Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Test 800ers

A couple of months ago, we examined the players who had remained above the threshold of 800 points for the longest in One Day International cricket. Now, as Test Match hostilities commence between Sri Lanka and India it is time to investigate their Test Match equivalents.

The first player to reach 800 batting points in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings was Clem Hill. After scoring 119 in Australia’s second innings against England in Sheffield’s only Test in July 1902, which helped his team to a convincing triumph by 143 runs, he reached 827 points, good enough to lead the batting charts by more than one hundred points. He remained the only player to have reached this high level until team-mate Victor Trumper three years later.

The bowling mark was first crossed much earlier. In fact, nine different bowlers had achieved 800 points by the time Hill did, and a tenth – Monty Noble – reached the landmark in the same Test. However, someone had to be first and that man was Joey Palmer. At Old Trafford in 1886 England may have won a narrow victory by four wickets, but Palmer took 3-41 and 1-11 in the match to follow-up his great successes on 1884 when he took 14 wickets in the three-Test series. Palmer didn’t have a long wait for company as Fred ‘the Demon’ Spofforth took 4-73 in 56 overs in the following match at Lord’s to move up to 803 points.

Since those initial trailblazers, a total of 86 batsmen and 81 bowlers have achieved that landmark of cricketing greatness – 800 points in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings. Some had fleeting moments in the sun like Marcus Trescothick who enjoyed a brief 8-day period at this level in late 2005. Or John Ferris, who managed to represent both England and Australia, and enjoyed an even briefer, 5-day stay at the end of his career.

So what can the Rankings tell us about supposed ‘Golden Ages’ of cricketing batsmen or bowlers? Three times there have been nine batsmen above 800 points – all relatively recently. Matthew Hayden led the way in April 2004, Jacques Kallis led a nine-pronged attack the following year, and most recently it was Ricky Ponting whose 936 points in January 2007 headed eight other batsmen over 800 points. The last time no Test batsman enjoyed such a high standing was in February 1995 when Jimmy Adams’ 786 points were good enough for top spot.

With the ball, seven bowlers have topped 800 points at two separate times in Test history. The first was in early 1984 when Geoff Lawson, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Bob Willis, Kapil Dev, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding were the leading seven. Not a spinner among them! In fact the leading spinner at that time was Pakistani Iqbal Qasim down in 13th place with 619 points. The other occasion bowlers ruled the world was in February 1998 when the men were Curtly Ambrose, Glenn McGrath, Allan Donald, Shane Warne, Shaun Pollock, Mushtaq Ahmed and Wasim Akram. There has always been at least one bowler above 800 points since August 1978 when Bob Willis briefly topped the charts with 792 points.

So – who of all these players managed to spend the longest time at this level of performance? Can anyone topple Donald Bradman in the batting charts and how do the modern greats compare? Here are the top ten batsmen in terms of days spent above 800 points:


Total days

Donald Bradman


Jack Hobbs


George Headley


Garry Sobers


Walter Hammond


Viv Richards


Brian Lara


Neil Harvey


Sachin Tendulkar


Ricky Ponting


Both Tendulkar and Ponting will have opportunities to move further up this list, whereas at the top it is very close for first place, but Bradman just holds off Jack Hobbs by a mere two months. Here are the bowlers:


Total days

Muttiah Muralitharan


Bill O'Reilly


Glenn McGrath


Curtly Ambrose


Johnny Briggs


Richard Hadlee


Ray Lindwall


Malcolm Marshall


Lance Gibbs


Imran Khan


Here, as with the batsmen, we have a nice mix of past and present stars with Sri Lankan world Test wicket record-holder Murali on top. He first moved above 800 points after taking 16 wickets at The Oval in 1998 and has scarcely dropped below that level since then. With plenty of time to go on his career, and having overtaken Bill O’Reilly earlier this year, he has the opportunity to put this particular record way out of reach.