VVS Laxman: Is the Hyderabadi batsman truly great or truly average?

On various parameters, VVS Laxman falls short of greatness compared to modern greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis © Getty Images

 

Back-to-back 0-4 Test series defeats have turned the heat on Team India. The once famed batting of the team has been the chief reason for India’s woes. And taking the brunt of the criticism is VVS Laxman. The team has expectedly shown solidarity with the senior player, confident that he will bounce back. And pro-Laxman voices feel that’s its unfair to target one individual when it’s been a collective failure of the team.

As the sun is setting on the Hyderabadi’s international career, the question that has to be asked: Can Laxman be considered an all-time great? 

At CricketingMinds, we believe – in all fairness — that Laxman is just an average batsman in the context of other great players. We allow the numbers to speak for itself.

 

Some of the standards shared by the greats of the game:

 

1.       Overall average of > 50

2.       Overall away average of > 40

3.       Minimum of 20 Test centuries

4.       A century against all Test playing nations

5.       High rate of scoring centuries

6.       Low rate of scoring ducks

7.       Consistent performance

A cursory look at Laxman’s statistics shows that he is below the mark in five of the first six criteria listed above. 

Let’s look at each piece in detail:

 

Overall Average of > 50 – FAIL

This is perhaps the most arguable of the points we are seeking to make. Yet, it is the most critical one in this argument.

 

A great player is known to be consistent, and can cash in with a run of big scores when in form. The batting greats from Laxman’s era, such as Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, all have made bucket load of runs.

 

During his golden run, Ponting had back-to-back years with averages of over 70 during 2002-2003 and scored over 1000 runs in 2005-2006. 

 

Kallis averages the most amongst these great batsmen (57.02 from 150 Test matches). Dravid has averaged over 50 in Tests for five continuous years (2002-2006) which speaks volumes for Dravid’s class. In 2003 Dravid averaged over a 100 including a match-winning 233 and 72* vs Australia at Adelaide.  

 

Using numbers to prove Tendulkar’s greatness would be just waste of space.

 

Whereas, VVS Laxman has not managed to achieve an average of 50 despite playing 134 Test matches. 

 

Overall Away Average of > 40 – PASS

 

Laxman passes the criterion of an overall away Test average of over 40 to be a great batsman. He has scored heavily against the might Australians in Australia where he averages 44.14. He averages the most in Sri Lanka (48.18) and West Indies(47.75). 

 

What is notable is that Laxman doesn’t average more than 50 in any country except at Home and he averages only 39 inBangladesh. This shows he hasn’t been able to capitalise against weak oppositions.
 

 

Minimum of 20 Test Centuries – FAIL

 

A great batsman is one who is able to convert starts into big valuable knocks. Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis and Dravid have over 35 Test centuries. 

 

Laxman has played 131 Test matches and scored only 17 centuries. Dravid, on the other hand, has scored 36 centuries and has only 33 more matches. Laxman will have to score a century in less than every two matches just to equal that number. In fact, even Virender Sehwag, who has only played 96 Test matches, has scored 22 centuries in a relatively shorter career. 

 

A century against all Test playing nations – FAIL

 

Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting and Kallis have all scored big in all conditions against all Test playing nations. Laxman, on the other hand, has failed to score a century against England (Highest: 75 in Ahmedabad) and minnows Bangladesh (Highest: 69* in Chittagong) 

 

Low number of innings per century – FAIL

 

Laxman takes approximately 13.11 innings to score every century. The glaring contrast between Laxman and some of the modern greats can be seen in the below stats:

 

Batsman

 

# Innings/Century

 

Sachin Tendulkar

6.05

Ricky Ponting

6.85

Jaques Kallis

6.2

Rahul Dravid

7.8

Avg for top 66 centurions

8.2

VVS Laxman

13.11

 

 
As can be seen from the table above, the number of innings that Laxman takes to score a century is really high. In fact, amongst the top 66 Test centurions, only Alec Stewart does worse than Laxman — scoring a century every 15.7 innings. 

 

This begs the question: Why do the so-called experts of the game (and fans alike) talk about Laxman as being a batsman who “makes big scores” and punishes the opposition when he’s on song, when the fact is that he has only scored 17 centuries in 131 Test matches? 

 

Laxman has made a couple of big scores against Australia when he was on the threshold of being axed. It’s surprising to see the willingness of experts to forgive Laxman. His repeated failures are forgotten and, instead, the focus is on his heroics of one innings.

 

High number of innings per duck – FAIL

 

Compared to other modern greats, the frequency of Laxman getting out without scoring is quiet high. On average, Laxman registers a duck every 15.9 innings. In comparison, Dravid’s is 35.5 and Tendulkar 22.07.

 

Batsman

 

# Innings/Duck

 

Sachin Tendulkar

22.07

Ricky Ponting

17.1

Jacques Kallis

19.5

Rahul Dravid

35.5

Avg for top 66 centurions

20.1

VVS Laxman

15.9

 

Consistency

 

a. Runs scored: Year-by-Year

Only once in his 17-year Test career has Laxman hammered over 1000 runs in a calendar year (2008). To prove the inconsistency point, in 2007 and 2009 Laxman couldn’t even score 500 Test runs.

 

Tendulkar has pounded over 1000 Test runs in a calendar year six times in his career. Tendulkar was most consistent between 1997 and 2002, when he scored 1000 or more runs four times.

 

Dravid, on the other hand, has worked hard to score 1000 or more Test runs in a calendar year three times in his career. 

Kallis and Ponting have achieved this feat five times in their careers – Ponting scoring back-to-back 1000+ runs in 2002-2003 and again in 2005-2006.  

VVS Laxman: Is the Hyderabadi batsman truly great or truly average?

 

 

b. Average (Home, Away and Overall): Year-by-Year

 

The table below shows that Laxman has averaged a mere 24.06 for the first four years of his career, spanning from 1996-1999. It was only after this point that he started making meaningful contributions to the team. In 2000, his away average spiked to 87, but that was not a result of consistency, but rather one good performance against australia where he scored a century. Even then, he was unable to get his team over the line. 

 

A more general observation, Laxman during the peak of his career, never seemed to have a purple patch where he would be on a tear, scoring runs at an average of 70+ for a couple of years. His best year was in 2003, where he averaged 85, but that was followed by an out of form calendar year performance with an average of 32.06. His average at home was 18.88, which is more significant because India played more matches at home that year. 

 

His next best year was in 2009, but once again, it wasn’t because Laxman played spectacularly throughout the year and dominated oppositions repeatedly, but rather because of a condensed schedule where he played only six matches in the entire year. This good year came for him after a gap of 6 years; again showing his lack of consistency. It also shows that he has never really been a threat to his opposition on a regular basis.  

VVS Laxman: Is the Hyderabadi batsman truly great or truly average?

 

 

c. Percentage of runs scored in last six series:

 

Indian Batsmen %’s in last six series

 

Laxman

Dravid

Tendulkar

12.24

16.09

14.22

 

In India’s last six series, Dravid has been their main man – scoring 16.09 % of the team runs. Whereas Laxman’s contribution is worth just 12.24% which is lower than both Tendulkar and Dravid’s contribution.

 

% of Team Total

 

Laxman

 

Dravid

 

Tendulkar

 

>30%

4

6

3

20-30%

3

5

6

10-20%

6

9

5

<10%

20

15

14

 

In India’s last six series, on 20 occasions Laxman has scored less than 10% of the team total which is the highest compared to Dravid (15) and Tendulkar (14). 

 

These stats reflect the mediocrity of Laxman and why he is the most likely candidate among the Big Three to be shown the exit door.

 

d. 4th innings analysis

 

Indian players in the fourth innings

 

 

Laxman

Tendulkar

Dravid

Ganguly

Sehwag

Overall

40.76

38.75

40.78

37.56

30.28

Wins

100.5

72.55

56.77

70.75

40.44

Wins + draws

83.87

53.1

67.68

85.83

38

Losses

21.61

23.4

21.22

20.52

16.55

 

 

Laxman can be considered India’s most dependable when it comes to 4th innings, despite his recent slump. He averages more than Tendulkar, Sehwag and Ganguly and is on par with Dravid’s fourth innings efforts. What is most praiseworthy about Laxman is that he averages over 100 on the 4th innings when India have won. That is much better than Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Sehwag. This would give the reader an impression that Laxman plays crucial, match-winning knocks in the 4thinnings.

 

But how true is this statement? 

 

e. Laxman in Match-Winning Innings

 

For all the 50+ scores of Laxman, a match-winning innings is one in which:
India has won and either: 
 

(1) Laxman has scored more than 25% of the teams runs in 1st, 2nd or 3rd innings 

or 

(2) scored a 50+ 4th innings total in a successful run chase.

Laxman has batted 259 times in Test cricket and only 17 times he has managed to produce a match-winning knock satisfying the above criteria.

 

This translates to show that when Laxman goes out to bat, the probability of him scoring a match winning 50+ score is 0.065 (6.5 per cent)

 

f. Laxman in match-saving Innings

 

For all the 50+ scores of Laxman, a match-saving innings is one in which:

India has drawn and either:

1. In 1st or 2nd innings, Laxman has batted in a crisis (collapse) 

OR

2. In 1st or 2nd innings or 3rd innings, Laxman has scored a 100 which is more than 25 per cent of the team’s total 

OR

3. In 1st or 2nd innings, Laxman has scored a 50, which is more than 40 per cent of the team’s total 

OR 

4. In 3rd innings, Laxman has batted during a crisis (Note: There should be an attempted 4th innings chase by the opposition)

OR

5. In 3rd innings, Laxman has scored a 50 which is more than 30 per cent of the team’s total (Note: There should be an attempted 4th innings chase by the opposition) 

OR

6. In 4th innings, Laxman has scored 50 or more which is more than 30 per cent of the team’s total in order to save India from a loss.

 

Out of the 259 times Laxman has batted, he has produced a match-saving innings only 11 times which satisfies the above criteria. 

This translates to show that when Laxman goes out to bat, the probability of him scoring a match saving 50+ score is 0.042 (4.2 per cent)

Conclusion

Contrary to popular belief that Laxman is a great batsman, the numbers in this article argue that Laxman might have shown glimpses of greatness but has failed to live up to the standards set by the great batsmen of his generation.

 

The table below summarises Laxman’s failure to grab the chance of being named amongst legendary batsmen like Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis and Dravid.

 

Criteria

 

Judgement

 

Overall Avg > 50

Fail

Overall Away Avg > 40

Pass

Minimum 20 Test Centuries

Fail

Test Century vs All Test Playing Nations

Fail

High rate of scoring 100s

Fail

Low rate of scoring 0s

Fail

Consistency

Poor

 

(Cricketing Minds is a unit that has engineered new ways to analyse top players and teams. They use numbers to back our statements, and judge players based purely on performance, not star power or emotions. Cricketing Minds is a tight-knit group of graduates based out of Toronto, Canada, whose aim is to provide users with interesting topics to read about, all based from a statistical standpoint. They can be also be followed on Twitter )