August 27, 2010

A true measure of quality: World Series Cricket

A statistical look at World Series Cricket

WSC: facing the best fast bowlers © Wisden Cricket Monthly

While the IPL's idea of bringing in the world's best players to play for various franchises deserves praise, World Series Cricket (WSC) envisioned by Kerry Packer in 1977 was a watershed moment in the game's history. It was the first time that the world's best players were roped in to play for three teams: WSC Australia, WSC West Indies and WSC World XI. Sadly, the huge upheaval that WSC caused has meant that the top quality cricket played in the two seasons is often forgotten.

The contests involved Test matches, known as 'SuperTests' and limited overs games. The WSC is renowned for many innovations, many of which are still in use in the modern game. The idea of day-night cricket, the use of the white ball and coloured clothing went a long way in popularising the game. The Test matches in particular, showcased some of the most compelling cricket pitting the world's best batsmen against supreme fast bowlers. The first season in 1977-78 played in Australia saw WSC Australia play two three match series against the other two teams. The second season in 1978-79 featured a triangular Test series among the three teams in Australia and the latter half of the season saw a five match series between WSC Australia and the WSC West Indies in the Caribbean.

The performance of the three teams across the two seasons is summarised below. The World XI played fewer matches, but had a glittering array of stars including top batsmen Viv Richards, Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge, a bowling attack featuring West Indian pacemen and the all rounder Imran Khan. Viv Richards and other West Indians also played for the WSC West Indies later in the season. The World XI was by far the best team then and this is clearly seen in their exceptional record of five wins in six matches.

Performance of three teams involved in World Series Cricket (SuperTests)
Team Played Won Lost Drawn
WSC Australia 15 4 7 4
WSC West Indies 11 3 4 4
WSC World XI 6 5 1 0

The table below shows the performance of top batsmen across the seasons of WSC. Viv Richards came into the World Series with great confidence, after having scored 1710 runs in 1976, which remained a Test record till 2006. He certainly lived up to his reputation scoring four centuries at an average of 64.05. The fact that this was achieved against the finest fast bowlers lends further weight to the fact that he was the best batsman in the world at that point. Barry Richards played just four Tests in his career, but his batting in WSC showed just what cricket had missed.

Greg Chappell vindicated his status as one of the best players of fast bowing and his tally of over 1400 runs at an average of 56.60 with five centuries put him in a league of his own. The bowling that he faced included the likes of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Imran Khan. Many batsmen wilted in the face of hostile pace bowling and they averaged well below their overall Test averages. David Hookes, on the other hand, despite being fairly new to international cricket, performed superbly in World Series Cricket, but rather surprisingly turned out to be a failure in international cricket after the two years.

Performance of top batsmen in World Series Cricket
Batsman Team Matches Innings Runs 100 50 Average
Barry Richards World XI 5 8 554 2 2 79.14
Vivian Richards West Indies and World XI 14 25 1281 4 4 55.69
Greg Chappell Australia 14 26 1415 5 4 56.60
David Hookes Australia 12 22 769 1 7 38.45
Clive Lloyd West Indies and World XI 13 21 683 1 3 37.94
Gordon Greenidge West Indies and World XI 13 23 754 1 4 35.90
Ian Chappell Australia 14 27 893 1 5 35.72

WSC was the most difficult test for batsmen due to incredible line up of pace bowlers present then. Many batsmen failed to perform at the end of the series and only a few were able to counter the aggressive bowling consistently. While the performance of Roberts, Holding, Lillee and Imran was more or less expected considering their reputation, the showing of the South African all-rounder Mike Procter and Garth le Roux was highly impressive. Dennis Lillee picked up the most wickets for Australia and was ably supported by Max Walker and later Jeff Thomson.

Performance of top bowlers in World Series Cricket
Bowler Team Matches Wickets Average 5 10
Garth Le Roux World XI 3 17 15.88 2 0
Mike Procter World XI 4 14 16.07 0 0
Imran Khan World XI 5 25 20.84 0 0
Michael Holding West Indies 9 35 23.31 1 0
Andy Roberts West Indies and World XI 13 50 24.14 1 0
Joel Garner West Indies and World XI 7 35 24.77 1 0
Max Walker Australia 7 28 25.42 2 0
Dennis Lillee Australia 14 67 26.86 4 0
Jeff Thomson Australia 5 16 29.75 1 0

The table below compares the averages of batsmen prior to World Series Cricket and after it ended. Viv Richards entered the tournament in the best form of his career and was the top batsman across the two seasons. His average did fall a little later on in his career after the WSC. Greg Chappell, who reaffirmed his status as Australia's best batsman with superb performances during the WSC years was remarkably consistent in his performances even after WSC.

Gordon Greenidge played most of his Test cricket after the end of World Series cricket and his average in this period did not deviate much from his overall record. His performance in the WSC though dropped well below his career record. Zaheer Abbas had a much better period post the WSC, but he averaged only 34 prior to WSC. His performance across the two seasons also was not very good as he averaged below 30. Ian Chappell played majority of his career before the World Series, but his average during WSC fell well below his career mark. Clive Lloyd's average during WSC was poorer than his performances prior to and post the WSC years. Barry Richards' career ended prematurely when South Africa were banned from International cricket, but his class was very much evident with his superb showing during WSC.

Performance of batsmen before and after World Series Cricket
Batsman Matches before WSC Average before WSC Matches during WSC Average during WSC Matches after WSC Average after WSC
Viv Richards 26 56.69 14 55.69 93 48.32
Greg Chappell 51 53.20 14 56.60 36 54.78
Gordon Greenidge 17 47.18 13 35.90 89 43.82
Zaheer Abbas 26 34.41 4 30.57 49 45.02
Clive Lloyd 63 43.35 13 37.94 45 52.16
Ian Chappell 72 42.86 14 35.72 3 31.60
Barry Richards 4 72.57 5 79.14 - -

Further proof that the mainstream Australian and West Indian teams badly missed their best players who were participating in the World Series can be seen by comparing their performance before, during and after the WSC period. The Australian team's performance went down drastically in the WSC years when they were trounced 5-1 by England and squeezed a 3-2 win over India. Only after majority of the players got back into the main side did the team start performing consistently again. West Indies on the other hand were getting to be a top side in 1976 after their impressive win over England, but during the WSC, their performance was ordinary. After the WSC though, they were the best side in the world by a distance as their win-loss ratio indicates.

Performance of Australia and West Indies in the non WSC years and WSC years
Team Matches before WSC years (four years) Win-Loss ratio before WSC years Matches played during WSC years Win-Loss ratio during WSC years Matches after WSC years (four years) Win-Loss ratio after WSC years
Australia 33 2.28 18 0.54 45 0.81
West Indies 32 1.20 11 1.50 25 4.00

World Series Cricket, apart from benefiting the game in general with all the innovations and improved salaries for players, featured some of the toughest contests ever seen. Despite the Tests never being accorded official status, the performance of the players during WSC is one of the surest ways to measure quality.

Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo