Australia's saviour, and an overseas master
Unlike most batsmen, Allan Border was at his absolute best when Australia were touring, and when Tests had to be saved
Allan Border held the Australian team together during a period when things weren't all that rosy for them. He might not be the most elegant batsman to emerge from the country, but he certainly ranks among the gutsiest and most combative. At a time when teams all over the world had excellent bowlers, Border fought against the best, kept the Australian team afloat with several backs-to-the-walls innings, and finished with what was, at the time of his retirement, the highest aggregate in Test cricket; even today he remains the second-highest run-getter in Tests for Australia. He brought the same bloody-mindedness to his captaincy when Australia desperately needed someone to take charge. The World Cup of 1987 was easily his most memorable triumph, but he had other moments to savour too during his 10 years in charge, during which he led in 93 Tests - still the most by any captain in Test cricket. Starting his international career as a 23-year-old, Border took to Test cricket pretty easily. Though he scored a duck on debut, he was among the runs immediately after, scoring unbeaten knocks of 60 and 45 in his second Test, and then notching up his maiden century in his fourth match. Thereafter he was pretty consistent through his first four years in Test cricket, but his really prolific period was yet to come. That began in 1983 - when he averaged 97 from six Tests - and continued almost uninterrupted over the next seven years, during which period he scored more than 5000 runs at an average of more than 60.
In his last five years his numbers dipped a little, but Border still averaged more than 43, which was enough, though only just, to keep his overall average above 50. What probably caused his average to fall during his final phase was his conversion rate: during his pomp he managed to convert, on an average, one out of every three 50-plus scores into a century; towards the end that rate dropped to one in five.
Break-up of Allan Border's Test career
|1983 to 1989
During that seven-year peak, Border was arguably the best batsman in the world - he scored the most Test runs during this period, and among batsmen who scored 3000 runs, only Javed Miandad had a higher average.
Border's contribution during that period was even more critical because unlike in the last two decades, Australia didn't have an embarrassment of batting riches then: only three other batsmen scored more than 2000 Test runs over those seven years, of whom Geoff Marsh averaged less than 35. Things would soon get better with the advent of the Waugh brothers and Mark Taylor, but for much of that seven-year period Border didn't have a lot of batting support to bank on. He scored almost 17% of all Australian runs in this time, while David Boon, the next best, scored only about 10%.
The other aspect that stands out about the table below is the number of batsmen who averaged more than 50. There were only three - Dilip Vengsarkar was the third - which is a huge contrast from today's times. Martin Crowe, Sunil Gavaskar and Viv Richards were all among those
who averaged in the mid-to-late 40s during this period, which further accentuates Border's performance.
Best Test batsmen between 1983 and 1989 (Qual: 3000 runs)
|Another unusual aspect of Border's career was his tendency to do much better overseas than at home. In the 86 Tests he played in Australia, he averaged 45.94; however, in the 70 matches he played overseas, Border's average was an excellent 56.57. He scored more hundreds away than at home, even though he played 16 more Tests in Australia than he did away. (Ricky Ponting, on the other hand, averages 60.08 at home and 48.44 away.) Apart from South Africa, where he played only three Tests towards the very end of his career, Border averaged more than 48 in each of the countries he played in. He was most prolific in England, averaging 65.06 in 25 matches. Quite surprisingly, his average at home against England was only 47.29. The stats were similar against West Indies - in 21 Tests at home against them he averaged a paltry 33.94, but in 10 Tests in the West Indies, his average rose to 53.06. That included arguably his best performance in a Test match, when he remained unbeaten in both innings in Port-of-Spain, scoring 98 and 100 in a match where no other Australian managed a half-century in either innings.
Overall, Border remains one of the finest overseas batsmen in the last 50 years. Among plaers who've scored at least 3000 overseas runs since 1960, only two - Ken Barrington and Rahul Dravid - have a higher average away from home, which is quite a telling statement considering some of the overseas venues have become much easier for run-scoring now than during Border's time.
Best overseas Test batsmen, from 1960 onwards (Qual: 3000 runs)
Playing in a relatively weak Australian team for much of his career also meant Border had to deal with plenty of backs-to-the-wall situations, when the aim was to achieve a draw, not a win. It's a telling statistic that in the 156 Tests Border played, Australia won only 50 times. Ponting, by contrast, has already been on the winning team 97 times in 144 Tests.
Of the 11,174 Test runs that Border scored, 45% came in drawn matches; of the 27 centuries he scored, only five came in wins, while 16 were scored in draws. Both those stats suggest Border excelled in saving games for Australia, and it's only fitting that some of his best innings came in those circumstances: in the fourth Test of the 1985 Ashes, his unbeaten 146 off 334 balls rescued Australia after they had fallen behind by 225 runs in the first innings; later that year in the Boxing Day Test against India he did even better, scoring 163 and inspiring Dave Gilbert to stick around for 65 deliveries. as Australia achieved a draw from a seemingly hopeless situation.
Overall, Border's tally of 5084 runs in draws is next only to the aggregates of Gavaskar and Tendulkar, while not many have a higher average in draws than his 68.70.
Highest averages in draws (Qual: 3000 runs)
|As a one-day batsman Border didn't achieve similar levels of success, but he had his moments, especially as a leader, when he inspired Australia to World Cup success in 1987. Border's own batting record in World Cups was startlingly poor - in 25 games he averaged 18.83 with a single 50-plus score - but that didn't hamper his leadership skills. He led Australia in 178 ODIs - which remains among the highest in ODI history - and won more than 61% of those matches, which is a relatively high success rate. To add to his considerable skills as batsman and captain, Border was also a more-than-handy left-arm spinner, and finished with 39 Test- and 73 ODI wickets. He didn't achieve as much batting success against West Indies as he would have liked, but with the ball he had his best moments against them. Both his five-wicket hauls in Tests came against West Indies, including a stunning match haul of 11 for 96 in Sydney in 1989, which was the only time he won the Man-of-the-Match award for his bowling. In all, 19 of his 39 Test scalps and 20 out of 73 ODI ones came against the Caribbeans.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo