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The serial toppers: batsmen analysed by series dominance

Which batsmen fare the best when their careers are assessed on their relative performance to others in every series they played in?

Himanish Ganjoo
13-Feb-2018
Don Bradman in a batting stance, June 20, 1938

Don Bradman's numbers are staggering, even with this new measure  •  Getty Images

Cricket statistics are based around individual measures, from a batsman's average to a bowler's strike rate. For a game so heavily dependent on conditions, conventional cricketing numbers hardly include any context. A series played on bowler-friendly pitches might deflate the career averages of the batsmen involved, but that dip fails to account for their performances relative to the conditions. Maybe everyone failed to score, like on South Africa's tour to India in 2015, or India's return tour in 2018?
A series is a fair unit to use to break down careers. Played as a continuous bout over closely spaced matches, with similar teams and under similar conditions, the numbers of a bowler or batsman over a series are self-contained indicators of performance that are also somewhat normalised for conditions.
Here, instead of looking at raw runs, wickets and averages over a series, I will try to look at the relative standing of a player in the run charts in a particular series, and average that over his whole career. The cut-off for this analysis is 4000 Test runs.
The method is simple. A batsman is allotted a percentile value based on his ranking: a top rank gets you 100 points, and the points decrease according to your rank. I then average this value over all series the batsman has played, weighed by the number of matches in each series. Let's look at an example. AB de Villiers scored 211 runs in the recently concluded Test series against India, standing second on a list of 28 batsmen who played in the series. Being second out of 28 gives de Villiers (100*(1 - (2-1)/28) = 96.42 points for this series. For de Villiers, the weighted average of this value of all series comes out to be 81.76. This means he has been above 81.76% of the batsmen in the run-scoring charts of the series he has played, on average.
This "Series Percentile Value" sums up his run-scoring relative to all other batsmen who have played with or against him in a series. It is the average of values all ranging from 0 to 100, and takes into account the length of each series, so dominance over a longer series counts for more.
Here are the top 15 batsmen by this metric (percentile value by runs):
Name SPV
 DG Bradman  97.23
 JB Hobbs  91.04
 ED Weekes  89.94
 BC Lara  89.53
 SPD Smith  89.39
 L Hutton  89.21
 H Sutcliffe  88.51
 WR Hammond  88.50
 RB Kanhai  87.98
 GS Chappell  87.87
 SM Gavaskar  86.63
 KF Barrington  86.46
 PBH May  86.42
 RN Harvey  86.24
 RB Richardson  86.19
So Don Bradman, on average, was higher than 97.23% of the batsmen who played in a given series he featured in!
Here is the same for some reputed modern batsmen:
Name SPV
 BC Lara  89.53
 SPD Smith  89.39
 JE Root  85.25
 Younis Khan  83.33
 KP Pietersen  82.90
 KC Sangakkara  82.81
 DPMD Jayawardene  82.68
 V Kohli  82.58
 AN Cook  81.90
 SR Tendulkar  81.84
 AB de Villiers  81.76
 KS Williamson  81.45
 R Dravid  81.41
 GC Smith  81.33
 Mohammad Yousuf  80.88
 JH Kallis  80.81
 HM Amla  80.34
 S Chanderpaul  79.70
 ML Hayden  79.58
 V Sehwag  79.27
 RT Ponting  79.03
 MJ Clarke  78.94
 Inzamam-ul-Haq  78.58
 SR Waugh  76.89
 VVS Laxman  72.56
We can also look at the proportion of series in which a batsman topped the run-scoring charts, or the proportion of series in which a batsman was in the lower half of the run-scoring table for a series, and so on. Some interesting nuggets:
  • Mark Boucher (one series) and Adam Gilchrist (two series) are the only keepers among those with more than 4000 Test runs to have topped the batting charts for a series, a remarkable feat for specialist keepers who bat lower down the order.
  • Being above the 80th percentile in a series is a basic signal of a good batting performance, and the proportion of series where a batsman is above it is a good indicator of the ability to out-bat peers and competitors by playing big innings. Here is the table sorted by the percentage of series in which a batsman was above the 80th percentile:
    Name Perc80
     DG Bradman  100.00
     L Hutton  80.95
     SPD Smith  78.95
     WR Hammond  78.26
     DA Warner  77.27
     RB Kanhai  76.47
     BC Lara  74.36
     H Sutcliffe  73.33
     ED Weekes  72.73
     SM Gavaskar  72.73
     IVA Richards  72.41
     GS Chappell  72.00
     Younis Khan  71.43
     JB Hobbs  70.59
     ER Dexter  70.59
    In conclusion, let's look at another important percentage, the proportion of series in which a batsman has topped the batting tables: who shows absolute dominance the most often? We know Bradman leads this with 54.55%. Who follows him?
    Name PercTop
     DG Bradman  54.55
     KF Barrington  31.82
     SPD Smith  31.58
     PBH May  29.41
     L Hutton  28.57
     ED Weekes  27.27
     JE Root  26.32
     KC Sangakkara  25.00
     SM Gavaskar  24.24
     GS Chappell  24.00
     JB Hobbs  23.53
     GA Gooch  23.53
     BC Lara  23.08
     GS Sobers  22.73
     V Kohli  22.73