VVS Laxman - Truly Great or Truly Ordinary
As India succumbed to another 4-0 whitewash, fans and critics are trying to figure out who to blame for this miserable performance. A lot of the focus has been on the performances of VVS Laxman, who is considered to be Indiaís all-time greats, and part of the ďbig threeĒ.
Team mates and coaches have stepped in on his defence, saying that just like any other great player Laxman will bounce back when it matters most. The fact that the team has failed as a whole has also helped Laxman, since there are people who suggest that the team should be blamed as a whole and not one person.
The true question, however, is that should Laxman be considered as a batting great of his generation? Here at CricketingMinds, we believe that Laxman is just an average batsman in the context of other great players, and we have the numbers to prove it.
Some of the standards shared by the greats of the game:
1 - Minimum of 20 test centuries
2 - A century against all test playing nations
3 - High rate of scoring centuries
4 - Low rate of scoring ducks
5 - Away average of > 40
6 - Overall average of > 50
7 - Consistent performance
A first look at Laxmanís statistics shows that he is below the mark in 5 of the first 6 criteria listed above. Letís look at each piece one by one.
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 134 test matches and scored only 17 centuries. Rahul 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 2 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 (Hs: 75 in Ahemadabad) and minnows Bangladesh (Hs: 69* in Chittagong). Note that some of the greats like Matthew Hayden, Sehwag and Inzamam fail to satisfy this criterion but do well on the other criteria Ė all of them have more than 20 test centuries.
High rate of scoring centuries - FAIL
Laxman takes approximately 13.11 innings to score every century. This happens to be almost twice as many innings per century than some of the following players:
As can be seen by 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 Ė scoring a century every 15.7 innings.
This begs the question then, why do the so called experts of the game (and fans alike) talk about Laxman as being a batsman who ďmakes big scoresĒ and punishes the opposition when heís on song, when heís only scored 17 centuries in 134 test matches? Itís simple; he has done it when the spotlight was on him.
Laxman has happened to have made a couple of big scores against Australia at times when he was about to get the axe. The media starts talking about the end of Laxman, and in his last chance, he happens make a big score in an innings which is nothing short of commendable. When this happens, it seems that the cricket experts are willing to forgive the number of times Laxman has failed to live up to the expectations. No one remembers his repeated failures and instead choose to focus on his heroics of one innings. Itís just part of human nature, everyone likes a comeback.
Low rate of scoring ducks - FAIL
A great batsman is one who is considered a prize wicket by his opposition, and one who knows how to put his opposition on the back foot early on. VVS Laxman, however, knows how to give his opponents an early drinks break and happens to be quite kind to the scorers as well. Laxman has a really low number of innings per duck, and compared to some of the top batsmen of his generation, heís known to make quiet exits on a frequent basis.
On average, Laxman registers a duck every 15.9 innings.
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 mighty 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 doesnít average more than 50 in any country except at Home and he averages only 39 in Bangladesh. This shows he hasnít been able to capitalize against weak oppositions.
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, since it ties in very closely with the most subjective criteria
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 Laxmanís era, such as Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacque Kallis, Rahul Dravid, all have had not just good series, but great years when theyíve made bucket load of runs.
Ponting during his golden run 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 5 continuous years (2002-2006). This speaks volume about Dravidís class. In 2003 Dravid averaged over a 100 including a match winning 233 and 72* vs Australia at Adelaide.
Using numbers to prove Tendulkarís greatness would be just waste of space.
VVS Laxman, on the otherhand, has not managed to achieve an average of 50 despite playing 134 Test matches, a mark that top players have been able to maintain despite extended patches of poor runs in their careers.
(a) Runs scored: Year-by-Year
Only once during his 17 year career has Laxman hammered over 1000 runs in a calendar year (2008). To prove the point of Laxmanís lack of consistency, in 2007 and 2009 Laxman couldnít even score 500 Test runs.
Tendulkar has pounded over 1000 Test runs in a calendar year 6 times in his career. Tendulkar was most consistent between 1997 and 2002, when he scored 1000 or more runs 4 times.
Dravid on the other hand has worked hard to score 1000 or more Test runs in a calendar year 3 times in his career.
Kallis and Ponting have achieved this 5 times in their careers; With Ponting scoring back-to-back 1000+ runs in 2002-2003 and again in 2005-2006.
(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 of 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 wasnít 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.
Note that we have saved Laxman from some embarrassment by excluding his performance in the 3 Tests he has played so far in 2012.
(c) Percentage of runs scored in last 6 series:
In Indiaís last 6 series, Dravid has been their main man Ė scoring 16.09 % of the team runs. Whereas Laxmanís contribution is worth just 12.24% which is lower than both Sachin & Dravidís contribution.
NOTE: These stats take into account all the innings played which resulted in India being all out, chased a score successfully in the 3rd or 4th innings or the case where the batsman was dismissed. There was a case or two where India just played out 30 overs to secure a draw.
In Indiaís last 6 series, on 20 occasions Laxman has scored less than 10% of the team total which is the highest compared to Dravid (15) and Sachin (14).
Note that Sachin played less games than Dravid or Laxman and hence he has scored less than 10% runs of the team 14/28 times, Dravid 15/35 times, and Laxman 20/33 times.
These stats reflect the mediocrity of Laxman and why he is the likeliest candidate, amongst Indiaís big 3, to be shown the exit door.
(d) 4th innings analysis
Laxman can be considered Indiaís most dependable when it comes to 4th innings despite his recent slump. He averages more than Sachin, Sehwag and Ganguly and is par with Dravidís 4th innings efforts. What is notable is Laxmanís performance in the 4th innings when India has won Ė he averages over 100 which is much better than Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly and Sehwag. This would give the reader an impression that Laxman plays crucial match winning knocks in the 4th innings.
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:
(i) Laxman has scored more than 25% of the teams runs in 1st, 2nd or 3rd innings, or
(ii) 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%)
(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:
(i) In 1st or 2nd innings: Laxman has batted during a crisis (collapse) OR
(ii) In 1st or 2nd innings or 3rd innings: Laxman has scored a 100 which is more than 25% of the teamís total OR
(iii) In 1st or 2nd innings: Laxman has scored a 50 which is more than 40% of the teamís total OR
(iv) In 3rd innings: Laxman has batted during a crisis (Note: There should be an attempted 4th innings chase by the opposition) OR
(v) In 3rd innings: Laxman has scored a 50 which is more than 30% of the teamís total (Note: There should be an attempted 4th innings chase by the opposition) OR
(vi) In 4th innings: Laxman has scored 50 or more which is more than 30% of the teamís 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%)
(You can contact us to see the full list of these match winning and match saving innings)
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 summarizes Laxmanís failure to grab the chance of being named amongst legendary batsmen like Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis and Dravid.
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