September 4, 2009

The decade of the batsmen

With several top bowlers retiring, the 2000s has truly been the decade in which batsmen have made merry

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.

Batting averages of the top seven batsmen by decade
Decade Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s Inngs per 100
1930s 89 71,474 37.38 158/ 324 13.12
1940s 45 39,444 41.13 103/ 178 10.20
1950s 164 118,135 32.42 229/ 551 17.09
1960s 186 153,494 36.36 290/ 802 15.74
1970s 198 163,518 36.72 357/ 805 13.50
1980s 266 201,672 35.86 434/ 965 14.15
1990s 347 268,662 35.34 537/ 1376 15.39
2000s 452 385,326 38.22 892/ 1801 12.25

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.

Top seven batsmen in the 2000s
  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-wise stats for batsmen in top seven (Qual: 30 innings in top 7 in the decade)
Decade Tot. no. of batsmen Average >= 50 Percentage
2000s 114 21 18.42
1990s 94 5 5.32
1980s 69 5 7.25
1970s 55 6 10.91
1960s 51 7 13.73
1950s 44 5 11.36

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.

Fifty-plus averages since 2000 (Qual: 30 innings in the top seven)
Opposition Tot. no.of batsmen Average >=50 Percentage
All opposition 114 21 18.42
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.

Top batsmen in the 2000s (Qual: at least 30 innings in the top seven)
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

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