March 14, 2014

The best batsman across formats?

Over the last five years, AB de Villiers has been the only batsman to average more than 60 in both Tests and ODIs

AB de Villiers holds the record for playing the maximum number of innings before getting his first duck in Test cricket. Between his debut, in December 2004, and November 2008, de Villiers played 78 Test innings and opened his account every single time, before the second Test of the 2008-09 series against Bangladesh. After having scored only 3 in the first Test, in Bloemfontein, de Villiers made his first duck - stumped by Mushfiqur Rahim off Shakib Al Hasan - at the venue aptly named Centurion.

When he scored that duck, de Villiers' Test average dropped to 40.52, after 46 Tests. (Click here for his cumulative Test stats.) The next Test he played was a historic one in Perth later that year, when South Africa chased down 414 in the fourth innings, with de Villiers contributing 63 and 106 not out in that match. Since then, he has been on a tear, in both the long format and the short one. His numbers in Twenty20 internationals don't do justice to his attacking skills and innovative batting, but in the IPL he has been a huge force especially in the last two seasons.

Since the beginning of 2009, de Villiers has racked up eye-popping numbers in both Tests and ODIs. Compared to a Test average of less than 42 before 2009, his post-2009 average has shot up to 64, a leap of more than 53%. He has averaged more than 55 in each of his last six Test series, four of which have been against Australia and Pakistan, and one each against India and New Zealand. The last time he averaged less than 40 in a series was in February 2010, in a two-Test series in India, when he scored 68 from three innings; since then, in 13 series, he averaged more than 100 three times, between 50 and 99 six times, and between 40 and 49 on four occasions.

Similarly, his ODI numbers have soared as well, with the average going up from 36.40 to 62.51, a rise of almost 72%. Along with that, the strike rate has gone up to very nearly a run a ball - he has 4001 runs from 4002 balls during this period. De Villiers is also the only batsman during this period to average more than 60 in both Tests and ODIs.

AB de Villiers' batting career so far...
  Matches Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Tests - before 2009 48 3134 41.78 52.97 7/ 15
Tests - since Jan 2009 44 4034 64.03 55.16 12/ 20
ODIs - before 2009 76 2330 36.40 84.91 3/ 14
ODIs - since Jan 2009 83 4001 62.51 99.97 13/ 22
T20Is - overall 51 867 21.67 121.25 0/ 4
IPL - overall 74 1662 34.62 134.90 1/ 10

Among all batsmen who've scored at least 2000 Test runs against all teams excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since January 2009, de Villiers is the only one to average more than 60; Hashim Amla is close, with an average of 59.86, while Kumar Sangakkara and Jacques Kallis both average more than 55.

The break-up of numbers are very impressive too for de Villiers during this period: he averages almost 60 against Australia, and more than 39 against every side. (His lowest is 39.72, in seven Tests versus England.) Apart from India, he averages more than 40 in every country, while he does average at least 40 in every continent. In the first five years of his career, his biggest problem was playing at home: he averaged 30.34 in 26 home Tests, and more than 55 overseas; since 2009, his average from 25 home Tests is 63.05, an improvement of almost 108%.

Best Test batsmen since Jan 2009* (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
AB de Villiers 44 4034 64.03 12/ 20
Hashim Amla 43 4011 59.86 15/ 16
Kumar Sangakkara 40 3686 56.70 13/ 15
Jacques Kallis 39 3342 56.64 15/ 8
Michael Clarke 62 5356 53.56 18/ 15
Thilan Samaraweera 34 2662 53.24 7/ 12
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 33 2402 52.21 6/ 11
Rahul Dravid 31 2640 51.76 9/ 10
VVS Laxman 31 2259 50.20 4/ 18
Sachin Tendulkar 42 3228 49.66 8/ 17
* Excluding Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe

Through most of his career, de Villiers has been a part of a strong South African middle order, which means he has often come in to bat with the team in a fairly strong position already. However, there have been instances when he has come in early with the team in trouble, and he done equally well in those situations too. That was most recently in evidence during the home series against Australia, when, in the first Test in Centurion, South Africa were reduced to 23 for 3 by Mitchell Johnson's pace and hostility. De Villiers walked in, and ended up scoring 91 out of a South African total of 206; in the second innings, he walked in with the score reading 49 for 3, and top-scored again with 48, out of a team total of 200. In fact, de Villiers' highest Test score of 278 not out also came from an early entry to the crease, when he came in at 33 for 3 against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, though that match ultimately ended up as a high-scoring draw.

Overall at No. 5, his stats are consistent no matter when he has come in to bat: he averages more than 67 when coming in with the score less than 60, and almost 47 when coming in between 60 and 119. He obviously relishes batting when the batsmen before him have already scored plenty, averaging 131 in those situations, with five hundreds in nine innings. (Click here for his overall list of innings at No. 5.)

At No. 6, his stats are pretty good when he comes in early, but not so impressive when the batsmen before him have already scored a lot. That's probably also because of the need to score quickly, or the lack of batting support at the other end, when he has come in to bat at No. 6.

De Villiers in Tests at No. 5 by point-of-entry scores
Score (3 down for) Inngs Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Less than 60 15 811 67.58 2/ 2
60 to 119 17 700 46.67 2/ 4
120 to 249 17 704 50.28 2/ 5
250 and over 9 921 131.57 5/ 1
De Villiers in Tests at No. 6 by point-of-entry scores
Score (4 down for) Inngs Runs Average 100s/ 50s
less than 100 15 736 49.07 0/ 8
100 to 149 17 1074 71.60 3/ 5
150 to 249 7 257 36.71 1/ 0
250 and over 11 327 36.33 1/ 1

Along with his impressive Test form, de Villiers has also been an ODI star over the last five years, averaging over 60 while scoring at a run a ball. MS Dhoni is the only other batsman averaging more than 60 during this period, though his strike rate is a slightly lower - but still impressive - 88.27. De Villiers has been unbeaten 17 times in 80 innings, which has ensured a higher average, but even when discounting that and taking the runs-per-innings stat, de Villiers still comes out on top: his runs per innings is 48.34, which, when multiplied by his strike rate of 99.05, gives him a score of 47.88. That's still better than all the other batsmen who've scored 2500 runs against the full members. (All ODIs stats here exclude runs scored against the non-Test-playing sides.)

Among the other batsmen, Amla comes close with an RPI score of 45.39, followed by Virat Kohli's 41.58. Both are top-order batsmen, though, which increases their chances of a higher RPI. Their RPI scores are higher than that for Dhoni, whose RPI is lower because he bats lower down the order. However, his ODI score when calculated by multiplying average by strike rate, is second only to de Villiers'. They are the only two batsmen with 50-plus ODI scores, with Kohli coming in next at 48.98.

Top batsmen in ODIs since Jan 2009* (Qual: 2500 runs)
Batsman Inngs Runs Average Str rate 100s/ 50s Ave x SR RPI x SR
AB de Villiers 80 3867 61.38 99.05 12/ 22 60.80 47.88
MS Dhoni 100 4058 61.48 88.27 5/ 29 54.27 35.82
Virat Kohli 119 5429 53.75 91.13 19/ 29 48.98 41.58
Hashim Amla 70 3535 53.56 89.88 10/ 22 48.14 45.39
Tillakaratne Dilshan 120 4931 46.08 89.08 16/ 19 41.05 36.60
Shane Watson 93 3760 43.21 91.79 8/ 21 39.66 37.11
Jonathan Trott 61 2596 50.90 76.55 4/ 19 38.96 32.58
Kumar Sangakkara 125 5346 46.89 81.60 8/ 40 38.26 34.90
Michael Hussey 83 2874 42.89 87.80 1/ 22 37.66 34.47
Gautam Gambhir 77 3038 42.19 87.37 6/ 21 36.86 34.47
* Excluding matches against non-Test-playing sides

What's also remarkable about de Villiers in ODIs is the way he scores his runs. Despite his astounding strike rate, his boundary percentage isn't inordinately high, but his dot-ball percentage is extremely low - he is the only one with a sub-40% dot ratio.

Lowest dot-ball percentages in ODIs since Jan 2009 (Qual: 2500 runs)
Batsman Runs Balls Dot % Boundary %
AB de Villiers 3867 3904 39.83 41.17
Michael Hussey 2874 3273 43.60 35.07
Suresh Raina 3304 3472 45.51 45.52
Hashim Amla 3535 3933 46.09 41.75
Virat Kohli 5429 5957 46.84 44.24

So far, his stats in Twenty20 internationals aren't in keeping with his class and his numbers in other formats. Against the Test-playing sides, de Villiers averages 19.76 in Twenty20 internationals, at a strike rate of 116.81, numbers that do him no justice at all. His average is 37th out of 41 players who've scored at least 500 runs against these sides.

His IPL numbers, though, are outstanding: in the last two seasons, he has averaged 37.72 at a strike rate of 162.8. Over the next few weeks, he'll get an opportunity to right his T20I stats as well. With the form he has been in recently, you wouldn't wan to bet against that.

With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman.

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

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