June 9, 2009

In search of the balanced allrounder

Ric Finlay
Ian Botham salutes the crowd during his final first-class match, Durham v Australians, Durham, July 19, 1993
Ian Botham: as close as you can get to the most balanced allrounder  © Getty Images


The beauty of cricket lies in the variety of different roles players can assume when they play the game. I contend there exists a continuum, with specialist bowlers at one end, specialist batsmen at the other, and a range of different types of allrounder in between. The terms "bowling allrounder" and "batting allrounder" are often used in reference to particular players, and it follows that in between these two categories, there must be a group of players whose allround capabilities are perfectly balanced; that is, they bat equally well as they bowl.

If my continuum does exist, then it should be possible to quantify each player's position along this line, and to determine who the "perfectly balanced" allrounders have been in the game's history.

Concerning myself with just Test cricket, I started with two extremes: the "purest" batsman was surely Brian Lara, who scored 11,953 runs in 131 Tests, but failed to take a wicket, the only scorer of 10,000 runs to do so. At the other end of the scale, we have South Africa's Mfuneko Ngam, who was only trusted with the bat once in his three Tests, scoring 0 not out, but was good enough as a bowler to take 11 wickets.

Of the 2551 Test players at the time of writing, 1085 failed either to score a run or take a wicket, and these may be regarded as our specialist players (either batsmen or bowlers), leaving 1467 players who can theoretically be regarded to some degree as allrounders. Readers may not be convinced of the allround credentials of Rahul Dravid, who has one wicket to go along with his 10,823 runs, and so we need to weed out these genuine batting specialists who by some freakish circumstance, have ended up with a small number of wickets.

Similarly, at the other end, we cannot seriously regard the likes of England's Bill Bowes (68 wickets) as a bowling allrounder, even though he scored 28 runs in 15 Tests, so from that end, we also need to establish a point beyond which a player can be regarded as a bowling specialist only, even though he may have scored the odd run here and there.

It will probably be obvious by now that the simplest (and perhaps most effective) way of establishing our continuum is to divide the number of runs a player has scored by the wickets he has taken. Using our two extremes, Dravid comes out with an allround index of 10823, while Bowes' is 0.41. The index for true allrounders, of course, lies within a much a narrower range, and with absolutely no theoretical basis for my conclusion, other than matching the results with my observations of players over many years, it seems that the figure of 14 is the point of equilibrium, where a player's batting is perfectly balanced with his bowling.

In fact no-one with 20 Tests under their belt has an index of exactly 14, but some come near. Of the megastars in the game's history, Ian Botham (13.58) comes the closest, while Jack Gregory (13.48), Ray Illingworth (15.05) and Chris Cairns (15.23) also seem to be extraordinarily balanced in their contributions with both bat and ball, the latter two obviously having a slight bias in favour of their batting. The closest with a 20-Test minimum is the little remembered nineteeth-century allrounder from England, William Barnes (14.22). The following table lists those whose indices lie in between 13 and 15:

Index	player	        M	runs	wkts
13.02	Mankad, MH	44	2109	162
13.12	Boje, 	N	43	1312	100
13.39	Hirst, GH	24	790	59
13.48	Gregory, JM	24	1146	85
13.58	Botham, IT	102	5200	383
14.22	Barnes, W	21	725	51
14.37	Nasim-ul-Ghani	29	747	52
14.41	Ratnayeke, JR	22	807	56
14.68	Madan Lal, S	39	1042	71

How far can we deviate from this balanced centre before we can no longer call the player an allrounder? At the bowling end, the figure appears to be around 7. Wasim Akram comes in on exactly that figure, while Dominic Cork (6.60) and Ray Lindwall (6.59) just had too much fire-power with the ball compared to their output as batsmen to be considered genuine allrounders. Alan Davidson (7.14) and Richard Hadlee (7.46) are rightly included, as is the rapidly-improving Mitchell Johnson (7.38).

Index	player	         M	runs	wkts
6.53	Wickramasinghe	40	555	85
6.59	Lindwall, RR	61	1502	228
6.60	Cork, DG	37	864	131
6.67	DeFreitas, PAJ	44	934	140
6.80	Schwarz, RO	20	374	55
6.91	Briggs, J	33	815	118
7.00	Wasim Akram	104	2898	414
7.00	Edmonds, PH	51	875	125
7.14	Cairns, BL	43	928	130
7.14	Davidson, AK	44	1328	186
7.25	Hadlee, RJ	86	3124	431
7.38	Johnson, MG	21	694	94
7.46	Hadlee, DR	26	530	71

At the other end, we probably need to wander much further from our centre to capture all those who we might consider batting allrounders. Extending the index from 14 to 100 allows the inclusion of Jeremy Coney (98.81), but excludes Doug Walters (109.33), which might be considered fair enough. Wally Hammond (87.34), Scott Styris (86.37) and Chris Gayle (77.49) are also included.

Index	player	         M	runs	wkts
71.15	Jayasuriya, ST	110	6973	98
74.94	Hathurusingha 	26	1274	17
75.47	Shoaib Malik	23	1132	15
76.33	McCabe, SJ	39	2748	36
77.49	Gayle, CH	82	5502	71
79.30	Styris, SB	29	1586	20
82.00	Ryder, J	20	1394	17
86.37	Cronje, WJ	68	3714	43
87.34	Hammond, WR	85	7249	83
92.20	Astle, NJ	81	4702	51
98.81	Coney, JV	52	2668	27
102.17	Wyatt, RES	40	1839	18
103.74	Umrigar, PR	59	3631	35
109.33	Walters, KD	74	5357	49
109.60	Hazare, VS	30	2192	20

Finally, there happen to be exactly 50 players whose indices fall in between 10 and 20 - these are the players who I consider to be closest to being perfectly balanced in their allround contributions.

Index	player	        M	runs	wkts
10.52	Imran Khan	88	3807	362
10.59	Mohd Rafique	33	1059	100
10.67	Tapash Baisya	21	384	36
10.95	Boyce, KD	21	657	60
10.99	Vettori, DL	92	3220	293
11.05	Pathan, IK	29	1105	100
11.60	Knight, BR	29	812	70
11.63	Harper, RA	25	535	46
11.63	MacGibbon, AR	26	814	70
11.65	Emburey, JE	64	1713	147
11.88	Lewis, CC	32	1105	93
11.94	Intikhab Alam	47	1493	125
11.99	Strang, PA	24	839	70
12.02	Giffen, G	31	1238	103
12.09	Kapil Dev, N	131	5248	434
12.15	O'Keeffe, KJ	24	644	53
12.58	Dharmasena 	31	868	69
13.02	Mankad, MH	44	2109	162
13.12	Boje, 	N	43	1312	100
13.39	Hirst, GH	24	790	59
13.48	Gregory, JM	24	1146	85
13.58	Botham, IT	102	5200	383
14.22	Barnes, W	21	725	51
14.37	Nasim-ul-Ghani	29	747	52
14.41	Ratnayeke, JR	22	807	56
14.68	Madan Lal, S	39	1042	71
15.05	Illingworth, R	61	1836	122
15.06	Holford, DAJ	24	768	51
15.23	Cairns, CL	62	3320	218
16.00	Patel, DN	37	1200	75
16.03	Durani, SA	29	1202	75
16.07	Nadkarni, RG	41	1414	88
16.31	Brown, FR	22	734	45
16.50	Noble, MA	42	1997	121
16.67	Prabhakar, M	39	1600	96
16.72	Flintoff, A	75	3645	218
16.89	Hall, AJ	21	760	45
16.97	Sinclair, JH	25	1069	63
17.32	Julien, BD	24	866	50
17.35	Bailey, TE	61	2290	132
17.40	Miller, KR	55	2958	170
17.66	Binny, RMH	27	830	47
17.83	White, C	30	1052	59
18.31	Rhodes, W	58	2325	127
18.98	Ulyett, G	25	949	50
19.46	Abdul Razzaq	46	1946	100
19.51	Amarnath, L	24	878	45
19.58	Hopkins, AJY	20	509	26
19.62	Atkinson, DStE	22	922	47
19.82	Phadkar, DG	31	1229	62

So there we have it: a classification of players into five groups, Bowlers (Indices 0 to 7), Bowling Allrounders (7 to 10), Balanced Allrounders (10 to 20), Batting Allrounders (20 to 100) and Batsmen (above 100). These boundaries are purely subjective, and will no doubt promote some comment - but don't forget, this is NOT an analysis of who the BEST allrounders are!

Click here for the full list.

RSS Feeds: Ric Finlay

Keywords: Stats

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Kartik on (July 17, 2009, 23:23 GMT)

It is too bad that some people don't understand the table, and still think this is a list of the 'best' all-rounders vs. balanced.

Reading comprehension is not taught in Indian schools.

The only dispute I have is the arbitrarily chosen number of 14 as the equilibrium. Based on what? Is that the median number that has exactly 50% of the 1467 players on either side? It is not. If that were the case, the equilibrium point should be something closer to 19.

The bias of 14 vs. 19 shows that cricket considers bowling to be a larger factor in all-rounder credentials than batting. This makes sense, as a batsman may never have to bowl under pressure (Lara, Dravid, Gavasker), but every bowler has to bat as a tailender, and will invariably be faced with situations where their contribution, however small, makes the difference between victory and defeat.

In other words, a batsman need not ever bowl if he does not want to, but bowlers will have to bat in a crunch situation.

Posted by kalyan on (July 14, 2009, 10:09 GMT)

hiiii ric.. you given a very good analysis. i know how tuff it is to analyse. very nice.. but i think, flintof can be very close to botham as a perfect balanced all rounder. Isn't it ric ?

Posted by Andy Cooke on (July 8, 2009, 12:31 GMT)

Yet further (and testing everyone's patience, no doubt ...), the point on quality versus balance has been made above - the EP is simply a measure of blance between bat and ball in one player. So it could be a "super all rounder" - superior in both fields, "true all rounder" - worth his place in both fields, "threshold all rounder" - can bat at number 7 and bowl as 5th bowler, and "bits and pieces player" - substandard in both disciplines.

I'd suggest in the Post WWI era, that the threshold lines would be:

Threshold: Bat Ave 27.5, Bowl Ave 39.2, Bowl S/R 91 True allrounder: Bat Ave 37.7, Bowl Ave 32.5, Bowl S/R 70 (From Statsguru for #7 batsman and #5 bowler at "threshold"; #1-6 batsman and #1-4 bowler at "true", minimum 30 balls per innings bowled)

Posted by Andy Cooke on (July 8, 2009, 11:11 GMT)

Well, I've had a poke around Statsguru to get decent figures for the above. I looked at 3 "Eras" - "Pre WWI" (uncovered pitched), 1920-1960 (as per Anath's look at pre 1960/Post 1960) and 1960-present. Plus, of course, overall. I found that the 1920-1960 and 1960-present eras were very similar, so looking just at "Pre WWI" and "Post WWI":

Top 6 batsmen, average: Pre WWI - 27.78 Post WWI - 37.71 Overall - 36.98

Bowlers 1-4, minimum 30 balls bowled (filter out part-timers and unused bowlers to get dedicated bowlers): Pre WWI - 2.23 W/Inn Post WWI - 1.92 W/Inn Overall - 1.94 W/Inn

Balanced allrounder therefore: Pre WWI: 27.78/2.23 = EP 12.46 Post WWI: 37.71/1.92 = EP 19.64 Overall: 36.98/1.94 = EP 19.06

The Pre WWI stats are strongly outweighed by post WWI stats, of course, but the change in scores from those eras I felt was worth noting.

Ric's Comment: Thanks for this, Andy - your thoughful contribution is most welcome.

Posted by Andy Cooke on (July 7, 2009, 21:25 GMT)

Excellent and thought-provoking analysis. I'd agree that the best way to find the EP would be to divide the average score of a top-order batsman (someone who's inarguably there for his batting - around 38?) with the average number of wickets per innings of a bowler (so 4-5 bowlers per side would be 10/4.5 = 2.22) (Or somewhere close to that, anyway - these are back-of-the-envelope figures).

Therefore, the EP would be 38/2.22 = just over 17.

Of course, run-outs and wickets taken by dedicated batsmen (like KP, Bell, Ponting) would reduce the number of wickets per bowler below 2.22 and increase the EP. Interestingly, the lauded Keith Miller at 17.40 looks fairly close to that. Better estimates would be given if you've got the stats for top-order batsmen averages and number of wickets per dedicated bowler. I'd imagine they'd vary over the eras as well.

Posted by Monkey on (June 27, 2009, 13:25 GMT)

14 definitely seems a bit on the low side.

If this is an equilibrium point, you'd be saying that a 5'ver and a score of 70 would be equal contributions? Surely even a 4 wicket haul is worth more than a measly 56?

All that said, the only real complaint is that bowler's roles tend to be more varied that pure wicket taking. A bowler who's main prerogative is applying pressure through drying up runs may not take the wickets but is of equal value to a team. (This tends to overstate the allround abilities of certain players such as Boje - definitely a bowling alrounder - and Symcox - definitely *not* more of a batsman than a bowler...)

I'd go with a higher equilibrium point, but also change the equilibrium calculation to be (Bat avg/(wickets per match))

Posted by Mark H on (June 26, 2009, 6:28 GMT)

Non-mathematically, my gut feeling looking at the list is that the number is more around 16, as against 14. The ongoing comments/arguments re Kallis are strange - he would play for South Africa as a batsman alone (if he couldn't bowl) in any era, but would be unlikely to make any South African side on bowling alone (if he batted at #11). Ric, well thought out and presented leading to an enthralling discussion.

Posted by trumpers_ghost on (June 26, 2009, 3:35 GMT)

Great article, like your ideas. Done some statistical analysis to help with determining the "balance point". It is easy for us to determine a relatively equal worth in terms of brilliance. ie a batting average of ~50 is roughly eqivilent of a bowling avg of ~ 23. However such a player has never existed, so I've invented one (a few actually). I've combined the results of 2 players that roughly fit those averages together, using players that have played a lot of tests, for the same team in the same era. I've then used only the first # of tests played by each player (this figure is in brackets) and then divided player A's wickets into player B's runs and have come up with the following ratios: 1. Ricky Ponting-McGrath (100) =18.3 2. Sir Isaac Malcolm Alexander Marshall (80)=19.6 3. Imran Khan Miandad (80) = 16.4 4. Greg Lillee-Chappell (70) = 16.8

This is still fairly raw analysis, however going by this, I think somewhere between 16.5 and 18.5. cheers

Posted by abhijit on (June 24, 2009, 18:15 GMT)

One thought on your index and the way the groups panned out. Perhaps taking logs of your index will provide more symmetric and satisfying cutpoints for the groups.

Posted by Ahmed Rasheed on (June 24, 2009, 15:13 GMT)

Ric, Great Job. Tho i would like to say that most of the people wud be interested in who the "best" "Balanced" allrounder is.. If u cud find the time to expand the analysis further to take into account perhaps the averages, bowling strike rats, etc. That would leave out a few shall i say mediocre players who are balanced but Not Great and make this anyalysis more useful for us people who are always looking for the answer of "Who is the Best n Balanced (in short Greatest) ALlrounder" Great job though.. Cheers.

Comments have now been closed for this article