ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Two captains, one milestone

Michael Clarke has the better overall average, while Alastair Cook's overseas record is better; both are among the best their countries have produced

S Rajesh

December 13, 2013

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Michael Clarke took the game away from England with 148, Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 2nd day, December 6, 2013
Only a couple of batsmen from each of their teams have averaged more than Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook after 99 Tests © PA Photos
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Both these players started their Test careers in India -17 months apart - scored centuries on debuts, developed into prolific batsmen and strong leaders, and on Friday in Perth, joined 56 others who've played 100 Test matches. Michael Clarke has become the 12th Australian, and Alastair Cook the 11th from England in this club, and while currently the stars are in the ascendancy for Clarke, overall there isn't a whole lot to separate the two players. Clarke has scored 57 more runs than Cook and also one extra century, but before this series began Cook had the lead on both counts, by 145 runs and one hundred.

Clarke is the one with the 50-plus average while Cook is currently on 47.20, but from the moment both made their debuts it was clear that they were destined for great things. Clarke was magnificent against India's spinners in Bangalore in 2004: of the 151 he scored on debut, 109 were scored off Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Australia won the Test, and the knock was enough to win Clarke the Man-of-the-Match award, making him only the third Australian to win it on debut.

Cook's unbeaten 104, in a drawn game in Nagpur, wasn't as decisive in the context of the match, but he became only the seventh England opener to score a century on Test debut. Since then, he has been a fixture in the England team, missing only one Test - the third match of the same series, due to a stomach bug. That means he has played 97 Tests in a row (the Perth Test is his 98th in succession), and if he stays fit through the rest of the series, the Sydney Test will be his 100th in a row, making him only the fourth cricketer to achieve this feat, after Allan Border, Mark Waugh and Sunil Gavaskar. Clarke, on the other hand, has missed nine Tests since his debut.

Along with his ability to stay injury-free, Cook has also benefited from England's busy Test schedule: since his debut, England have played 100 Tests, while the next-best is Australia's 84. (Pakistan have played 59 during the same period, which indicates how lopsided the schedules are.)

As must happen when a player's been around for so many matches, both Clarke and Cook have had their ups and downs. Despite an outstanding start to his career - he also scored a hundred in his first home Test later that year - Clarke didn't immediately achieve the sort of consistency expected from a top-notch batsman: after his first 22 Tests, he averaged 36; Cook, on the other hand, had a pretty good first couple of years, averaging 45 after his first 24 matches.

Thereafter, though, from 2008 to the middle of 2010, Clarke had an outstanding period, averaging 60 from 38 Tests, while Cook's numbers dropped slightly. After 60 Tests, Clarke averaged 51.47 to Cook's 42.78. Thereafter, it was Cook's turn to soar while Clarke had a dip in form: the 2010-11 Ashes was Cook's best series, while Clarke collected 193 runs in nine innings, which was fewer than Cook's highest score in the series. In the last couple of years, though, Clarke has been magnificent once again, while Cook, after a stunning two-and-a-half years, has dropped off in the last six months, averaging only 25 in seven Tests against Australia.

Michael Clarke's Test career
Period Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Till April 2006 22 1123 36.22 54.51 2/ 4
May 2006 to Apr 2010 38 3252 60.22 53.24 12/ 14
May 2010 to Dec 2011 17 940 30.32 53.53 3/ 3
Jan 2012 onwards 22 2625 75.00 62.42 9/ 6
Career 99 7940 52.58 56.19 26/ 27
Alastair Cook's Test career
Period Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Till Dec 2007 24 1936 45.02 46.12 7/ 8
Jan 2008 to Aug 2010 36 2428 41.15 50.25 6/ 14
Sep 2010 to May 2013 32 3160 61.96 46.49 12/ 7
June 2013 onwards 7 359 25.64 35.75 0/ 4
Career 99 7883 47.20 46.84 25/ 33

Cream of the crop
Both players are clearly among the best batsmen that their countries have produced. With a 5000-run cut-off, only two Australians, Don Bradman and Greg Chappell, have a higher average than Clarke's 52.58. However, for several of them, the averages dipped towards the end of their careers. Among Australians who played 100 or more Tests, Ricky Ponting had the best average after 99 matches - 56.26. His career average fell to 51.85 because of an extended poor run at the end, while Allan Border and Matthew Hayden both averaged more than 52 after 99, but finished with career averages of slightly over 50.

Australia's top batsmen after 99 Tests
Batsman Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Ricky Ponting 7990 56.26 26/ 32
Allan Border 7650 52.75 23/ 35
Michael Clarke 7640 52.58 26/ 27
Matthew Hayden 8484 52.04 30/ 29
Steve Waugh 6203 49.23 14/ 36
Justin Langer 7393 45.35 22/ 29
Mark Taylor 7297 44.76 19/ 38
David Boon 7067 44.72 20/ 31
Mark Waugh 6371 41.64 17/ 37

Among England batsmen who've scored at least 5000 runs, seven have a better average than Cook, but five of them played all their cricket before 1970. Among the more recent England batsmen, only Kevin Pietersen, who played his 100th at the Gabba, and Geoff Boycott have better averages - and that too by a fraction of a run - than Cook. After 99 Tests, they're the only ones with better averages than Cook's.

England's top batsmen after 99 Tests
Batsman Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Geoff Boycott 7441 48.63 20/ 39
Kevin Pietersen 7887 48.38 23/ 33
Alastair Cook 7883 47.20 25/ 33
Colin Cowdrey 6940 46.57 20/ 37
David Gower 6985 44.49 14/ 35
Graham Thorpe 6678 44.22 16/ 38
Graham Gooch 7573 43.77 17/ 41
Andrew Strauss 7016 41.27 21/ 27
Alec Stewart 6733 40.56 13/ 35
Michael Atherton 6713 38.14 14/ 40

Between the two, Cook has had a higher percentage of below-par series, which explains why his overall average is lower by about five runs. Out of 22 series of three of more Tests he has played so far, Cook has averaged less than 35 in eight of those, compared to five for Clarke. Clarke's had a higher percentage of prolific series as well, with five instances of 75-plus averages, compared to three for Cook. (Click here for the series-wise averages of Clarke, and here for Cook's series-wise stats.) Clarke also leads Cook 7-5 in terms of Man-of-the-Match awards, and has won five Player-of-the-Series awards to Cook's two.

Spread of averages in series of 3 or more Tests
  Less than 35 35 to 49.99 50 to 74.99 75 and above
Michael Clarke 5 6 4 5
Alastair Cook 8 7 4 3

The Asia factor
Clarke has been outstanding in home conditions, averaging more than 65 in 49 Tests, but in terms of overseas numbers Cook has done much better. In fact, Clarke's away stats are comparable with Cook's home numbers - both averages are in the early 40s.

Cook's patience and his ability to bat long periods have been particularly beneficial in Asia, where the slower pitches often require batsmen to spend plenty of time at the crease and accumulate runs. Cook's overall average in Asia is 56.31; excluding Tests in Bangladesh it's 50.34. Clarke's had his bright moments in Asia, but his overall average is ten runs lower.

Home and away stats for Clarke and Cook
  Home Away
Batsman Tests Average 100s/ 50s Tests Average 100s/ 50s
Michael Clarke 49 65.29 16/ 13 50 42.16 10/ 14
Alastair Cook 54 43.35 11/ 17 45 51.70 14/ 16
Clarke and Cook in Asia (Excl B'desh)
Batsman Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Michael Clarke 16 1186 40.89 51.54 4/ 5
Alastair Cook 16 1460 50.34 41.18 5/ 7

Among batsmen from outside Asia who've scored at least 800 runs in Asia (excluding Bangladesh) since 2004, Cook is one of five who averages more than 50. The two other England batsmen who've been around for a while - Pietersen and Ian Bell - have much poorer averages, with Bell's 31.17 being surprisingly low for a player with such class and feel. The top three in the list are all South Africans, and they all average more than 65, which is one of the main reasons why South Africa have done so well in Asia over the last few years.

Overseas batsmen with highest averages in Asia (excl B'desh) since Jan 2004 (Qual:800 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Jacques Kallis 15 1507 68.50 8/ 5
AB de Villiers 13 1301 68.47 3/ 5
Hashim Amla 13 1382 65.80 6/ 5
Michael Hussey 9 956 59.75 3/ 5
Alastair Cook 16 1460 50.34 5/ 7
Graeme Smith 15 1281 49.26 3/ 5
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 12 802 44.55 1/ 4
Simon Katich 11 835 41.75 1/ 5
Michael Clarke 16 1186 40.89 4/ 5
Kevin Pietersen 20 1323 36.75 4/ 4
Ricky Ponting 12 835 36.30 1/ 5
Ian Bell 19 1060 31.17 2/ 7

Leading by example
Cook's been better in the subcontinent, but Clarke's batting stats since he has taken over captaincy is unmatched. In 31 Tests as captain, he averages more than 63, which is the best among all captains who've led in at least 25 Tests. (Bradman captained 24 times and averaged 101.51 in those matches.)

The table below lists the top ten batting averages of captains, and several of the modern-day captains aren't in the list below. (Click here for the full list.) In 48 Tests as captain, Imran Khan averaged 52.34, which is more than what Inzamam-ul-Haq, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Clive Lloyd, Border, Sunil Gavaskar and Javed Miandad averaged as captains.

Cook has had a poor time with the bat in the last two series, but in the 18 Tests he has captained so far his stats are pretty good too - an average of 50.60, with seven hundreds.

Highest batting averages in Tests as captain (Qual: 25 Tests)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Michael Clarke 31 3243 63.58 12/ 7
Mahela Jayawardene 38 3665 59.11 14/ 10
Garry Sobers 39 3528 58.80 11/ 15
Graham Gooch 34 3582 58.72 11/ 16
Brian Lara 47 4685 57.83 14/ 19
Greg Chappell 48 4209 55.38 13/ 19
Bob Simpson 39 3623 54.07 10/ 16
Peter May 41 3080 54.03 10/ 15
Ted Dexter 30 2427 53.93 4/ 17
Imran Khan 48 2408 52.34 5/ 14

Star at No. 5
For much of his Test career, Clarke has batted at No. 5, though he has recently moved up to four after the retirement of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. At No. 5, Clarke has scored 5829 runs from 102 innings at an average of 64.05. Only two batsmen - Steve Waugh and Shivnarine Chanderpaul - have scored more runs than him at No. 5; among those who've batted at least 50 times at this position, only AB de Villiers has a better average (67.70).

Moreover, Clarke revelled at this position when the team had lost early wickets. His highest Test score of 329 not out, against India in Sydney in 2012, came from an entry score of 37 for 3; his second-highest Test score, 259 not out against South Africa later in the same year in Brisbane, started from a team score of 40 for 3; in the next Test, in Adelaide, Australia were 55 for 3 when he came in and scored 230, his third-highest Test score. And then there was his 151 out of a team total of 284 in Cape Town - arguably his finest Test innings - when he came in at 40 for 3. Overall, in the 18 innings when he came in to bat with the score reading three down for 50 or fewer runs, he averaged 84. His lowest point-of-entry average was when he came in after Australia's first three wickets had already put together more than 225 runs on the board.

At No. 4 Clarke hasn't had as much success, averaging only 30 from 40 innings, but things have improved in 2013: in 12 innings at No. 4 this year he has averaged 50.58, and scored more runs than he did in 28 innings at this slot in all the previous years.

Clarke at No.5, by point-of-entry scores
Entry score Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
50 or less 18 1262 84.13 3/ 4
51 to 100 26 1543 61.72 5/ 4
101 to 150 24 1313 62.52 5/ 5
151 to 225 18 1011 63.19 5/ 3
226 and above 16 700 50.00 2/ 4

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Comments: 4 
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Posted by Michael on (December 14, 2013, 0:30 GMT)

Why compare an opener with a man who has spent most of his career as number 5? The number 5 may be the more glamorous subject, but the guy who opens and faces the new ball and all the music(chin) is slightly/definitely mad and must be considered the greater player! There is no comparison in my mind.

Posted by Dummy4 on (December 13, 2013, 10:03 GMT)

Just shows how good Hayden and Ponting were. Especially Hayden. Opening in a time where he had to face bowlers like Donald, Waqar, Akram, Muralitharan, Walsh & Ambrose, Ahktar and Pollock. Twas a tough time for openers.

Posted by paul on (December 13, 2013, 8:12 GMT)

funny thing is the aussie commentators keep referring to Clarke as the best player of spin in the world,wot a joke.he averages 40 in Asia compared to Amla Kallis & ABdeV who all average over 65 in the same period (since 2004) so what they on about really????? Amla averages over 100 in India alone actually......

Posted by Andrew on (December 13, 2013, 5:43 GMT)

Interesting stats ... I have always thought of these two batsmen as the biggest threat to the South African dominance on the world scene ... Clarke scored two doubles against South Africa in a losing cause ... He was the leading scorer in the series ... Only for Smith and Amla to retaliate at Perth ... Cook, however, started with a century at the oval and Smith, Amla and Kallis obliterated the attack ... Clarke to me is the best of the two by some margin, unfortunately as of late he has not had a Ponting or a Hussey to stay with him ...

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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