The eighth instalment in our series where we have cricket conversations with keen students of the game, from all around the world. This time it is a discussion on Team India’s fortunes in their first 500 Tests, and their key contributors, through some key performance analytics.
Himank Bhanot, a finance professional based in Bangalore, and an avid lover of the game discusses this with Soham Sarkhel of Impact Index.
: Over the course of their first 500 Tests, Team India has authored many a great victory and its players have held a plethora of records.
While looking at overall numbers does not place India favourably in comparison to its competition, a decade-wise analysis would put things in a better perspective especially since the nineties that saw the emergence of prolific performers.
Given that India is now winning matches with the frequency of a top Test side, how do you see its progress so far?
: Yes, there is absolutely no doubt that India has progressed remarkably in the last two decades. But overall, the numbers are still quite unfavourable. Amongst all Test playing nations, India ranks sixth in terms of Win/Loss ratio, only above Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
Regardless, it has been quite a ride for India in their Test history so far. I think it would be worthwhile to look at the top performers across different decades and see who have really pulled their weight.
: While India’s batting cut a fairly sorry figure till about the ’60s, what I believe is that it’s been the overall dearth of quality bowlers which has hurt India’s chances more overseas. For instance, barring Zimbabwe, amongst bowlers who have taken more than 200 Test wickets, India has the highest best average amongst all Test playing nations (Ashwin; 24.96). While quoting average as the only measure of a bowler’s class may not be justified, I think it is still fairly indicative of the inability of Indian bowlers to capture wickets in away conditions.
Are there any exceptions?
: Any country whose most successful bowler is a spinner will tend to have a higher bowling average than one whose most successful bowler is a seamer. It is natural. Muttiah Muralitharan is the sole exception here but then he is also the highest impact bowler in the history of Test cricket.
Generally, overseas pacers (Brett Lee, James Anderson and Dennis Lillee to name a few) haven’t been criticised much in subcontinental conditions where they have had mediocre returns. But somehow, Indian spinners are not seen in the same light when they produce less than satisfactory numbers overseas. In a way, it is unfair to them.
It is not that India haven’t produced world-class bowlers. Most of them have been spinners and surfaces conducive to spin are harder to find around the world.
: That’s the point I was trying to make – the dearth of quality pace bowlers has, somehow, hurt India’s chances. Nevertheless, a decade-wise look at India’s performance brings out some interesting insights indeed.
I have used simple arithmetic to arrive at the value factor of top performers across decades – calculating a prolificacy factor (runs of the highest scorer/next highest aggregate), and an efficacy factor (top performer average/next best, or best, average). Multiplying both numerals give an overall Value Factor for the player.
Among batsmen, it turned out that Vijay Hazare had the highest Value Factor compared to his peers in any decade for any batsman (1940s), followed by Sachin Tendulkar (1990s), Sunil Gavaskar (1970s) and Rahul Dravid (2000s).
Doing the same exercise for value in wins, nevertheless, brings out some interesting names; Dilip Vengsarkar emerges as the highest value player in any decade (1980s), followed by Vinoo Mankad (1950s), Gundappa Viswanath (1970s) and Rahul Dravid (2000s).
Two different scenarios, bring out two concrete findings – Viswanath and Vengsarkar are extremely underrated players, and Rahul Dravid was the momentum turning player in the 2000s since he was most effective – as an aggregator and a match winner.
What is Impact’s take on it?
: It is very interesting and refreshing to see the way you have come up with these findings, but the inherent lack of context in conventional cricket numbers can also be very misleading. If we examine the context around the runs of every Indian batsman, and see their value in not only match wins but also series wins, a different picture is painted.
The Value Factor you mention, for batsmen, can be roughly equated to
If we do a decade-wise study, it is interesting that Cheteshwar Pujara comes up with the highest RTI (in this ongoing decade from 1st January 2010 to 06h January 2017) for any Indian batsman in any decade. However, if we take only completed decades into account, Sunil Gavaskar had the highest RTI (1970s), followed by Ajit Wadekar (1960s) and then, interestingly, Rusi Modi (1940s).
More than anything, it shows how false an idea batting averages give. In the 1960s, for a minimum of 15 Tests, four Indian batsmen had a higher batting average than Ajit Wadekar’s 34, whose contribution in winning causes – and low scoring matches – was far superior to that of his peers. In fact, for a minimum of 30 Tests, he emerges as India’s second-highest impact Test batsman. Wadekar was instrumental to India’s path breaking series wins over New Zealand and England away from home.
Rahul Dravid is on a different level altogether. He produced as many as eight
Dravid, as it turns out, produced six of his eight SDs in the 2000s – the most by any batsman for his team in that decade. In fact, in Test cricket history, only two other batsmen produced as many SDs in a decade – Steve Waugh in the 1990s and AB de Villiers in the current decade (2010 onwards).
Before Dravid, Vengsarkar produced the most SDs in a decade by any Indian batsman (he registered three SDs in the 1980s). This, to an extent, corroborates your finding – Vengsarkar, a match winner in the eighties. His high failure rate of 52% as a batsman though means that he couldn’t build on his SDs to finish his career as a very high impact batsman for India.
: That’s what a deeper dive into the numbers brings out – the real worth of unsung heroes. Dravid and Vengsarkar did not play in the shadow of Sachin and Gavaskar. Instead, they cast a shadow of their own.
A similar Value Factor exercise for bowlers shows Kapil Dev (1980s) having the highest aggregate value for any bowler, followed by Anil Kumble (1990s) and Erapalli Prasanna (1960s). The Value Factor in wins, meanwhile, is highest for Anil Kumble (1990s), followed by Vinoo Mankad (1950s) and Ravichandran Ashwin (2010s).
Kumble and Ashwin emerge as huge match-winners (and I presume, series winners too) in their respective decades, thus reinforcing the role spin has played in India’s victories.
: At Impact Index, the value of the wickets of top/middle-order and lower-order batsmen are different. The bowlers are eligible for
If we go through decades and add series-context value to the
The series-context value, however, is a tad unfair to the bowlers of the yesteryear as India hardly won/drew Test series during their time. If we were to take only the
In terms of
Although South Africa have been consistent enough, no team has emerged as a dominant all-round side since Australia’s decline (2009 onwards). In fact, the ongoing decade has been the worst for touring sides since 1900 (W/L Ratio of 0.55).
As Test playing nations look to assert themselves on home turf more now than ever before, I fear that overseas performances will become the one and only benchmark to judge a player’s stature. While the current Indian team has shown a lot of promise, it would have to play out of its skin in the coming years to avoid being judged by hackneyed parameters.
Or is this a stigma that threatens all teams?
: Sociologically, for some reason, the ‘home stigma’ applies only to subcontinental teams. The ‘home’ numbers of subcontinental players are, more often than not, a source of major debate. It is not the same with players from the rest of the world.
That said, I do fear that in general parlance (because of the existing clichés), away records will be hailed as the only true indicators of success for Indian (and subcontinental) players. From a cricketing perspective, though, it makes absolute sense to be a very good team – one that is a home track bully and a poor traveller.
The merit should only be cricket – away or home, regardless.
Illustrations: Vasim Maner