Rohit Sharma's numbers while pulling and hooking in ODIs are great, but is he really the best?
We look at total runs, averages, dismissal rates and control percentages to judge the top modern hookers and pullers
A few weeks back, my colleague Bharath Seervi wrote a piece on Rohit Sharma and the pull shot. That was in response to an ICC tweet asking fans to vote for the batsman with the best pull from a shortlist of four. That shortlist did not include Sharma, which did not go down well with the batsman or his fans.
The numbers did reveal how productive the pull shot is for Sharma, across international formats: in the period considered, he had hit more than twice as many sixes off the shot as any other batsman, his percentage of runs from the shot was higher than for any other batsman, and it was his most productive shot as well.
All of those numbers prove without a doubt that the pull fetches Sharma plenty of runs. But how often does it bring about his dismissal?
Last week we found the best players of the hook and pull shots in Tests over the last six years by looking at their averages and control numbers when playing those shots. This week, we do the same for batsmen in ODIs. The period remains the same - since April 2014 - and we are only taking into consideration shots played off fast and medium-fast bowlers.
So how do Sharma's numbers stack up in terms of average? It's quite excellent - 64.06 - but not the best. With a 200-run cut-off (42 batsmen make the cut), the top average is 127.33, and it belongs to Tillakaratne Dilshan. His numbers are impeccable in every aspect. He has scored plenty of runs from the shots - 382, which is 23% of his total ODI runs off seamers during this period - and has been dismissed only three times. Plus, he has an impressive strike rate of almost 198.
The only other batsman with a 100-plus average is Ross Taylor, which is somewhat surprising given that his Test average when playing those shots is a woeful 27.75. That gives him a rank of 33 out of 39 batsmen in Tests, but in ODIs, he right up there among the very best. The gap between him and the next best is significant: Mushfiqur Rahim is third with an average of 78.33, while David Warner, Shakib Al Hasan and Shikhar Dhawan make up the rest of the top six.
Sharma is in the top ten, but a couple of places behind his regular opening partner, which will probably surprise many given that Sharma usually looks far more at ease when playing the hook or pull than Dhawan does. While Sharma scores a higher percentage of his runs off seamers with those shots than Dhawan does (24.6% to 17.9%), he has also been dismissed 15 times when attempting the pull or the hook, compared to only eight such dismissals for Dhawan. However, Sharma's strike rate when playing the hook or pull is an outstanding 274.6, the best among these 42 batsmen and, in terms of percentage of runs from the shots, he is third. Also, his aggregate of 961 is 375 more than the next best, so there is no doubt that the numbers back up his status as one of the best players of those shots.
The other member of India's big three in ODIs, Virat Kohli, features quite low on this parameter. His average of 33.66 (505 runs, 15 dismissals) puts him in 28th place. Babar Azam, the leader on this parameter in Tests, ranks 12th here with an average of 54.4, Kane Williamson is 14th (average 49.37), AB de Villiers 18th (46), Joe Root 22nd (42.16), and Steven Smith 26th (35.44). At the bottom of the pile is Mahmudullah: he has scored 214 runs from the shots, but has been dismissed ten times, giving him an average of 21.4.
For a stroke to be truly effective for a batsman, you want it to fetch a high percentage of their runs while resulting in very few dismissals. With Sharma, the first bit is perfect, but his 15 dismissals works out to 22.4% of his total bowler dismissals against pace or medium pace (excluding run-outs) in ODIs during this period, which means more than a fifth of his dismissals against seamers occur when he is attempting a hook or a pull. That is a fairly high percentage compared to Dilshan, who scored 23% of his runs off the hook or pull and had a dismissal percentage of only 9.7 for those shots. That difference of 13.4 - between runs from the shots v dismissal - is the highest among this group of 42 players.
On this parameter, the next best is only 6.5, by Warner. For Sharma, this difference is 2.2, which ranks him 12th, seven places below Dhawan. Among 42 batsmen, only 17 have a positive value for this difference, which illustrates the risk involved in playing the hook or the pull. The negative values range from the marginal (-0.22 for Quinton de Kock) to the significant (-11.9 for Faf du Plessis). In fact, du Plessis' ODI average of 27.53 when playing these shots (413 runs, 15 dismissals) is quite a contrast to his Test average of 96.6, which puts him in the top five in that format.
Like du Plessis, Kohli too has much better numbers in Tests. In ODIs, the difference for him between runs and dismissal percentage is -11.6, while for AB de Villiers it is -10.3. Shimron Hetmyer's case is an interesting one: he scores 29.7% of his runs through these two shots - the highest among the batsmen in this list - but they also cause 41.2% of his dismissals. (For no other batsman does it top 30%.)
If we agree that a good player of the pull or the hook should be one who plays the shots often, and plays them well, then we can argue that the best players of these shots are those who have high values on both these parameters. It turns out there are only four batsmen who get more than 20% of their runs through these shots while also averaging more than 50 when attempting them: Dilshan, Warner, Shakib and Sharma. Fakhar Zaman comes close, averaging 49.66, with 22.6% of his runs coming through the hook and the pull. Chris Gayle gets 21.9% of his runs through these shots, but averages only 31.37 when he plays them; the corresponding numbers for Eoin Morgan are 20.2% and 30.85, for Hetmyer 29.7% and 29.57, and for Moeen Ali 24.4% and 22.75. These are players who get a fair number of their runs through the hook and pull, but also get out fairly often when they play them.
The control factor measures how often the ball went in the area it was intended to when a batsman played a shot. With a pull or hook shot, the control numbers are generally lower, because the stroke is fraught with risk. The point of contact is not close to the body, and when played off fast bowlers, there is a good chance of top-edging or mistiming the shot.
In these six years, the batsman with the best control percentage (among batsmen who have played at least 100 pull and hook shots against pace or medium pace) is an unlikely name: Sarfaraz Ahmed. His control percentage of 75.9 is slightly lower than the top percentage for these shots in Tests - Marnus Labuschagne's 82.4%. Sarfaraz is seventh in terms of average (67.33). Among the batsmen with the top six averages, only two also make it to the top six in terms of control. Dhawan (control 74.4%) and Warner (73.5%). Also among the top six in terms of control are: Williamson, a permanent fixture among the top players for any control-related stat, Ben Stokes, who is 16th in terms of averages, and Root. Sharma, Azam and de Villiers occupy positions seven to nine.
The others among the top six in averages are much further down in terms of control: Taylor is at No. 21 with a control percentage of 65.4. Dilshan is at No. 29 (62.7), Shakib at No. 32 (61.3) and Mushfiqur at No. 34 (60.2). This suggests relatively more miscues and top edges by these players, but sometimes, good batsmen need to ride their luck too.
And finally, let's look at the overall averages for the pull and hook shots, combining both Tests and ODIs, taking a cut-off of 300 runs off these shots against seamers in the last six years. Dilshan leads the list with his ODI average of 127.33; he hasn't played a single Test in this period. Shakib and Azam take the next two spots, while Usman Khawaja and Sharma round off the top five. Among the 41 batsmen who make the cutoff, Root is at No. 11 (average 51.88), de Villiers is at No. 15 (46.8), Williamson at No. 17 (44.46), and Kohli at No. 24 (40.7).
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S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats