December 23, 2007

The Hussey Measure (and the measure of Hussey)

An attempt to put Michael Hussey's staggering Test performances in perspective

Omer Admani made a reasonable point in response to the previous post about Hussey. He said:

“His average seems to be stunning, but there seems to be a trend on offer in the past few years: Mohd Yousuf, Younis Khan, Ponting, Sangakkara, and others have probably have had similar averages in the past few years (around the period Hussey made his debut).”

Omer’s point is that a decline in bowling standards coupled with featherbed pitches have led to a general inflation of batting averages. The implication of this is that Hussey seems exceptional only because his career began after this trend had been established. Other major batsmen have lower averages because they began playing earlier, at a time when conditions were harder for batsmen.

So despite the fact that I can barely count, I decided to run a statistical experiment. I picked a bunch of batsmen with some claim to ‘greatness’ and since Hussey’s only played 18 Tests, I calculated their batting averages over the last 18 Tests that they had played. In nearly every case this meant the Tests they had played since 2005-2006, which coincides with Hussey’s debut season. I couldn’t find a way of telling Statsguru to do this, so I brought up the Innings by Innings list for each one of them, counted off the last 18 Tests, totted up the runs and divided by the innings they had played (minus the not-outs). These are the results (rounded off):

Michael Hussey: 86 Kumar Sangakkara: 90 Mohammad Yousuf: 82 Ricky Ponting: 77 Jacques Kallis: 67

Omer’s point that other players have racked up similar averages seems to be borne out, though his conclusion that this is an easier epoch for batsmen would need more systematic research that this back-of-the-envelope calculation. For starters you’d have to look at the averages of batsmen like Dravid, Tendulkar, Gilchrist, Hayden etc. over their best seasons. There’s a prima facie case that contemporary averages are higher than they used to be, but the records of many more batsmen, present and past, would need to be number-crunched to make the case for grade inflation.

It’s worth saying that Sangakkara, Yousuf, Ponting and Kallis are exceptional; many of Hussey’s heavyweight contemporaries have less than superlative averages over their last 18 Tests.

This is what some of Hussey’s team-mates managed:

Matthew Hayden: 51 Michael Clarke: 49 Adam Gilchrist: 33

And these are the equivalent figures for India’s champions:

Sourav Ganguly: 53 Rahul Dravid: 48 VVS Laxman: 47 Wasim Jaffer: 46 Sachin Tendulkar: 42

If Hussey and the Big Four (Sangakkara, Yousuf, Ponting, Kallis) keep their post 2005-06 averages going over the next two years, there’ll be reason to believe Hussey is a symptom of a wider trend. On the other hand if the numbers for the others dip and Hussey keeps his figures flying, it’ll be time to bend the knee and say “Bwana”.

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in New Delhi