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Numbers Game

Much more than a short-format batsman

Brian Lara and Garry Sobers are the only West Indians with more 150-plus scores in Tests than Chris Gayle, who'll play his 100th match on Sunday, against New Zealand

S Rajesh

June 6, 2014

Comments: 45 | Text size: A | A

Since the beginning of 2008, Chris Gayle has a Test average of 51.28, with eight centuries in 30 matches © WICB Media Photo/Randy Brooks

If all goes well over the next couple of days in the world of Chris Gayle, on Sunday he will become the ninth West Indian player to reach the 100-Test milestone, when they begin their three-Test series against New Zealand in Jamaica. Gayle hasn't always been around to play Test cricket for West Indies, especially over the last few years, when friction with the home board has coincided with greater T20 opportunities elsewhere and resulted in changed priorities. A batting style based around big hitting suits the shortest format too, but as a Test average of 42 testifies he is hardly a one-dimensional player. In fact, in Tests Gayle has a penchant for batting long periods and scoring big hundreds: he has seven scores of 150 or more, including two triple-hundreds; among West Indians, only Brian Lara and Garry Sobers have more 150-plus scores.

Despite all those stats and numbers, though, Test cricket isn't the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Gayle. His exploits in 20-over cricket is obviously a reason for that, but the other important reason for this is the number of Tests he has missed, especially over the last seven years. Since the beginning of 2008, Gayle has missed 24 out of the 54 Tests West Indies have played; over his entire career, he hasn't played 42 Tests since making his debut (though ten of those were immediately after he made his debut in 2000, when he didn't make the tour to Australia, and played only one out of five Tests in England). That's also the reason why it's taken him more than 14 years to play 100 Tests. Meanwhile, he has already played 173 T20 matches, for 12 different teams; since the beginning of 2008, he has played 163 T20 matches, but only 30 Tests.

What's also been unfortunate from West Indies' point of view is that Gayle's absence from a high percentage of Tests has coincided with what's otherwise also been his most prolific period in the format. In the 30 Tests he has played since the beginning of 2008, Gayle has averaged 51.28, converting eight of his 14 fifty-plus scores into hundreds. However, he has also missed a huge number of Tests during this period, thus limiting what might have been an even more successful period for him.

In the early days of his Test career, though, Gayle's numbers were pretty ordinary: through the first 35 Tests of his career, he averaged only 32.75, and his strike rate was less than 50. His two centuries were against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo and New Zealand at home, but both were big ones - 175 versus Zimbabwe and 204 against New Zealand - suggesting even then that he was a batsman who could play long innings.

Over the next four years his stats improved significantly: he scored five centuries in 34 Tests, including a couple in South Africa and one in England. That was also the period when he was a regular in the West Indies Test team, missing only four games in four years. Since 2008, he became even more successful as a Test player but a far more scarce resource.

Chris Gayle's Test career
Period Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Matches missed
2000-2003 35 1900 32.75 47.55 2/ 11 14
2003-2007 34 2674 43.83 66.12 5/ 17 4
2008 onwards 30 2359 51.28 66.73 8/ 6 24
Career 99 6933 42.01 59.90 15/ 34 42

During this period since 2008, Gayle's average of 51.28 puts him among the top ten best batsmen during this period, in terms of averages (with a minimum qualification of 2000 runs). Shivnarine Chanderpaul, his fellow West Indian, is at the top of that list with an incredible average of 65.41, while AB de Villiers and Kumar Sangakkara have also averaged more than 60 during this period.

What also stands out is the number of matches some of these batsmen have played: Michael Clarke has played 75 Tests since 2008, two and a half times the number Gayle has. Sangakkara, de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Sachin Tendulkar have all played more than 50, which is again an indication of how little Test cricket Gayle has played during this period. (Some of this also reflects on the Test schedules for different teams, but that's a topic for another day.)

From the time of Gayle's Test debut, 15 players have played more than 99 Tests, with the highest being Ricky Ponting's 134. Alastair Cook made his Test debut six years after Gayle but still made the 100-mark a few months before Gayle, during the Ashes tour to Australia last season.

Batsmen with highest Test averages since Jan 2008 (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 48 3925 65.41 43.34 12/ 19
AB de Villiers 59 5095 62.90 54.79 16/ 22
Kumar Sangakkara 51 5119 60.22 52.23 19/ 21
Hashim Amla 58 5172 58.11 54.43 18/ 22
Younis Khan 31 2583 56.15 48.80 8/ 8
Thilan Samaraweera 41 3340 55.66 51.24 9/ 17
Michael Clarke 75 6419 53.04 55.63 22/ 20
Chris Gayle 30 2359 51.28 66.73 8/ 6
Sachin Tendulkar 57 4555 51.17 54.74 14/ 20
Misbah-ul-Haq 36 2547 50.94 42.49 3/ 24

Gayle's batting technique relies much more on hand-eye coordination than on footwork but it's a style that has worked well for him, and one he has been able to adapt to different playing conditions. He averages more than 40 at home, in Sri Lanka, Australia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and New Zealand - in the last three countries mentioned, his average is more than 50. The only country where he average drops below 35 is India, where he has averaged 28.55 in five Tests.

What stands out about those numbers is his stats in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, countries where seam and swing bowlers get a fair amount of assistance. He averages 49.88 from five Tests in Australia, 54.50 from five in South Africa, and 67.50 in five games in New Zealand. In 11 Tests in England he has averaged only 36.05, but his overall numbers in these four countries are still very impressive: 2255 runs in 26 Tests at nearly 48. Among West Indians who have scored at least 1000 runs in these four countries, only three have better averages: Larry Gomes, Seymour Nurse and Viv Richards. That means Gayle has outperformed a lot of illustrious names in this aspect, including Lara, Chanderpaul, Sobers and Gordon Greenidge. (Click here for the full list.)

While Gayle's stats in these countries are impressive, he hasn't been quite as prolific as the other West Indian greats in home conditions. Gayle averages 40.46 from 49 home Tests, which is pretty respectable, but nowhere near Sobers' 66.80, Lara's 58.65, or Chanderpaul's 58.64. In fact, among West Indian batsmen who have scored at least 3000 Test runs at home, Gayle's average is easily the poorest - the next-lowest is Ramnaresh Sarwan's 45.37.

WI players with best batting averages in Aus, SA, Eng, NZ (Qual: 1000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Larry Gomes 18 1327 55.29 6/ 4
Seymour Nurse 16 1588 54.75 4/ 7
Viv Richards 49 3894 53.34 9/ 23
Chris Gayle 26 2255 47.97 6/ 11
Basil Butcher 21 1662 47.48 4/ 8
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 49 3553 46.75 7/ 24
Garry Sobers 38 2898 45.28 9/ 12
Gordon Greenidge 42 3117 45.17 8/ 14
Frank Worrell 26 1976 44.90 5/ 11
Brian Lara 49 3943 44.80 11/ 18

Since Gayle's Test debut in March 2000, West Indies have tried 22 other openers in Tests, and none of them have scored even a quarter of the runs that Gayle has at the top of the order: the second-highest is Daren Ganga with 1578 at an average of 25.45, while Gayle scored 6747 at 42.97. Wavell Hinds (1482 runs at 32.21) and Devon Smith (1174 at 23.95) are the only other openers with 1000-plus runs, but clearly neither has been world-class.

Gayle's stats as an opener are, in fact, comparable with some of the top West Indian openers of all time. In terms of runs scored he is third in the list, next only to Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. (Among all West Indian batsmen he is eighth, and 67 runs from 7000.) His average of almost 43 is up there too, marginally below those of Greenidge and Conrad Hunte, who are the only openers from West Indies to score 2000-plus runs at an average of more than 45. If Gayle keeps up his fitness levels and his hunger for five-day cricket, his name just might be in that list too by the time he is done with Tests.

West Indian openers with 2000-plus Test runs
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Gordon Greenidge 182 7488 45.10 19/ 34
Desmond Haynes 201 7472 42.45 18/ 39
Chris Gayle 165 6747 42.97 15/ 33
Roy Fredericks 108 4329 42.86 8/ 26
Conrad Hunte 78 3245 45.06 8/ 13
Sherwin Campbell 91 2856 32.82 4/ 18
Jeff Stollmeyer 55 2139 41.94 4/ 12

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

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Posted by DrJez on (June 11, 2014, 16:27 GMT)

@RChambers. You are taking a very selective look at the facts! Yes, Gayle has a fabulous list of high scores, whereas Haynes does not. But their averages are the same. That therefore means that Gayle has a lot more failures to keep the average down, whereas Haynes was more consistent. Why does that make Gayle better?? Next, you state that not-outs are an indicator of selfishness. Huh? Since when can an opener play for a not-out?? Not-outs for openers usually happen when there is a small target to chase. That happened a lot in the Haynes era (think Roberts, Holding, Marshall and co), but not now. Check out WI vs Aus 1983-84. So who is better? Solid and reliable versus occasional brilliance? I don't know. But I do try to look at the stats objectively.

Posted by RChambers on (June 10, 2014, 15:37 GMT)

Correction to my last post: I WOULD even say that Conrad Hunte was better than Haynes.

Posted by RChambers on (June 10, 2014, 15:15 GMT)

While Haynes was in a great partnership with Greenidge, Haynes was not a great batsman,. Haynes highest score is just 184 !!!!!. Haynes was never that good against spin (not that Gayle is is great either), he often played for himself and not for the team. I wouldn't even say that Conrad Hunte was better than Haynes (definitely based on average 45.07 vs 42.29). Excluding the current match, Haynes has played 28 more innings that Gayle but only has 554 more runs!!!!! Alos, if we ignore the not outs (Haynes 25 vs Gayle 9, which also proves Haynes' selfishness to some extent) and divide Test runs by Test innings, we see that Gayle's average is much better than Haynes (39.84 vs 37.06) Haynes. Lastly, Haynes only has 2 scors of 150 or more, while Gayle has 7 including 2 triples and 1 double. Conclusion = Gayle has been a much better performer for WI in Tests.

Posted by   on (June 9, 2014, 17:58 GMT)

SMH. Are you really mentioning Tendulkar and Gayle in the same breath. That's like comparing oranges to apples. BTW, Sobers and Richards were better batsmen than Tendulkar.

Posted by yoohoo on (June 9, 2014, 10:27 GMT)

@creekeetman - Now you are just speaking in circles. Del Mohammed obviously can't list all 174, so he listed 2. If you want to make a point, then you should put up facts, and tell us how Gayles avg of 51 since 2008 is bad? How does he have 40+ avg in SA, NZ, Aus and SL? You need to explain these with facts, otherwise currently you are looking like the one who is ranting without looking at facts.

Posted by creekeetman on (June 8, 2014, 14:41 GMT)

Del Mohamed... you call that proof? you actually proved my point.. you mention 2 innings out of 174 that a gayle knock contributed to wi either saving or winning a test, yes he scored 2 trebles in the opponents "back Yard", but look at the opponents.. B'desh, and a terribly weak SL bowling attack, on dead pitches, ok it took some doing, but my point is they were worthless knocks, as were almost all his innings. Haynes is light years ahead of gayle as a test batsman. Doesn't matter if WI were number one or not, Haynes had to face opening bowlers like Dev, Imran, Safraz, Thompson, Lillee, Hadlee, Botham, Willis, just to name a few, and he managed to score big and useful runs against them home and away, Gayle never had to face AS many quality bowlers on a consistent basis, and when he did he consistently failed.. get it now? Gayle's big runs have usually been against weak bowling attacks, and on useless pitches... like I said.. worthless knocks as far as the team is concerned.

Posted by   on (June 8, 2014, 10:41 GMT)

After reading the various comments here,I will just say facts a very stubborn.....

Posted by symester on (June 8, 2014, 2:38 GMT)

You dont need a batting manual to hit a ball over the boundry, batting is about scoring runs and if you can do that with the bat turn side ways and eyes blind folded then you are a genious. The comparison of era dont change the fact of one scoring runs as it could be cricket in the back yard or a international match any cricketer will tell you scoring 300 runs will take some amount of talent. No 2 persons bat exactly alike and all the greats had some thing different about them but what made them great was the ability to score match defind runs. If you know the history Gayle he score is big hundred against the top rank teams like Lara did.

Posted by   on (June 7, 2014, 18:16 GMT)

creekeetman.. to say that gayle is inferior to desmond haynes is ridiculous. firstly, wi vs nz in new zealand a few years back, gayle 16o+ saved we from defeat. Gayle vs eng at sabina in 2009 .. his century had as much part to play as taylor's 5-11 in that win. The man has 2 triple hundreds- against SA in SA and SL in SL. You say he doesnt make runs against quality bowlers, then show me the proof like ive just shown you that he does.. and in those bowlers' backyards as well. As for being undone by quality bowling on a regular basis, show me that batsman who hasnt... Even lara was bowled behind his legs on several occasions. Lets look at haynes for a while. Quality of opposition. Wi were the best in the world. Aus second best. Aus skipper remarks at the time- 'WI are miles ahead of us, but we are light years ahead of england'. england was the fourth best side at the time after wi, aus and pak. haynes also had the best bowlers on his team so he never faced the best in a test. gayle has.

Posted by creekeetman on (June 7, 2014, 12:37 GMT)

gayle is a case where stats don't tell the whole truth... he usually scores his big runs against poor attacks, or on dead pitches. his fifties are also usually quick and meaningless, in all his test career I can't remember where a gayle knock either won or saved a test for windies. and altho his average is up there with Haynes for instance, gayle is no where near the quality of dessy, who was solid in defence and beautiful to watch in attack. gayle on the other hand is technically weak and has been undone cheaply by quality bowlers on a regular basis, but for teams of inferior quality, gayles average would've been in the 20's, on the other hand Haynes faced quality bowlers his entire career and might have averaged in the 60's or more if he faced the rubbish that gayle has.

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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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