George Headley: stats analysis

West Indies' first world-class batsman

George Headley played only 22 Tests, but he racked up numbers that will remain among the best in Test cricket

S Rajesh

May 10, 2010

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George Headley pulls, Commonwealth XI v England XI, 29 August 1951
George Headley scored more than 25% of his team's runs in the 19 Tests he played before the Second World War © PA Photos
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Teams: West Indies

It's a pity George Headley played only 22 Test matches - his career was a clear example of quality over quantity. For a team that had just been given Test status -West Indies had played just three Tests before Headley's debut and had struggled to make an impact - the arrival of this classy batsman gave a much-needed boost.

The extent to which Headley changed West Indies' cricketing fortunes can be gauged from the results: before he arrived on the scene, West Indies had lost all three Tests they had played, against England in 1928, by an innings. In his very first Test, in Barbados against the same opponents, he scored 21 and 176 to help West Indies to their first drawn match. The performance kickstarted a glorious career that had some incredible highs despite the shortage of matches: in his third Test he scored a hundred in each innings, a feat he repeated at Lord's nine years later, becoming the first cricketer to score a century in each innings in a Test at that ground. Of the first 14 hundreds that were scored by West Indian batsmen, 10 belonged to Headley. He finished his Test career with 2190 runs in 22 Tests, but his best years were before the Second World War, when he scored 2135 runs in 19 Tests at an average of 66.71. During this period the entire West Indies team scored 8335 runs in these 19 games, which means Headley accounted for an incredible 25.61% of the runs scored by his team. The next-best batsman for West Indies before the War was opener Clifford Roach, who scored 952 runs in 32 innings. Talk of a one-man run machine.

Headley was clearly the best batsman in his team, but his stats still compare favourably with the world's best - not for nothing did he get the epithet of "Black Bradman". Among batsmen who've scored at least 2000 runs in Tests, only Don Bradman and Graeme Pollock have a higher average. Had it not been for the three Tests he played after the War, Headley's average would have been higher than Pollock's too.

Headley's first-class stats are equally impressive, with an aggregate of almost 10,000 and an average touching 70. Only Don Bradman and the Indian opener Vijay Merchant finished their careers with a higher first-class average.

Best Test averages (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 52 6996 99.94 29/ 13
Graeme Pollock 23 2256 60.97 7/ 11
George Headley 22 2190 60.83 10/ 5
Herbert Sutcliffe 54 4555 60.73 16/ 23
Ken Barrington 82 6806 58.67 20/ 35
Everton Weekes 48 4455 58.61 15/ 19
Best first-class batting averages (Qual: 50 innings)
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 338 28,067 95.14 117/ 69
Vijay Merchant 234 13,470 71.64 45/ 52
George Headley 164 9921 69.86 33/ 44
Ajay Sharma 166 10,120 67.46 38/ 36
Bill Ponsford 235 13,189 65.18 47/ 43
Bill Woodfull 245 13,388 64.99 49/ 58

One of the aspects that was so impressive about Headley was the frequency with which he scored hundreds. In a career that lasted just 40 innings, he still managed 10 centuries, for an average of one every four innings, which was second only to - you guessed it - Bradman. The longest stretch Headley went without a hundred was eight innings, which happened twice. One of those was during the autumn of his career, when he was clearly a lesser force, while the other was between 1933 and 1935, when he scored two half-centuries - including a 93 - during those eight innings. (Click here for his innings-by-innings list.)

That stat also indicates that Headley didn't have a poor series through most of his career; only after the War did his numbers dip, when five innings fetched him only 55. In his first five series, the lowest his average went was 37.33, in Australia in 1930-31. In the other four series, his lowest average was 55.40. (Click here for his series-wise averages.)

Best ratio of innings per 100 for Test batsmen (Qual: 10 hundreds)
Batsman Innings Average 100s Inngs/ 100
Don Bradman 80 99.94 29 2.76
George Headley 40 60.83 10 4.00
Clyde Walcott 74 56.68 15 4.93
Herbert Sutcliffe 84 60.73 16 5.25
Everton Weekes 81 58.61 15 5.40
Sachin Tendulkar 271 55.56 47 5.77
Matthew Hayden 184 50.73 30 6.13
Garry Sobers 160 57.78 26 6.15
Ricky Ponting 243 55.22 39 6.23
Greg Chappell 151 53.86 24 6.29

The No. 3 position was Headley's favourite; it was a slot he occupied in 75% of his Test innings, but he scored 94% of his career runs in those innings. All of his 10 centuries came from that slot - which means, quite remarkably, one in every 3.2 innings in that position was a hundred - as did four out of five fifties.

Among batsmen who've scored at least 2000 runs from that slot, only Bradman, Ken Barrington and Wally Hammond have higher averages than Headley's 71.17. They're also the only ones to average more than 70 in that position, with the average of the next batsman in that list, Viv Richards, dropping to 61.54.

Best No.3 batsmen in Tests (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 56 5078 103.63 20/ 10
Ken Barrington 40 2626 77.23 13/ 7
Wally Hammond 52 3440 74.78 14/ 4
George Headley 32 2064 71.17 10/ 4
Viv Richards 59 3508 61.54 12/ 14
Brian Lara 66 3749 60.46 9/ 13
Ricky Ponting 177 9421 59.62 32/ 38
Kumar Sangakkara 127 6916 58.11 20/ 30
Rahul Dravid 179 8970 55.71 23/ 45
Hashim Amla 62 2977 53.16 9/ 16

With West Indies depending so heavily on Headley to put up runs on the board, he had a huge role to play in three of the five Tests that the team won during his career. In the first Test that West Indies won, against England in Guyana in 1930, Headley scored 114 and 112; the next time they won, against Australia in Sydney in 1931, Headley contributed 105 and 30. (Bradman made 43 and 0 in the same game.) Headley's highest score came in a win, too, when he scored an unbeaten 270 in Kingston, in a match England lost by an innings and 161 runs. Overall, Headley's average in wins was 95.75, and had it not been for his final game, when he made 16 and 1 in a game against England, his winning average would have been 124.83.

Best averages in Test wins (Qual: 750 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 30 4813 130.08 23/ 4
George Headley 5 766 95.75 4/ 1
Graeme Pollock 9 1178 84.14 4/ 6
Clyde Walcott 12 1113 79.50 3/ 4
Mike Denness 8 783 78.30 4/ 1
Inzamam-ul-Haq 49 4690 78.16 17/ 20

Headley outscored Bradman in that Sydney Test mentioned above, but in the four other Tests in which the two played against each other, the Don was a clear winner. That was in the 1930-31 series in Australia, which the hosts won 4-1. While both batsmen scored two hundreds, Bradman made the bigger knocks - 223 and 152, to Headley's 102 not out and 105, and finished with a series average that was twice that of Headley. Considering the strength of the rest of his team-mates, though, Headley deserves even more credit for racking up the kind of numbers he did.

Bradman and Headley, in the five Tests they played against each other
  Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 447 74.50 2/ 0
George Headley 336 37.33 2/ 0

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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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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