Tag Archive | Mahela Jayawardene

Ian Bell: Breaking records by stealth

When Ian Bell became England’s all time leading run scorer in ODIs, while scoring a century against Australia in Hobart, I imagined cricket followers performing a sport-wide double-take. “He’s what? Bell? Is that right?” before making a mental note to themselves to check on statsguru when they got home and found a quiet moment with a computer.

The only Bell innings in an ODI that I have any sort of memory of (barring those in the current series) was at Southampton and it involved lots of lofted drives. I don’t follow ODI cricket with the forensic attention I pay to Test matches, but I would expect England’s leading scorer in the format to have made a stronger imprint on my memory. How then did Bell come to break this record and, other than the quantum of runs, how does his ODI record compare?

Bell’s first ODI was played in Harare in November 2004 – three months after his Test debut. He opened the batting with Vikram Solanki and scored 75 (115 balls) in a successful chase of 196. His most recent match, at Perth, was his 155th. Amongst batsmen, Bell is the third most capped English player – behind Paul Collingwood (197) and Alec Stewart (170). Quantity of cricket is clearly a large part of the answer to the question ‘how did Bell break this record?’ But my instinct is that Bell has not been an ODI regular over the last ten years.

Since his debut, Bell has played fewer than two-thirds of the 234 ODIs played by England. He has had two lengthy periods out of the team – Feb-Dec 2005 (16 matches) and Nov 2008 – July 2010 (33 matches) – as well as numerous ins and outs typical of a fringe player or of a Test certainty being rested between five day series. His longest continuous run of appearances is 35, from July 2007 to Nov 2008.

Bell’s runs have come more prolifically at home, when opening, and in the match of his recall (or call up) to the team. Bell circs-page-001

 

Bell’s first ODI century came in his 48th appearance. There have only been three more, but Bell has recorded the most scores of 50+ in ODIs for England: 36.

Two years ago I wrote about Bell, the Test batsman.

I have reconciled myself to Bell as a very good international batsman… he has reached the plateau of his level of accomplishment… I don’t expect him to  dominate a major series or change the flow of too many contests… Bell is really very good and that is good enough.

Since then Bell distinguished himself as the outstanding batsman of the 2013 Ashes, recording three tons. It was a peak above the plateau, to which he seems to have returned. And as a Test batsman, Bell has always had one or other of Strauss, Cook or Pietersen as his senior. He is now the senior ODI batsman, yet I stand by my appreciation of his contribution from that earlier piece. He has rarely been dominant in ODIs. Of the top 30 ODI series run aggregates by England batsmen, Bell appears once, in eighth place – scoring 422 runs in a seven match series against India in 2007.

It might be helpful to place Bell amongst his peers. Of the 22 England batsmen with over 2000 ODI runs, Bell has the seventh highest batting average and eighth swiftest scoring rate. The players whose record Bell’s most closely resembles are Allan Lamb and Paul Collingwood, two of England’s most respected short-form batsmen.

Bell and Eng bats-page-001

In the ten year span of Bell’s international ODI career, 28 other players have scored 4,000 runs or more. Bell is in 15th place and has the third highest aggregate of those averaging under 40. Only two batsmen in this group have scored fewer hundreds than Bell.

The scatter diagram of batting averages and scoring rates shows Bell is in the lower half of the range for both measures. Graeme Smith and Mahela Jayawardene are the batsmen closest to Bell on the chart.

Bell and all bats-page-001

 

A number of factors have helped propel Bell to this record. He has stayed fit, physically and mentally, over ten grueling years of international cricket. He has maintained good relations with the England team management and, as pointed out to me by @ballsrightareas, avoided the sometimes career-shortening office of captain.

The gap at the top of the England batting order created by Marcus Trescothick’s exit from international cricket in 2006 has given Bell more opportunities than he would have had. Kevin Pietersen’s and Jonathon Trott’s absences have also created space for Bell. The curtailing of Trescothick’s and Pietersen’s careers prevented those two players, more suited than Bell to short-form cricket, setting a more stretching total runs record for England.

In this period, England’s selection policies have not been consistent. Bell may have suffered some omissions because of this lack of clarity about what the best team is. I suspect that is balanced by some of his recalls being down to the same inconstancy of selection.

On reflection, I don’t feel ignorant to have been taken by surprise by Bell’s recent achievement. He’s played a lot of matches, but many fewer than a leading exponent of this form of cricket would have done. He has a good ODI record, certainly by England standards, but not a great one. I will be surprised again if Bell’s future performances force me to alter that view.

2012: the year in declarations

Michael Clarke, in his first full year of captaincy, has the honour of ‘declaration of the year’. At Bridgetown in April, Clarke declared Australia’s first innings 43 runs behind West Indies, curtailing a 77 run tenth wicket partnership. The following day, in their second innings, Australia chased a target of 192, making Clarke only the second captain in test history to win a match after declaring behind.

Other significant declarations in 2012 will follow after an overview of target-setting, third innings declarations (which Clarke’s was not).

In an earlier review of target-setting declarations, I have shown that they occur in approximately one-quarter of all Test matches. 2012 fell into line with this long-term average, with 11 of the 42 matches in the year featuring this kind of declaration. The proportion of victories arising from these declarations (30% – excluding one declaration made to bring a game to an end) was considerably lower than the typical figure achieved in recent decades: 40-50%.

This brings us to an apparent paradox. Declarations tend to occur when one team is on top in the game. Yet 80% of the drawn matches in 2012 involved a target-setting declaration, while only 9% of the victories did so. The longer-term picture is more balanced, with target-setting declarations featuring in 21% of victories and in 27% of draws.

It revives the question posed in my post, Making the Game Safe, over whether the captains of sides batting third take too long over bringing their innings to an end. Mike Brearley, in The Art of Captaincy, concedes:

most of us already err on the side of caution; fielding is hard work (so postponements are tempting); and we enjoy watching our batsmen demolish the bowling.

Eliminating two games ushered to draws by fifth day rain and a third where the match’s third innings began 40 overs into the final day, four merit review.

SA v NZ at Wellington (Mar 2012)

SA skipper, Graeme Smith, declared 15 overs into the final day, setting a target of 389. Overnight, the lead had been 280, but had built rapidly in the opening hour of the day five. Smith’s declaration did not maximise the time available for pursuing the victory in the fourth innings, where Kane Williamson’s obdurate century and some sloppy SA fielding contributed to the result.

Pak v SL at Pallekele (July 2012)

Misbah-ul-Haq set SL 270 in 71 overs. This was a well-balanced target, although Pakistan may have wanted to risk more given they were one-nil down in the final match of the series.

SA v Eng at Leeds (Aug 2012)

Leading the series and having experienced Kevin Pietersen at his destructive best in the first innings, Smith’s declaration was justifiably cautious but managed to create an exciting final afternoon.

Aus v SA at Adelaide (Nov 2012)

faf du plessisClarke declared with a lead of 430 and almost 150 overs left in the game. That the game was drawn had very little to do with his declaration judgement and a lot to do with the determination of debutant Faf du Plessis, a flat track and the Australian attack being a man down.

So, in only one instance – Smith’s declaration at Wellington – was the judgement awry and culpable in the match being lost. It is also worth noting that rain had taken time out of this match, as it had in the Headingley and Pallekele examples.

The other noteworthy target-setting declaration was made by Mahela Jayawardene at Galle against Pakistan in June 2012. Sri Lanka’s second innings happened as Jayawardene opted not to enforce the follow-on when 370 ahead after dismissing Pakistan in 54 overs. By batting again, a lead of 500 was established and a declaration made. Jayawardene was criticised for opting to bat again. The decision whether to enforce the follow-on has been analysed by academic statistician Philip Scarf, whose work informed my earlier pieces on declarations. Scarf’s conclusion is that the decision makes no significant difference to the outcome of the match.

I end this round-up where it began: with a record-holder. Graeme Smith set a record in 2012 when he became the captain who has made the most target-setting declarations in test history. With 23 he is two clear of Ricky Ponting, the previous record holder. Their fortunes are quite different as Smith has only converted 26% into victories, compared to Ponting’s 81%. Smith hasn’t always been over-cautious, but as at Wellington in April, his reluctance to get out in the field has on occasions cost the South Africans a win.

Prince Mahela or Premier Jayawardene?

Mahela Jayawardene leads Sri Lanka into next week’s series against England. He is one of the world’s most respected cricketers. A batsman of princely touch, who thrives in all forms of the game without sacrificing his balance and delicate shot-making to either the fast-scoring demands of limited overs cricket or crease occupation requirements of the five day game.

Princes, however, don’t get to ascend twice to the same throne. Jayawardene is starting his second period of captaincy. The stronger analogy of civil authority is to that of a prime minister, lifted for a second time to office, rather than the one-off assignment of a monarch. Sri Lankan politics offers two recent examples of leaders returning to the highest office: R Wickremanayake and R Wickremasinghe. Other premiers from the cricket family of nations to have achieved this feat include men of the reputations of Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson and Robert Menzies.

The recent history of international cricket provides a few examples of captains having two (or more) periods in charge (NB I am excluding captains whose periods in charge were interrupted by injury – e.g. Michael Vaughan – or unavailability – e.g. Greg Chappell – and those who filled in for another’s absence – e.g. Andrew Strauss’s first stint as England captain).

They fall broadly into two types.

The first kind is the emergency leader, brought back not just to the captaincy, but to the team, when the powers-that-be are looking for leadership first and playing contribution second. There are two archetypes of the second kind. In fact, they provide such a definitive example of the species that I shall name it the Simpson-Brearley choice.

Bobby Simpson was brought out of retirement aged 41, not so much to plug a gap, but bridge a chasm between two generations of Australian cricketers, which had been brought about by the Packer defections. He steered the team to a 3-2 home victory against India, before joining many fine skippers in succumbing to the West Indies, who smuggled their stars back from the Packer circus into the team.

Brearley’s return as captain in 1981 was short, dramatic, wholly successful and provides the example that’s enough to convince any once bitten ex-skipper that when the offer comes again it’s best not to be shy.

Type two is the champion player whose lengthy career in Test cricket encompasses a full turn of the wheel. In some cases, his first shot at captaincy came a little early and team or personal form took a hit. A stalwart of his side, the elapse of time, forgiveness, maturity and perhaps the lack of alternatives, sees him once again elevated. Examples are easier to find from India, Pakistan and West Indies than elsewhere. I am intrigued whether this is evidence that some Test playing countries have a more monarchical view of captaincy: it’s a once or nothing office, with teams built around the captain, who will stand or fall on the team’s results, without hope of a return. While other countries invest less in the institution, enabling them to shuttle between the stronger candidates in their sides. Imran Khan and Javed Miandad alternated, partly according to the former’s interest in playing through the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Jayawardene belongs to the second group, keeping the company of Brian Lara, Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and David Gower. Lara, Miandad and Imran each had at least three separate assignments as captain. Australian examples are fewer – Kim Hughes is one. This is unexpected given their tradition of having a skipper who is first amongst equals, rather than a post-holder around whom a team is picked.

Jayawardene doesn’t fit my stereotype in many ways. No young buck, he had already played over 70 Tests before he became skipper. He led a vibrant, successful team that won series away in England, New Zealand and West Indies, as well as taking the one-day team to the 2007 World Cup Final. He stood down two years later, passing the captaincy to the man he had spent hours beside in the changing room, and more celebrated hours together in the middle accumulating vast partnerships. Jayawardene’s resignation was a surprise and there was talk of back-room politics, although he spoke of a decline in his one-day form. But his reputation was of a man who forged a united team and he could boast the second highest batting average of any Test captain.

Sri Lanka’s fortunes have dipped in the last year, with even Muralitharan’s retirement an inadequate explanation for the weakness of some of their performances. And so Jayawardene agreed in January of this year to succeed TM Dilshan on his resignation. Jayawardene has set a 12 month cap on his captaincy. In the three-headed ODI series in Australia, he set about his task with an energy and enthusiasm of someone confident in the role and maybe liberated from the need to build a foundation for his own future as a leader.

Premier Jayawardene has an opportunity to begin his year of Test captaincy by unseating world number one, England. With opponents so rocky on slow, turning pitches, Jayawardene could emulate the success of another calm, decisive leader, Misbah-ul-Haq. Success may be the biggest threat to his plan of spending no more than a year in charge. Sri Lankans will be relieved that their captain is more prime-ministerial than regal for one other reason: premiers can return to the ranks when their reign is over; kings are gone for good.