Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid delivered runs and longevity. But for context and consistency, the dour and doughty Allan Border stands out
And so ends another away series for India with a familiar lament about its batsmen’s ability to weather swing, seam and bounce. As another scrutiny awaits them in Australia in December, questions will be asked on the ability of batsmen to play in ‘foreign’ conditions. Stepping back, the question can be rephrased as which batsmen—current and past, from and beyond India—travelled the best?
To keep the analysis comparable, we applied three filters to away records. One, we looked at batsmen who played some part of their cricket after 1991, when South Africa were readmitted to international cricket. Two, to keep it challenging in terms of opposition, we excluded records from matches played in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Three, to ensure a certain size of away records for each player, we set the cumulative cutoff at 3,000 away runs scored in the remaining eight countries.
No one scored more away runs, or centuries and half-centuries, in these countries than Sachin Tendulkar: with 7,645 runs, he is nearly 1,000 runs ahead of Rahul Dravid, which is a testimony to the longevity of both at the highest level. To put that in context, Virat Kohli, who is roughly at the mid-point of a long career, has 3,212 runs in these countries. Both Tendulkar and Dravid also feature in the top 10 in averages, with averages exceeding 50 in these countries.
However, neither tops the averages. That distinction belongs to three batsmen whose batting wasn’t as attractive as it was effective: Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Graeme Smith. They were dour and doughty. They were principally back-foot players who liked to cover the stumps and crowd the crease. They all captained, successfully, for a significant stretch and they all averaged substantially more abroad than they did at home.
Take Allan Border, who amassed 5,431 runs at 56.57 in these countries. That average is 10.6 runs more than his home average—a differential that is bettered at the top by only Smith. If his numbers were not impressive enough, consider the additional context and circumstances in which Border scored a lot of those runs.
One, for much of this period, Border was the captain of the Australian team. Two, for the early part of this period, he was shepherding a young Australian team that had to rise from the simultaneous retirement of Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh (the leading wicket-taker and wicket-keeper, respectively, in the world then), and Greg Chappell (the leading run-getter in Australia then). Three, he played against the West Indies when they had a world-class pace battery.
Four, while he didn’t top averages in any country, he was a model of consistency across conditions. Over 120 innings, Border’s numbers were just as good combating pace in the West Indies, swing in England, or spin and heat in India and Pakistan. Border averaged above 50 in five of these seven countries—the only batsman to do so. In the two countries he didn’t do so, South Africa and Sri Lanka, he played just 12 innings there. The next best in terms of averaging above 50 by country are Tendulkar, Dravid and Jacques Kallis (four apiece).
For the 10 batsmen with the best away averages, England and the West Indies are the best hunting grounds. Six average above 50 in each of these two countries. Conversely, India, South Africa and Sri Lanka are the least fruitful for batsmen, with only two of the 10 averaging above 50. In India, that is Border and Kallis.
A feature of good travelling batsmen is they tend to score big in test wins. Kohli averages 80 in tests that India has won in these seven countries. Border averaged 78, Smith 70 and Waugh 68. Equally, in matches lost by their sides, averages plunged into 30s. Only three batsmen average above 40 in losing causes: Kumar Sangakkara, Brian Lara and Kohli.
One of the tests in any condition, especially foreign, is chasing a target in the final innings. There are two standouts here, Smith and Kohli, both of whom average 52 in the fourth innings. When it comes to playing overseas, Kohli is already ticking many boxes, as Tendulkar and Dravid did before him, or Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath did before them. The other current Indian batsmen, though, have a long way to travel.
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