Vaas's batting heroics, and Aussie dominance

Perhaps numbers never do reveal the full story, but they tell a large part of it. Every Friday, The Numbers Game will take a look at statistics from the present and the past, busting myths and revealing hidden truths:

Talk about the leading allrounders in the game today, and the usual suspects crop up - Shaun Pollock, Andy Flintoff, Jacques Kallis (though he's hardly much of a force as a bowler these days). Not many would mention Chaminda Vaas in the list - he's had his moments with the bat, the reasoning would go, but he hasn't been consistent enough to merit a place among the Pollocks and the Flintoffs.

Perhaps it's time to revisit that theory. Vaas's 49 in the first Test in Colombo against West Indies was only the latest of a number of instances when Vaas has pulled his weight with the bat when his team has needed him to. The most famous instance occurred last year against Australia at Kandy - after bundling out the Australians for a mere 120 in the first innings, the Sri Lankans were themselves staring down the barrel at 67 for 6 when Vaas walked out. When the last wicket finally fell, Sri Lanka's total had lifted to 211, and Vaas was undefeated on 68, easily the highest score of the innings - the second-highest score was 43 by Muttiah Muralitharan, with whom Vaas added 79 for the tenth wicket. (Clearly, Murali brings out the best in Vaas: in the ongoing Test against West Indies, the two put together 66.) Australia recovered and finally went on to win the match, but it wasn't Vaas's fault - in the second innings, he made 45, taking his match contribution to 113 runs and five wickets.

Vaas's career average as a Test batsman is only 21, but since 2003 that figure is a far more respectable 27.30. Vaas has surely lost some pace and zip as a bowler, but he has more than made up for it with a greater focus on his batting. As the table below shows, the numbers compare quite favourably with another player who is supposedly on his last legs as a bowler. Pollock averages a shade under 27 with the bat, though his better bowling stats ensure that his batting minus bowling average - that sacred figure by which allrounders are judged - remains in the positive.

(Stats since 2003; minimum qualification - 50 wickets and 300 runs)
Aussie dominance and England's chances
England might feel they have a realistic chance in this summer's Ashes, but the Australians have built an awesome legacy over the last few years, and it's unlikely they will let go of it in a hurry. The table below shows just complete the Australian domination has been in the last six years - since September 1999, they have a 53-9 win-loss record - that's very nearly six wins per loss. The West Indian side of the 1980s is often taken as a benchmark to measure domination, but even they didn't have it so good, with a marginally lower ratio.

But over the last 18 months, England have shown that they can run with the big boys too: since 2004, they have a win-loss ratio slightly better than Australia's during the corresponding period. Their dominance can also be gleaned by the difference between their batting and bowling averages during this period - it's nearly 15, even higher than the figure for Australia. Little wonder, then, that England are so upbeat about their prospects this time.

(Stats contributed by Muhammad Usman Sharif)
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