Superb analytical piece via Tom Eaton (HT Gulzar). There is one argument one keeps having with younger followers in cricket. We argue that batting collapses are becoming way too common and one does not anymore see fights from batters. The younger lot does not agree and says test cricket is becoming more result oriented. As a result we are seeing both sides going for wins/losses than mere draws. We argue saying it is more due to lack of skill/application which is leading to lack of well fought draws and rise in one sided results. And the debate goes on.
Eaton points to statistics showing batting collapses have indeed risen. Also test scores are rising:
Confused, I went to the record books, where I discovered three peculiar facts.
The first was that I wasn’t wrong about batting pile-ons. Test teams are scoring huge totals much more often than they used to. Between 1960 (more or less the start of the current era of covered pitches) and the end of 1999, one in 18 innings would see a team rack up 500 or more. Since the start of 2000, that rate has almost doubled to one in ten. Last year, teams amassed 500 or more on 19 occasions: one in nine.
The second discovery seemed sharply at odds with the first. It was, startlingly, that sub-100 totals have also become much more frequent. From 1960 until 1999, the dreaded double-figures dig happened roughly once every 70 innings. Since 2000, that figure has jumped to one in 47.
The third discovery was perhaps the most curious of all.
For most of Test history, sub-100 debacles have been a sign of technical inadequacy and inexperience. Here and there, a top team has had a bad day, but the teams most regularly rolled for less than 100 have overwhelmingly been those that have not yet grown up and built a solid batting culture. Not surprisingly, the worst offenders in the 2000s were Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and the wildly erratic Pakistan.
But here’s where it gets very peculiar; because since the start of 2010, it’s not the minnows that have been the most prone to collapse. Yes, Zimbabwe were rolled for 51 by New Zealand in Napier in 2012, and yes, they might have had a few more debacles had they played more Tests; but their 51 is the only blot by a “bottom three” team this decade. The last time Bangladesh were dismissed for double figures was 2007. West Indies? Back in 2004.
Instead, the repeat offenders are startlingly pedigreed. It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Pakistan – part enigma, part flake – lead the field of failure, helped largely by their abject summer in 2010, during which England dismissed them for 80, 72 and 74 inside a month. But the next two most collapse-prone teams? Wobbly Sri Lanka or understaffed New Zealand? Neither. Since 2010, the two most frequently catastrophic teams after Pakistan have been giants: Australia and South Africa.
Why is this happening?
I could have guessed Australia seeing its so many collapses in recent memory. But not SAF for sure.
The main reason is lack of a good 4 down batsman:
The historical averages paint a telling picture. In all sub-100 innings since 1960, the specialist batsmen contributing the smallest proportion of runs are the openers and the No. 5. This makes sense: the openers have been snuffed out by the new ball, and the No. 5, selected to play shots and without the defensive nous of a No. 3 or No. 4, has found himself in a world of pain at 10 for 3, facing a new, spitting ball.
Enter the fail-safe: the backup opener, No. 6. Between 1960 and 1999, this lynchpin made 13.5% of his team’s runs during a collapse – by far the highest proportion. For 40 years he tried to dig in and stem the tide, at least for a few minutes. Sometimes he stonewalled. Dravid’s 27 not out in Durban in 1996 was as heroic as any back-to-the-wall hundred I’ve seen. In 1973 at Trent Bridge, as John Snow and Tony Greig ran through New Zealand for 97, the No. 6, Vic Pollard, a Baptist lay preacher, put aside childish things and hung around for over an hour and a half for his unbeaten 16.
What they revealed was this: in sub-100 collapses since 2010, South African and Australian number sixes have plumbed depths so low that they are possibly unrivalled in the entire history of Test cricket. Not only have they contributed only 6% of their respective teams’ runs (less than half the historic average) they have contributed less than any other batting position, No. 11 included. Ramparts have been outscored by rabbits.
A gaping hole at No. 6 seems to be a compelling explanation for why Australia and South Africa have become so prone to implosions. But then, how to account for the increase in huge scores at the same time? Since 2010, South Africa have passed 500 once every eight innings; Australia, once every seven. How can batsmen be getting simultaneously more dominant and more fragile?
I believe that this phenomenon can be explained by new selection criteria.
Now that openers and number sixes have become attacking weapons rather than defensive insurance, they are much better equipped to take advantage of helpful conditions and to rattle up vast scores; but when things get hairy, they simply don’t have the technique or the grim bloody-mindedness to hang around. This isn’t just a curmudgeonly generalisation about the spineless youth of today. Unfortunately, the numbers back it up.
Cricket is increasingly becoming a basher batsman’s game. Increasingly, we see players succeeding in one days and T-20s now being pushed in test league with questionable technique.
Superb stuff from Eaton.