By Jaideep Varma and Jatin Thakkar
April 2, 2011. Mumbai. The final of the Cricket World Cup. Lasith Malinga and all his Sri Lankan teammates exulted as Sachin Tendulkar was caught behind and India was reduced to 31 for 2, both star openers gone. A nerve-tingling, nervous moment for most Indian fans, who felt their chance of winning the World Cup after 28 years was in serious jeopardy.
They were wrong.
They had no way of knowing that the five batsmen India still had left actually had better credentials of delivering in those circumstances than both Sehwag and Tendulkar. To its own surprise, Impact Index discovered that Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Raina - all - had a higher Chasing IMPACT than the two openers under pressure situations, and also Finishing IMPACT (chasing and staying not out). What followed thereafter is the stuff of history of course, but it is interesting to note how consistently the core of this Indian ODI team has maintained this remarkable quality.
Chasing consistently is considered the most difficult function in ODI cricket and teams who have batsmen doing that well always thrive. Lloyd’s West Indies (1975-1983), Gavaskar’s India (1985), Ranatunga’s Sri Lanka (1996), Waugh’s Australia (1999), Ponting’s Australia (2003-2007)…all were magnificent chasing teams in their pomp. Dhoni’s team has been too, which is why it is not a coincidence at all that even before winning the World Cup 2011, the team had some notable successes like the 2008 CB Series in Australia and some bilateral series, especially away. Over the last two years particularly, chasing has been an important part of the team’s success. To illustrate this - India won 59% of their ODI matches in 2010 and 63% of that while chasing. In 2011, India won 61% of their ODIs, and 70% of those were while chasing.
On April 2nd 2011, the moment Sri Lanka won the toss and chose to bat, they actually put themselves at a big disadvantage but they had no way of knowing the formidable chasing unit they were looking at. The table below provides a revealing view.
These are India’s ten best chasing batsmen in its ODI history.
The stunning thing here is that 7 of India’s ten best chasing batsmen in its ODI history were in that World Cup final squad. And at that time (April 2011), when it came to chasing under pressure, four of them were ahead of Tendulkar and Sehwag, and when it came to chasing and staying not out (finishing), all five were ahead of these two stars at the top.
From the table above, some interesting things emerge. Kohli and Gambhir, both of whom have a sufficient sample size of matches by now, are so far ahead of the rest (who are in a tight cluster below) that it is curious how conventional cricket statistics is completely unable to bring this out. On averages (when India chased and won) most of these batsmen are in the 55-57 range. Sehwag is way below while Dhoni’s huge average (108) is considerably skewed by his massive proportion of not out innings (31). Impact Index numbers clear the picture considerably – besides Kohli’s dominance, the positions of Gambhir, Dhoni and Raina on the list are revealing.
Kohli’s dominance is significant. He has the lowest failure rate in the second innings amongst all the batsmen in the current squad – and remains a vastly underrated ODI batsman, given what he has been achieving since 2-3 years now (in fact, he is India’s second-highest impact ODI batsman ever currently, just after Tendulkar). It is not at all a coincidence that he is the only one amongst the younger lot who has now made himself a certainty in the Test team.
Gambhir’s sustained performances at the top have not got the attention they deserve; his role in India’s current status as World Cup champions is huge. It is remarkable that on a list of best Indian batsmen who have chased under pressure, both Kohli and Gambhir top the list comprehensively (followed by Gavaskar, Ajay Jadeja, Yuvraj, Raina, Azharuddin, Vengsarkar, Dravid and Tendulkar).
Dhoni’s status as India’s best finisher in its history is well-deserved – he has stayed not out in almost a third of the innings he has batted in during a chase (31) – a sensational proportion. But the interesting thing is that Kohli and Gambhir, with their tallies of just 6 and 9 not outs, produced such a high impact during those performances that they are actually ahead of Dhoni even when it comes to Finishing IMPACT (Azharuddin, Kaif, Yuvraj, Raina, Gavaskar, Tendulkar and Ganguly follow Dhoni to complete the top 10 list in this category).
When it comes to Series/Tournament-deciding performances while chasing, Tendulkar has the highest in the current team (four) but they came in the years 1991, 1998 (twice – the year he was at his peak) and 2008. Two of those 4 performances came in the first of the best-of-three finals, one performance in a support role, and altogether the year-spread did not suggest a reprise on April 2, 2011. It is interesting to note Azharuddin’s dominance in this regard (4 SDs too).
On an international level too, Kohli’s and Gambhir’s places are right at the top. Here is a list of batsmen from all countries in ODI history.
This is a good time to remember that chasing a target is not just about those crunch moments at the end - the photogenic, glamorous moments that tend to often win Man-of-the-Match awards (and media space) over the more substantial solid performances that build up the innings and bring the match to that tantalising pass. To see batsmen like Martin Crowe, Gooch, Lamb, Twose, Misbah-ul-Haq, Andrew Jones and Atapattu over Bevan and Dhoni may be hard to swallow for some, but that is the real story of chasing targets.
The IMPACT results of Chasing under Pressure are interesting. Kohli, notably, still tops the list followed by Michael Vaughan, Bevan, Clive Lloyd, Kallis, Md. Yousuf, Gooch, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Atapattu, Alec Stewart, Gurusinha, Lamb, Thorpe, Cairns, Andy Flower, Cronje, Michael Clarke, Gambhir, Gavaskar, Bell, Andrew Jones, Twose, Stephen Fleming, Miandad and Richie Richardson. Dhoni is 110th on this list – an excellent indicator of how often the batsmen batting above him have been doing their job – Kohli and Gambhir the primary figures in recent times.
When it comes to Finishing IMPACT (chasing and staying not out), the results veer more towards familiarity. Dhoni and Bevan are high on this list – at 12 and 17 respectively; their proportion of not out innings the highest, along with, interestingly, Michael Clarke (24 not outs in 77 chases). But the cumulative impact of Finishing (the quantum of impact made) has Martin Crowe on top of this list, followed by Watson, Kohli (again!), Misbah-ul-Haq, Gambhir (again!), Twose, AB de Villiers, Thorpe, Kallis, Ranatunga, Viv Richards, Dhoni, Dean Jones, Inzamam-ul-Haq, S Fleming, Md Yousuf, Bevan, S Anwar, Sarwan, Cronje, Clarke, Gooch, Coney, Azharuddin and Lamb. In Dhoni’s context, given that the highest proportion of not outs in a chase (31 not outs in 103 chases) are his, this particularly suggests that while Dhoni is the most reliable finisher in ODI history, the impact of most of those finishes do not necessarily register very high on the IMPACT scale (obviously the World Cup final was not in that category).
The retort by Gambhir at the post-match conference after the February 12th win against Australia, when he said Dhoni should have finished the match in the 48th over, was actually indicative of both their approaches. India, chasing 270 were 178 for 4 in the 35th over (so 90-odd at about a run-a-ball from there) when Gambhir was dismissed after laying a strong foundation with a characteristic 92; Dhoni came in and took his time, which raised the asking rate alarmingly – but eventually achieved a spine-tingling win in the last over, thanks to a characteristic unbeaten 44 (though in 58 balls). Gambhir’s comment was seen as a jibe and an indication that there was a split in the team. But actually, it is a great example of two different approaches to a chase. Gambhir’s method is to pace the innings and Dhoni’s is to take it to the very last stages and then launch an assault. Those who have seen him in the IPL would know how often he has been successful in doing this – it seems to be a conscious choice keeping Dhoni’s inherently calm temperament in mind. During the last stages, everyone tends to stress more and an exceptionally calm presence is a clear advantage for the team that has it. The very high rate of limited-overs success Dhoni has had with this approach (sadly, it has backfired spectacularly in Test cricket) clearly justifies this approach, however incomprehensible it may be occasionally to someone like Gambhir.
This leads us to the main point being made in this piece. India’s recent success in ODI cricket, and its emergence as a strong batting outfit in all conditions, has a lot to do with these three batsmen – Gambhir, Kohli and Dhoni. The first two have consistently held many innings together (usually taking turns in doing so) and Dhoni has often come and finished it cleanly at the end. The World Cup final wasn’t the first time this happened, nor was it the last (as this year’s CB series shows). These three are the cornerstone of modern Indian ODI batting and the main reason for its success over the last few years. It is official now – since a while now, India’s ODI batting core has shifted from Sehwag, Tendulkar and Yuvraj to Kohli, Gambhir and Dhoni. It is up to them to seal their legacy even more emphatically – the closing stages of this CB series will offer exactly that opportunity.
For more information, please go to www.impactindexcricket.com