June 21, 2010

Occupying the crease

Ric Finlay

Don Bradman has the fastest scoring rate among batsmen who have faced more than 100 balls per innings © Getty Images

The table below lists the 30 batsmen in Test history whose known "balls faced" innings numbers at least 20, and whose average balls faced per innings exceeds 100:

Players with average balls faced/innings greater than 100
Player Team Balls faced/innings Balls faced/run
Herbert Sutcliffe England 163.95 2.89
Don Bradman Australia 142.00 1.71
Walter Hammon England 129.16 2.63
Glenn Turner New Zealand 126.91 2.94
Bill Woodfull Australia 125.66 3.21
Maurice Leyland England 125.47 2.50
John Reid New Zealand 124.24 2.82
Len Hutton England 123.71 2.64
Geoff Boycott England 122.23 2.82
Bill Lawry Australia 118.65 2.50
Jack Hobbs England 115.94 2.15
John Edrich England 115.41 2.69
Ian Redpath Australia 113.46 2.58
Mark Richardson New Zealand 113.31 2.65
Rahul Dravid India 112.50 2.36
Bob Simpson Australia 111.95 2.20
Trevor Bailey England 111.73 4.05
Bill Ponsford Australia 111.36 2.23
Bill Brown Australia 110.63 2.57
Shoaib Mohammad Pakistan 107.49 2.56
Sunil Gavaskar India 105.70 2.25
Jacques Kallis South Africa 105.29 2.25
Ken Barrington England 104.54 2.36
Jack Fingleton Australia 103.67 3.24
Tom Graveney England 103.29 2.51
Allan Border Australia 103.29 2.43
Chris Tavare England 102.41 3.27
John Wright New Zealand 102.23 2.84
Andrew Jones New Zealand 102.03 2.58
Asanka Gurusinha Sri Lanka 101.82 2.73

Three things stand out for me. The first is the over-representation of players from days gone by. One has to go to 14th place to find someone (Mark Richardson) who played this century, and in this list of 30, there are only two other, Dravid and Kallis. Test cricket was clearly more a battle of attrition in the past than it is now. But also, there were simply more balls available to be defended in those times than there are now.

Secondly, the obduracy of Herbert Sutcliffe is perhaps understated. His figure of nearly 164 balls per innings is more than 15% higher than the next most obdurate, Bradman. And at a run every 2.89 balls, he was hardly fluent, either. Another player whose high position deserves recognition is New Zealand's Glenn Turner, a very major player in a struggling team

Thirdly, the absence of any West Indians in this list confirms the impression of a carefree approach to batting. The preponderance of Australian and English batsmen is not significant. Many of the Test scorecards involving other countries simply don't have the "balls faced" data available. The highest placed West Indians are Sobers and Chanderpaul, both just over 96 balls per innings. But in the three innings for which we have "balls faced" data, George Headley averaged 139 balls per innings.

Rearranging the table in order of scoring fluency, we have:

Best scoring rate among players with average balls faced/innings greater than 100
Player Team Balls faced/innings Balls faced/run
Don Bradman Australia 142.00 1.71
Jack Hobbs England 115.94 2.15
Bob Simpson Australia 111.95 2.20
Bill Ponsford Australia 111.36 2.23
Jacques Kallis South Africa+ 105.29 2.25
Sunil Gavaskar India 105.70 2.25
Ken Barrington England 104.54 2.36
Rahul Dravid India+ 112.50 2.36
Allan Border Australia 103.29 2.43
Maurice Leyland England 125.47 2.50
Bill Lawry Australia 118.65 2.50
Tom Graveney England 103.29 2.51
Shoaib Mohammad Pakistan 107.49 2.56
Bill Brown Australia 110.63 2.57
Ian Redpath Australia 113.46 2.58
Andrew Jones New Zealand 102.03 2.58
Walter Hammond England 129.16 2.63
Len Hutton England 123.71 2.64
Mark Richardson New Zealand 113.31 2.65
John Edrich England 115.41 2.69
Asanka Gurusinha Sri Lanka 101.82 2.73
John Reid New Zealand 124.24 2.82
Geoff Boycott England 122.23 2.82
John Wright New Zealand 102.23 2.84
Herbert Sutcliffe England 163.95 2.89
Glenn Turner New Zealand 126.91 2.94
Bill Woodfull Australia 125.66 3.21
Jack Fingleton Australia 103.67 3.24
Chris Tavare England 102.41 3.27
Trevor Bailey England 111.73 4.05

In this respect, Bradman (over 20% more fluent than anyone else) and Hobbs show their class, while who would have thought that Ponsford would have rated so highly here? Perhaps we need to re-assess some of these players! Barrington beats Border. Lawry beats Redpath. But Tavare and Bailey are where we expect!

The last table gives the same data for top three most obdurate players at each position in the batting order. The qualification has been reduced to at least ten innings where "balls faced" data is known.

Players with highest average balls faced/innings by batting position
Batting Position 1st Balls/innings 2nd Balls/innings 3rd Balls/innings
Openers Herbert Sutcliffe 163.49 Bill Woodfull 128.07 Herbie Collins 127.79
3 Walter Hammond 175.69 Don Bradman 144.50 Ken Barrington 135.82
4 Graeme Pollock 125.44 Lindsay Hassett 116.57 Mike Denness 115.10
5 Ian Redpath 122.91 Michael Hussey 114.53 Allan Border 110.57
6 Trevor Bailey 137.08 Garry Sobers 124.05 Shivnarine Chanderpaul 123.19
7 Thilan Samaraweera 111.91 Brian McMillan 100.78 Ravi Shastri 92.00
8 Dion Nash 69.91 Manoj Prabhakar 69.77 Fred Titmus 65.38
9 Graham Dilley 60.20 Kiran More 58.43 Ian Salisbury 55.60
10 John Bracewell 45.33 Tim May 38.85 Sarfraz Nawaz 38.00
11 Arthur Mailey 36.30 Danny Morrison 20.28 Ashley Mallett 19.83

Occupancy of the crease clearly declines as one descends through the batting order, although the figures at number 6 are interesting. It is not only the special character of Trevor Bailey causing this, because Sobers and Chanderpaul also are higher than many players above them in the batting order. I suspect it is a realisation by a number 6 that he is the last specialist batsman, and he sets himself to bat through the innings with the tail.

A study of players at the other end of the scale, those who survive least, is also interesting, but that can wait for another time.

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Posted by Waspsting on (October 25, 2010, 23:00 GMT)

Astonishing stats - shows you how much the game has changed. Who'd have thought Boycott scored faster than the cavilier Glenn Turner, or Hammond (whose always called 'majestic', never dull) would be slower than Barrington (who is usually just ignored). Astonishing.

I would suggest making the strike rates out of 100 balls faced - as presented, the numbers are so evenly bunched as to make it harder to see differences, and because of ODIs, we're already familiar with that method.

Posted by Jahan Zada Buneri on (July 14, 2010, 7:56 GMT)

Here I am not saying that either Don is better or Tendulkar. I am just putting facts. I think both are equivalent from talent point of view.

Don faced one with 200 or more that is Bedser, Medium fast bowler.

Tendulkar faced 30 bowlers with 200 or more wickets in test matches.

Leading 57 bowlers took 200 or more in test matches.

Fast + Fast Medium + Off break / SLAO + Leg break 14 + 9 + 3 + 4 = 30

For Fast Bowling, he faced 13 bowlers Walsh, Hadlee, Wasim, Ambrose, Ntini, Waqar, Imran, Donald, Steyn, Lee, Macdermott, Gillespie, Flintoff and Hughes

For Fast Medium bowling, he faced 9 bowlers Mcgrath, Pollock, Vaas, Kallis, Hoggard, Caddick, Harmison, Carins and Streaks

For Off Spinner / Slow left arm orthodox, he faced 3 of them. Murli, Vettori and Saqlain

For Leg Break / Slow left arm Chinaman, he faced four. Warne, Kaneria, Qadir and Macgill

Tendulkar played test cricket in ten countries in 57 different grounds.

Posted by Jahan Zada Buneri on (July 7, 2010, 10:30 GMT)

There is no doubt that Sir Don is legend of cricket and best batsman of his era. Also very quick scorer too, concentration was also very strong. But I think if you want to analyze, you can do it like pre and post 1950 or in four quarters per century.

His average is impossible to achieve in modern era. He played seven bowlers out of 150 leading bowlers in test cricket in which I think Alec Bedser was best, medium fast seam bowler. Also Larwood (fastest) and Voce was also there. Verity was also good bowler who was slow left arm orthodox.

Sir Don faced only one bowler with 200 or more wickets in test.

Tendulkar faced 30 bowlers with 200 or more wickets in test matches in 57 different grounds.

Leading 57 bowlers took 200 or more in test matches.

Tendulkar faced Fast + Fast Medium + Off break / Slow Left Arm Orthodox + Leg break / Slow Left Arm Chinaman 14 + 9 + 3 + 4 = 29.

As I think both are equivalent from talent point of view. Please see big picture of cricket.

Posted by craigmnz on (July 6, 2010, 6:18 GMT)

Something I've been meaning to ask. Am I correct in assuming that the NZ John Reid is actually John F Reid the left-handed middle order batsman of the 1980s - rather than John R Reid, New Zealand's original Mr Cricket?

Ric: Yes that is right!

Posted by Mohammad Omair on (July 4, 2010, 19:20 GMT)

Totally 148 bowlers took 100 or more in test cricket in which 56 took 200 or more and Sir Bradman faced only six of them in which three came after world war II, one died during it, one just before it and remaining one left cricket in early thirties. Five out of six bowlers from same team. Almost all bowlers were amateurs.

How we know that his 99.9 is better or Tendulkar 55.5. Tendulkar faced 57 bowlers in test cricket with 100 or more on 57 different grounds in ten countries.

Please do not say that Sir Don is best, it is just like in city ten teams are there but at initial level only two and one guy attained highest average at initial level. Can we say he is best at city level due to average. Make a common sense, without playing other eight teams how we know that he is best.

Same case Sir Bradman. He only faced one wrist spinner with 100 or more wickets that was Wright. He never faced quality leg spinners. Finger sp Laker was there but he faced him in three test matches only.

Posted by Zeeshan Ahmed Siddiqui on (July 2, 2010, 6:38 GMT)

Uncovered pitches were there but these picthes were matt over concrete picthes. These uncovered picthes only became difficult those days after rain only.

Sir Don never managed any master inning on rain affected pitches. Like Trumper was better batsman than him on these type of rain affected picthes. Also Trumper was most elegant batsman of those days unlike Sir Don.

Sir Don played cricket in two countries in Australia and in England on ten grounds in which 26 matches timeless too. Mostly matches against same team on same conditions against amatuers of England. 63 / 80 = 80% approx. innings against same team.

Hammond played cricket in five countries in four continents on twenty grounds.

Mostly matches against not same team on same conditions. Like 58 innings against Australia and 42 against S. Africa out of 140 innings.

I think Sir Don is one of the best and legend of cricket too but he is not best of the best like he played weakest attacks of ENGLAND.

Posted by craigmnz on (July 1, 2010, 19:12 GMT)

Nikhil Kuchi - let's not get too carried away here. The doosra and reverse swing may be new innovations but Don Bradman's 'The Art of Cricket' first published in 1958 discusses swing bowling in considerable detail. He also discuss the leg-cutter with substantial illos of the late Sir Alec Bedser. In the 1963 edition of Wisden Neville Cardus describes the great S.F. Barnes special delivery as an in-swinging leg-cutter and quotes the Australian batsman Clem Hill describing being bowled by such a delivery - and Hill was a left-hander! By the way Barnes played his last test match in 1913.

Posted by Ashish Keshri on (June 29, 2010, 10:38 GMT)

Hi, Putting the qualification criteria of 100 balls faced leaves out a lot of good players who were not necessarily accumulators in that sense. There are various very good test innings less than 100 balls. This is more true post 2000. In my opinion this analysis should have cut off of 50 balls, just enough to play a significant innings. Then there will be chances for those players also who have made difference in a test match in shorter time..I think the obsession with just occupying the crease in test matches has to have a limit. Might be an extreme example but Virender Sehwag is equally useful in winning test matches as compared to say Rahul Dravid..situation dependent..

Posted by Nikhil Kuchi on (June 25, 2010, 12:00 GMT)

Many people talk about batting on uncovered pitches as if it is a great feat. They tend to ignore the fact that at this time, bowling was very little developed. While I cannot say, Donald Bradman and the other greats of his age were not great batsman, they did not have to face conventional swing, let alone reverse swing, off cutters, leg cutters, off breaks and leg breaks that batsmen face these days. The bouncer may just have been in the early stages of its development, but it would not have been half as lethal as it is nowadays, so it evens out when you consider the uneven pitches. So, my point is, people should not criticise batsmen these days for playing with covered pitches and other added benefits, because if you consider the lack of knowledge in the bowling area at the time, who knows, the batsman of this age might really be way better batsmen.

Posted by AB on (June 24, 2010, 5:44 GMT)

@Gizza. Thank you for the education. Could you please also inform us why exactly it was "impossible" to "bat attackingly" on uncovered pitches?...i.e when they were dry of course

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