Statistics March 17, 2013

The ODI batting giants: part 1

A statistical look at 15 of the best ODI batsmen across various eras, analysing how they measured up in several different parameters

MS Dhoni has developed into one of the finest finishers in one-day internationals, and has revelled in the difficult task of batting in the lower middle order © BCCI

At the outset let me apologise to all the readers for my inability to read and respond to the comments sent for my previous article. Even though the reasons were beyond my control, it is my corner of "the Cordon" and it was my responsibility to keep this small area working, accessible and free of trash. My thanks to Cricinfo technical team for addressing this sticky problem and I will have access to the comments for my articles, which will henceforth be published, interjected with my responses.

The year 2012 witnessed retirement of the two giants of ODI format. Two pillars of the game, neither of whom could ever be denied a place among the top four of the ODI game. They scored tons of runs and scored these in a magnificent manner, scored these when their team needed them and pulverised top-quality attacks. Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting played like kings and retired in style. Towards the end of the year another player retired from Test cricket, in the opinion of many, when he was still at the top. Unfortunately this also meant an exclusion from a farewell ODI series. However, this cannot deny the stellar contributions Michael Hussey made towards his team's successes. The retirement of these three giants has prompted me to do a very exhaustive analysis of the ODI batting giants. This is a two-part article due to the number of areas covered. At the end of this article I have outlined the second article so that reader requests can be incorporated wherever possible.

How many batsmen do I include in this analysis and how do I decide on the specific batsmen? A very difficult task indeed. I have used a combination of numbers, the team achievements, their contributions to the ODI format in general and their team in particular. I have tried to ensure as wide a representation across countries and as broad-based representation across the years as possible. Over the past 40 odd years, 10 World Cups and 6 Champions Trophy tournaments have been held. Australia has won 6, West Indies 3, India 2.5, Sri Lanka 1.5 and Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand, one each. The selection of players reflects, to some extent, this level of success of their teams.

Taking all above into consideration, I have selected following 15 batsmen, listed in chronological order. There may be minor disagreements among readers but there is no denying that these 15 represent the very cream of ODI batting. They have contributed over 130,000 runs, just short of 10% of the total runs scored in ODI matches. Most of these batsmen select themselves.

Richards      1975 1991
Miandad       1975 1996
M Crowe       1982 1995
M Waugh       1988 2002
Tendulkar     1989 2012
Jayasuriya    1989 2011
Lara          1990 2007
Inzamam       1991 2007
A Flower      1992 2003
Bevan         1994 2004
Ponting       1995 2012
Kallis        1996 2012 Active
Gilchrist     1996 2008
Pietersen     2004 2013 Active
Dhoni         2004 2013 Active

I included Hussey in the beginning but towards the end felt that Mark Waugh could not be ignored. Since both are among my favourite batsmen, it was a wrench to exclude either of them. Martin Crowe played in tough times and just about edged out Fleming. Jayasuriya transformed the game itself. Miandad and Inzamam selected themselves. So did Richards and Lara. The Tendulkar lily need not be gilded. Dhoni's finishing exploits are legendary giving him the edge ahead of Ganguly. Pietersen and Andy Flower are, by far, their respective country's best batsmen.

My sincere apologies to Lloyd, Gayle, Haynes, Dean Jones, Hussey, Saeed Anwar, Mohammad Yousuf, de Silva, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Ganguly, Azharuddin, Sehwag, Graeme Smith, Gibbs, Fleming et al, and their supporters. Any of them would have graced this list with distinction. Shakib Al Hasan will certainly qualify into an allrounder's list but has not done enough in batting.

In view of the number of tables and the huge amount of information, I have decided to do this mammoth analysis in two parts. The first part is based on available data and I would venture to say that most of this data could be extracted using statsguru. However, here it is available in a single place in easily understandable tables for the crème de la crème of ODI batsmen. The second part will be slightly different where I have done a lot of extraction and grouping for those tables. Many of the ideas in the second part are unique and will not be available anywhere. Readers would also have the opportunity to suggest any new tables which could be developed. I would be glad to create these if I can.

Here is one important factor about the presentation of these tables. I have decided not to order the tables on any data field. It will invite unnecessary discussions. These are all great players and this exercise is not to determine who the best is. Hence all tables will be presented in strictly chronological order. The highlighting would be done in the commentary after the tables.

1. Career Summary
Richards 16724 6721 758147.00 88.740.235.7
Miandad 21841 73811097941.70 67.233.922.8
M Crowe 14119 4704 646438.56 72.833.424.3
M Waugh 23620 85001106339.35 76.836.027.7
Tendulkar 45241184262137144.83 86.240.835.1
Jayasuriya 43318134301473632.36
Lara 28932104061305640.49 79.736.028.7
Inzamam 35053117391582739.53 74.233.524.9
Flower 20816 6785 914435.34 74.232.624.2
Bevan 19667 6914 929953.60 74.435.326.2
Ponting 36539137031706742.03 80.337.530.1
Kallis 30753114991575645.27 73.037.527.3
Gilchrist 27911 9619 992335.89 96.934.533.4
Pietersen 12116 4369 503541.61 86.836.131.3
Dhoni 19656 7259 822851.85

These are numbers which any cricket aficionado would reel off if woken up at 3am. The key columns here are RpI and the Index. The Batting average in ODIs is far more skewed than in Test matches because of the limited number of overs, non-completion of innings and high percentage of not-outs. The number of not-outs varies between 67 for the middle-order stalwart like Bevan to 18 for an attacking opener like Jayasuriya. Hence RpI (Runs per Innings) is a very important measure and reflects the relative positioning of batsmen far more accurately. Hence almost all these tables will have both Average and RpI.

Now for the Index. This has been a favourite combination measure of mine over the past 15 years. Realizing the importance of Average/RpI and the Strike Rate, I had multiplied the two measures, thus giving them equal importance. It allows players to compensate shortcomings in one measure with higher level performances in the other. Earlier I used this Index based on Batting average but now I always use RpI in all Index calculations.

The batting averages which stand out are Richards' 47.00, Bevan's 53.60 and Dhoni's 51.85. Jayasuriya's 90+ strike rate and the near-90 strike rate of Richards at 88.7 and Dhoni at 88.2 stand out. The 35+ Index values of Richards and Tendulkar sets them apart. Readers can note how Jayasuriya's low RpI value is partly compensated by the high strike rate. Similarly Kallis' average strike rate is offset by a good RpI value. The Index represents a clear value to the team: non-contextual of course.

2. Opening runs
BatsmanInnsNOsRunsBallsAvgeS/RRpIIndexOPP RunsOPP Avge
Richards 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.0 0.0 0.0 0 0.0
J Miandad 4 0 85 8621.25 98.821.221.0 10225.5
Crowe 22 1 814 117338.76 69.437.025.7 100845.8
M Waugh 14111 5729 747344.07 76.740.631.1 595942.3
Tendulkar 34023153101739748.30
Jayasuriya 38315127401378834.62 92.433.330.71287133.6
Lara 52 5 2166 287146.09 75.441.731.4 159730.7
Inzamam 12 0 516 72243.00 71.543.030.7 49341.1
Flower 44 2 1352 192832.19 70.130.721.5 167638.1
Bevan 1 1 40 62 0.00 64.540.025.8 1717.0
Ponting 6 1 272 35054.40 77.745.335.2 29549.2
Kallis 7 0 135 20619.29 65.519.312.6 24334.7
Gilchrist 259 7 9200 938636.51 98.035.534.81109242.8
Pietersen 8 1 412 46958.86 87.851.545.2 56370.4
Dhoni 2 0 98 11349.00 86.749.042.5 2110.5

The opening position in ODIs has undergone sea-changes across the years. Steady opening partnerships with both batsmen striking at around 60, with the objective of scoring a match-winning 250, were the order of the day around the 1980s. Mark Greatbatch was the first of the attacking openers who set the 1992 World Cup alight. This was followed by the Sri Lankan blitz with both openers, Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, blazing away, in the next edition. They won a World Cup with these attacking methods although the final two matches were won by conventional batsmen. Over the next 15 years the opening batting has changed in accordance with rule changes and power play implementations. Today it would be difficult to find a Greenidge-Haynes combination opening, both striking at below 65. This is a specialist position and various top batsmen have occupied it, with telling effect. Hence a special view of this anchor position is necessary.

The table contents are standard for most of these analyses. Richards never opened, Miandad once in three years and Martin Crowe, very rarely. Many of the others like Mark Waugh, Tendulkar, Jayasuriya and Gilchrist, spent most of their careers opening the batting. Mark Waugh, less than the other three. Gilchrist was the true opening-zone batsman, striking at 98. Jayasuriya was nearly as good, at 92 and Tendulkar did his scoring at 88. Mark Waugh was more sedate, probably content with watching Gilchrist's striking at the other end. Still a respectable 77. Tendulkar's RpI of 45 is mind-blowing. This also means that he has the highest Index value of nearly 40. It can be seen that all the four had Index values exceeding 30. Lara's opening stints were more effective than the rest of his batting efforts. Andy Flower, on the other hand, was less successful opening the batting.

I have also determined the average opening partnerships when the concerned batsman opened: mostly with some other batsman, other than Mark Waugh and Gilchrist who opened the innings regularly together. Gilchrist leads this quartet for an average opening partnership of 45.8 and is closely followed by Mark Waugh, with 45.3: a testament to the fact that they opened together often. Tendulkar, often with Ganguly, and the rest of the time with different batsmen, averages 41.6. Jayasuriya's average is only 33.6, a reflection of the fact that he and his partner were in attacking mood almost throughout their partnerships.

3. Late order runs (6 onwards)
BatsmanInnsNOsRunsBallsAvgeS/RRpIIndexTeamRunsBatRuns %
Richards 6 2 80 10020.00 80.013.310.7 69111.6
Miandad 9 1 175 26721.88 65.519.412.7 40043.8
M Crowe 3 1 138 17669.00 78.446.036.1 50727.2
M Waugh 4 2 51 6025.50 85.012.810.8 15333.3
Tendulkar 5 1 168 13542.00124.433.641.8 20781.2
Jayasuriya 31 2 405 55013.97 73.613.1 9.6 172023.5
Lara 8 3 263 27452.60 96.032.931.6 51551.1
Inzamam 25 3 542 75424.64 71.921.715.6 176230.8
Flower 8 3 197 29739.40 66.324.616.3 68928.6
Bevan 10645 3350 428654.92 78.231.624.7 824340.6
Ponting 6 3 75 9025.00 83.312.510.4 42417.7
Kallis 7 0 120 22017.14 54.517.1 9.4 49424.3
Gilchrist 19 4 390 49326.00 79.120.516.2 121432.1
Pietersen 5 1 128 12532.00102.425.626.2 49825.7
Dhoni 11334 3375 403242.72 83.729.925.0 947935.6

Just as opening the batting is important, finishing an innings, whether setting a target or chasing is important. Unfortunately in this analysis the required data, which is the information on when a batsman was dismissed, is available only over the past 20 years, for two-thirds of the matches. So I have to take a view based on when the batsman entered to start his innings. So this may not be a complete analysis. But we can draw a few insights. For this analysis I have compiled the runs scored where a batsman came in at no.5/6 or afterwards. At no.6, only two of these batsmen, viz., Bevan and Dhoni have played enough innings and that is the reason why I have considered that the role of a finisher can be at No.5 or No.6. Those at 1 and 2 are openers, 3/4/5 are consolidators and 5/6 onwards are finishers. I know this is not perfect but it cannot be helped.

Examining the table reveals that only two batsmen have played enough innings at No.6 onwards. Bevan has played 106 very effective innings at an RpI of 31.6 and Index of 24.7. Dhoni has also excelled in this position with 113 innings at 29.9 and Index of 25.0. It should be noted that the RpI will necessarily be lower since these two batsmen have remained not out 45 and 34 times respectively. These values are very important for the team since these are scored at the end of the innings in crunch situations, whether the team was batting first or second.

Here I have looked for a different type of additional analysis. I compiled the sum of the runs added by the team after the entry of the concerned batsman and looked at what % was scored by the concerned batsman. I think I struck pay dirt since Bevan's 40.6% of all the runs scored by the team after his entry is a testament to the great impact on the Australian batting. Inclusive of Bevan's own failures this figure of 40+% is the essence of finishing a match. Dhoni is slightly below, at 35.6% possibly because he often had top-order batsmen batting with him.

4. Late-order runs (5 onwards)
BatsmanInnsNOsRunsBallsAvgeS/RRpIIndexTeamRunsBatRuns %
Richards 35 3 930 109729.06 84.826.622.5 282832.9
Miandad 36 6 887 132129.57 67.124.616.5 306229.0
M Crowe 8 3 219 29643.80 74.027.420.3 125717.4
M Waugh 41 5 985 119027.36 82.824.019.9 281335.0
Tendulkar 41 9 965 111830.16 86.323.520.3 309731.2
Jayasuriya 38 2 438 62212.17 70.411.5 8.1 218420.1
Lara 47 9 1277 166533.61 76.727.220.8 407431.3
Inzamam 13025 4015 531338.24 75.630.923.31282031.3
Flower 56 7 1658 238433.84 69.529.620.6 478734.6
Bevan 13950 4515 584850.73 77.232.525.11111740.6
Ponting 12 4 124 16415.50 75.610.3 7.8 113510.9
Kallis 30 6 950 137439.58 69.131.721.9 356326.7
Gilchrist 19 4 390 49326.00 79.120.516.2 121432.1
Pietersen 17 7 826 83082.60 99.548.648.4 181645.5
Dhoni 16047 5258 623946.53 84.332.927.71383138.0

This is a slight variation to the previous table. I have looked at batting efforts from No.5 onwards. A lot more batting efforts now find a place. Bevan improves slightly while Dhoni has a significant move upwards. Inzamam is the other batsman who has played many important innings at No.5 onwards. His Index value is a reasonable 23.3. Note how badly Jayasuriya and Ponting performed on the few occasions when they were moved out of their comfort zones of opening and No.3 respectively.

Bevan remains at 40.6% in the % team runs measure. Dhoni's figure improves to 38.0%. The new serious entrant to this table, Inzamam scored 34.6% of his team runs.

5. Against Best Team (based on runs scored)
Richards Aus 50 7 2187 258250.86 84.743.737.0
Miandad Win 64 7 1930 300533.86
M Crowe Aus 34 3 1096 158135.35 69.332.222.3
M Waugh Win 45 2 1708 222739.72 76.738.029.1
Tendulkar Slk 80 9 3113 355843.85 87.538.934.0
Jayasuriya Ind 85 5 2899 298936.24
Lara Aus 50 3 1858 242939.53 76.537.228.4
Inzamam Ind 64 9 2403 306043.69 78.537.529.5
Flower Ind 35 3 1297 172440.53
Bevan Saf 31 5 1163 149044.73 78.137.529.3
Ponting Ind 59 5 2164 265840.07 81.436.729.9
Kallis Win 40 7 1666 214450.48 77.741.632.4
Gilchrist Ind 45 1 1622 163436.86 99.336.035.8
Pietersen Ind 28 3 1138 132345.52 86.040.635.0
Dhoni Slk 4511 2041 225260.03 90.645.441.1

Who were the favourite opponents of these wonderful batsmen? I have gone on runs scored rather than an average since scoring 2000 at 40 is more significant than scoring 500 at 50. The table is self-explanatory. The numbers which stand out are Dhoni's outstanding Index value of 41 against Sri Lanka, Richards' 37 against Australia and Gilchrist's 35+ against India. Tendulkar's 3000+ runs against Sri Lanka is the only instance of a batsman scoring over 3000 runs against a single country. I must confess that this is an educated guess and I will be glad to be disproved.

6. Best Year (based on runs scored)
Richards 1985 25 5 1231 133261.55 92.449.245.5
J Miandad 1987 22 6 1084 154267.75 70.349.334.6
Crowe 1990 20 1 810 117742.63 68.840.527.9
M Waugh 1999 36 3 1468 194244.48 75.640.830.8
Tendulkar 1998 33 4 1894 185465.31102.257.458.6
Jayasuriya 2001 33 1 1202 144437.56 83.236.430.3
Lara 1993 30 3 1349 185749.96 72.645.032.7
Inzamam 1999 28 4 1106 157146.08 70.439.527.8
Flower 2001 33 3 1060 130135.33 81.532.126.2
Bevan 1998 22 8 959 117468.50 81.743.635.6
Ponting 2007 24 6 1424 155379.11 91.759.354.4
Kallis 2000 38 9 1300 195244.83 66.634.222.8
Gilchrist 1999 37 0 1241 139333.54 89.133.529.9
Pietersen 2007 25 4 889 113042.33 78.735.628.0
Dhoni 2009 24 7 1198 140070.47 85.649.942.7

Measuring performance over a year is a good analysis since the year is a sufficiently long time to give due respect to high level of performances. It is possible that during the 1980s a player might have only played 20 matches while a player might have played 30 matches during the 2000s. However since this table uses runs scored as a basis the lean years do not figure in the same.

Tendulkar's 1998 must rank among the greatest achievement by a player across formats. Even though he played only 33 matches, he aggregated 1894 runs at better than run-a-ball. The Index value of 58 is certainly Bradmanesque. Ponting's 2007 performance, the year during which Australia won the World Cup, is second to Tendulkar's and the Index value of 54 defies description. Richards, during 1985, suffers only in comparison with these two giants. It is nice to note that, arguably the best three ODI batsmen of all time, feature in the top positions in this table.

7. Best/Worst streaks: of 15 matches
BatsmanBest StreakWorst Streak
Richards 19840253 994 108166.27 92.060.919880485 291 37419.40 77.815.1
J Miandad 19870417 906 125360.40 72.343.719770041 250 41616.67 60.110.0
Crowe 19920734 725 88248.33 82.239.719850305 337 50722.47 66.514.9
M Waugh 20001620 846 101556.40 83.347.019890549 271 34618.07 78.314.2
Tendulkar 19981323 1105 110473.67100.173.719930795 209 30913.93 67.6 9.4
Jayasuriya 19971207 922 74561.47123.876.119900623 112 163 7.47 68.7 5.1
Lara 19940947 934 98262.27 95.159.219981364 258 35717.20 72.312.4
Inzamam 20001580 744 103549.60 71.935.719961095 251 39416.73 63.710.7
Flower 20021814 719 85447.93 84.240.419950982 248 38016.53 65.310.8
Bevan 19981300 740 92949.33 79.739.320021802 309 43420.60 71.214.7
Ponting 20072473 925 100861.67 91.856.620082687 342 45222.80 75.717.3
Kallis 20032029 893 109759.53 81.448.520052244 315 55521.00 56.811.9
Gilchrist 20032052 860 74657.33115.366.120062434 306 34220.40 89.518.3
Pietersen 20042193 786 79052.40 99.552.120092827 268 35217.87 76.113.6
Dhoni 20092815 773 85851.53 90.146.420103030 311 50120.73 62.112.9

This is an analysis based on 15 consecutive matches. 15 represents about 4-6 months of cricket and is a very clear indication of short-term form. And I have not even bothered with not-outs and average for this short period since three not-outs out of 15 will distort the figures considerably. So it is only RpI and Index based on RpI.

Tendulkar during 1998 features again. A golden run, rather platinum run, starting on 20 April, 1998 and ending on 28 October, 1998 produced an unforgettable sequence of 38, 143, 134, 33, 18, 100*, 65, 53, 17, 128*, 77, 127*, 29, 2 and 141: 1105 runs in 15 innings at a strike rate of almost exactly 100. The first two centuries were those famous Sharjah blitzes against Australia. Richards' golden run is equally noteworthy considering the run-scarcity during the 1980s. He scored 67, 189*(!!!), 3, 84*, 47, 98, 49, 103*, 30, 74, 51, 46, 68, 9 and 76. A total of 994 runs off 1081 balls, striking at 92. The 189, considered by many as the greatest ODI innings ever played, is the jewel in this crown. Ponting's sequence only suffers by comparison. His 2007 sequence was 82*, 10, 5, 51*, 111, 104, 75, 7, 113, 23, 91, 35, 86, 66* and 66. The aggregate was 925 runs at a strike rate exceeding 90. The later part of this golden run was during the 2007 World Cup.

Jayasuriya's worst streak during 1990, a run of 4, 1. 23, 5, 0, 4, 1, 26, 0, 0, 5, 3, 32, 5, 3 is something to behold. A mere 112 runs in 15 innings. Let me also add that he compiled 271 runs in 30 innings during this disastrous period. The next lowest is Tendulkar during the barren period of 1993. Note the consistency of Ponting. Even during his worst streak period, he aggregated 342 runs. Martin Crowe, against better bowlers, was nearly as consistent, aggregating 337 runs. Dhoni is in a surprise third position with 315 runs.

It is interesting to note that three other batsmen have exceeded 1000 runs in 15 innings. Hayden, with 1101 runs off 1108 balls during 2007, Amla, with 1083 runs off 1070 balls during 2009-10 and Kohli, with 1003 runs off 1054 balls during 2012. There are three instances of competent batsmen scoring below 112 runs in a 15-innings streak. Samuels had a nightmare run of 90 runs in 15 innings during 2006, Pollock compiled only 105 runs during 2002 and Boucher scored 109 runs during 1999. It may seem obvious but it is clear that when a batsman is in great form he scores much faster than when he is in miserable form.

A shot-in-the-dark measure, not based on any scientific reasoning, is the difference between the best 15-innings RpI and worst 15-innings RpI figures. Tendulkar leads in this measure with a difference of around 60, followed by Jayasuriya, with a near-55 figure. Richards has a value of around 46. Readers can make what they can of these numbers.

In Part-2 I will be covering the following areas of analyses. If any reader comes out with a good suggestion it can be incorporated. I request that the readers do not ask for changes in players. I have completed a part of this analysis with one set of players and cannot abruptly follow-up with another set. The next part covers mostly performance oriented measures.

8. World Cup SF-F Champions Trophy Finals / Significant / Early matches
9. Batting Position / Boundary analysis
10. First & Second Innings analysis
11. Home / Neutral / Away analysis
12. Won / Lost matches analysis
13. Impact Inns / High Scoring Index / MOM analysis
14. Team share of runs/balls

Since I see many new readers I have to make my usual pitch regarding this specific blogspace, a small corner of "The Cordon". Please bear with me for this, just once.

I am always welcome to criticism and negative comments. In fact I value these a lot since new ideas flow and I can correct any blinkered views I have. But there is a clear line of propriety drawn for this particular blogspace. I had established that with "It Figures" and I had the best collection of informed readers who I respected and whose respect was my reward. When you come into this blogspace you are expected to follow these ground rules since you are here by invitation. If anyone makes a rude or insulting comment it only reflects his own shortcomings, not mine.

You will not insult me, any fellow reader or any player. That is the single commandment here. I have no problems with the following observations:

- Your analysis is based on a wrong premise.
- Your computations are wrong.
- Your analysis is statistically weak.
- You have over-complicated a simple issue.
- You have over-simplified a complex issue.
- You are not being fair to *.
- You have tried to solve a non-existing problem.
- Reader * is wrong/has not understood.
- Player * should retire.

I have problems with the following statements (and the like) and your comment will be junked instantly.

- You are stupid. Even if you have a Ph.D. in Statistics, you have no right to say that. I could, but never will, counter with a retort in far more colourful language.
- You favour players from *. Because, to me all countries are same.
- You favour *. Because I do not, and always leave my personal preferences aside.
- Reader * is stupid. Because he is not.
- Player * is selfish/greedy. Not in this forum.
- You are biased. I may publish this if I feel I can provide additional insight by answering this comment.

Finally let me say this unequivocally. I write for the average and interested cricket enthusiast who may or may not possess any serious statistical/mathematical qualifications. I do not write for the statistical/mathematical experts. Although I possess graduate-level statistical knowledge, I limit myself to Mean, Median, Mode, Standard Deviation, Quartiles, Normal Distribution and the like. I know that I will lose 75% of my readers the minute I bring in p-Value or z-Score.

I have only one avowed objective. I want my article to be understood by 95% of the visiting readers. I am not writing to get my articles published in the conferences of RSC or ISI or ASA. I am certain they would not be. Common sense is the cornerstone of my articles and I am proud of that. If I do not meet your expectations, my apologies and if you feel very strongly about it, au revoir.

Let me close with a short story. I had an excellent reader during the early years of "It Figures". Sometime back he stopped following the blog for various reasons. But he was never rude or insulting to me. I thanked him and said that the doors of this blogspace would always remain open since I valued his insights. I see that he has made a comment for the first article - to the point and that too, a point well-made. I never have any problems with readers like him.

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