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Numbers demonstrate that Gautam Gambhir could have been a good bet in South Africa

Numbers demonstrate that Gautam Gambhir could have been a good bet in South Africa

Given the recent success of Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay as openers, one cannot really build a strong case for Gautam Gambhir (above) © IANS

Gautam Gambhir’s absence from the Indian Test squad for South Africa should not raise too many eyebrows — especially given the opening batsman’s poor run in international cricket for the past few years. However, Arunabha Sengupta looks at the numbers and finds that left-handers have done significantly better in South Africa in recent times. Have the selectors missed a trick by omitting the Delhi batsman?

The Indian Test squad selected to embark on the arduous, challenging and severely trimmed tour of South Africa was only mildly surprising.
There had been some who believed Gautam Gambhir could have made the cut. After all, in the recent past experience has been scooped away from the Indian batting order by noble spoonfuls. There was a reasonable argument for appending the band of supremely talented young men with the wisdom of years and exposure to earlier tours. After all Gambhir did score three fifties in the four innings he played on the difficult South African tracks in 2010-11.
Of course, since then he has managed just 787 runs in 16 Tests at an abysmal 28.10, with just five half-centuries, barely lasting 60 balls per innings. His last two overseas tours have brought him a dismal 136 runs at 13.60 without a single half-century.
In the current season, he did seem to have come back to top gear. He hit 123 against West Indies A; and had a couple of good outings for Delhi in the Ranji Trophyscoring 64 and 51 not out at Mumbai before slamming 153 against Haryana at home. However, even the weight of experience and the fairly decent layer of recent runs were not enough to bury the lack of performances in the international arena for the last few years.
And given the recent success of Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay, and the promises of another golden age of middle-order mastery promised by Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and the talented Ajinkya Rahane, one cannot really build a strong case for Gambhir.
Yet, looking at certain figures, one wonders if the Indian think tank has not neglected some crucial insight.

Advantage left-handers
Ever since South Africa returned to the Test fold, the Rainbow nation has been the most difficult country to tour for the entire cricketing world. And on such a voyage, selecting Gambhir might have been a calculated risk.
No, the suggestion is not based on his earlier experience in that land, not for the past laurels on which he had shown dangerous inclination to rest blissfully. It is for the rather coincidental advantage of being a left-hander.
If we look at the list of the best performers among visitors to South Africa since their readmission, the table seems to be cluttered with left-handers.

Batsmen with more than 500 runs in South Africa since tours resumed in 1992

Batsman T R Ave 100s 50s LH/RH
Adam Gilchrist (Aus) 6 523 65.37 2 1 LH
Chris Gayle (WI) 5 545 54.50 2 2 LH
Phil Hughes (Aus) 5 532 53.20 2 2 LH
Andrew Strauss (Eng) 9 826 51.62 3 2 LH
Steve Waugh (Aus) 9 603 50.25 1 4 RH
Ricky Ponting (Aus) 11 937 46.85 3 5 RH
Brian Lara (WI) 9 841 46.72 2 5 LH
Sachin Tendulkar (India) 15 1,161 46.44 5 3 RH
Stephen Fleming (NZ) 11 927 46.35 1 5 LH
Mark Waugh (Aus) 9 611 43.64 2 1 RH
Shivnarine Chanderpaul (WI) 11 799 42.05 2 5 LH
Michael Atherton (Eng) 10 615 41.00 2 3 RH
VVS Laxman (India) 10 566 40.42 0 4 RH
Sourav Ganguly (India) 8 506 36.14 0 4 LH
Alec Stewart (Eng) 10 577 36.06 0 4 RH
Kumar Sangakkara (SL) 8 572 35.75 1 3 LH
Matthew Hayden (Aus) 10 624 34.66 2 3 LH
Rahul Dravid (India) 11 624 29.71 1 2 RH

As we see, in the list of visiting batsmen who have managed more than 500 runs in South Africa, the top four are left-handers. Seven out of the top 10 happen to be south-paws.
Apart from the Sachin Tendulkar-powered India, the most successful batsman for every other major team is a left-hander.
For Pakistan, although no one tops 500, the best average is boasted by left-handed Taufeeq Umar with 280 runs at 70.00.
Even Mitchell Johnson has hammered 356 runs in the country at 71.20.
For New Zealand, Mark Richardson has less runs but a marginally better average than Stephen Fleming, and Daniel Vettori has an aggregate of 270 at a very creditable 38.57.
The highest score ever by a visiting batsman in the country is 262 by Fleming. (One need not read more into this than necessary, but the second best is by another left-hander, Eddie Paynter with 243.)
The numbers tell us that the excellent Proteas bowling attacks have enjoyed bowling to right-handers much more than when the southpaws have stood in front of them. It perhaps also casts some light on the reasons for Gambhir’s excellent performance there during the last tour.
The difference is palpable when we look at the overall tables for right-handers and left-handers in the country.

The 84 left-handers to have played in South Africa since 1992 have scored at 7.67 more runs per innings than the 257 right-handers. The strike-rates show that they have also made runs more freely. The left-handers have scored a hundred in just under every third innings whereas the right-handers have required almost seven for each ton.

Left-handers versus right-handers in South Africa since tours resumed in 1992

Type Batsmen I Ave SR 100s Innings per Hunderd
Left-handers 84 574 30.27 48.13 29 2.90
Right-hander 257 1,503 22.60 44.95 38 6.76

If we consider only top-order batsmen, the difference is less, but still more than significant. It just shows that the South African bowlers have struggled to get rid of left-handed lower-order batsmen as well, even conceding a couple of hundreds to them.

Top-order left-handers versus top-order right-handers in South Africa since 1991

Type Batsmen I Ave SR 100s Innings per Hunderd
Left-handers 66 449 32.80 47.28 27 2.44
Right-hander 155 925 27.59 44.68 38 4.08

The numbers leave no doubt that the left-handers have fared much better in the land in recent years. And looking at the figures it does seem that Gambhir in the team could have been an added bonus, even if we ignored the experience factor.
There are southpaws in the Indian team. Dhawan’s exciting presence at the top of the order is a boost for the side, and Ravindra Jadeja may finally cruise on the favourable history of left-handers in the land and prove to be a successful batsman in Test matches as well.
Yet, one cannot help wondering whether the Indian selectors have missed a trick by omitting the Delhi opener.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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