Liars, damn liars and statisticians – An Expert View from Kersi Meher-Homji

Posted by on Friday, February 24th, 2017 in Cricket


Kersi Meher-Homji, renowned author of 14 Books on Cricket (a 15th, “From Bradman to Kohli” is on the way soon) takes a pot shot at his own profession (or does he?), in his next Guest Article on Cricket Writer!


I admit that I am a cricket statistician. But a liar?


What I am going to say now will make you may think that I am not only a liar but a nutcase.


South Africa’s 21 year-old fast-medium bowler and a tailender Andile Phehlukwayo averages 124.00 with the bat after playing 12 ODIs. This may change on Saturday (25 February) if he is dismissed in the third ODI against New Zealand at Wellington.


So far he has played 12 ODIs from September 2016 till today. In five innings he has played to date he has remained unbeaten four times, scoring 124 runs at an average of 124.00.


It is the highest batting average in any major form of cricket – Tests, ODIs, T20 and first-class.


Averages are at times unsatisfactory yardsticks to measure greatness. For example, the West Indies opener Andy Ganteaume averaged 112.00 with the bat. He played only one Test, against England at Port-of-Spain in February 1948, scored 112 runs, did not bat in the second innings and was never selected in a Test again.


That is why qualifications are needed to interpret greatness. Else we statisticians (damn liars?) would place Ganteaume above Don Bradman, whose Test batting average is an iconic 99.94. The honest statisticians (that means me!) always write that the cricketer played over 10 innings.


Now listen to this.


Bill Johnston, a fast bowler and a tailend Australian batsman averaged 102 with the bat on the tour of England in 1953. This was made possible by Australia’s fun-loving captain Lindsay Hassett. Towards the end of the tour, Hassett gave Johnston’s batting partners instructions to get out first in matches where results did not matter so that Johnson remained not out.


Hassett also sent notes to opposing county captains requesting complicity. Johnston scored only 102 runs on the tour but was dismissed only once.


In the last game of the tour against TN Pearce’s XI at Scarborough, legendary England fast-medium bowler Alec Bedser bowled deliberately wide of the stumps so as to preserve Johnston’s record! On that 1953 tour of England Johnston played 17 innings, scored 102 runs and was dismissed only once. His batting average: 102.00.


There was nothing “fishy” about Andile Phehlukwayo’s unbeaten 29 in the Christchurch ODI Wednesday. I watched the match live on Wednesday on TV. He faced the last over. Any time he could have taken a single to ensure that he remained not out. But he played the first four balls defensively and hit fours off the last two balls from accurate Kiwi bowler Tin Southee.


Despite this selfless innings, South Africa lost by six runs.


This was not his only innings to remember. To quote Andrew McGlashan from ESPN cricinfo:


“There were wide eyes and a wide smile from Andile Phehlukwayo as he reflected on his second match-winning hand with the bat in a brief international career.


“With AB de Villiers, one of the game’s great batsmen at the other end, it was Phehlukwayo who hit the crucial boundaries late in the Hamilton chase. South Africa needed 22 off 12 balls, which became 21 off 10 at which point Phehlukwayo lofted Trent Boult over long-off. Then came an even sweeter blow in the final over as he drilled Tim Southee back over his head to virtually kill the game.”


‘I just tried to watch the ball, swing really hard and hit straight,’ he said. ‘The first one, I was just trying to play straight but the second one I definitely knew when it came off the bat that it was going for six.’, he told McGlashan.


So believe me. All statisticians are not damn liars!


Cricket Writer fans and readers: any other instances of century or near century batting averages by tailenders in international / first-class cricket?


13 responses to “Liars, damn liars and statisticians – An Expert View from Kersi Meher-Homji”

  1. Kamlesh Varshney says:

    I agree that average don’t always tell the full story. Kambli has test average higher than Sachin. This is not due to not outs. We know he was greatly talented batsman. But still you can never placed him higher than Sachin. So averages should be seen and analysed not in isolation but along with other important facts.

  2. Sobhan Kar says:

    Another famous quote related to statistics (not statisticians!!) Is that it is like a bikini – reveals many things but not everything! So, not only averages but statistics as a whole also doesn’t give a 360° perspective of any cricketer. But we are indebted to all cricket statisticians, as without them we would not have been able to discuss, debate and dissect this great game of glorious uncertainties! Thanks Kersi sir for being what you are – a truly great cricket statistician, writer and thinker…..

  3. Kersi Meher-Homji says:

    Thank you, Kamlesh and Sobhan for your comments and compliments.
    I have yet to see a statistician in a bikini!!! BTW, why are all (most)cricket statisticians male?

  4. Ritesh says:

    Super article. If stats are mentioned i just have to remember Stuart Law, played just one innings and scored 54 not out. As Punter came back he regained his spot and Stuart unfortunately never played again

    • Kersi Meher-Homji says:

      Thanks Ritesh. Do you know which cricketer has the best bowling average in Test cricket? Not Murali, not Warne, not Kumble, not Lillee, not Ashwin, not Chandrasekhar, not Lindwall, not Holding.
      It is Australia’s Test opening batsman MICHAEL SLATER. He played 74 Tests, bowled only 4.1 overs and took 1 for 10, Test bowling average: 10.00.

  5. Kersi Meher-Homji says:

    Today South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo scored 1 not out in the third ODI v. New Zealand at Wellington. His batting average is now 125.00 in 13 ODIs.

  6. Kersi Meher-Homji says:

    I forgot to mention India’s Karun Nair. In 3 Tests he has scored 320 runs at an average of 160.00, highest score 303 not out in the December 2016 Chennai Test v. England.
    Should he be considered for the Bangalore Test v. Australia? At Pune India made 212 runs in two innings at 10.60 runs per wicket.

  7. Gautama says:

    What does the strike rate 76.3 mean ?
    How does one score a fraction of a run?

  8. Gautama says:

    Far too much of data is being thrown up these days .It takes the fun away …whenever A scores more than 100 in 2 nd innings India wins 72% of the matches , when B takes more than 5 wickets in 1 st innings India wins 76% of matches etc etc
    Very soon we will see if Kohli has 2 eggs for breakfast India wins 81 % of matches , if Umesh Yadav eats Dosa for breakfast India wins 83% of matches so on n so forth !
    Let cricket not be a strain on our mind , can we keep it simple !Now , the commentators are required to ‘predict ‘session by session scores ??

    • Anindya Dutta says:

      Hahaha that’s hilarious! Viral will have to forget about Cholesterol and clearly increase his egg intake! But I think if you ask a Yadav to increase his Dhosa intake he might consider that the thin end of the wedge and not comply!

  9. Gautama says:

    Is there a case to put a score against the curator (Mali), the debate on Pune pitch is not dying , do not recall where both the teams ‘opened ‘ with spinner !With mandatory 90 overs and the onslaught of ‘limited overs ‘ cricket , more test matches produce results but match getting over in 21/2 days when the worlds top 2 teams are playing tantamount to cheating the fans !
    Match referee has called the pitch as ‘poor ‘ but what next ?The argument ‘if India had won the toss , we would have won ‘ is self defeating ….is there a case of providing ‘level playing field ‘, with a keen contest between bat n ball NOT aided or abetted by the 22 yard strip !!!

    • Anindya Dutta says:

      The pitch was terrible and would have remained terrible whichever team won. Given the pitch, of course, it made sense to open with a spinner. I dont think the equation of the pitch will ever go away. In that case, you dispense with one of the “glorious uncertainties” of Cricket. But i doubt we shall see pitches like this in the rest of the series. But unfortunately for India, looking at the weather forecast for the next week or so, Bangalore is probably going to be a rain driven draw so India will have to wait for their revenge win to level the series. My prediction at this stage is 2-1 India.

  10. Gautama says:

    There is more n more mistrust in the game today , we used to have ‘walkers ‘, then there were Umpires from the host country , then the ‘neutral ‘ Umpire ( why the word neutral as by definition any umpire is neutral ) , then the TV umpires and the match refree’
    The decisions of the ‘infield ‘ umpires are being challenged and the DRS is becoming almost a make or break !India has opposed DRS and only recently we
    are seeing them with we at the ‘losing ‘ end with DRS most of the times . When to …it needs some skill and we are losing on this big time partly coz of incpitnce and partly coz of self above the team !
    We are into the 2 nd test tomorrow and let us hope we get our act together in all depts as in Pune we lost on all 4 counts ….batting , bowling , fielding and DRS ..,toss is not in our hands !!!

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