August 27, 2010

A true measure of quality: World Series Cricket

Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan
WSC: facing the best fast bowlers  © Wisden Cricket Monthly
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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.

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

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Posted by symptom_control on (September 24, 2010, 16:29 GMT)

lets not forget quite a few of the WSC pitches in Australia were very iffy to be facing such a pace barrage on also I recall DK Lillee getting the better of Viv on more than one occasion I would declare a tie in that contest

Posted by Alex on (September 6, 2010, 10:43 GMT)

Harsh - at his best, GRV was universally excellent. But he was not consistent; also, Imran totally owned him in Pak. No Indian batsman played the 80's fast bowling better than Mohinder & Vengsarkar.

As for Greg Chappell's failures in the final 5-6 tests vs WI, the WI had very specific plans for the best opposing batsmen, and the timing was such that he just ran into Holding at his very best.

Posted by Harsh Thakor on (September 2, 2010, 11:08 GMT)

To me it was unfair of the Don to have rated Barry better than Viv as they were both great players in their own right.No batsmen in the game including Bradman destroyed fast bowling with such disdain as Viv,who even treated the likes of Lillee like a spinner.Barry Richards was possibly the most complete of all batsman and technically the best .

Ian Chappell,was a master against fast bowling on bouncy surfaces.Boycott and Gavaskar,although posessing technical mastery ,did not relish the fast ,bouncy tracks.To me Vishwanath was a better player of fast bowling as he proved in 1974 against Roberts at Madras,and would have beena more suitable candiadte with his match-winning prowess.

The achievement of World Series Cricket was the professionalism it created.It transformed Imran Khan from a talented Cricketer to one of the all-time greats of the game.It also shaped Lloyd's talented bunch of individuals into possibly the best international side ever!

Posted by Harsh Thakor on (August 31, 2010, 18:51 GMT)

On the question of fast bowling I rate Viv Richards ,Barry Richards and Ian Chappell,the best.They were brilliant against the bouncing ball.Ian Chappell revealed his prowess against the 4 -pronged Carribean attack opening the batting,in the 1979 edition played in the West Indies and scoring a series of 50's,including a master knock on a fast track.Viv even negotiated bouncers on the front foot,playing fast bowling better than even Bradman. Barry Richards classicaly negotiated the likes of Lillee ,displaying the prowess of being the most complete of all batsman.

Gavaskar and Boycott,both refrained from hooking and often Gavaskar was in trouble on the bouncy tracks because of his height.Boycott was rattled by the bouncer,although he had great technique.It is significant that later Greg Chappell failed against the West Indian quartet in subsequent series.

It is significant that Viv lost his consistency in 1978 and 1979,unlike Greg.It reflects on his temperament and career.

Posted by Harsh Thakor on (August 31, 2010, 18:33 GMT)

The most significant contribution of the series was the growth of professionalism,which was very relevant to Imran Khan,who in a few years matured into the best all-rounder and fast bowler in the World.Joel Garner and Colin Croft emerged into great paceman,infact for a time Garner was no.1.It also paved the path for West Indies becoming possibly the best test and one -day side ever.Infact they were hard-pressed in their supertest series win in 1977 and in the 4 match series in the Carribean which was drawn at 1-1.It was a fertile ground for Holding who proved his prowess in 1981-82 in Australia as a true champion .However it also led to the decline of great players like Majid Khan and Tony Greig as well as Zaheer Abbas against Pace bowling.I was only after Packer that Zaheer was troubled by genuine pace.

Barry and Viv were the greatest and it is unfair to compare the two.The former had the best technical prowess while the latter had infinite imagination.

Posted by Alex on (August 30, 2010, 21:12 GMT)

Harsha: nice point on Greg Chappell (still, he scored two 100's in WSC on fast tracks). In 70's, most fast bowlers in test cricket rated Viv Richards, SMG, Boycott, and Ian Chappell to be the best batsmen of fast bowling. Also, many rated Ian Chappell to be the better brother when the chips were down. Still, everybody conceded that Greg Chappell was, overall, the best Aussie batsman since Bradman.

All 150+ individual scores in WSC came on batsman-friendly wkts with the Perth showdown in Jan 1978 producing 204 for B Richards, 177 for V Richards, and 147 for G Chappell. After the 204, Bradman declared Barry Richards to be the best batsman in the world, astutely observing that Barry had a superior technique and that, while Viv was perhaps better on that day, he relied heavily on reflexes which were bound to slow down with age. The Don hit bull's eye on Viv and might have been right about B Richards too.

Posted by Harsh Thakor on (August 30, 2010, 12:24 GMT)

You have made a mistake on Viv Richards statistically.Infact Viv averaged 55.69, playing 25 innings and scoring 1281 runs,being not out twice.Please correct error. regards

I would also like to state that Greg Chappel, undoubtedly one of the greatest ever batsmen ,was not always comfortable against the bouncing ball on the fast wickets and gained his best knocks against great bolwing on slower pitches like Trinidad and Antigua in 1979,and on flat surfaces in Australia in 1977-78.Infact in a crisis ,to me ,brother Ian was a better player,particularly on the fast tracks.Michael Holding in the final edition of the series on 1979 in the West Indies,was a much improved bowler,giving Lillee a run for his money and consistently being the quickest of all pace bowlers in that era.

The tournament showed that Barry Richards may well have been the best batsman of all had he played official cricket .His 207 in 1977-78 and match-winning century in the 1978 Final were epics.

Posted by Harsh Thakor on (August 30, 2010, 11:45 GMT)

It is really sad for the game that the World Series performances have not been considered by Wisden in the overall Test match records of the great players.In certain stages Viv Richards performances were phenomenal,batting in a Bradmanesque fashion averaging 86.2 in the first season,He treated the likes of Lillee like novices.Greg Chappell was outstanding against the great bowlers ,being the most prolific .His 246 not out against the World 11 was one of Cricket's greatest knocks and his consistency was amazing in the West Indies in 1979 where he averaged 69 runs apiece scoring 3 centuries.In a crisis Ian Chappell was the best batsman. Dennis Lillee proved why he was rated the best pace bowler ever,capturing 5 wickets per test against the best batsman in the game.Andy Roberts also proved his amazing versatality as a fast bowler,being the only contender to challenge Dennis Lillee.

It was simply Cricket at it's best and laid the foundation for Lloyd's champion West Indian team!

Posted by AN on (August 30, 2010, 5:10 GMT)

@ Mao you are missing an important point by tangentially defending apartheid SA by broad brushing everybody else today. Human rights abuse is a problem today as well, but most people admit it and try to make changes albiet slowly.I think Barry Richards has been diefied based on a few matches, even if one were to include WSC. He mostly flogged county bowlers on small grounds. He cannot be compared to Viv. At the most he was as good as say Greenidge since he opened. He never faced high quality spin on Indian pitches. We can name plenty who flopped badly against Bedi & co. or against Underwood on a sticky track after early success. Besides, he was happy with apartheid society and never really repudiated it. He almost exclusively played in Anglo countries. The real hypocrisy lies here as well. I am old enough to know this from up close. Lip service to integrated sport is not enough. If you had seen the brutality of SA Govt. during the 60s and 70s, and the West's apathy during that time....

Posted by MartinAmber on (August 29, 2010, 2:51 GMT)

Kartik - it was pointless only because it was "single". I have an inveterate dislike of one-off Tests and series of two. Do it properly or don't bother. I would love to have seen a series of three between Aus and RotW, or even a series of 3 or 5 where Aus played a World XI in several different countries. Not a one-off Test. That match also suffered from coming just after the 2005 Ashes. You're not addressing a terminal cricket snob, just someone who would prefer to see ALL occasions when World XIs played Test-class cricket properly recognised. It's a pipe-dream of mine to see a World Championship, followed by a special winner versus RotW series. It'll probably never happen though...

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