• The Numbers Game

Strauss and Smith search for runs

S Rajesh
March 30, 2012
Graeme Smith averages 24.83 in the first innings in his last 12 Tests, and 73.33 in the second innings © AFP
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They are both left-hand batsmen who lead their teams and their batting line-ups; they are captains who are closing in on their 100th Test matches; and they are players struggling just a bit to perform to levels that they are used to. The first Test of South Africa's tour to England this summer will be Graeme Smith's 100th; the last Test of the same series will be Andrew Strauss' 100th, if he plays all of England's Tests during this period. Both will want their batting to be in a healthier state in their landmark matches and after.

Of the two, Strauss is clearly more desperately in need of Test runs. It has been 23 innings since he last managed a Test hundred - 110 at the Gabba in the Ashes opener in 2010 - and over these 23 innings, he has only managed an average of 28.52, with five fifties and a highest of 87. Over the last 14 of those 23 innings, Strauss has achieved some consistency, but not of the sort you'd want from one of your top-order batsmen: he has been dismissed between 22 and 32 seven times, which shows he has got off to starts often but has failed to make them count. During this period, he has averaged 41.50 in the innings in which he has touched 20; before that, he used to average 66.12 when he avoided the early pitfalls and reached 20. Clearly he isn't doing enough when he gets a start.

Smith's problems are slightly different. His overall numbers are much better than Strauss', though his average is slightly inflated by two unbeaten 50-plus scores, including a 101 not out. Unlike Strauss, he has scored centuries - two in 21 innings - and has made his starts count, averaging 65.30 in the innings in which he has reached 20.

Smith's issue has been his inability to be at his best in the first innings. As opposed to his career average of 50.22 in the first innings of Tests, during this period his first-innings average has slumped to 24.83, with a highest of 62 in 12 innings. On the other hand, Smith has been prolific in the second innings, scoring a couple of centuries in pretty challenging situations: in Cape Town against Australia, his unbeaten 101 and the partnership with Hashim Amla swung a bizarre Test match decisively in South Africa's favour, while his 115 in Dunedin put South Africa in control after they had conceded the first-innings lead to New Zealand. In fact, Smith has always had a superb record in the second innings, and even more so in the fourth innings of Tests, and he has kept that up over the last 15 months; it's just that he has found first-innings runs a lot harder to score.

For Strauss, on the other hand, second-innings runs have been far more difficult: he averages 19.25, with a highest of 32 in eight innings.

Smith and Strauss over the last year and a half
Batsman Tests Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Smith since Nov 20, 2010 12 21 738 41.00 2/ 4
Strauss since Dec 1, 2010 15 23 656 28.52 0/ 5
Smith and Strauss in 1st and 2nd innings during this period
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Smith - 1st innings 12 298 24.83 0/ 3
Smith - 2nd innings 9 440 73.33 2/ 1
Strauss - 1st innings 15 502 33.46 0/ 5
Strauss - 2nd innings 8 154 19.25 0/ 0

Both Strauss and Smith have been helped by the fact that other batsmen have taken over the mantle of scoring. (For Smith that's more the case in the first innings, since he has been the star batsman in the second.) South Africa have had AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis, who have scored mountains of runs in the first innings to set up the game for them. Alviro Petersen has been a useful addition as well, averaging more than 53, while Amla has chipped in with four fluent fifties and a hundred. In the second innings Smith has the highest aggregate and average, but he has been well supported by Amla, de Villiers and Kallis.

South African batsmen in Tests since Nov 20, 2010
Batsman 1st inngs Runs Average 2nd inngs Runs Average Overall ave
AB de Villiers 12 910 91.00 7 310 44.28 71.76
Jacques Kallis 11 792 79.20 7 253 50.60 69.66
Hashim Amla 12 487 40.58 8 396 56.57 46.47
Alviro Petersen 8 429 53.62 7 149 24.83 41.28
Graeme Smith 12 298 24.83 9 440 73.33 41.00
Jacques Rudolph 8 214 30.57 4 165 55.00 37.90
Ashwell Prince 7 192 27.42 5 117 39.00 30.90

Strauss, though, has been overshadowed in both first and second innings by England specialist batsmen, plus Matt Prior, who is among the team's four batsmen to average more than 50 during this period. In the second innings, though, most of the England batsmen have fared quite poorly - Cook and Kevin Pietersen both average in the 20s, and only Prior averages more than 38. Those averages are obviously the result of England's recent problems against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, since in many of their wins last year, they hardly needed to bat a second time.

England batsmen in Tests since Dec 1, 2010
Batsman 1st inngs Runs Average 2nd inngs Runs Average Overall ave
Ian Bell 15 942 78.50 8 262 37.42 63.36
Alastair Cook 15 1175 78.33 8 200 25.00 59.78
Kevin Pietersen 15 924 66.00 8 188 23.50 50.54
Matt Prior 14 549 49.90 8 302 50.33 50.05
Jonathan Trott 13 638 53.16 8 293 36.62 46.55
Andrew Strauss 15 502 33.46 8 154 19.25 28.52

As stated earlier, the problem is clearly more acute for Strauss, and that's also reflected in his struggles against a couple of types of bowling. Strauss has always been susceptible against left-arm fast bowlers - over his entire Test career, he averages 27.29 against them, as opposed to 46.71 against right-arm pace - but more recently he has also been unusually unsteady against left-arm spin. He has fallen three times to Abdur Rehman and twice to Rangana Herath in the last 16 months, and averages 11 against left-arm spin, which is well below his career average of 53.84 against that type of bowling. His problems against left-arm pace have continued too, with six dismissals at an average of 16.33.

Smith's stats are particularly poor against a certain type of bowling, but in the first innings he has come off second-best against both right-arm fast (seven dismissals, average 23.57) and left-arm fast (four dismissals, average 24.50). England's high-quality pace attack will surely fancy their chances against Smith's slightly iffy technique, especially at the start of his innings. England's problem is that their captain looks equally, if not more, susceptible against South Africa's top-class bowling line-up.

Strauss against each type of bowler
Bowler type Runs Balls Dismissals Average
Right-arm pace 389 878 8 48.62
Right-arm spin 114 344 4 28.50
Left-arm pace 98 211 6 16.33
Left-arm spin 55 115 5 11.00

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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