June 1, 2012

What made Bradman click?

A statistical analysis dissecting the extraordinary Test batting career of Don Bradman

Don Bradman averaged nearly 150 runs per innings every time he crossed 50 © Getty Images

A very loaded question. This cannot be answered by subjective inferences.

He scored heavily: Others also did.
He started well: Not at all, he was not a great starter.
His hundreds were big: So what, many other also had big 100s.
He had a great defence: Quite a few other batsmen probably had better defence.
His temperament was great: Maybe, but Hobbs and Gavaskar et al also had excellent temperament.
He scored fast: Yes, possibly, but quite a few others scored faster.

So where did he get his near-100 average, around 65% higher than the next best. I will try to answer this question in objective terms.

First the criteria for selection of the list of batsmen. I do not want to lower the level to 2000 Test runs. This is a career of around 25 Tests and is too short for a study like this. I know that I will lose Pollock and Headley when I go above this point, but they played too few Tests to be of any real help in this analysis. At the end of 20 Tests, Hussey averaged 80 and Trott, 65. So this is too low a level. After a lot of deliberation I have fixed 4000 Test runs, approximately a Test career of 50 Tests, as the cut-off. This gives me 112 batsmen, a very decent selection.

First let me look at areas in which Bradman was decidedly human and failed more than many other batsmen. I will demonstrate this through a special graph as well as a table. The graph is more a player positioning chart than a routine graph. There are 3 related charts in each graph. In general the batsmen shown in relative positions are Bradman, top three and bottom two batsmen. The mean is also shown. There is no need to anything other than the normal Arithmetic Mean.

Graph of zeroes and single-digit dismissals
© Anantha Narayanan

Bradman had seven zeroes out of 80 innings, which works to 8.8%. He was worse than most batsmen in the selected group. Out of 112 batsmen, he was 97th. A very average performer indeed. The best time to get Bradman was before he scored: and this happened once in 11 innings.

Why zero? A 1 or 3 or 8 is also a failure. So I expand the definition of a real failure to a single digit dismissal. Very few will argue with this. There may be rare instances of single digit dismissals which are good innings but let us ignore those. Bradman had 14 such instances, more than once in six attempts. His average was a very poor 2.2. So low that he is ranked LAST in the list of 112 batsmen. Yes, last, I repeat. This average does not make much of a difference in the overall context. However that means the string of Bradman's low scores was really low. Ah! we have located another Achilles heel. Get that shorty before he reached 10. You probably have won the match.

But the numbers do not tell the complete story. The batsmen in our selected set have played between 80 and 311 innings. So what we need is a % of the total innings played. This is the correct method of measuring success or failure. Bradman has failed in 17.5% of his career innings. But now we begin to see some daylight. Bradman is slowly moving up. There are others better than him, but he is placed in the 6th position. Pretty good. This also gives us a clue to what we are looking for. The specific averages seem comparable but the frequency of failures or successes may provide the clue. Anyhow lot more work needs to be done. The related table is given below.

  Zeros  Sub-10 
Hobbs J.BEng10243.9%3.21312.7%
Sutcliffe HEng8422.4%4.41214.3%
Hammond W.REng14042.9%3.72417.1%
Hutton LEng13853.6%3.62417.4%
Kanhai R.BWin13775.1%3.42417.5%
Bradman D.GAus8078.8%2.21417.5%
Dexter E.REng10265.9%2.71918.6%
Sangakkara K.CSlk18373.8%3.53519.1%
Sobers G.St.AWin160127.5%3.23119.4%
Graveney T.WEng12386.5%2.82419.5%
Hayden M.LAus184147.6%3.13619.6%
Barrington K.FEng13153.8%3.62619.8%
Lloyd C.HWin17542.3%4.43520.0%
Javed MiandadPak18963.2%3.93820.1%
Katich S.MAus9944.0%3.02020.2%
Wright J.GNzl14874.7%3.23020.3%
Compton D.C.SEng131107.6%2.62720.6%
Smith G.CSaf174105.7%3.43620.7%
Kallis J.HSaf257145.4%3.65421.0%
Gower D.IEng20473.4%4.64321.1%

I am going to move forward a little to my next group of graph/table. Without in any way conferring any additional credit for crossing these landmarks, I will use 100 and 150 merely as convenient cut-off points.

Graph of 100-plus and 150-plus scores
© Anantha Narayanan

Let us first look at the 100-plus scores. The additional cut-off is that there should have been ten such scores. The average of these scores for Bradman is an impressive 186.0. Quite impressive indeed, until you look at the others following close behind. Zaheer Abbas is quite close behind with an average of nearly 180. And then Sehwag and Lara follow closely and are within 10-12 runs of Bradman's average. So Bradman is leading here, but nowhere with a dominating lead.

Now we will take the innings in which the batsmen crossed 150. This time the cut-off is 5 such scores. The average of these scores for Bradman is an impressive 225.8. Very impressive, until we see that Chris Gayle (why isn't he in whites, walking in with Barath/Powell ?), who averages even higher. He clocks in at 231.8. Then Jayasuriya is closely behind at 225.0. So Bradman is not even the leader in this sub-analysis.

Now let us look at this from another angle. Let us look at the frequency of such occurrences. Again, there is clear daylight. Bradman has crossed the 100 mark on 36.8% of the occasions, nearly double that of the next batsman. He has scored 150+ in an astonishing 22.5% of the batting forays. Next placed is Weekes, with 8.6%. Now we are beginning to get a handle on what made Bradman click. His frequency of crossing high landmarks was well over double of the others. Once he reached there, he and the others performed at par.

   100s  150s 
Bradman D.GAus80186.02936.2%225.91822.5%
Zaheer AbbasPak124179.8129.7%207.886.5%
Sehwag VInd167176.32213.2%209.5148.4%
Fleming S.PNzl189176.194.8%220.852.6%
Lara B.CWin232173.23414.7%214.0198.2%
Jayasuriya S.TSlk188168.3147.4%225.063.2%
Hammond W.REng140167.52215.7%222.7107.1%
Gayle C.HWin159166.8138.2%231.863.8%
Simpson R.BAus111164.6109.0%203.265.4%
Sangakkara K.CSlk183163.32815.3%204.5147.7%
Atapattu M.SSlk156161.51610.3%206.585.1%
Jayawardene D.PSlk217159.43114.3%210.4146.5%
Gibbs H.HSaf154159.0149.1%192.974.5%
Dexter E.REng102157.398.8%180.654.9%
Hutton LEng138156.11913.8%197.1107.2%
Javed MiandadPak189155.82312.2%206.1105.3%
Younis KhanPak133155.52015.0%214.175.3%
Gooch G.AEng215152.1209.3%194.683.7%
de Villiers A.BSaf125151.51310.4%195.064.8%
Sobers G.St.AWin160150.72616.2%189.8116.9%

For the third set of table/graph, which is going to be the defining one, I am going to work on 50 as a cut-off point. In fact I am going to take 50 runs as a point at which the batsman can be said to have done well. 50 is anyhow the minimum average we expect in top batsmen. And since we are doing a comparison exercise, the figure of 50 will remain the same for all batsmen, Bradman to Healy.

And let me say this. If anyone comes out with a comment that there have been great 40s and awful 60s, the comment will not see the light of the day.

Graph of sub-50 and 50-plus scores
© Anantha Narayanan

First let us take the sub-50 scores. Bradman averages 18.4, which is well below a few other batsmen, 32 to be exact. So even in this relatively acceptable failure category, Bradman is ordinary, as ordinary as many other batsmen.

Now we come to the crunch point. What about the 50-plus scores.

I think we have got it. Bradman's average for 50-plus innings is a huge 149.9, He is nearly 30% ahead of the next best. Translate this bland number. Every time he reached 50, 42 times in all, while he raised his bat, he was mentally taking guard to add 100 runs to his score, on an average. If this single statement does not prove Bradman's exalted status as a batsman, nothing else will.

But lo and behold, he has also done this a remarkable 52.5% of the times he batted in. This is 10% more than the next best batsmen.

This is the only analysis point wherein Bradman has averaged well above the next best and has had a frequency much higher than the next best. In all other criteria, either his average is comparable or the frequency is comparable. Not in this. And let me do a back-of-stamp calculation. When I multiply these two differential values for selected batsmen, I get 50-60% which is almost the same as his overall superiority.

   Sub-50  50 + 
Bradman D.GAus8018.43847.5%149.94252.5%
Hammond W.REng14020.99467.1%114.94632.9%
Lara B.CWin23217.715064.7%113.48235.3%
Sehwag VInd16718.211367.7%113.35432.3%
Atapattu M.SSlk15614.412378.8%113.13321.2%
Zaheer AbbasPak12416.09274.2%112.23225.8%
Sangakkara K.CSlk18318.811763.9%108.86636.1%
Clarke M.JAus13817.19770.3%108.24129.7%
Jayawardene D.PSlk21718.614566.8%107.67233.2%
Younis KhanPak13317.78866.2%107.64533.8%
Crowe M.DNzl13118.09673.3%106.23526.7%
Sobers G.St.AWin16020.210465.0%105.85635.0%
Pietersen K.PEng14519.410069.0%105.84531.0%
de Silva P.ASlk15916.611773.6%105.34226.4%
EdeC WeekesWin8118.64758.0%105.33442.0%
Hayden M.LAus18419.412567.9%105.25932.1%
Tendulkar S.RInd31117.519562.7%103.911637.3%
Gibbs H.HSaf15417.911474.0%103.24026.0%
Smith G.CSaf17419.411867.8%102.85632.2%
Slater M.JAus13118.09673.3%102.43526.7%

Finally a table/graph looking at this from a different angle. This looks at the average number of balls he faced per innings and his average runs per innings, leading to the average scoring rate.

Graph of runs per innings, balls per innings and scoring rate
© Anantha Narayanan

Bradman averages 149 balls per innings. This is 12% ahead of the next best one. His career strike rate is 58.3, which, if not the best, is in the top-15 out of the 112 selected batsmen. The way-out BpI value coupled with the quite high Strike rate leads to the impressive value of 87.5 runs per innings.

BatsmanCtyRuns/InnsBalls/InnsSt Rate
Bradman D.GAus87.5149.258.6
EdeC WeekesWin55.0115.347.7
Sutcliffe HEng54.2134.140.4
Hobbs J.BEng53.0110.148.2
Barrington K.FEng52.0123.242.2
Hammond W.REng51.8115.844.7
Lara B.CWin51.585.160.5
Sangakkara K.CSlk51.394.754.2
Hutton LEng50.5127.139.7
Sobers G.St.AWin50.2103.048.7
Tendulkar S.RInd49.791.954.1
Sehwag VInd49.059.782.0
Mohammad YousufPak48.392.152.4
Kallis J.HSaf48.2105.645.6
Younis KhanPak48.190.353.3
Jayawardene D.PSlk48.192.951.8
Gavaskar S.MInd47.3105.444.9
Ponting R.TAus47.380.558.8
Chappell G.SAus47.192.251.1
Richards I.V.AWin46.972.564.8

Now for a final collection of related figures. I am sure readers might want to know about the quality of bowling faced by Bradman. First let me say this. Only a cricketing ignoramus would say that the bowling faced by Bradman was not good. Amongst the bowlers Bradman faced were Larwood, Verity, Bowes, Voce, Robins, Alec Bedser, Griffith, Constantine, Laker and Mankad: most of these bowlers had bowling averages below 30.0. Only the South African bowlers were average. Overall the average quality of bowling (AQB) faced by Bradman works out to 35.9. This is based on the CTD bowling figures and the reciprocal method of working. The range of AQB is 28.5 to 46.6 and the mean is 34.4. So one could say that Bradman faced, on the whole, slightly below-par bowling. Just to give a reference point, the AQB values for Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Graeme Smith are above 36.0.

Let me do a final summary.

1. When Bradman failed, he failed in a big way. He failed often, more than the others. Until he reached 50, he was quite human.
2. When he posted big scores, he was very good but only comparable to the other equally good players in these aspects of the game.
3. It is at the level of 50 that he completely overshadowed others. He reached this level over 50% of the time and posted an average of nearly 150 when he crossed 50. These two factors together account for the 60% increase he had in the key measures.
4. From a different angle, he posted a way-above figure on the Balls per innings and boasted of a very high career strike rate. These two factors together also account for the 60% increase he had in the key measures.

To download/view the Excel sheet containing the single comprehensive table, please click/right-click here.

To download/view the Excel sheet containing all the lower level tables, please click/right-click here.

To download/view the Excel sheet containing Bradman's career details, please click/right-click here.

To download/view the Special table containing the information requested for by Arjun (Averege of innings factors based on innings highest score at 1.00) and Gerry (Average Bowling Quality faced for scores of 50 and above), please click/right-click here. This also contains an additional data field which is Batting Average * 30.0 / Career ABQ.

It is certain that Bradman possessed non-quantifiable skills which enabled him to reach the pinnacle, leaving everyone far behind. Enough has been written about that. Here I have only tried to look at the mundane figures. Somewhere earlier in the article I had mentioned shorty in a flippant manner. Short Bradman might have been in stature, but he stands tall, very tall indeed. And hopefully now we know why Bradman clicked.

Easier analysed than done !!!

Since my tennis elbow is troubling me a lot I will be responding to many remarks with pre-formed boiler-plate responses generated through a key macro program. However let me assure the readers that I always read the responses in full.

Without bringing in anything else into the picture, it is necessary to briefly recapitulate the wonderful performance of Anand, winning his fifth World Chess title, fourth in succession and the toughest to date. Gelfand proved to be a tough nut to crack and Anand, to his credit, has said so right from he beginning. He is adding a few very significant bold lines to his biography and strengthens his claim to being called India's best sportsman ever. The only appropriate words needed during this epic occasion are expressions of recognition, approbation and appreciation.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 28, 2012, 0:32 GMT

    I believe these 3 Test Cricket Performances will probably never be eclipsed:

    The Don's Batting Average (99.94) Murali's Wickets (800) Boucher's Dismissals (555)

    So WHY don't I include Sachin's 51 Hundreds? Or his 15k+ Test Runs? Jacques Kallis, that is why...

    He's not written up or idolised like so many others (did somebody mention 'holy cows'?) and yet his average is still the highest for players with 10 000 or more runs. Next 56+ average when going down the list is Sangakkara... and they are both currently in the top 4 of the ICC Test Batsmen rankings.

    How long will they keep producing the goods? Kallis scored some of his finest Hundreds and his 2 double hundreds in the last few years... Sangakkara has been top of the ICC rankings for some time... they are (near enough) 37 and 35 years old now and they are ageing quite well... so nobody knows.

    Surely Sachin's supporters will be quick to try and prove how wrong I am ;-)

    Reality Check: we won't know until they all retire!

  • testli5504537 on August 22, 2012, 20:01 GMT

    Hey Itz a wonderful article. I agree that Bradman was totaaly class apart in his consistency, strike rate, RpI with difficult pitches, less( or no) protective gears and that is the reason he is regarded as the best batsman ever. One thing which I did not like was that one need not pull down someone other ( here SRT) to reinforce the greatness of other person....I am sorry to say that I observed this in not only readers' comments but also in your comments and articles.

    Lets accept that fact that Don was the greatest but then that does not mean that people should undermine the achievements of others. Even I find it odd to compare SRT with GOD but it is not his fault that he has earned so much money or played long enough to have those stats.

    This was the only negative thing I could make out from your article. In fact mentioning Anand's case in the end of the article also seemed deliberate to me.

  • testli5504537 on July 2, 2012, 3:57 GMT

    @Ravi - with respect to Wes Hall, he was in an era that utilised the back foot no-ball rule which meant his release point was a lot closer to the batsmen than todays speedsters. So I have no doubt he would of been a fearsome sight, imagine what would of happenned if Patrick Patterson was operating under the old no-ball rules!!!!!!!!

  • testli5504537 on June 21, 2012, 8:59 GMT

    (cont)The majority will go to extreeme lengths at time to counter the annoying and uncomfortable facts that can be easily pointed out on this topic. This is called Cognitive Dissonance. Once you have been constantly hammered about Bradman thru your formative yrs we grow up believing 99.94 to be the ultimate truth similar to religious beliefs and superstitions. Even though later in life we figure out that these make no logical sense we find it impossible to abandon those beliefs and we even go to the extent of defending them. This is the reflex reaction of the mind to try and reduce the dissonance and help restore the original belief. This is what happens on most discussions involving Bradman especially when Video evidences are presented. People go to all sorts of extreemes to discredit the evidence. Deep down everybody knows that there is a day and night difference between the cricket played back then to what it is now. Which is why we should never mix stats of modern era with old era [[ Let Bheem have the last word. No more comments/responses on this particlular theme will be published. Ananth: ]]

  • testli5504537 on June 21, 2012, 8:51 GMT

    @David, Moviemaker plays at 30FPS so the frames are 0.03 secs apart. Sorry there was a typo in the second speed that I mentioned at rel it should be 03.98.So the avg release point falls between 03.96 and 03.97 lets take it to be 03.96 and we get a timing of 0.45 secs which gives us a speed of 141 kmph. Agree about the bat meeting the ball ahead of the crease and confirms my point about the actual distance travelled being shorter than 17.68mtrs and negates any other errors. Also the speed gun calculates speed at release. This is why if you use Movie maker and rely on the timer you get very close to the displayed speed. Works on other videos too @Ananth this is why I said that once we scratch the surface and start to scrutinize things there are plenty of holes in the Bradman legend. Its just that since vast majority don't prefer to let facts get in the way of what is a very good story it becomes very difficult for those who like to state opinions based on tangible evidence(contd..)

  • testli5504537 on June 19, 2012, 2:28 GMT

    And this was supposed to be an article which discussed why Bradman averaged 60% more than the next best guy in his era. Something which cannot be explained in my opinion by anybody. [[ And let us close the line of reasoning there. Ananth: ]]

  • testli5504537 on June 19, 2012, 0:31 GMT

    @Bheem, I looked at the Steyn/SRT clip and your calculations, and I believe them to be wrong in several ways.

    1. A difference of 0.02 seconds between your two start time options is meaningless, since the youtube clip is 25fps = 0.04 sec/frame. Your software is giving you figures that can't possibly exist.

    2. I encoded the file in 3 different ways; using Movie Maker I got a best time for each version of 0.48 sec = 132.6km/h.

    3. When you look at the side-on shot at the end of the clip, you see that Steyn's arm reaches maximum height in line with the crease, but SRT's bat meets the ball at least 1 metre in front of the crease. This reduces the distance to about 16.5m. Even if we take your minimum time (0.44 sec), that works out at 135 km/h, although my calculations (using 0.48 sec) suggest 124 km/h. Either way, the result is consistently LOWER than the broadcast speed.

    Ananth, 0.44 sec is the MINIMUM time; I would expect the true speed to fall WITHIN the range, not 5% outside.

  • testli5504537 on June 18, 2012, 21:27 GMT

    Srikanthk, you misunderstood. I meant Alan Davidson also said Wes Hall was a scary one to face. Good pace and delivery from a height must have made him very hard to play.

  • testli5504537 on June 18, 2012, 17:12 GMT

    Some priceless footage of Bob Massie demolishing England in his debut test in 1972!


    This guy is basically a swing bowler who appears to operate in the low 120s range (about the same pace as Bowes or maybe marginally faster). I agree he didn't have a great career. But this video just goes to show how effective medium pacers can be in England given the right conditions.

  • testli5504537 on June 18, 2012, 17:06 GMT

    Ravi : The highlights of the Tied test is available online. Wes Hall is sharp no doubt.

    Davidson on the other hand was not really an outright quick bowler. He was a fast medium bowler who bowled with great accuracy and control of swing.

    Some footage of Davidson from the 1958-59 series -


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