Fat middle order thin on runs

Fat middle order thin on runs

The Indian middle-order collapse is becoming an all too familiar sight. After losing nine wickets for 29 runs against South Africa, the batsmen gifted seven wickets for 50 runs versus the West Indies.

In the run-up to the 2011 World Cup and in these subcontinental conditions, it was touted as the most devastating batting line-up to take the field, not the most devastated.

Perhaps, that’s being uncharitable to some local batsmen who have performed. After all, two of the top five run scorers in this tournament are Indians. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Co. have scored five centuries collectively, the most by any team, plundering the maximum boundaries along the way.

Also See Top Heavy (PDF)

Before the tournament started, it was accepted wisdom that the middle order was supposed to be the soft underbelly of most teams, except India. The Australians (initially without Michael Hussey) were supposed to be shaky against spin. Sri Lanka has little experience outside of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, South Africa’s Jean-Paul Duminy and Francois Du Plessis were deemed not too reliable and so on. On the other hand, Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and friends were expected to bash, muscle and power their way to huge totals.

Also Read Ravi Krishnan’s earlier columns

But looking at the numbers from the 42 league stage games, some teams have shattered that perception while some others have reinforced it.

If you look purely at batting averages, the South African middle quartet has scored 44.8 runs per batsman per innings. They are followed by the Australians whose middle order has scored 41.6 runs per batsman per innings.

For the purpose of this analysis, we have grouped the top three batters by position as the top order, and the next four as the middle order.

The usual caveats apply here: These include runs made in matches versus the associates, both chasing and setting targets in various conditions and flexible batting orders like in the case of India in some matches. Also, middle-order averages can appear inflated because of the number of unbeaten innings.

Still, averages by themselves don’t prove anything. The South African middle-order average is 8.4 runs better than the top order. They are only one of the two quarter-finalists—the other being Pakistan—whose middle order statistics put the top order in the shade. Pakistan’s middle quarter scored almost 34 runs per batter per innings, about nine runs more than the top order.

As expected, the other teams are more reliant on their top three batters. For five of the eight quarterfinalists, the top order has contributed at least half the team’s runs, which is not surprising given that they have the opportunity to face more overs. Yet, the difference between top and middle order batting averages is at least 10 for a majority of the teams.

It is the starkest for Sri Lanka. The top trio averages 60 runs per batsman per innings, not only the highest among all teams, but also a whopping 33 runs more than the middle order. Now, this is despite Jayawardene batting at number four usually.

Averages are only part of the story. If one looks at strike rates, then the South African middle order appears overwhelmingly superior, though teams do tend to accelerate in the latter part of the innings. South Africa scored 97.3 runs every 100 balls, the fastest among all teams. Indeed, it is 21 more runs than the top order strike rate, the biggest difference among teams in the quarterfinals.

By these numbers, India’s middle order looks middling despite some match-winning performances by Yuvraj Singh. It averages about 41 runs per batsman per innings, about 10 fewer than the top trio. The middle quartet also scores at a slower rate of 85 runs per 100 balls, compared with the 100% strike rate of the top order, which is the best among all quarterfinalists.

It is almost a no-brainer that the Indian middle order will have to fire against the Australians to progress in the tournament. A clearer picture will have emerged by the time you read this.

Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint

Respond to this column at ravi.k@livemint.com