Study proves 'nervous nineties' exist

Queensland study finds strike rates decrease dramatically close to personal milestones

Martin Smith

12 February 2015, 02:34 PM

Two Queensland academics have effectively proven the existence of the 'nervous nineties', finding that batsmen dramatically change their behaviour when approaching a personal milestone.

Professor Lionel Page and PhD researcher Romain Gauriot from QUT Business School collected data on more than 3500 one-day internationals between 1971 and 2014 and found that, on average, a batsman's strike rate fluctuates dramatically either side of a personal milestone.

The study found that strike rates decreases markedly when approaching a landmark and then increase by up to 40 per cent after a 50 or 100 has been reached.

While the method is effective in the quest for personal glory - the rate of dismissal just after a milestone is double the rate before it - Professor Page concluded that batsmen often put their personal goals head of team success.

"We found clear evidence that the behaviour of batsmen is affected by their personal rewards in the game," said Professor Page.

"We found players react to individual-specific incentives in ways which can be detrimental to the team as a whole.

"If a batsman is close to making 50 or 100, he will play more conservatively and hence score at a slower rate. 

"This increases his chances of reaching the landmark score, but at the cost of the team's winning chances.

Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed 17 times in the 90s in his international career

"Obviously all the players share a common goal, which is winning the match, but batsmen have also personal rewards which has only limited impact on the team.

"Going from 99 to 100 is just one run for the team but it's huge for them.

"The psychological angle is very interesting – the stakes of being close to 100 makes you stressed.

"Maybe it is the nervous nineties, maybe the batsmen stress when they are close to the milestone and that's why they decrease their risk-taking."

Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar holds the record for the most times dismissed in the nineties in Test cricket (10), while South Africa's AB de Villiers holds the record amongst current players (eight times out in the nineties)

Tendulkar also holds the record for the most times dismissed in the nineties in ODI cricket, his mark of 17 well ahead of three players in equal second on the list with seven each - Grant Flower, Nathan Astle and Aravinda De Silva.

Former Australia opener Michael Slater was statistically one of the least successful when it came to converting 90s into 100s in Test cricket; he scored 14 centuries in his career and was dismissed nine times in the nineties.

Slater was dismissed in the 90s nine times in Tests

The conversion rate of former West Indies batsman Alvin Kallicharran's conversion record is also low; he was dismissed seven times in the nineties in Tests for 12 centuries.

On the flip side, Sir Donald Bradman holds the record of the best conversion rate from 90 to 100, having scored 29 centuries without ever being dismissed in the nineties. 

Greg Chappell (24 centuries) and Michael Vaughan (18 centuries) were also never dismissed in the 90s in Tests. 

Page and Gauroit also analysed more than 200 Test matches and found that personal landmarks regularly play a role in the timing of a captain's declaration.

"One of the most interesting findings from this study shows that team captains also react to individual-specific incentives by accommodating them," Page said. 

"Our evidence suggests that team captains are willing to trade a cost to the team in favour of a substantial reward to a particular player - for example eating up valuable time and delaying a declaration so a batsman can reach his individual milestone.

"For the captain it's about trying to balance the individuals' incentives with the team's collective goal.

"The captain hopes the risk in allowing a player to reach a strictly personal goal is repaid by a higher level of overall performance by not only that player, but other players in the team who appreciate the captain's gesture."

The QUT research will be published in the American Economic Review.