The past two months has seen an overkill of T20s. I came out with an analytical summary of the World T20. I neither compile IPL data nor do I do any analysis. I am back to doing what most readers expect from me: Test analysis.
The last Test played was a distant ten weeks back, between New Zealand and Australia. Towards the end of this Test - Brendon McCullum's swansong - history was unfolding. Australia needed just over 200 to win. David Warner and Joe Burns started well and then Usman Khawaja took over. Steven Smith was at 3799 runs at an average of 59.36 at the end of the first innings. He needed to remain not out at 41 to secure a career average of 60. Fortunately, Khawaja got out at 113, leaving Smith a sufficient number of runs to score. Smith finished the innings at 53 and reached a career milestone not reached for the past ten years: the last batsman, with sufficient career runs, to reach a career average of 60 was Ricky Ponting at the Adelaide Oval during the 2006 Ashes series.
This is the first of a pair of articles highlighting the players who reached the pinnacle of batting/bowling averages of 60/20 at least once during their careers. This is not a ranking list of the batsmen/bowlers nor is it a ratings exercise. It has to be accepted, however, that the batsmen and bowlers who make this collection are amongst the best ever and could form a terrific team. Those who did not make these lists might form an even better team. A request to the readers: please understand this article properly and avoid making half-baked comments.
There has to be a minimum bar set for selection. Otherwise we will have all the centurions in their debut Tests trooping in. Hence, I have set the minimum as 3000 Test runs. To score 3000 runs, most top-level batsmen, barring one, would require upwards of 31 Tests and this number represents a sufficiently long career span of about three years. This will make the 60 average significant.
I have also taken the Test as the measuring unit: In other words, the runs/batting average at the end of a Test rather than during a Test. I do not want vague comments such as "Xyz reached a batting average of 60 when he crossed 91 in the first innings". What happens if he was out next ball? However I have adopted a tweak that I would check the batsmen averages at the end of the first two innings at which point in time the averages are firm and finite. If by any chance the figures at the end of the first two innings meet the set criteria and the figures at the end of Test do not, this tweak would have done its purpose. As will be explained later, Ponting would thank me for this unusual extra step taken.
It is unbelievable, but true. In 139 years of Test cricket and with over 2500 batsmen in the fray, only 14 batsmen have reached the pinnacle of a batting average of 60, not forgetting the other qualification of 3000 runs. At the end of the article I have given a list of top batsmen who have missed this distinction. The quality of batsmen in that list will confirm how difficult this achievement is. The table below provides the complete list of these 14 batsmen, the highest average reached by them and the number of Tests at the end of which the batsmen had batting averages of 60.
|<<||Career||>>||<<<||Highest||Avge||>>>||No of Tests|
|Batsman||Tests||Runs||Avge||Test#||Tests||Runs||Avge||Avge > 60.0|
I will first concentrate on the seven batsmen who have reached this high landmark in seven or more Tests.
Don Bradman reached the qualifying mark of 3000 runs in the 23rd Test, with an average of 99.71 and remained there or thereabouts until the end of his career. That means Bradman had 30 Tests in which he had exceeded the average of 60. With Bradman, it was a question of his average being above 90, not 60. In one Test he went to an average of 89.56. In eight of these Tests, the average was above 100. At the end of his penultimate Test his average was 101.39. Let us close the paragraph on Bradman by saying that he would have been the only batsman in the table if the cut-off limit is increased to 70.
Garry Sobers reached 3000 runs in his 33rd Test and had a Test average of 60 in the same Test. He reached an average of 60 in quite a few Tests until the end of his career. First, he maintained an average of 60 over the next 11 Tests. After a break he again reached the mark in his 56th Test and remained there for the next 18 Tests. Finally he finished with a run of three Tests towards the end of his career. An ordinary run in the last ten Tests -746 runs at 46.7 - prevented Sobers from ending his career with a 60-plus average. However he reached the pinnacle in no fewer than 32 Tests, the highest by any batsman.
Wally Hammond's career figures reached the 3000/60 mark in his 37th Test. Then he had a run of eight Tests at this level. After this, he oscillated between 60 and below 60 for no fewer than 20 of 48 Tests remaining in his career. His 28 Tests at this level represents a magnificent achievement.
Herbert Sutcliffe's is a remarkable career. He reached 3000 runs in his 34th Test when he had scored 3047 at an average of 64.83. Then he never went below 60 in the next 22 Tests of his career. He even reached a career high batting average of 69.80 - the highest reached by any batsman other than Bradman. For that matter, let me say that Sutcliffe's first Test innings was 64 and afterwards he never had an average below 60. This is a feat not achieved even by Bradman.
Everton Weekes started with a bang, reaching 1000 runs in his tenth Test at an average of 82.46. This phase contained the golden run of five consecutive hundreds. Then he fell off a little and dropped to 64.57 when he reached 3000 Test runs. But he remained at the 60-plus level for 13 Tests. Like Sobers, a poor finish to the career robbed Weekes of a 60-plus career average.
Unlike the other batsmen who have been covered, Len Hutton did not reach 3000 Test runs at an average of 60. He achieved this much later in his career when he had played 61 Tests. Then he maintained this average in a further seven Tests.
Viv Richards is the only modern batsman to find a place in this elite list. He reached 60 in his 33rd Test and made repeat appearances another six times over the next ten Tests. He fell off towards the end of his career. But that should not prevent us from recognising this extremely difficult achievement by one of the greatest batsmen of all time, during an era when 60 averages were distant.
The graph is self-explanatory. Look at how high and remote Bradman's graph is. The other five batsmen are clustered around the 60-70 mark. The graphs of Sobers and Sutcliffe are worth second and third looks.
Ponting reached 60 in a single Test. Smith, as of date, has also reached 60 in one Test. Clyde Walcott reached 60 in two Tests. Adam Gilchrist also reached this mark in two Tests. Brian Lara and Dennis Compton, in three Tests and Neil Harvey and Ken Barrington, in four Tests each. Jack Hobbs had an average of 60 in six of the Tests he played in.
A tale of two Australian giants
Ponting is indeed a unique case. In December 2006, Australia played England in Adelaide. Ponting started the Test having scored 9048 runs at 59.53. He scored 142 and 49. He finished the Test at 9239 runs at 59.99. He missed the 60 average by a single run. However in view of my tweak of looking at the mid-match situation, Ponting vaulted over the bar. At the end of the first innings, he had scored 9190 runs at an average of 60.07 and makes the cut. This is a valid situation since if Ponting had not touched the bat afterwards, he would have finished at 60.07. Incidentally Ponting is the only batsman of these 14 who reached the coveted mark mid-Test.
Michael Hussey deserves a special mention. His start was almost Bradman-like for the first 20-25 Tests. His highest average after stabilising his career was 84.80 reached at the end of the 20th Test. Then he flirted with the 70 average level for a few Tests. Unfortunately he had a run of 0, 8, 0, 2, 30, 45*, 4 and 0 just after his 30th Test and by the time he reached 3000 Test runs, he had dropped to 55.3. During the course of 13 Tests, his average plummeted by 30.
Another tale of two contrasting masters
It is time to recognise two wonderful batsmen who did not have the chance to score 3000 Test runs. George Headley made his debut a year after Bradman and in the 22 Tests he played, he lived up to the sobriquet of "Black Bradman". He scored 2190 runs at an average of 60.83. And this average was attained while playing for a weak Test team. Be amazed at the runs-per-Test figure: A huge 99.5 or 100, when rounded, the second highest in history.
Graeme Pollock made his debut in 1963 against Australia. He could only play a further 22 Tests because of Apartheid. He was an outstanding batsman and reached heights achieved by no batsman bar one. He scored 2256 runs in these 23 Tests at an average of 60.97. His runs-per-Test figure is an impressive 98.1.
A look at those who just missed the cut
It is not fair if I concentrate only on the batsmen who crossed 60 during their careers. Hence I lowered the bar slightly to 3000/57 (a 5% lowering) and got the batsmen who jumped over the lower bar. As expected this second compilation completes the list of the greatest Test batsmen of all time.
|<<||Career||>>||<<<||Highest||Avge||>>>||No of Tests|
|Batsman||Tests||Runs||Avge||Test#||Tests||Runs||Avge||Avge > 57.0|
This table has been ordered on highest batting average reached by the batsman. As expected, this list is headed by Sachin Tendulkar who reached his peak of 59.17 after the first innings knock of 117 against West Indies at Port of Spain during 2002. That was his best chance to reach 60.0. He needed an unbeaten 111 in the next innings to reach this mark. Unfortunately his next four scores were 0, 0, 8 and 0. He never reached 59 again in his career.
Kumar Sangakkara reached his peak of 59.13 after his match-winning innings of 221 against Pakistan in 2014 in Galle. In the form he was in, I thought he would reach 60. However, a below-average finish to his career, scoring only around 200 runs in nine innings, meant Sangakkara finished his career at 57.71. These are the only two batsmen to reach a career average of 59.
An illustrious group of six batsmen, most of these being contemporary, have reached career averages of 57. Let us all accept that Sunil Gavaskar's average of 57.5 was achieved during the era when pace was king and helmets were still in the design stage. That could very well be worth 60 earlier or later.
Two magnificent teams
Let me form two teams from those who reached the magical mark of 60 and those who just missed out.
Team A: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Bradman(capt), Hammond, Lara, Sobers, Gilchrist(wk) and four bowlers who reached the pinnacle.
Team B: Hayden, Gavaskar, Pollock, Tendulkar, Miandad, Greg Chappell(capt), Sangakkara(wk) and four bowlers who just missed the pinnacle.
An important spin-off to follow
There is a very good question which I expect the informed and intelligent reader to ask. This is best explained by a pair of examples. Let us take batsman A whose averages are, say, 50, 52, 54, 57, 60, 58, 55, 53, 51 and 49 in ten Tests. He has reached the pinnacle of 60. There is another batsman B whose averages are 56, 56, 57, 58, 58, 59, 59, 58, 57 and 56 in ten Tests. While he has not reached the pinnacle of 60 he has been a much more consistent and better-performing batsman. While this is not a ranking or rating list, it is essential that I distinguish between these two types of batsmen.
My first idea was to do that work in this article. Then it blossomed into a monster of a piece, with concepts of average of averages, maximum and minimum averages, standard deviation and the like. So that will be done in a separate article.
A look at the young stalwarts of today
Virat Kohli needs to score 1086 runs without being dismissed (twice the current record) or, more practically, 1686 runs in ten dismissed innings to reach an average of 60. This is so difficult that I would go on record by saying that Kohli will never reach 60 in his career.
Kane Williamson has to score nearly 2000 runs in ten dismissed innings to reach an average of 60. Quite a tough task indeed.
Joe Root is the only one of the top four top young batsmen of today to have any chance of reaching an average of 60. To reach this, he has to score 914 runs in ten completed innings (around eight Tests). This is well within the realms of possibility.
Steven Smith himself has to score at around 90 runs per Test to maintain the average of 60. Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, with averages of around 51 in the 100 or so Tests they have played have very little chance of reaching an average of 60. They need to score around 2000 runs in the next ten dismissed innings to reach this mark.
Adam Voges, who is currently flying at an average of 95.50 needs to score the remaining 1663 runs to cross the qualifying mark in no more than 36 completed innings. This is a relatively easy task since it works to only about 46 runs per innings. However it means that Voges would have to be selected for about 25 Tests more for Australia: Almost impossible to visualise, considering Voges' age.
The next article will cover the bowlers who reach the pinnacle. There are quite a few surprises.
Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems