Cricket: Sangakkara v Gilchrist … Sorry but there is only one winner!

I was listening to the Tatts Bet Breakfast show this morning on my commute to work when the discussion turned to the record of Kumar Sangakkara.  Whilst much of the discussion was focused on just how good a player he is there was also some discussion comparing him to Adam Gilchrist.  Indeed one of the commentators stated that he would still prefer Gilchrist over Sangakkara if asked to choose between the two.  That statement, and the discussion around it, got me thinking about these two, both fine, cricketers and their respective places in the cricket’s history books. 

Frankly, I can not countenance any view other than this: Kumar Sangakkara is one of the greats to play the game, not just a modern great, but a great across the near 150 years the game has been played at test match level.  In a two horse race between Sangakkara and Gilchrist there can only be one winner in my view and that is the man from Sri Lanka. 

I have oft heard about the record of Sangakkara that he scores runs against lesser opposition and has the benefit of batting on, allegedly, “easy” wickets at home and that skews his numbers.  So I have come up with this statistical comparison for the battle between Gilchrist and Sangakkara using these paramaters:

  • Away test matches;
  • Against India, South Africa, Pakistan and England; and
  • Against Australia or Sri Lanka (as the case may be).

I have chosen India, South Africa, Pakistan and England as they have been the benchmark, Australia and Sri Lanka aside, for tough cricket in difficult conditions over the last 15 years.

Here is how Gilchrist and Sangakkara match up based on those paramaters:

Player Against Matches Runs HS  Ave 100s  Ct St
Sangakkara Australia 5 543 192 60.33 1 8 0
England 11 862 147 41.04 2 15 1
India 6 365 137 36.5 1 8 0
Pakistan 11 1377 230 72.47 5 10 1
South Africa 8 572 108 35.75 1 10 0
TOTAL 41 3719 230 49.58 10 51 2
Gilchrist England 10 521 152 40.07 1 42 3
India 7 342 122 28.5 2 29 0
Pakistan 3 122 66* 40.66 0 10 1
South Africa 6 523 204* 65.37 2 24 2
Sri Lanka 3 201 144 40.2 1 11 3
TOTAL 29 1709 204* 41.68 6 116 9

It is interesting that both players have exceptional records against the teams that have been the best opposition in each era for them with both averaging over 60 against Australia (Sangakkara) and South Africa (Gilchrist). Sangakkara has not been as successful in South Africa as Gilchrist whilst there is a notable disparity between the performances of the two on other subcontinent wickets. 

Statistics only tell part of the story though.  The fact is that Sangakkara has batted in the top 3 for the bulk of his career and has, on most occasions, faced the new ball .  Sangakkara has also been the leader, either as captain or in deed, of a team that has rarely been the favourite in contests with the top teams in test match cricket whilst Gilchrist played in a team full of superstars and bearing the perennial tag as the best team in the world. Gilchrist batting at seven in a dominant Australian batting line up more often than not strode to the crease with Australia in a strong position. 

Then of course there is the question of technique with the willow: Gilchrist was an “eye” player who often clubbed the ball whereas Sangakkara is more of a purist in style.  Defensively, Hashim Amla aside, there is no better defensive player in the game than Sangakkara at the moment whereas with Gilchrist there was always a nagging concern about his play early when the ball was aimed at the fourth stump. 

The foregoing gets me back to my initial thought when I was listening to 4TAB this morning: if I had a choice between Sangakkara or Gilchrist to play in my team I would pick Sangakkara every single time without hesitation.  Substance in this context bests style just as defensive steel best attacking flair!    

Australia in South Africa 2014: Australia’s top order struggles in focus

I have been saying for some time that Australia’s top order has been inconsistent at best and out of form at worst for some time now.  The Ashes victory in Australia was built not off the back of top orders runs but the efforts of, principally, Brad Haddin with the willow and the bowlers.  Over night, after a respite of sorts in the first test, Australia’s top order limitations were again brought to the fore.

On an innocuous wicket on which Australia’s much vaunted bowling attack was made to bowl some 150 overs, no top order batter, David Warner aside, was in the long enough to construct an innings.  Now, those of you who read this blog who lament that I am often far to negative when it comes the Australian cricket team, consider these statistics:

  • Australia has played 16 test matches in the last 12 calendar months (including the test match currently in play).
  • During this span Australia has batted 31 times (again including the current innings).
  • Australia’s average score when the third wicket has fallen in each innings (excluding the one innings where the 3rd wicket was not lost) was 95.
  • Australia’s average score when the fourth wicket has fallen in each innings (excluding the two innings where the 4th wicket was not lost) was 134.
  • Those numbers, low as they are, are skewed by a couple of excellent partnerships.  Of more concern is that 18 occasions out of 31 possible innings the Australian top order has failed to reach 100 before three wickets were lost (or 58% of the time).  For the fourth wicket the numbers are not better: 12 times in 30 possible innings Australia has not reached 100 before the fourth wicket has been lost.

These numbers have to be a concern for every Australian cricket fan.  Whilst they have been winning, they have not been doing it through runs at the top of the order.  That fact is most explicitly seen when one considers that during the span of six wins Australia has recently has in a row has failed to pass 100 before losing its 3rd wicket on six out of eleven occasions and before losing its 4th wicket on five out of ten occasions.

The injection of Doolan and Marsh has not improved Australia’s top order based on last night’s evidence and, whilst the captain continues to score big hundreds on occasion, he has also been getting out regularly before reaching 20 which is putting the middle order under more and more pressure.

I do not know that there is an easy solution given that Australia has continued to tinker with its top order throughout this span of 16 test matches.  Equally, if there is one area in which Australia’s performance needs to improve it is in this area.  In India and in England the cracks in Australia’s top order could not be filled enough to secure enough runs to lead Australia to victory.  In Australia, against a woeful England, it did not matter as it also didn’t at Centurion.  Now that Australia faces the prospect of a suddenly resurgent South African line up with a lead to defend it is again up to the middle order to bail the top order.  One is starting to wonder how long this can go on before these top order struggles begin to burn the Australian team again.  I, for one, hope that test match is not the present one.