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Tendulkar and the run-chase quandary

To bat first or to bat second in ODIs? Teams obviously make up their mind based on the weather and pitch conditions, taking into account their past record at the venue. But perhaps another equally crucial factor is the manner in which their players - both batsmen and bowlers - respond to the different types of pressures that come with setting a target or chasing one. Some batsmen prefer the freedom of not having a target before them, while others relish the challenge of a run-chase. The Indian team is clearly a mixed bag.

When Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed for 2 against Australia in Sydney on Sunday, it continued an especially poor run for him in run-chases. He scored 63 against Sri Lanka a couple of days later, but it still left his second-innings average in ODIs since 2005 at a dismally low 27.87. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, on the other hand, has revelled when batting second: his average of 53.06 is only slightly lesser than Tendulkar's in the first innings. Yuvraj Singh has been just as impressive in run-chases, averaging more than 50 at a strike-rate of greater than 85.

The table below examines the Indian batsmen and their preference for batting first or second. Tendulkar tops the list for batsmen who prefer to set a target: he averages 56.03 at a strike-rate of 82.49 when batting first, giving him a batting index (average multiplied by strike-rate divided by 100) of more than 46. When batting second, his batting index drops drastically to 22.64, a difference of more than 23. Mohammad Kaif, Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid have much better numbers when batting first. Their stats are offset by those of Dhoni, Yuvraj, Robin Uthappa and Suresh Raina, who all have much better stats in run-chases.

The difference between Tendulkar's first- and second-innings numbers is remarkable because of its sheer magnitude. The 28.16 difference in average is more than four times that for the next batsman, New Zealand's Stephen Fleming. In his last 40 innings in run-chases, Tendulkar has only managed eight half-centuries, no hundreds, and 18 single-digit scores, which means a whopping 45% of his second innings have ended before he has reached ten. In contrast, only seven of his 32 first innings during the same period have fetched him less than ten; in his last 13 first innings, only once has he been dismissed for less than 25. There's no question about what Tendulkar's preference will be should Dhoni win the toss in the finals of the CB Series.

At the other end of the spectrum are batsmen who seem to loathe batting first. South Africa's captain Graeme Smith leads this table, with numbers that are almost exactly the opposite of Tendulkar's - Smith averages only 27 in the first innings and nearly 54 when chasing.

Scroll down the list and there are plenty of experienced names here: Bangladesh's former captain and Sri Lanka's current one are both in the mix, while Adam Gilchrist prefers the run-chase too.

How do these batsmen fare when the target gets stiffer? Put in a cut-off of a target of 240 or more and Ricky Ponting comes out right on top, with a stunning average of 65.11. India's captain follows him closely in second place, suggesting that the two captains could have plenty to do during run-chases during the CB Series finals. In fact, the top six in the list are batsmen who are and were involved in this series, and three of the top four are Australians.

Tendulkar's numbers pale in comparison - 679 runs at 29.52 - but he isn't the only batting superstar who hasn't relished the run-chase of late: in 18 innings, Brian Lara only scored 467 runs at a mediocre average of 25.94.