Category Archives: Lara

Who’s more ‘clutch’? Tendulkar, Lara or Ponting?

By Ajit Bhaskar (@ajit_bhaskar)

Who is the most clutch among these three legends from our generation?

The Stage

Given the somewhat sensitive title of the post, I tried to think of a lot of emotional, heartfelt introductory content but I failed miserably. But it suffices to say that these three players are the best from our generation, particularly in the ODI format of the game. A couple of folks (Ian Chappell and Nasser Hussain) have opined on who’s the greatest among the three ‘modern greats’. Honestly, it is a tough ask to rate the three for each is excellent in his own ways.

I’m not here to ‘rate’ which one of them is the best among the three. What I’m going to address, is each batsman’s ability to perform in the clutch, which is one of the measures of a player’s greatness. After all, such performances tend to ‘define a player’s legacy’!

I am going to compare (statistically), the performance of these three players under ‘clutch’ situations.

Also, it makes some sense to compare these three players in particular because:

  • They have played in the same era.
  • They are all top order batsmen and have spent a vast majority of their careers batting in 1-4 spots in the batting order.

Ground Rules/Assumptions

  • I’m going to restrict this conversation to ODIs alone.
  • Clutch’ is defined as chasing a target. I will try to make things more granular as I proceed further.
  • Only India, Australia, West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, England and South Africa have been considered for this analysis. Sorry Zimbabwe, Bangladesh et al.
  • Only run chases are considered.
  • The pronouns HE and HIS used in generic sentences encompass BOTH male and female human beings. Do not hassle me with ‘sexist’ and other epithets.

A brief note on ‘clutch’

Various images flash across our minds the instant we hear the word clutch. Like Michael Jordan’s buzzer beating “The Shot” against Cleveland (followed by Jordan jumping in the air and then throwing his elbows exactly three times after planting his feet on the ground), Javed Miandad’s last ball six off Chetan Sharma (I hate Nataraj pencils just for that) and so on. As far as ODIs are concerned, a clutch situation typically involves chasing a target. The pressure that is associated with chasing a target, particularly when two good, competitive teams are playing makes for good drama and excellent cricket. The players who shine repeatedly and consistently under such circumstances become legends of the game.

The reason for emphasis on run chase will become clearer during the course of this article.

The Statistics

These are obtained from Cricinfo directly after applying a filter for ‘fielding first’.

Key observations:

  • They’ve been involved in enough run chases to qualify for statistical analysis
  • Lara has scored nearly half his runs chasing targets!
  • The ‘chasing average’ of all three players is pretty close to their career averages. This suggests that the pressure associated with a run chase doesn’t influence their performance significantly. In fact, Lara (on an average), scores 3 more runs during chasing.
  • All players show the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, i.e. elevated averages when their teams win during a run chase and reduced averages when their teams lose while chasing a target.
  • It’s the extent of this syndrome exhibited by the three players that is quite intriguing.
  • If we define Differential Chasing Average or D = Chasing Average during Wins – Chasing Average during Losses, it represents the degree of discrepancy in individual performance while a team goes on to win or lose. In principle, a ‘legendary’ player is expected to play the same way and produce at a high level regardless of the outcome of the game and the performance of other players on the team. So lower the D value, greater the degree of consistency of a player during run chases.
  • The D values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 19.53, 40.11 and 39 respectively.
  • Let’s pause and ponder over this for a moment. Taking Lara as example, when WI chases a total successfully, he tends to score FORTY MORE RUNS than when WI fails to chase a target. While an average of ~68 runs is fantastic during successful a run chase, that also indicates a lot of variation in performance. In other words, consistency is lacking. The same is true of Ponting (Differential = 39). However, the key difference between Lara and Ponting is that when their teams lose while chasing a target, Lara still manages to score a decent 27.5 runs, Ponting manages only 19 runs.
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, shows the least variation (D = 19.53). In fact, the variation is half of Lara’s and Ponting’s. This indicates more consistent performance during run chases.
  • Lara has the best Chasing Average in Wins by a distance. He scores nearly 10 more runs than Ponting and 16 more runs than Tendulkar during successful run chases.
  • Tendulkar has the best Chasing Average in Losses. It’s is about 13 runs or 67% greater than Ponting’s. He also scores 4 more runs than Lara during unsuccessful rn chases.
 Figure 1. Graphical representation of performance of Sachin Tendulkar (SRT, blue), Brian Lara (BL, Red) and Ricky Ponting (RP, green) during run chases.

 

Cranking up the pressure to ‘ultimate clutch’

While the analysis so far has provided an indication of the extent of consistency of these players, it hasn’t truly separated them as to who is the best among the three. So I’ll up the ante a little bit and crank up the pressure.

I’d like to evaluate these players’ performances under extreme pressure.  In many cases, teams are chasing fairly small targets of 100 or 150. While the task is still challenging, it is not as daunting as chasing a larger target. Say 250.

How do these players fare when chasing targets of 250 or above? The reason for choosing 250 becomes clearer when we take a look at how teams fare when they chase such targets.

Data Acquisition

  • Get the ODI inning by inning list for Tendulkar on cricinfo.
  • Set a filter for ‘fielding first’.
  • Open every single match/scorecard and choose only those where targets of 250 or above were chased.
  • Note the runs scored in each inning under two columns based on whether his team won or lost.
  • Calculate various parameters (Average, average during wins and losses etc.)
  • Not outs are considered as outs for calculating averages
  • Repeat the process for Lara and Ponting. Note that in Ponting’s case, a tied match is included for calculating chasing average.

Here’s how the three batsmen fare:

Key observations:

  • There is a LOT of collective failure! Just take a look at the W-L records. With these legends representing India, West Indies and Australia respectively, they have won ~30, 25 and 40% of their matches while chasing 250+ targets. The collective success rate is just 31%!
  • So, if anybody tells you chasing 250+ is an easy task, just show him this table. Even the ‘invincible Aussies’, who have boasted some of the game’s premier batsmen, bowlers and perhaps some the most balanced sides ever, have failed to win even half the games while chasing 250 or above!
  • Tendulkar’s average while chasing 250+ targets (39.9) is virtually same as his regular chasing average of 40.03. This is remarkable consistency. Lara and Ponting on the other hand, tend to score nearly 5 and 3 runs lower than their regular chasing averages respective, when chasing 250+ targets.
  • Tendulkar also averages the most during 250+ chases. While Tendulkar and Lara are separated by one run, Tendulkar scores nearly 3 more runs than Ponting.
  • The differential (D) values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 10.3, 34.2 and 46.6 respectively.
  • Let me emphasize a bit more on the D values. Regardless of W or L, you can expect consistent performance from Tendulkar. Lara and Ponting, on the other hand, tend to play extremely well when their respective teams are winning, but tend to score poorly when their sides are on the losing side. This is particularly true of Ponting, whose average of 18.5 when the Aussies lose chasing targets 250 (probability is 26 out of 44 games or 59%) or above is quite frankly, poor!
  • WI has lost 39 out of 52 games while chasing 250+. But even under these circumstances, Lara pretty much assures you 30 runs (chasing avg. during losses).
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, gets you 7 more runs than Lara and nearly 18 more runs than Ponting on days when your team is not doing a good job at chasing. This is a very significant difference in my opinion, given the fact that India and WI do not end up on the winning side often while chasing 250+ targets.
  • But when their teams win, Lara and Ponting fire and fare much better than Tendulkar. This is clear from their chasing averages during wins.

Figure 2. Graphical representation of performance during 250+ run chases for Tendulkar (blue), Lara (red) and Ponting (green).

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, no matter how high the pressure is, whether the game is being played on earth or elsewhere, no matter what kind of target the team is chasing, Tendulkar provides the most steady, consistent performance. Lara is a gambling man’s pick, while Ponting is (compared to Tendulkar and Lara) more of a hit or miss case. If snoring is a problem, you may need ZQuiet.

To me, this analysis puts Tendulkar and Lara a cut above Ponting. Particularly because Ponting has enjoyed the benefit of better overall teams than Lara and Tendulkar have enjoyed over their careers. But more importantly, the averages of 18.95 during unsuccessful run chases and 18.5 during unsuccessful run chases involving 250+ targets is something I wouldn’t call ‘stuff of legends’.

In a nutshell, if I were to pick one of these three legends to help chase my team a target of 250 or above, which in my book, is a clutch situation given the rate of failure involved, I’d flip a coin. Heads – Tendulkar, Tails – Lara.

Sorry Ponting, you just don’t make the cut on my list. Certainly not in ODIs.

What’s happening to Tendulkar?

Sachin Tendulkar, the toast of the nation just a few seasons ago finds himself in an unfamiliar role of facing up to the wrath of his fans. He is now ridiculed by his once staunch supporters. The press has added their own spin on it and the cricket pundits yet another. Meanwhile, the coach questioned his attitude and finally, the BCCI have ‘rested’ him for the Bangladesh ODIs. These events would have hurt him badly.

We all know about the fickle nature of the fans and the press. Perhaps no one knows more about it than Tendulkar himself after 17 years of International cricket. I am sure he realises that the fans by their standard, have given him the longest rope of all.

In recent times we have been led to believe that Tendulkar has donned a new role for the ‘benefit’ of the team. I cannot imagine a more nonsensical reason. Does he and the think-tank mean to say that for nearly 15 years he has been the premier batsman and match winner, but they no longer want him in that role; but instead require a plodder? This seems to be a classic case of denial both by the team management and more importantly himself.

It is common knowledge that Tendulkar over the last 3 years has been gradually loosing is touch. The problem has been both physical and mental. Physically he is that much older and as a result, that much slower. His reflex degeneration has been rapid compared to others such as Lara and Jayasuriya. But that alone cannot be the reason for his failures. There are technical flaws. Too many times we see him get bowled; and too many times we see mediocre spinners get him out.

Bob Simpson thinks that Tendulkar is not watching the ball out of the bowler’s hand thereby depriving him of a few milli-seconds to get into position. While we are not totally sure what Tendulkar’s flaws are he nevertheless had the time, resources and above all the experience to iron out the kinks. If he has attempted to correct it but failed trying, then it is time to quit the game as suggested by Ian Chappell. But if has’nt tried hard enough, his attitude needs questioning.

The way he got out against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the world cup suggests that the flaws are very much there and unless he takes some immediate steps to address them, I cannot see him play beyond the England tour.

Tendulkar once feared and admired by his opponents is merely acknowledged these days mainly for his past deeds. The truth is no team looses sleep over him.

As a huge admirer of Tendulkar, I hope there is another twist to his tale and he turns things around. I would love to see him bow out on a high note; and more importantly on his own terms.

Current Worlds’ Best ODI Team

At the outset, let me confess that I am not a great fan of retrosptective Best-Of lists. I say this although I have participated in some such lists in the past and also on this blog. As I have mentioned in some of my comments here, it is really hard — and somewhat pointless, in my view — to compare across eras and time-periods. Having said that, I applaud previous attempts at list construction on this blogsite, such as:

People say that Bradman was the best batsman ever. Sure, given what the great batsman had achieved, it would be extremely hard to argue against that. I would find it hard to agree against a hypothesis that he was probably the best batsmen ever! But how do we know whether or not Joel Garner (or Michael Holding or Malcolm Marshall or Richard Hadlee or Bishen Bedi) would have torn Bradman’s technique apart? At best, we could say that, given the way he played against his esteemed contemporary bowlers such as Jardine and Larwood, it is likely that he would have coped well against and combatted everything that the wily Garner, Holding, et al had to offer!

Then again, he may have been much better than what he was had he played against Joel Garner (or Michael Holding or Malcolm Marshall or Richard Hadlee or Bishen Bedi)!

Therefore, my preference is to compile best-current player lists. I much rather prefer to compile “best of the current lot” — BOCL — lists. If the BOCL for a country is not its national team, then that team is in trouble! So necessarily (and by definition) BOCL is a worlds’ best sort of thing.

So what is the Worlds’ Best ODI Team at the moment — based on performances over the last year or so?

One way of constructing such a list would be to take the current best batsmen and bowlers from the ICC ODI player rankings and see what comes out of the wash!

I decided to have a look at the top-8 batsmen, the top-8 bowlers and the top-5 allrounders.

The top-8 batsmen are:

Mike Hussey
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Ricky Ponting
Kevin Pietersen
Chris Gayle
Andrew Symonds
Kumar Sangakkara
Mohammad Yousuf

The top-8 bowlers are:

Shaun Pollock
Glenn McGrath
Makhaya Ntini
Daniel Vettori
Chamindaa Vaas
Brett Lee
Shane Bond
Nathan Bracken

The top-5 allrounders are:

Shaun Pollock
Chris Gayle
Andrew Flintoff
Jacques Kallis
Sanath Jayasuriya

It is interesting to note that Pollock and Gayle are the only allrounders who are on the top-bowling-list and the top-batting-list respectively.

The union of these three sets is a list with a total of 19 players. Of these, it is somewhat interesting to see that Muthiah Muralitharan, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara are absent. Just because they are proven match winners, I will add them to the list to give a total of 22 players. Given Glenn McGrath is retiring from all forms of cricket after the World Cup, it makes little sense to have him in this ODI team-compilation. So, out he goes! I know I will get into trouble with my Australian friends for this, but I just don’t rate Nathan Bracken. So, although he is 8th on the top-bowling list, he goes too!

So, the combined list of 20 players (in suggested batting order) is:

01. Chris Gayle
02. Sanath Jayasuriya / Sachin Tendulkar
03. Ricky Ponting (captain)
04. Jacques Kallis
05. Mike Hussey / Mohammad Yousuf / Kevin Pietersen / Brian Lara
06. Andrew Symonds / Andrew Flintoff
07. Mahendra Singh Dhoni / Kumar Sangakkara (wicketkeeper)
08. Shaun Pollock
09. Brett Lee / Shane Bond
10. Makhaya Ntini / Chamindaa Vaas
11. Daniel Vettori / Muthiah Muralitharan

This seems to me to be a reasonable team that perhaps represents the best collection of current ODI players.

— Mohan

A tale of captains…

I decided to have a look at the ODI and World Cup stats of the eight captains that are captaining the likely Super8 teams.

By the way, I have to acknowledge CricInfo for all the stats that I have compiled together — in this and previous articles. Where would we all be without this magnificent treasure-house of cricket data, information and knowledge?

First, their overall career ODI stats (organised in the decreasing order of batting average):


Name |M |Runs |HS |Avg |100s |50s |W |Best |BowlAv |
Ponting269985616442.48225831/1234.66
Lara2901013616940.54196242/515.25
Dravid3101004415340.01127742/4342.50
Inzamam37511665137*39.67108331/021.33
G_Smith1043683134*38.36622143/3057.07
Fleming2707684134*32.1574611/828.00
Jayawardene236618512831.7183472/5677.00
Vaughan77177390*27.70015124/2246.83

The first thing to note is that they are all batsmen. So comparing their bowling is hardly worth it. The only one from this list that does bowl — and that too, occassionally in ODIs — is Greame Smith. But it is hardly anything worthy of serious note. Smith and Vaughan are the relative fledgelings of the captains’ group — in terms of overall number of games played. It surprised me to see that Vaughan has only played 77 ODI games overall!

There appears to be a distinct clustering here. Ponting, Lara, Dravid and Inzamam belong to one cluster. They have batting averages around the 40s. Ponting and Lara have converted a lot more of their 50s into 100s. That could be explained by their position in the batting order as much as anything else. We observe that Dravid and Inzamam have a larger proportion of 50s against their names. However, their is not much between this group. With the exception of Ponting, whos is a mere 144 runs away, all of them have over 10,000 runs in the game! That is a sensational performance by any yardstick!

With an average close enough to 40, Greame Smith could claim that he belongs to this grouping. And perhaps he does. But I’d place him on his own. As far as I am concerned, the jury is out on him. This could be his World Cup. If it is, I would say that he belongs in the first grouping.

The remaining three captains (Fleming, Jayawardene and Vaughan) bring up the rear. In my view, Jayawardene has been a somewhat disappointing ODI player. He is a class act, but does not seem to have the wherewithal to convert his style and panache into high scores. He is one of the more frustrating players of our time. I thought Sri Lankan cricket missed a beat by not appointing Sangakkara as captain. How Jayawardene will turn out over the long run is anyones’ guess! But it sure is disappointing to see him in a clustering with Fleming and Vaughan. In my view, he is a better player than that and he is probably not as tactically-astute as Fleming or Vaughan.

Now for a look at the performance of the Super8 captains in World Cup games (again, organised in the decreasing order of batting average):


Name |M |Runs |HS |Avg |100s |50s |W |Best |BowlAv |
Dravid1977914564.9125
Lara2595611643.4526
Ponting28998140*41.5832
G_Smith31216340.3301
Fleming23722134*34.381211/88.00
Vaughan51395227.80020
Inzamam326438123.8104
Jayawardene131234511.180022/5665.50

Again, it is amazing how far ahead Dravid is from the rest! There is daylight between his performances (in terms of batting average) and the rest! One could conclude that the big match brings out the best in him. And that is not entirely surprising, given his mental strength, discipline, self-belief and sheer determination.

The disappointments in this list are surely Inzamam and Jayawardene. Maybe this will be their World Cup. Who knows?

— Mohan