams of the 1950s and 1940s.

It should be remembered that individual match numbers are presented only to get an idea of outliers, and the SBA/BSI measures have value and relevance only at the career levels.

This table lists the outliers as far as Tests are concerned. Do not read too much into it. It has been presented only to complete the analysis. As expected, Andrew Symonds, the seventh batsman in very strong Australian batting line-ups, leads with an incredible SBA value of 64.65. Just think for a minute what this means. The average of the career-to-date home averages of the other six batsmen is above 64 - quite incredible.

It is clear that these high values are caused by an "elephant in the room": In other words, one batsmen with way-out figures.

In Test No. 294 it was Bradman, with a CTH average of 94.51. In Test No. 453, it was Garry Sobers, with a CTH average of over 95 and two 70-plus values of Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott. In the next three home Tests for Pakistan, it was Miandad's magnificent home form which meant he averaged well above 80. In Test No. 1277, it was those two great youngsters, Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, with CTH averages either side of 80. Finally, in the last five Tests featured, it was Michael Hussey, whose home average reached 1435 runs at 84.41.

Do not discount these high numbers. These are actual, valid numbers. There was tremendous value in having Bradman, Miandad, Sobers, Weekes, Hussey et al as support batsmen. It does not matter that Symonds and the like might have been the supporting batsmen for them. Their very presence was enough to provide comfort.

The low SBA values do not mean much. Many a team during the first 50 years of Test cricket had virtual amateurs and novices taking the field. There were SBA values below 15.

The SBA values are only the stepping stones to the more important and relevant BSI values. A value of 1.40 or so indicates that the batsman has averaged 40% over and above the average support received. A BSI of above 1.50 is very good. A BSI value above 2.5 is exceptional: only two batsmen in the history of Test cricket, Bradman and Headley, have reached this mark.

Now let me get back to those supporting set of batsmen at the beginning of the article. I will give the SBA for each of these references below.

Test No. 1200: Tendulkar - Shastri, Jadeja, Sanjay Manjrekar, Azharuddin, Amre and Prabhakar. SBA 31.0.

Test No. 1823: Tendulkar - Jaffer, Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly and Dhoni. SBA 46.0.

Test No. 686: Gavaskar - Abid Ali, Wadekar, Sardesai, Vishwanath, Jaisimha and Solkar. SBA 28.5.

Test No. 986: Border - Steve Smith, Wood, Ritchie, Hughes, Hookes and Philips. SBA 27.9.

Test No. 1857: Ponting - Jacques, Hayden, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Symonds and Gilchrist. SBA 56.5.

Test No. 1710: Sangakkara - Atapattu, Jayasuriya, Samaraweera, Jayawardene, Dilshan and Vaas. SBA 49.2.

Test No. 242: George Headley - Christiani, Barrow, Sealy, Constantine, Mudie and Fuller. SBA 15.3.

Test No.1667: Habibul Bashar - Hannan Sarkar, Javed Omar, Rajin Saleh, Alok Kapali, Mushfiqur Rahman, Khaled Mashud. SBA 18.2.

Finally let me spend a few minutes comparing two measures I have introduced in recent months: WQAI and BSI. The processes for determining these two measures are strikingly similar. Both have as the more important base the tried and tested bowling and batting averages. For bowling, the average quality of batsmen dismissed is determined and the ratio between these two averages is the WQAI. For batting, the average quality of batsmen who provided support is determined and the ratio between these two averages is the BSI.

The WQAI seems to be the more important and effective measure since it deals with what really happened. It answers the questions: Who was dismissed? Which four-wicket haul has provided more for the team? Did this dismissal benefit the team? And so on. The BSI deals with the on-paper support provided. It does not provide an effective answer the question: "What did the batsman do?" However, the BSI has its uses in overall career-ratings processes, and will help us get excellent insights into the background and atmosphere in which batsmen functioned.

Is there a batting equivalent of WQAI? Is there a RQAI? The only possibility is to use the average quality of bowlers who actually bowled to the batsmen. And this can only be done accurately with ball-by-ball data, which is available for about 700 Tests from 2001 onwards. Before that, it is an estimate, at best. It isn't time to bite the bullet yet!