THE CORDON HOME

BLOGS ARCHIVES
SELECT BLOG
January 4, 2010

Batting

The best batsman, across years and formats

Anantha Narayanan
Sachin Tendulkar scores through the legside, India v Sri Lanka, 3rd ODI, Cuttack, December 21, 2009
 © AFP
Enlarge

Finally the analysis many of you have asked and been waiting for patiently. This has been on the drawing board for the past six months and I have had quite a few exchanges with many readers to fine-tune the analysis. Lot of care has been taken care to equalise performances by the players across years and across formats.

First, the "Twelve Commandments" followed in doing the analysis.

1. Equal weight for Tests and ODI. T20 internationals not included since many top players have not played any T20-I matches and anyhow very few matches have been played. Let the number of T20-I matches cross 1000 before we consider it worthy of inclusion in this type of analysis.

2. Recognise longevity measures but make sure that the total weight does not exceed 20%.
3. Especially for ODI, recognise and incorporate the important fact that during the early 20 years very few ODI matches were played.
4. While evaluating batting average related measure for ODIs, work out an equitable method which is fair to the top order who can build long innings but get dismissed often and late order batsmen who do not have time to build long innings but remain unbeaten more often.
5. Recognise the fact that runs scored against stronger teams should carry additional weight as compared to runs scored against lesser attacks.
6. Recognize how the batsman has performed in comparisons to his peers.
7. Use only career level figures. Match performances, while very relevant would make it difficult to be equitable to Tests and ODIs.
8. Since this analysis is limited to batsmen who played between 1969 and 2009, work out the algorithms based on these years. In other words, keep out of the equation Bradman's outrageous figures. An average of 60.00 is the pinnacle, not halfway down the pole. This has helped to rationalise the analysis quite well.
9. Since this is a pure batsman-based analysis, exclude the non-batting factors such as Captaincy, Results, World Cup wins, Wicketkeeping load etc. Richards and Ponting might have won more matches and World Cups than Tendulkar and Lara but that should not be used to decide who is ahead in this batting analysis.
10. I also decided that I would sum the points at rounded integer level and would tie batsmen who have similar points. I would not use decimal points to separate any groups.
11. The Balls played information is available for Test players with 100% certainty only for the past 15 years. After a long deliberation I decided not to use this since it would mean I would have to extrapolate this based on team balls played for over 25 years of Test matches. That would not have been fair to the earlier batsmen, especially the attacking ones.
12. Finally I thought long and hard and decided not to use the IPF, the new ODI measure suggested by Alex Tierno. The main reason for this is that this is primarily an innings-level performance measure. The secondary reason is that this is a derived measure, not a basic one.

As usual there has to be a minimum criteria. I have decided on 2000 Test runs and 1977 ODI runs (so that Clive Lloyd is included). I am not going to do a batsman analysis which keeps Lloyd out but Vaas/Akram in. 116 players qualify and this is quite a substantial sample size. No Test player of note misses out. The only one who comes to mind is Shahid Afridi, who is one of the ODI greats but has scored only 1683 Test runs, and is unlikely to add more.

The following are the points allotted for different measures.

Tests:  Runs scored     - 100
Adjusted runs   -  50 (adjusted for matches played during career)
Batting average - 200
% of Team score -  50
Bowling quality -  50 (weighted by runs scored)
Peer comparison -  50 (batting average comparison)

ODIs: Runs scored - 100 Adjusted runs - 50 (adjusted for matches played during career) Batting average - 100 (adjusted for not outs) Scoring Rate - 150 Bowling quality - 40 (weighted by runs scored) Peer comparison - 30 (batting average comparison) Peer comparison - 30 (strike rate comparison)

The "Adjusted runs" measure requires an explanation, especially for ODIs. This is best explained with an example. Take the case of Zaheer Abbas. He had a career span of 12 years. That is fine and represents a long career. However the problem is that he played only 62 ODIs during this period. Compare this with Mohammad Yousuf who, in a similar 12-year career, has played 278 matches, over 4 times more. An adjustment is needed and this is explained below.

The average number of ODIs per year played by Pakistan during 39 years is 19.7. The average number of ODIs played by Pakistan during Zaheer Abbas's career is 8.00. The runs scored by Zaheer Abbas are multiplied by a factor 2.46 (19.7/8.0) and points allotted for this measure. For Mohammad Yousuf, his career span number for Pakistan is 29.4 and the multiplying factor is 0.67 (19.7/29.4). Thus this redresses the wide imbalance which exists in the number of matches, especially ODIs, played over the years.

Note that the country figures rather than individual player figures are used since the player might not play due to injuries or non-selection. Note also that the base country is used as the base for doing this calculation for the player. Since the number of matches played by various countries varies by a factor of 2.5 to 1, comparisons with a single across-countries base would go haywire.

This is also done for Tests although the variations are far less for Tests.

For Tests, additional credit is given for away averages as compared to overall batting averages. Also away runs scored carry additional weight. The peer comparison is only on batting average.

For ODIs, a measure in between the Batting average and Runs per innings is determined, based on the number of innings and not outs and then the weighting points arrived at. Independent peer comparisons are done on both batting average and strike rate.

For both Tests and ODIs, the bowling quality is used by summing the product of "innings runs scored" and "average of other team bowling average" and dividing the "sum for all innings" by the "career runs scored". A very effective manner of doing this as proved by the fact that Gooch, who faced the formidable West Indian and Australian attacks, has a Test bowling quality figure of 31.98 (index value of 42.1), while Atapattu who has scored tons of runs against the weaker attacks has a bowling quality figure of 40.55 (index value of 10.0).

Now let me unveil the tables. These tables are current upto Test # 1944, which produced the unlikeliest of wins essayed by a resurgent and dynamic England side against a flat and insipid South Africa.

The best batsmen across formats - across years

Test   ODI   Test    ODI
Runs  Runs    Pts    Pts
500    500

1 801 Tendulkar S.R Ind 12970 17394 402.4 398.1 # 2 726 Lara B.C Win 11953 10405 395.5 330.9 3 725 Richards I.V.A Win 8540 6721 361.2 363.5 4 723 Ponting R.T Aus 11557 12311 379.9 342.8 # 5 689 Kallis J.H Saf 10479 10409 371.0 318.4 # 6 677 Dravid R Ind 11256 10765 375.6 301.6 # 7 665 Border A.R Aus 11174 6524 389.6 274.9 8 662 Waugh S.R Aus 10927 7569 374.1 287.7 9 654 Inzamam-ul-Haq Pak 8830 11739 334.6 319.3 10 651 Javed Miandad Pak 8832 7381 349.6 301.6 11 647 Sehwag V Ind 6248 6981 318.0 328.5 # 12 644 Chappell G.S Aus 7110 2331 363.4 280.5 13 638 Mohammad Yousuf Pak 7401 9543 328.8 309.2 # 14 635 Gilchrist A.C Aus 5570 9619 292.3 342.3 14 635 Hayden M.L Aus 8626 6133 331.1 303.8 16 622 Chanderpaul S Win 8669 8250 329.5 292.2 # 17 621 Gavaskar S.M Ind 10122 3092 374.6 246.3 18 620 Waugh M.E Aus 8029 8500 304.5 315.5 19 615 Lloyd C.H Win 7515 1977 336.2 278.5 19 615 Greenidge C.G Win 7558 5134 322.9 292.1 21 614 Jayawardene D.P.M.D Slk 9123 8518 332.9 280.7 # 21 614 Jayasuriya S.T Slk 6973 13428 260.5 353.4 # 23 612 Haynes D.L Win 7487 8648 305.0 307.3 24 611 Kirsten G Saf 7289 6798 315.3 296.1 24 611 Zaheer Abbas Pak 5062 2572 285.3 326.1 # Player still active

No surprises for guessing who is at the top. The little maestro, Tendulkar, leads both Test and ODI tables, the Test table narrowly and ODI table by a comfortable margin so that he is placed in an unassailable position at the top of the combined tables. He has 801 points and leads the next batsman by a whopping 10%. He is likely to widen the gap further and is likely to have a near-12% gap by the time he decides to hang up his golden willow.

What does one say of Tendulkar. If one takes away the freakish numbers of Bradman, there is no one to touch Tendulkar. More than the runs he has scored, the manner in which he has scored, the balance, technique and poise he exhibits at the crease, his demeanour and impeccable behaviour, the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch, one could go on. Possibly the best thing I could say is that he is a role model, not just for the public, but for the other players.

After the wide gap comes Lara who just about edges ahead of Richards by single point. Two great West Indian batsmen, two of the greatest ever, are virtually tied for the second place. They are so close together, I am going to discuss them together.

Richards was by far the better ODI batsman than Lara, as evidenced by his second place in the ODI list. However Lara was quite a bit ahead of Richards in Tests, as again evidenced by his second place in the Test table. However what has happened is that each has wiped out the shortfall almost exactly with Lara gaining a point in this exchange. I do not need to say anything more of the two greats who, in different eras, have taken ODI and Test batting to great levels of entertainment. That they enjoyed varying degrees of success as team players and leaders was a reflection of the state of West Indian cricket at their respective times.

Ponting is a well-deserved fourth, couple of points behind. Those who question his leadership capabilities should not forget his batting achievements in both forms of the game. He is fourth in all the tables. In view of his age and form I expect Ponting to comfortably move the two West Indian greats to third/fourth places by end of 2010, or possibly earlier. It would be a well-deserved second place.

After some daylight, there is a surprise at the fifth position. Kallis is positioned here, ahead of Dravid. Kallis and Dravid are almost the same at Test level while Dravid is somewhat behind Kallis at ODI level. Anyhow I have heard many negative comments on these two great players. There is no doubt that Kallis has done most for South Africa amongst all players (let us not forget 509 international wickets). In what Dravid has done for India, he might be lagging behind only Tendulkar and Kapil Dev, and might be matched by Kumble and Gavaskar. Would Kallis and/or Dravid move above the two West Indian stalwarts is a difficult-to-answer question. Possibly Kallis who plays in both formats.

Two Australian fighters, Border and Steve Waugh, come in next. Both epitomized the never-say-die spirit and were responsible, through their batting (and captaincy) for the recent Australian revival. Only the churlish would begrudge their places at the top-10.

Now we get the two great Pakistani batsmen, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Javed Miandad. In a way these two are similar to the Australian duo who preceded them. Great fighters who would not give an inch. They were part of the great successes enjoyed by Pakistan over the years. In terms of contribution to the team cause, only Imran Khan would be ahead of them.

Note how closely positioned are Greenidge and Haynes.

The top-10 has 3 Australians, 2 Indians, 2 West Indians, 2 Pakistanis and one South African batsmen. A fair distribution, one would say, with 5 countries represented. For the record, Jayawardene, Gooch, Martin Crowe, Andy Flower and Habibul Bashar are their countrys' best batsmen.

If there is one placing which has surprised me most, it is that of Sehwag, who almost made it to the top-10. Arguably the most destructive batsman of all time, keep a watch on this eleventh placed batsman. Sehwag is moving fast and how. One more series of matches like the recent Sri Lankan ones would move him up in between the two Pakistani greats and then who knows where he might end. And remember that this high position is without being given any credit for his extraordinary Test strike rate.

To view/download the complete all-time list, updated on 7 Jan 2009, please right-click here and save the file.

Because of the length of the article I am not dwelling on the individual tables in depth. Suffice to say that Tendulkar, Lara, Border, Ponting, Dravid, Gavaskar, Steve Waugh, Kallis, Greg Chappell and Richards form the perfect-10 of the Test arena over the past 40 years.

To view/download the complete Test list, please right-click here and save the file.

And amongst the ODI-10 of Tendulkar, Richards, Jayasuriya, Ponting, Gilchrist, Lara, Sehwag, Zaheer Abbas, De Silva and Saeed Anwar, only Zaheer Abbas might raise a few eyebrows. However readers would do well to remember that 2500+ runs in 62 matches at an average of 47.63 and a strike rate of 84.5 is exceptional, amongst the top-5 of all time. I am assuming that, as Hussey and Dhoni have done, he would have maintained these numbers in 120+ matches. Then his high ranking points make sense and he fully deserves this position. He was as free-scoring as Richards and as graceful as Gower.

To view/download the complete ODI list, updated on 7 Jan 2009, please right-click here and save the file.

A request to readers. You have every right to comment negatively. Every right to fault this analysis. Every right to be upset. Every right to disagree. What you do not have is the right to be abusive, personal or otherwise, to me or to the other readers or to the great players themselves or to other countries. Your comment will, then, be seen by one person only, me. I have also decided that I will not do a follow-up analysis on this. This work has been done with lots of consultations and should not, and will not be, changed based on reader comments, however valid these may be.

A few readers have asked for the methodology used. This has been summarized in a text file. To view/download this document, please right-click here and save the file.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems

RSS Feeds: Anantha Narayanan

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Gunjan on (November 18, 2011, 19:01 GMT)

Dear Anantha

Do you think it is time to update this analysis and produce a new one at the end of 2011? Your analysis was very well-balanced and I am sure many would like to see how the numbers have changed in the past two years.

Thanks [[ Many of these old articles need revision.I will probably do onerevision a month from January onwards. Ananth: ]]

Posted by Vikram on (November 15, 2011, 15:57 GMT)

Being a SRT fan, this is heartening to see. Apart from all the reasons you have listed why he is great, i will add one more reason - people need to find different criteria to make him appear less than good. For example, fourth innings average. Lara averages lower than SRT with Smith being the highest. Then suddenly it becomes about runs in victories so Ponting goes higher. He is the best "average" batsman who delivers what he promises, lots of runs, mostly in the first innings. It makes it easier for a captain to have him in the team. By definition, that makes him a team man. And anyways, it is a team game, no individual wins a game. 13 runs usually don't mean a lot, but those 13 runs would have given the victory in Chennai and been SRT's epitome. It didn't, he lives without one. The other thing is that it is such a spectacle, cricket, that you can enjoy, BCL, SRT, RD, De Silva, M Waugh, Robin Smith, Crowe, IVR all at the same time, especially with Ambrose, Akram and Warne opposite.

Posted by Harsh Thakor on (January 28, 2011, 11:24 GMT)

In stats analysis Tendulkar is an emperor,and if you add tests and one day games the best of all time.However stats does not tell the whole story.Viv Richards could change the complexion of a test match or one day game like a dynamite exploding .Viv could destroy great pace bolwing with greater contempt than Tendulkar ,Ponting or Lara.A century from Viv would have a greater impact on a match than Sachin who at his best made the best of opposition look like wounded prey.Unfortunately because he played for a far stronger side and played far fewer matches than Sachin or lara his statistical rating is below them.Remember Viv's slaughter of Lillee and Co in 1979-80 in one-day game at Melbourne and his superlative batting in England in 1976.How prolific Richards was gainst Lillee,Botham,Imran etc.Surely Viv would have flourished on the easier batting pitches and weaker bowling attacks of today and possibly overshadowed Sachin nad Lara.

Posted by Raj on (April 21, 2010, 7:39 GMT)

I do not agree with Tendulkar at top in test batting, for me a fair analysis would be to see the avergaes in the all four innings. Tendulkar has more than 70 in first inning and under 38 in fouth !! Which is not great. Batting in last inning is a true test of batsmanship.

Posted by Ajay on (April 1, 2010, 14:28 GMT)

Nice analysis. Very comprehensive. As a slight enhancement, it would be nice to have further granularity by 1. Giving weights to runs scored at home/away/neutral venues. 2. Giving weights to the innings in which the runs were scored (a fourth innings score should have the highest weight) 3. Giving weights to the quality of the opposition (eg. a score against an Aussie team of 2000 is better than the team of 1985) [[ Ajay Away runs have been given more weight than home runs. Quality of opposition already factored in. Ananth: ]]

Posted by Satyajit on (March 6, 2010, 19:38 GMT)

I some how missed this one in January. Excellent analysis! Great work Ananth! There is one misconception going around due to Zimbabwe’s current cricket situation. People think they were really a bad team (worse than current Ban). But that is not true. During nineties and early part of noughties they were a pretty decent team. I would say better than or as good as the current WI (the team which played against Aus recently). Flower bothers, Heath Streak, Campbell, Paul Strang, Whittal, Eddo Brandes, Taibu... Streak/Strang were decent all rounders. Taibu excellent wk and nobody need to talk about Andy Flower. It was a proper test playing nation. Not only Ban but they had beaten both Ind and Pak. That was the time period (1992 to 2002, 9 tests) Sachin played with Zim. I stumbled across one article in cricinfo written as late as 2005 which talks about competitiveness of Zim (http://www.cricinfo.com/zimvind/content/story/218915.html). Bad politics resulted in team disintegrated in 5/6 yrs.

Posted by vinaykn on (March 3, 2010, 7:17 GMT)

Usually we will hear the theory of "Others let him down".Sometimes on fellow batsmen and sometimes on team bowlers. Same argument we can see to give the weightage for performing better in odd conditions.It basically applies for lost matches. We need to consider for 1)batting scores seperately in the first innings and second innings 2)Consider some 40%(based on previous stats or expert opinion) within team total etc. to think have done some heroics 3)whether bowlers let down)whether fellow batsmen let down scored4) what is the performance in this situation.

Posted by Sibasish on (March 1, 2010, 23:36 GMT)

Dear Anantha, Have been an avid follower of your blogs for the last few years. I think that this is the pinnacle of your statistical journey. Wonderful article. I am mightily pleased to see my "God" placed above Lara in Tests and Viv in ODIs. I always felt a few things about the remarkable similarity of Miandad and Inzy, Waugh (Steve) and Border, Dravid and Kallis and how amazingly my beliefs stand vindicated. Take a bow, sir. One more thing, I do a bit of statistical analysis myself and I use a parameter called Consistency Ratio which is to check how consistent a player is. For example, Tendulkar's consistency ratio in Tests will be 2.68, meaning he scores at least a fifty in every 2.68 innings. I feel that will take into account the more evenly distributed peaks of Tendulkar rather than Lara's who would follow extreme periods of excellence with some really ordinary periods of run-making. Could you please come up with a list of the most consistent batsmen in the game? [[ Sibashis I will do one similar to the Bowling Consistency Analysis which will be published later this week. Ananth: ]]

Posted by vinaykn on (March 1, 2010, 11:58 GMT)

Is it possible to include the weitage for tests witht he following.1)Howmany times batsmen require to bat when his team is required to save or chase with minimum of 90 overs2)What is the wicket number when he falls3)howmany overs/wickets left4)what is the result5)what is his score.These can test the crunch situation.Also can add like when he came to bat what is the situation.I believe Stevewaugh/Lara may do better than this if this critiria is catered.ODIs also we can find similar critiria.Then we can decide not only best(good,better,best),great(great,greater,greatest)also.One more thing what are top best 5 scores then what is team total,against whom,how,what match results. I think all are gettable stats.

Posted by vinaykn on (March 1, 2010, 10:34 GMT)

Is this exercise only for best? or for great also?Both are diffferent words best(good,better,best), great (great,greater,greatest). A great batsmen weightage should be based on the following. 1) easier conditions easier match situation 2)easier conditions crunch match situation 3)bowler freindly conditions easier match situation 4)bowler friendly conditions and crunch match match situation. Is it possible to get those stats and do analysis. I am just curious to know who are great batsmen and who is the greatest?I think this factor is not covered here, may be practical problem of analysing situation.

Comments have now been closed for this article

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anantha Narayanan
Anantha spent the first half of his four-decade working career with corporates like IBM, Shaw Wallace, NCR, Sime Darby and the Spinneys group in IT-related positions. In the second half, he has worked on cricket simulation, ratings, data mining, analysis and writing, amongst other things. He was the creator of the Wisden 100 lists, released in 2001. He has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket, and worked extensively with Maruti Motors, Idea Cellular and Castrol on their performance ratings-related systems. He is an armchair connoisseur of most sports. His other passion is tennis, and he thinks Roger Federer is the greatest sportsman to have walked on earth.

All articles by this writer