The decade of the batsmen
In his From the Editor blog post last week, Sambit Bal raised the issue of batting averages being devalued in the 21st century. The example was that of Thilan Samaraweera, who averages 51.87 after 54 Tests, but the point was a more generic one: after the exits of Walsh and Ambrose, Wasim and Waqar, Donald and Pollock, McGrath and Gillespie, life has become much easier for batsmen around the world. Some of those bowlers played well into the 2000s, but with pitches easing up and other weaker teams coming into the fray, this decade has generally been an excellent one for batting. Once upon a time, an average of 50 used to be the benchmark of batting excellence; now, it seems, that's no longer true.
The tables below examine the batting averages of the specialists (Nos. 1 to 7 in the line-up) by decade, starting from the 1930s. It's clear from the numbers that the current decade has been a prolific one for batting, with an average of 38.22 runs per wicket. Only in the 1940s were the averages higher. The 1990s, on the other hand, was among the worst decades for batting - the average of 35.34 was the second-worst in the last eight decades.
In the 2000s there has been a century scored every 12.25 innings by a top-order batsman (892 hundreds in 10,927 innings), a rate that has been bettered, again, only in the 1940s. In the 1990s only 537 hundreds were scored in 8264 innings, a 25% drop on the conversion-rate in the current decade.
|Decade||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Inngs per 100|
Do the numbers change significantly if Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are removed from the mix? It turns out that the average runs per wicket increases marginally - from 38.22 to 38.95 - if they are. This suggests that the poor scores by the batsmen of these teams generally more than compensates for the high scores of the opposition (and it also matters that the opposition often play one innings in a match while these teams play two).
However, the average increases to 40.35 when considering batsmen from only the top eight teams, against all opposition (including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). That's obviously due to the number of runs batsmen helped themselves to against the weak attacks of these two teams.
|Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Inngs per 100|
|Top eight teams against each other||354||312,265||38.95||735/ 1474||11.82|
|Top eight teams against all opposition||444||351,668||40.35||859/ 1631||11.06|
And now for a quiz question: what's common to the following batsmen - Andy Flower, Mohammad Yousuf, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Kumar Sangakkara, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mahela Jayawardene, Brian Lara, Hashan Tillakaratne, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Graham Thorpe, Steve Waugh, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Matthew Hayden, Sachin Tendulkar, Michael Hussey, Thilan Samaraweera, Graeme Smith, Younis Khan and Virender Sehwag? Answer: they're all batsmen who've played at least 30 innings in this decade and have a Test average of more than 50 during this period.
Count the names and you'll realise there are 21 - more than there are on the ICC's longlist for their 2009 awards. In all, 114 batsmen have batted more than 30 innings in the top seven during this decade, which means more than 18% of all specialist batsmen have averaged more than 50 during this period. It's an incredibly high number (do they all merit the "great" tag being thrust upon them?), especially when compared to the decade immediately before: in the 1990s only five out of 94 batsmen achieved this feat. If you want to test yourself, you could take a moment, try and guess those five names, and then click here to check how many you got right. I'll bet you didn't get all five.
|Decade||Tot. no. of batsmen||Average >= 50||Percentage|
And a quick check on what those numbers for this decade look like if Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are excluded from the list. The change, it turns out, is minimal: with the same cut-off, 19 out of 105 batsmen have averaged more than 50 during this decade, a percentage of 18.10.
|Opposition||Tot. no.of batsmen||Average >=50||Percentage|
|Excl. B'desh and Zim||105||19||18.10|
And before looking at the batsmen who've cashed in in the 2000s, here's a quick glance at the highly rated ones who fell short of the magical 50-mark in the 1990s. Among the big names who didn't make the cut are Dravid, Ponting, Allan Border, Inzamam and Kallis. Some of them were in the initial stages of the career - Ponting, Dravid and Kallis had all played less than 45 Tests at the time - and blossomed into consistent run-machines only in this decade. Inzamam had played 58 Tests, but his time would come later. Dravid fell just two runs short of averaging 50, while his middle-order mate Sourav Ganguly missed out by a whisker too, averaging 49.63.
Dravid does average more than 50 in the 2000s, but only when you take into account his averages against Bangladesh (70.16 in five Tests) and Zimbabwe (102.12 in eight). Exclude those games and his average in this decade drops to 49.90. Given all his achievements, especially in match-winning causes overseas, it would be a harsh call not to include him among the greats, though - only 13 more runs against the top eight teams would have lifted his average from 49.90 to 50.
Dravid is one of five batsmen whose average in this decade drops to below 50 when excluding games against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Samaraweera is another - he averages 46.98 against the other teams, and so too are Tendulkar and Steve Waugh. Tendulkar has averaged 46.73 against the top eight teams, but an average of 139 in five Tests against Bangladesh and 101.87 in six against Zimbabwe pushes his overall average for the decade up to 52.91. Similarly, Waugh's average of 47.64 against the top eight converts into an overall decade average of 53.30, thanks to his record against Bangladesh (256 runs without being dismissed) and Zimbabwe (average of 69.50 in two Tests).
On the other hand, there are three batsmen - Justin Langer, VVS Laxman and Michael Clarke - whose averages go up from sub-50 to 50-plus when excluding performances against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Langer averaged 36 against Bangladesh and 12 against Zimbabwe, while the corresponding numbers for Laxman are 20.50 and 40, while Clarke has averaged 25.50 in two Tests against Bangladesh (he hasn't played Zimbabwe yet).
Kevin Pietersen is one of the few top names who misses out on a 50-plus average for the decade so far - he averages 49.96, three runs short of the 50 mark.
|Batsman||Runs (all teams)||Average||100s/ 50s||Runs (top 8 teams)||Average||100s/ 50s|
|Andy Flower||2206||63.02||6/ 11||1968||61.50||5/ 10|
|Mohammad Yousuf||6126||60.05||23/ 20||5401||55.68||20/ 17|
|Ricky Ponting||9253||59.31||32/ 38||8634||58.33||30/ 34|
|Jacques Kallis||8428||58.93||26/ 41||7611||55.55||23/ 38|
|Kumar Sangakkara||7283||55.59||20/ 32||5871||51.95||16/ 26|
|Inzamam-ul-Haq||4978||54.70||17/ 22||4455||53.03||14/ 22|
|Mahela Jayawardene||7814||54.64||24/ 30||6650||52.77||19/ 27|
|Brian Lara||6366||54.41||21/ 19||5971||53.79||19/ 18|
|Hashan Tillakaratne||1573||54.24||5/ 4||1404||56.16||5/ 3|
|Gautam Gambhir||2271||54.07||6/ 10||1953||51.39||5/ 9|
|Rahul Dravid||8125||53.45||20/ 41||6887||49.90||16/ 35|
|Graham Thorpe||3145||53.30||10/ 15||2901||51.80||10/ 12|
|Steve Waugh||2825||53.30||11/ 9||2430||47.64||9/ 7|
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||6342||53.29||19/ 34||5936||55.47||18/ 33|
|Matthew Hayden||8364||52.93||29/ 29||7507||50.38||26/ 26|
|Sachin Tendulkar||6932||52.91||20/ 30||5561||46.73||14/ 28|
|Michael Hussey||3317||52.65||10/ 16||3075||51.25||9/ 16|
|Thilan Samaraweera||3673||51.01||10/ 19||2819||46.98||8/ 12|
|Graeme Smith||6272||50.17||18/ 24||5367||47.07||14/ 23|
|Younis Khan||5260||50.09||16/ 21||5007||51.09||15/ 20|
|Virender Sehwag||5757||50.06||15/ 18||5558||50.52||15/ 17|
|Justin Langer||5994||48.73||18/ 21||5864||50.55||18/ 20|
|VVS Laxman||6115||49.71||14/ 34||5794||50.82||13/ 34|
|Michael Clarke||3645||49.93||12/ 15||3550||51.44||12/ 15|
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo