Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Where have all the great ODI batsmen gone?

There is little doubt that we are currently in the middle of a golden era of Test Match batting, with five batsmen from four different countries all fighting it out for the top spot in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings. In fact, seven of the top ten current batsmen have reached the magical plateau of 900 points, a level achieved by only twenty-four batsmen in the history of the Test game.

In Test cricket, eight batsmen have reached 900 points in Test cricket since 2000. However, in the shorter form of the game, Michael Bevan's Rating of 880 achieved way back in February 2000 is the highest points total achieved by anyone playing One Day International Cricket over the same time period.

Of other batsmen, only Mike Hussey and Matthew Hayden have even reached 850 over the same period of time.

We can further analyse the Test high-achievers by examining how many matches they have each spent above the 900 point mark since 2000:

Ricky Ponting 17
Kumar Sangakkara 6
Jacques Kallis 6
Mohammad Yousuf 6
Mike Hussey 5
Matthew Hayden 4
Brian Lara 3
Kevin Pietersen 1

That makes a total of 48 matches spent in "world class" territory since the turn of the millennium. Contrast that with a grand total of zero matches spent at the same high level by any of the One Day International players and it appears that the Test batsmen are currently achieving greater things than their ODI counterparts. In fact, the last batsman to achieve 900 points in One Day International cricket was Brian Lara in January 1997.

However - it hasn't always been that way. Contrast this current state of affairs with the 1980s. In that decade, only two batsmen managed to reach the 900 point mark in Test cricket - Sunil Gavaskar and Viv Richards. However, in One Day cricket, roles were reversed with six batsmen achieving the feat - Richards, Zaheer Abbas, Greg Chappell. David Gower, Javed Miandad and Desmond Haynes. Which begs the question - why the apparent decline in ODI Batting Ratings since then, given the proliferation of One Day cricket played nowadays in comparison with yesteryear? 516 ODIs were played in the 1980s whereas the 2000s have already seen 1234 matches played.

One possible example is that with the increase in scoring rates from 73.1 in the 1980s to the current level of 81.1 in the 2000s, outstanding batting achievements stood out more in the past. Viv Richards had a strike rate in ODI cricket of 90, which compares exceedingly well with any of the greats playing ODI cricket nowadays, but given his last appearance was back in 1991, it stood out even more given the reduced strike rate in all ODI matches during his career. In Richards case, the difference worked out at over one run per over over the course of his career.

Nowadays, it needs the same sustained level of excellence to reach 900 points in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for One Day International cricket, but with a hectic One-Day schedule worldwide, it is that much more difficult to stand out from your peers over such a greatly increased number of matches.