Test players: a look into their best decades
In a passing comment, Sarosh Nayyar requested that I do an analysis of the best decade for a player and compare the results across the players. It seemed a very intriguing request. I realized that this had the makings of a, hitherto not attempted, unique analysis, when I started looking at it deeply. The possibilities were immense. There was a scenario in which we could get a batsman-decade which was closer than the 40% gap between Bradman and Sutcliffe, which itself was a great incentive.
And ten years is a long enough period to draw conclusions with sufficient weight. We also agreed that the raw numbers had to be adjusted for the specific decade's peer numbers, during our exchange of views. The complex mechanism to determine the peer averages between any two Tests was already in place. It is indeed a tricky exercise and I have been working on-and-off for nearly a month now. The complexities are summarised below.
1. How does one handle the six-year voids which were caused by the two World Wars? The careers of some great players like Barnes and Verity were curtailed and the careers of top players such as Hobbs, Bradman, Hammond, Hutton, Compton et al got disrupted. I had to find a satisfactory methodology which handled this effectively.
2. This is predominantly a performance analysis: hence the decade has to be strictly defined. At the same time the careers of Pietersen (Twitter-gaffes notwithstanding), Cook, Gambhir et al, which might fall short of the qualifying ten-year periods, have to be recognized.
3. The peer adjustment has to be crisp and clear and has to make a telling impact. While the bowling comparisons have to be across the board, the batting peer comparisons have to be restricted to the Top-7 batsmen.
Keeping these in mind, I have worked on the following criteria and methodology.
1. The decade is strictly and exactly defined, match to match. There are very few exceptions to the 10-year requirement which are explained below.
2. The war-years, as far this analysis is concerned, are just wiped off. How I wish I could move the clock back and do it in real life. Millions of lives could have been saved!!! Enough of this wishful thinking. Tests 134 and 135 are, in real life, around six-plus years apart. As do the Tests 274 and 275. But this period is reduced to nothing as far as this analysis is concerned. In other words, the period 1908-1922 becomes eight years or thereabout. Similarly 1938-1954 is equivalent to ten years.
3. S.F.Barnes played his last Test during 1914 and did not play thereafter. And his best years were between 1907 and 1914. Hence the period of seven years has been accepted for him. Verity played his last Test in 1939 and then died on the battle-fields. His entire career lasted eight years from 1931 to 1939. Hence this has been considered valid. Note the subtle differences between the careers of these two great bowlers.
4. It was indeed fortunate that Bradman's best decade was between 1929 and 1939. So no problems. However the best years for Hobbs, Hammond and Hutton, spanned the wars and their "decades" are allowed to go past 10 years.
5. For the best performance analysis, no concession is given to anyone else, including the recent players. However for the total runs/wickets analysis it really does not matter if the career has lasted below 10 years.
6. The Top-7 Batting average for the specific range of Tests is considered for peer comparisons. This is compared to the all-time Top-7 Batting average of 35.92 and then adjusted. Couple of examples will explain this.
The average for Kallis is a very high 66.13, between 2001 and 2011, when the T7-Avge for all players, other than Kallis, was 39.03. So his average is adjusted to 60.86 (66.13 x 35.92 / 39.03). On the other side, Harvey averaged 54.40 between 1948 and 1958 when the T7-Avge for all players, except Harvey, was 33.80. So his average is adjusted to 57.82 (54.40 x 35.92 / 33.80).
7. For peer comparisons the all-inclusive Bowling average for the specific range of Tests is taken. This is compared to the all-time all-inclusive Bowling average which is 32.0. This is necessary because the wickets are captured across all batting positions.
Harbhajan's best decade average was a somewhat high 29.92 between 1999 and 2009 when the Bowling Avge for all bowlers, sans Harbhajan, was at a higher level of 34.08. So his average is adjusted to 28.09 (29.92 x 32.0 / 34.08). On the other hand, Laker averaged 18.56 at his peak between 1949 and 1959, a bowler-dominated decade, during which the Bowling Avge for all bowlers, other than Laker, was a low 29.4. So his average is adjusted to 20.20 (18.56 x 32.0 / 29.4)
Batsman best decade analysis: Based on adjusted average
Bradman's best decade was between 1929 and 1939, as expected. The adjusted batting average is 103.93 (unadjusted avge 104.02), which is around 4% above his career batting average. This indicates that virtually any decade of Bradman is likely to produce a number around 100. Sobers, whose adjusted average is a magnificent 73.75 (73.04), between 1958 and 1968 is in second place. It is the first time a player, over a long period of 10 years, comes within 30% of Bradman. Hobbs, with a best decade spread across the WW1 (1912 to 1926) is next with 70.65 (65.21). Walcott and Weekes follow, with adjusted averages either side of 65.
Tendulkar, with a best decade of 1992 to 2002, appears next in the list with 63.19 (62.45), followed by the old-timers, Barrington, Sutcliffe and Hutton, comfortably in excess of 60. Jacques Kallis rounds off the top-10 with an adjusted average of 60.86, between 2001 and 2011, seriously adjusted downwards from 66.13. He is in fact third in the unadjusted table. This confirms the significant impact of adjusting against peer values.
Bowler best decade analysis: Based on adjusted average
For obvious reasons I have ignored Lohmann who had a best decade with 100+ wickets at 10+. These were days about which we really cannot come to a decision and are not comparable with later periods. Hence the cut-off is 1900.
There is a real, real surprise at the top. This should make people sit up and take notice. Imran Khan, between 1979 and 1989 had an adjusted bowling average of 18.37 (18.26). He gained almost nothing through peer adjustment. Who could have imagined that Imran Khan would have leapt over many other fancied bowlers? He captured 250 wickets during this period and improved his bowling average from 31.72 to 22.21. That single sentence is sufficient.
Barnes comes in second with an average of 18.57 (16.46). There was a significant adjustment for the period. Readers should note that the period for Barnes has been accepted at seven years owing to the WW1 intervention. Muralitharan, between 1997 and 2007, captured 575 wickets at 18.60 (19.53). Hadlee, who captured 293 wickets at 19.07 (19.17) between 1979 and 1989 follows next. Marshall completes the top-5 with 316 wickets at 19.09.
The next five bowlers represent the very best bowling talent that ever played the game - McGrath, Ambrose, O'Reilly, Laker and Garner. These 10 are probably on anyone's list of the top dozen bowlers. Laker's average has had a major downward adjustment. Wasim and Waqar follow in 11th and 13th positions.
Batsmen best decade analysis: Top Run-scorers in a decade
This is a simple run-based analysis. As such there are no restrictions and the current players also qualify. After all if Cook accumulates over 6000 runs in 6 years and counting, why should he not get ahead of Gooch who accumulated nearly as many runs in 10 years?
Ponting is the only batsman in history to accumulate over 10000 runs in 10 years. This is a stand-out achievement and has to be recognized. He did this between 2000 and 2010. Kallis accumulated 9318 runs between 2001 and 2011. Dravid, Lara and Sangakkara amassed either side of 9000 runs in 10 years.
Hayden accumulated 8365 runs, but in 9 years. This was after his break and return. Hence 9 years is fine. Then Tendulkar and Jayawardene follow.
Cook leads in the matter of Runs per year, having accumulated 6555 runs in 6 years at an average of 1092. Pietersen is the only other batsman to average more than 1000 runs per year along with Ponting.
Readers should realize the difficulty in maintaining a 1000 runs per year average over 10 years. Mohammad Yousuf had the greatest of years during 2006 when he scored 1788 runs but could accumulate only 5000 runs during the other 9 years of his best decade. In three years, 2003, 2005 and 2006, Ponting accumulated nearly 4500 runs, but had to bat outstandingly well to compile 5500 runs in 7 years.
Bowler best decade analysis: Top Wicket-takers in a decade
|Batsman||Career||Yrs||# of||<<<<||Best||Decade||>>>>||# of||Wkts||Wkts/Yr|
|Kapil Dev N||1978||1994||16||851||1979||1123||1989||10||323||32.3|
Muralitharan had a golden decade from 1998 and 2008 during which he accumulated 588 wickets at an average of over 58 per year. He is followed by the wonderful bowling pair of Warne and McGrath who accumulated 480 odd wickets between around 1995 and 2005. Kumble is next with 430 wickets in the decade beginning 1998. Pollock, Ntini and Harbhajan appear next in this list. Botham is the only non-modern bowler, indicating the recent profusion of Test matches.
Let us think for a second. In a period of 10 years, Muralitharan captured nearly 600 wickets in 10 years. Only 42 bowlers in 135 years have captured more than Muralitharan's average of 58.8 wickets per year. The highest tally is by Warne, during 2005, with 96 wickets, followed by Muralitharan, with 90 wickets in 2006.
The top batsmen in a decade
© Anantha Narayanan
The graphs are self-explanatory. The idea is not to show the relative position of the averages but rather the positioning across the years. The 1950s-60s seem to be the golden years of batting since there are four batsmen present in the top-10 with high averages.
The top bowlers in a decade
© Anantha Narayanan
It must be remembered that the Y-axis is not really to exact scale in view of the close bunching of players with similar values. The bowling decades are the 1980s-90s.
To download/view the comprehensive Excel sheet containing all the tables related to Test Decades analysis, please CLICK HERE.
Thanks, Sarosh, for providing a good spark.
The stars of this special analysis are Sobers and Hobbs, whose batting average exceeded 70 during their best decades and Imran Khan and Muralitharan who had bowling averages around 18 during their respective best decades.
When I heard that Lara was going to be inducted into the ICC Hall-of-Fame, I almost shelved this article, post-editing, to be replaced by a tribute to Lara. Then I decided not to rush the same. Since ICC have taken their own time, let me take a few more days to come out with a well-rounded tribute to the batting genius, in the process fine-tuning the single-player analysis program. I will close this with Milind's telling comment.
Sometimes a talent requires the recognition of being an awardee. Then there are cases when the award needs the prestige by associating itself with a talent that transcends awards.
Well said, Milind.
Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems