Stats analysis: Keith Miller

Australia's greatest allrounder

Keith Miller had a batting average that was 14 more than his bowling average, which easily puts him in the top rung of allrounders the world has seen

S Rajesh

October 18, 2010

Comments: 9 | Text size: A | A

Keith Miller sweeps behind the wicket, Sussex v Australians, Hove, June 2, 1956
Keith Miller is one of only three allrounders who have their names on the honours board at Lord's both for their batting and bowling © Getty Images
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More than 50 years after he played his last Test match, Keith Miller remains, quite easily, the best allrounder Australia have ever produced. Despite the lingering feeling that he never quite had the drive and the hunger to pursue statistical milestones, Miller still finished with outstanding numbers, with a career batting average touching 37 and a bowling average of under 23. Sid Barnes, his Australian team-mate, accurately summarised Miller's sheer talent and his attitude to cricket: "If Keith had had the same outlook as Bradman or Ponsford, he would have made colossal scores. He could, if he desired, have become the statisticians' greatest customer." Miller perhaps fell short of becoming the statisticians' greatest customer, but nevertheless he visited them often enough, achieved significant numbers, and did it all with a flamboyance that was thrilling to watch.

When he began his first-class career, he was a specialist batsman, and a very occasional bowler. On his first-class debut he scored 181 for Victoria against Tasmania in Melbourne in 1937-38. When first-class cricket in Australia was stopped due to the War, in 1941, Miller had, in 14 matches, scored two centuries and two fifties and had taken a solitary wicket, from seven overs. When he came back from the War, after serving with distinction as a fighter pilot, though, his fast bowling was a potent weapon, and it surprised England in the "Victory Tests" in which Miller played for the Australian Services team.

In the Test match arena too, Miller's batting was his stronger suit in the early days: in the first 20% of his career, his batting average exceeded 54 and his bowling average was less than 21, though he only took 27 wickets in 11 matches. In only his second Test, against England in Brisbane, he had match figures of 9 for 77, but that was an exception in what was largely a batting-dominated period in his career. Thereafter, though, the batting fell away slightly but the bowling remained lethal, as Miller formed a formidable combination with Ray Lindwall.

In his last year-and-a-half in international cricket, Miller's batting stats improved, but his bowling dropped off marginally. However, his highest Test score, 147 against West Indies in Kingston, and his only ten-wicket haul - against England at Lord's - both came during this period. He had also scored a century at Lord's on his earlier visit, thus making him one of only three overseas players - Vinoo Mankad and Garry Sobers are the others - to be on the honours board at Lord's both for batting and bowling.

Keith Miller's Test career
Period Runs Average 100s/ 50s Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
First 11 Tests 599 54.45 1/ 3 27 20.85 1/ 0
Next 33 Tests 1685 32.40 3/ 9 100 21.77 3/ 0
Last 11 Tests 674 39.64 3/ 1 43 27.11 3/ 1
Career (55 Tests) 2958 36.97 7/ 13 170 22.97 7/ 1

His all-round skills were so good that Miller remains one of only two Australians (Monty Noble, who played in the 1890s and 1900s, was the other) who scored more than 1500 runs and took over 100 wickets, and had a higher batting average than a bowling one. The difference for Miller was 14, which is easily the best among Australians.

Australians in the 1500-run and 100-wicket club
Player Tests Runs Average 100s Wickets Average 5WI Diff in ave
Keith Miller 55 2958 36.97 7 170 22.97 7 14.00
Monty Noble 42 1997 30.25 1 121 25.00 9 5.25
Ray Lindwall 61 1502 21.15 2 228 23.03 12 -1.88
Richie Benaud 63 2201 24.45 3 248 27.03 16 -2.58
Shane Warne 145 3154 17.32 0 708 25.41 37 -8.09

In fact, Miller's numbers compare favourably to the all-time best allrounders in the world: among those in the 1500-run-and-100-wicket club, only three have a higher difference between batting and bowling averages. One of them, Jacques Kallis, clearly favours batting - he averages less than two wickets per Test. Apart from him, Garry Sobers and Imran Khan are the only ones who rank higher than Miller.

Allrounders with highest difference between batting and bowling averages (Qual: 1500 runs, 100 wkts)
Player Tests Runs Average 100s Wickets Average 5WI Diff in ave
Garry Sobers 93 8032 57.78 26 235 34.03 6 23.75
Jacques Kallis 140 11,126 55.07 35 266 31.59 5 23.48
Imran Khan 88 3807 37.69 6 362 22.81 23 14.88
Keith Miller 55 2958 36.97 7 170 22.97 7 14.00
Shaun Pollock 108 3781 32.31 2 421 23.11 16 9.2
Trevor Goddard 41 2516 34.46 1 123 26.22 5 8.24
Tony Greig 58 3599 40.43 8 141 32.20 6 8.23
Monty Noble 42 1997 30.25 1 121 25.00 9 5.25
Ian Botham 102 5200 33.54 14 383 28.40 27 5.14
Richard Hadlee 86 3124 27.16 2 431 22.29 36 4.87

However, the Australian teams Miller played in generally had strong batting line-ups, and it was as a bowler that Miller was needed more. With new-ball partner Lindwall, Miller formed an awesome combination. As a bowling pair they complemented each other superbly: Lindwall had exceptional control, and Miller was so unpredictable that batsmen didn't know what to expect. Both were highly effective: during the 11 years in which Miller played his international cricket, both were easily among the best bowlers of their era.

Best Test bowlers between 1946 and 1956 (Qual: 100 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
Jim Laker 30 134 21.46 7/ 3
Ray Lindwall 55 212 22.16 12/ 0
Keith Miller 55 170 22.97 7/ 1
Brian Statham 32 101 23.85 2/ 0
Bill Johnston 40 160 23.91 7/ 0
Alec Bedser 51 236 24.89 15/ 5

When Miller performed to his potential, Australia usually won. Of the 55 Tests he played Australia won 31, which illustrates how strong the team was during that era, and Miller's contributions in those victories were immense: with the bat he averaged 43.39, and he scored four of his seven hundreds in those games; in contrast, in the nine Tests he played in that Australia lost, his average fell to a miserable 17, and he scored only one half-century in 18 innings.

With the ball, he was an even greater match-winner, and is one of only seven Australians who've taken more than 100 wickets at a sub-20 average in victories. All of his seven five-fors helped Australia win matches.

Best averages by Australian bowlers in wins (Qual: 100 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
Clarrie Grimmett 20 143 17.60 15/ 6
Dennis Lillee 31 203 18.27 17/ 6
Richie Benaud 24 128 18.32 10/ 1
Ray Lindwall 33 138 19.13 8/ 0
Glenn McGrath 84 414 19.19 18/ 3
Garth McKenzie 18 112 19.49 9/ 3
Keith Miller 31 113 19.60 7/ 1

Miller had a special affinity for the West Indians: four of his seven Test hundreds and three of the seven five-fors came in the 10 Tests he played against them. In each of the two series versus West Indies, Miller achieved the double of 250 runs and 20 wickets, a feat that has only been accomplished 22 times against all opposition in Test history. Sobers and Ian Botham are the only ones to do this on three occasions, while Kapil Dev is the one player, apart from Miller, to do it twice.

In one of those Tests against West Indies, in Kingston, Miller took 6 for 107 in West Indies' first innings and scored 109, thus making him only the third Australian at the time to manage the double of a century and a five-for in the same match. Since then, Richie Benaud has been the only Australian to match the feat; he did it in 1958, which means it hasn't been achieved by an Australian in the last 52 years. The degree of difficulty of the task can be gauged from the fact that it's only been done 23 times in Tests; and of the four famous allrounders who played in the 1980s, neither Kapil nor Richard Hadlee achieved it in their entire careers.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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Posted by   on (October 19, 2010, 19:02 GMT)

West indies must have been a weak side then how are his stats without them

Posted by BellCurve on (October 19, 2010, 15:59 GMT)

Here are the highest rankings for some of the greatest Test ARs: Keith Miller (9th batting, 1st bowling); Sobers (1, 4); Kallis (1, 6); Faulkner (1, 1); Imran (12, 1); Botham (3, 1); Hadlee (22, 1); Davidson (28, 1); (Pollock (37, 1); Kapil Dev (21, 2); Flintoff (20, 4); McMillan (8, 15); Cairns (10, 7); Goddard (11, 3); Benaud (13, 1); Mankad (16, 5); Hazare (2, 22); Borde (9, 19); Woolley (3, 3); WG Grace (1, 8); Nurse (7, 7); Jack Gregory (10, 1). Faulkner and Botham are the two standout names here. They are closely followed by Sobers, Woolley and Kallis.

Posted by BillyCC on (October 19, 2010, 10:14 GMT)

Xolile, I haven't read much about Faulkner, so thanks for that. Anyone succeeding against Sydney Barnes belongs at the top in my book. Regarding your statement about him being the only cricketer to be the best batsman and bowler at the same time, I assume there are players who have come close to being ranked number one in both (after a bright patch of form): Imran Khan, Flintoff after the 2005 Ashes, WG Grace perhaps back in the day.

Posted by BellCurve on (October 19, 2010, 8:09 GMT)

@BillyCC - I would like to add one name to the ones you have mentioned: Aubrey Faulkner. He played his entire 25-match career against the strongest teams of the day - i.e. England and Australia - bowling against the likes of Victor Trumper and batting against the likes of Sydney Barnes. He also played virtually his entire career on the losing side. He is the only player in the history of the game to be ranked No1 in the world as both a batsman and a bowler. On the whole he is the best balanced of the five names.

Posted by BillyCC on (October 19, 2010, 4:32 GMT)

Xolile, unfortunately South Africa haven't played enough test cricket in recent times. Otherwise I would disagree with you and say that Kallis is still currently the best all-rounder, and well ahead of Watson. The problem with Watson is that opening the batting may eventually take its toll on his bowling. I was surprised at how few overs he bowled in the Indian series. Of course, Kallis is by far and away the best all-rounder of his generation and belongs in the elite tier along with Sobers, Miller and Imran Khan. Also, apologies for not getting back to you on the previous forum (the one that Aakash Chopra wrote) when you theorised about a tipping point being reached after which batting becomes exponentially easier. I did some thinking on this and I agree. It is similar to your examples of a batsman in supreme form for an extended period of time (your Ramprakash example, Ponting in the 2000s, Tendulkar now etc.) but in Bradman's case, it was throughout a whole career from start to end.

Posted by BillyCC on (October 18, 2010, 19:52 GMT)

The difference between the batting and bowling average to determine the worth of an all rounder is flawed because it is much harder to have a lower aggregate bowling average than a high batting average. Therefore, for all-rounders who concentrated on bowling first, there must be some form of subjective adjustment to this metric. Sobers and Kallis are not 1.5 times better than Keith Miller and Imran Khan.

Posted by BellCurve on (October 18, 2010, 19:01 GMT)

Australia's Shane Watson is currently the best all-rounder in Test cricket. His role in the Australian side is modelled on the role Kallis has been playing so successfully for South Africa for the last 16 years. They both have a deceptive change of pace and can swing it both ways. Their job is to bat, first and foremost, and then to contribute 10-15 high quality overs per innings with the old ball, often into the wind, when the frontline operators have proved to be ineffective or need a rest. If you factor these subtleties into an assessment of their bowling statistics you get a sense of their true value with the ball. Amazingly both these players have regularly topped 90mph throughout their careers, which places them among the fastest bowlers of their generation. You certainly cannot fault them for taking marginally less than two wickets per Test. If you do you do not understand the shear beauty of having 4-and-a-half specialist bowlers in your team.

Posted by   on (October 18, 2010, 13:17 GMT)

The one major contributor , who although was considered more of a batsman, concontributed almost eually great amounts with bat and ball. Among australians, not even Benaud or Monty Noble could top that, sso he for me he was almost an automatic choice for the all-rounder position, in the all-time Australian XI.He was a genius, who alaways aspired to get Bradman out nad believed deeply that he could, and apparently batted with sheer magistry

Posted by smalishah84 on (October 18, 2010, 7:54 GMT)

A true legend of cricket indeed.

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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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