Friday, July 3, 2009

The Lopsided Sombrero

Andy Zaltzman is one of the funniest writers on cricket. Period.

This is from his assessment of Michael Vaughan's career after news of the former English skipper's retirement (on his regular blog on CricInfo):

In the pantheon of odd statistical cricket career shapes, Vaughan’s batting provides one of the oddest. In his first 16 Tests over two-and-a-half years, he had an average of 31 and strike rate of 40, with one century.

There had been little to suggest what was to follow. Then, in an 8-month, 12-Test incandescence in the summer of 2002 and the Ashes of 2002-03, he emblazoned seven hundreds into the history books, with an average of 76 and a strike-rate of 61, batting of a quality that few have surpassed. He was viewed by the great Australian team as one of the finest they had faced.

Again, there had been little to suggest what was to follow – a rather middling Test career. Increasingly niggled by injuries, perhaps encumbered by the captaincy, and mostly no longer opening the batting, he averaged just 36 in his last 54 Tests, with a strike rate of 50. Ten centuries punctuated periods of carelessness, lucklessness, and formlessness, but these were occasional peaks, rather the Himalayan achievements suggested by his 2002, and he too often tobogganed straight back down the other side of them back into the Valley Of Inconsistency.

At the start of 2003, Vaughan seemed to have the batting world at his feet. Unfortunately, the batting world, like the real world, turned out to be round, not flat, and the Lancastrioyorkshireman spent the rest of his career trying to balance his feet on it, with only intermittent success.


Broken into sections and plotted on a graph, Vaughan’s batting average forms a career shape known to some scientists as ‘The Lopsided Sombrero’, or, to others, as the ‘Meerkat Popping His Head Up Above A Baseball Mound’. This compares with, for example, Matthew Hayden’s ‘Bactrian Camel Drinking From A Puddle’ (three slumps (periods in which he averaged 24, 30 and 23) sandwiching two humps (69 and 60)); or Brian Lara’s ‘Stuntman Chickening Out Of Jumping The Grand Canyon And Instead Riding Down One Side, Across The Middle, And Up The Other Side, Then Continuing On For A While To Escape The Disappointed Fans’ (average of 60 in his first 31 and last 51 Tests, 40 in the 49 Tests in the middle). Mike Gatting can also claim The Sombrero, although, with averages of 23 and 22 stretching out either side of a peak period of 62, his was pulled down lower over the wearer’s head than Vaughan’s. The Sombrero is probably the most common career shape, but few have had as tall or pointy a crown as Vaughan.

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