Overseas minnows, and Tendulkar's jinx

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:

Tigers at home, minnows abroad
March 15, 1995 was a historic day for Sri Lankan cricket - at Napier, they recorded their first overseas Test victory. Chaminda Vaas outdid New Zealand's seam bowlers in conditions which should have ideal for the home team. It was expected then that the win would herald a new era for Sri Lankan cricket, one in which they would break away from being a formidable team only at home to one which could take on any opposition anywhere. Ten years on, they are still struggling to live up to those expectations - in 30 matches outside the subcontinent, they've won just four times, but three of those victories came against minnows Zimbabwe. Remove those games, and the numbers look rather dismal - one victory in 25 matches, brought about by the wizardry of Muttiah Muralitharan on a turning track.

The latest setback for Sri Lanka was the thumping defeat at the hands of New Zealand, a team already battered time and again this season by Australia. It's a measure of Sri Lanka's incompetence in overseas conditions that they couldn't even compete against a demoralised New Zealand, losing by an innings.

What makes these results even more galling is the strength - at least on paper - on the Sri Lankan batting line-up. Marvan Atapattu, Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene have been around in international cricket long enough to be called senior pros, while Kumar Sangakkara has shown enough spark to be recognised as a genuine talent. As individual players, their skills are dazzling; as a team, they falter repeatedly.

The table below tells the story - the Sri Lankans only average 27.45 per wicket in matches outside the subcontinent since 1995 (excluding games in Zimbabwe). It's significantly poorer than India, and slightly lower than Pakistan, whose batting has always been recognised as their weaker area. Unlike Pakistan, who can fall back on their bowling firepower, the Sri Lankans seldom have a plan B when their batting fails, and it shows in the results - they have a 12.5% win-loss percent overseas, compared to Pakistan's 53%.

The jinx of the big scores
After making single-digit scores in the first three one-day internationals of the ongoing series, Sachin Tendulkar hit back with a magnificent century at Ahmedabad. Unfortunately, that still didn't ensure an Indian win, thanks to Pakistan's superb run-chase. Tendulkar did little wrong in the match, yet his performance will strengthen the case for an argument most unfair - the argument that Tendulkar's big knocks don't lead to Indian wins.

While 29 of his 38 ODI centuries have resulted in Indian wins, of late, the team has done surprisingly well when Tendulkar has failed. In the last 11 wins that Tendulkar has been a part of, he's scored just one-half century - an unbeaten 82 against Bangladesh. On the other hand, in the last eight defeats, he has scored two hundreds and two fifties. That, of course, is only part of the story, for Tendulkar's last two centuries - his 141 at Rawalpindi and his Ahmedabad knock, were both outstanding displays which could easily have been matchwinning efforts. As the table below shows, Tendulkar has played a significant role in Indian wins since 2003, but unlike the rest of the batting line-up, he has also scored in defeats, often playing a lone hand.

The table also shows that Rahul Dravid has been the stand-out batsman in that period in Indian wins. The difference between his averages in won and lost games is nearly 40. The performances of Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag fall away in defeats as well. Here's a stat which might stun Ganguly supporters (and critics): in the last nine Indian wins that he's been a part of, Ganguly has scored six half-centuries - his scores read 56, 60, 79, 90, 90, 0, 55, 0, 9. In contrast, he hasn't scored a fifty in a losing cause in his last 18 matches. It's simple: when Ganguly scores, India tend to win. That's reason enough to hope that he regains his touch quickly.

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S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo. For some of the data, he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan, the operations manager in Cricinfo's Chennai office.