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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.