September 4, 2013

The Bradman standard

The Don is head and shoulders above the rest, but which batsmen come closest?

No one can touch Bradman, but Ponting could well count as a distant second © Getty Images

Had he still been alive, Sir Donald Bradman would have turned 105 on August 27. Since his death in 2001, there has been something of a golden age of Test batting, and Test cricket. More Tests have been played, with more outright results, during these 12 years than in any other 12-year period in the 136-year history of Test cricket.

Some of the greatest batsmen since Bradman's retirement 65 years ago have played their best cricket in these 12 years. I think Bradman would have enjoyed watching the varied talents of Virender Sehwag, Hashim Amla, Mohammad Yousuf, Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis. And he would have keenly watched Sachin Tendulkar's second wind.

Yet, for all this batting brilliance, no batsman has come close to matching the great Australian master. In 80 visits to a Test match crease, Bradman was dismissed 70 times. Those 70 dismissals cost bowlers 6996 runs, giving Bradman a batting average that was one boundary shy of an even century. He made 29 hundreds in those 80 visits and set the standard for Test batting. It is hard to think of another sportsperson who remains so far ahead of the best players in his or her sport 65 years after retirement. Bradman remains the benchmark by which all other batsmen should be judged.

Tests are played more frequently these days. They are also played against more varied opposition on many continents. Bradman only played Tests in Australia and England. This proliferation and diversity mean that today's batsmen have many more opportunities to play Tests. England's current captain Alastair Cook has played 97 in 2734 days since his debut. Even if we discount the time Bradman lost due to World War II, he played 52 Tests in 4183 days. The higher frequency is a double-edged sword. While good form is rewarded, this form is also more fragile, simply because of the additional rigour of continual touring.

Even so, there isn't a single player in the history of Test cricket whose best record over 70 consecutive dismissals comes even remotely close to Bradman's record over his career. This is worth dwelling on for a moment. Bradman's entire career - over 20 years either side of a World War as an amateur Test player, with all that this entails: bad form, injury, technical problems and all else - is still substantially superior to any other player's best run over 70 dismissals.

This is why I think Test batsmen should be judged by the Bradman standard. The answer to the question "When was a Test batsman at his best?" should be given by looking at his best stretch of 70 consecutive dismissals. I tried this and the results are striking. It is rare for a batsman to have two non-overlapping stretches of 70 dismissals of comparable success. Only three players have made over 5000 runs over their best run of 70 dismissals. Only 30 have made between 4000 and 5000.

The record is revealing in other ways. It provides a way to compare Sunil Gavaskar's best results with, say, Herbert Sutcliffe's. It is also generally true that opening batsmen find themselves lower on the list than middle-order players. The top ten players in the list batted at No. 3 or 4 in the batting order. Matthew Hayden is the best-placed opening batsma,n with 4699 runs over his best 70 dismissal stretch, starting February 27, 2001 (at the Wankhede Stadium, where he made his second Test hundred) to October 26, 2004 (in Nagpur, where Australia won the series in India).

The early years of the 21st century were particularly great for Test batting. Many of the game's best players had their best periods - Lara, Inzamam, Dravid, Ponting, Hayden, Kallis and Yousuf. Since 2005, Shivarine Chanderpaul, Younis Khan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla have dominated Test batting.

The 1980s and 1990s were lean years for Test batting. Allan Border and Javed Miandad were players of the 1980s. Steve Waugh and Sachin Tendulkar had their best years, either entirely or substantially, in the 1990s. Martin Crowe was at his best from the mid '80s to the mid '90s, just as Viv Richards was at his best from the mid '70s to the mid '80s. Sehwag dominated the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. Most recently, Michael Clarke and Cook have been dominant.

Even the best of these players, Ponting, doesn't come within 1700 runs of Bradman. The list of players who came within 3000 runs of Bradman includes six Australians, seven Englishmen, five West Indians, four South Africans, four Indians, four Pakistanis, two Sri Lankans, and one New Zealander.

Bradman set the standard by which all other players should be measured. By the Bradman standard, the best anyone else has done is about 75%.

Kartikeya Date writes at A Cricketing View and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on September 9, 2013, 8:12 GMT

    @Nampally- Maurice Tate was a pace bowler. And Bradman played the greatest spinner of all (O'Reilly) pretty damn well. I would say that batting was actually tougher when Bradman played than today. Can't see any modern batsman averaging 56 against Bodyline with no modern protective gear on. No way Jose.

  • Nampally on September 8, 2013, 15:24 GMT

    @harshthakor: I fully agree with you that the stats. so painfully compiled by Mr. Date are valuable & informative. I also concede that Don Bradman was one of the greatest batsmen in the history of the game. But I do not agree with the way of using these stats. to call "Bradman Standard". It is almost impossible to bridge the inter-generational gap with the variables involved. Significant Factors such as Pitches & grounds (quality, covered or uncovered, etc), Number of Tests played /year, travelling & meeting the tightly crammed schedule & resulting Physical & mental stress & above all the quality + variety of bowling cannot be standardised. Bradman was known to be susceptible against good spinners such as Grimmett (leg break/googlies), Tate & O'Rielly. In fact Hilton bowled him with a googly in his last appearance, for a Duck. SP Gupte of India was the greatest leg spinner, Murali(SL) the greatest off spinner- with Googlies + Doosra - Generations later than !928-48 Bradman Standard.

  • harshthakor on September 8, 2013, 8:50 GMT

    The above work is significant but is also an Ideal illustration of how statistics does not depict the true picture.More important than the number or runs is the impact of the runs on matches and series.Jack Hobbs,Gary Sobers and Rahul Dravid are reflected in the correct light whose scores made a major impact on the results of games.Jacques Kallis reveals statistical brilliance but has hardly made the impact of players like Viv Richards or Jack Hobbs.I feel the statistics portrayed do no tfairly reflect the contributions of Viv Richards,Sunil Gavaskar or even Brian Lara in the correct light.

    One complement is Rahul Dravid overhauling Sachin Tendulkar's aggregate in 70 innings which is a true reflection on Dravid's worth to the team and his consistency.

  • harshthakor on September 8, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    Ricky Ponting was blessed with the advantage of playing for a champion team.Personally adding Packer cricket scores I would rank Greg Chappell ahead Remember Greg scored 1416 runs at an average of 56.14 in Packer Cricket including 3 supertest centuries in the West Indies and a double hundred v.Rest of the World.Sachin Tendulkal performed better than Ponting if you asses the pressure he faced.For longevity Tendulkar was the ultimate champion with Sir Garfield Sobers while for pure genius at their peak Viv Richards and Brian Lara stood out.

    The ultimate criteria should be the extent to which the great batsman's scores affected the course of games consistently and the nature of the opposition and strength of the team the batsman played for.In this light Jack Hobbs,Tendulkar,Lara,Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar would edge ahead of Ricky Ponting.

  • harshthakor on September 8, 2013, 7:27 GMT

    Personally,with all due respects I do not think Bradman's record can be used as the sole criteria.Remember the nature of the bowling attacks that Bradman faced and the fact that he was troubled by bodyline bowling.Bradman never bore as much pressure as Tendulkar or Lara or withstood great pace bowling with the skill of Viv Richards or Sunil Gavaskar.On wet pitches George Headley was the better batsmen.Not denying Brdaman was the greatest,but I feel in any judgement mere statistics cannot reflect the real story.

    To me Brian Lara was 2nd to the Don if you analyze the way he single-handedly turned games and series and registered mammoth scores like no other batsmen.Above all he bore the brunt of the weakest of batting sides.Adding World series Packer cricket performances Viv Richards was the best batsman at his peak after Bradman who turned the complexion of games more than anyone.Considering the bowling attacks he faced the ultimate champion was Sunil Gavaskar.

  • on September 8, 2013, 7:25 GMT

    Like most of today's cricket fans , i haven't seen sir Bradman bat , but in my opinion if someone could average 99.9 against the best team of his era , on uncovered pitches ,with no restriction on use of bouncers and WITHOUT A HELMET, then he is surely a freakish talent and i think comfortably ahead of all his 'rivals' , even in the body line series where he 'failed' he averages more than 50 !!

  • alarky on September 7, 2013, 17:15 GMT

    Kartikeya, Why did you not use the official Bradman's standard for your analysis? The official statistical records show that Bradman played 52 tests and batted in 80 innings only, then he retired!. In these 80 innings, he scored no more, no less than a total of 6996 runs. So, if you're genuinely talking about Bradman's standard, then it can be nothing else but these official figures. Hence, if you're comparing his subordinates with him, these are the figures that must be used exclusively - that is, '80 innings and stop'! So, it's the first 80 innings of each player should be used, to show how they would have fared, if they too had retired at the same point as the greatest ever. Anything else must be flawed! Using the stats of the same players you picked, this is the result: Lara (4060); Sehwag (4052); Dravid (3871);Yousouf (3655); Tendulkar (3517); Amla (3356); Pontin (3125); Kallis (2911).Yet another of the 'every exercise' which shows that Brian Lara is Bradman's indisputable second!

  • ball_boy on September 7, 2013, 12:03 GMT

    Besides how many sixes do u get to see these days huh, the grounds grow smaller particularly the ones in India and to think that asix in the olden days was one which clears the stadium.So stop detrimining the batsmans of old by comparing them with those of new.Lets say how many batsmans of now can even hang on to the crease on a unprepared pitch against bowlers like malcomm Marshall or Joel garner,some batsmens even got their careers ended before they even started.Besides the batsmans of old can definitely swear that the balls of WiI or Aus or others would cross the 97mph and some beyond 100 sure no speedometer was there to warn them but we can definitely say that the people of old were stonger that the athletes of now in general kind of like how army guys are fitter and stronger than the gym pumped up guys of now.The bouncers were also unlimited too

  • dummy4fb on September 7, 2013, 8:53 GMT

    @Nampally- Bradman actually played test cricket against England, South Africa, the West Indies and India.

  • Joe-car on September 7, 2013, 7:22 GMT

    @ Nampally_thank you sir/madam. For interest's sake, I'd love to know what's Amla's average against India.