Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tests are to Bradman as ODIs are to…………

It is widely acknowledged that Sir Donald Bradman was the greatest batsman ever to play the game. As if a first-class batting average of 95.14 and a Test average of 99.94 weren’t enough, he scored 29 centuries in only 52 Tests and Australia won 30 of those matches. Even when he was dismissed for a duck in his final Test innings, it became the most famous duck in Test history. The Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings tell us that he had an “average” Rating of 855 points throughout his career, far ahead of the chasing pack. And remember that this is an average over his entire career. After scoring just 18 and 1 in his first Test against England at Brisbane in 1928 his Rating stood at just 120, but he scored 79 and 112 next time out to move up to 467, and the rest is history.

In fact, such is Bradman’s domination of the batting charts that he spent his last 20 Tests at a higher level than anyone else has ever achieved, before retiring at the age of 39. Even his final duck didn’t have a huge effect on his points tally, merely dropping him from 957 to 954.

Next on the batting list comes Jack Hobbs who averaged 799 over the course of his 61 Tests, peaking at 942 in the summer of 1912. It is quite apt that he should be second on the list as his 5,845 days as number one batsman is second only to Bradman’s 6,320. Between the two of them, they occupied top spot for nearly the entire period of time from 1910 to 1948.

Third place by this measure is Brian Lara, whose achievement of averaging 784 points is perhaps even more remarkable in that he played a total of 131 Tests, more than the number Bradman and Hobbs participated in between them. Often holding the fragile West Indian batting together single-handed, setting two individual world record scores in the process, he is just ahead of Len Hutton and Garry Sobers who round out the top five.

So – if Bradman is peerless among batsmen in terms of average Rating points, who is his equivalent in the shorter form of the game? Funnily enough, Bradman’s lead over the second-placed batsman in terms of average Ratings points in Test cricket is pretty much exactly the same as this person’s lead over the second placed man in ODI cricket.

Viv Richards needs no introduction to cricket aficionados. The “Master Blaster” ascended every peak in the game culminating in a Knighthood and a stadium named after him on his home island of Antigua. But perhaps we forget how totally dominating he was in the limited overs arena.

Last year we discovered that more than a quarter of a century on, the Ratings computer rates Richards’s unbeaten innings of 189 against England at Old Trafford in 1984 the greatest-ever ODI innings – and by a clear margin. However, what is truly remarkable about his career is that he spent a lengthy period of time at such a consistently high level, with his points tally permanently hovering between 931 and 935 for a full four-year period following his Old Trafford tour de force.

To summarise – for a period of 73 matches he was batting at a level only one player has ever achieved. Zaheer Abbas reached 931 points fleetingly in 1983 – no-one else has achieved more than 921, and Brian Lara was the last batsman to break the 900 point barrier back in 1997. This glut of run-scoring goes some way to explaining how Richards spent a total of 2,306 days on the top of the batting tree – longer than anyone else.

Unsurprisingly it is the Australian “finisher” Michael Bevan who is next to Richards in the average Ratings stakes, maintaining an average of 793 points throughout his career to end with a batting average of 53.04. Spending a total of 486 matches as the number one in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI batsmen, he often enabled Australia to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with some fantastic late-innings heroics. Who can forget his sensational unbeaten 74 against England at Port Elizabeth in ICC World Cup 2003 when his side were floundering at 135-8 chasing 205 for victory?

In third place on the ODI batting list is an Englishman which may come as a surprise to many considering their recent failings in the shorter form of the game. However, Allan Lamb ended his career with an average of 39 and a strike rate of nearly 76 in an era when scoring rates were far lower than they are today. His sensational 18 runs from Bruce Reid’s final over at the S.C.G. in January 1987 was the stuff dreams are made of.

Two World-cup winning batsmen complete the top five. Dean Jones revolutionised running between the wickets and was a key member of the Australian team who was triumphant against England in the 1987 final at Kolkata. Gordon Greenidge was part of the West Indian teams who won the first two World Cups and came so close to a hat-trick of triumphs in 1983.

Next time we’ll have a look at the bowlers who have achieved the highest average Ratings over the course of their careers and the top names may raise a few eyebrows.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The four decaders

Sachin Tendulkar joined an elite group of Test players when he took the field against Bangladesh last month. He became just the fifth person to play Test cricket in four different decades having made his debut as a sixteen-year-old against Pakistan at Karachi in November 1989. Let’s have a look at the players he emulated and how they performed in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings.

The first man to achieve this most remarkable of feats is also unique in that he participated in Tests in five different decades. That man is Wilfred Rhodes, who started his career as a specialist left-arm spinner in the 1890s who didn’t bat any higher than tenth in any of his first nine Tests. However, by 1912 he had graduated to opening the batting with Jack Hobbs and that pair still holds England’s first wicket record partnership in Ashes Tests with the 323 they added at Melbourne in February 1912. Rhodes also holds England’s record partnership for the tenth wicket too, and by the time he was recalled for his final appearances in 1930 he was back to number 10 playing as a spinner.

Batting-wise, he achieved 646 points and fourth place in December 1913 after he scored 152 against South Africa at Johannesburg in the match that Sydney Barnes took seventeen wickets. However it was with his bowling that he really hit the heights. He spent a total of twelve Tests at the top of the bowling tree between 1904 and 1907 peaking at 823 points. He was unfortunate that despite ending his first-class career just 31 runs short of the 40,000 run / 4,000 wicket double, he never topped the Test all-rounder table thanks to South African Aubrey Faulkner who reached his peak around the same time Rhodes did.

Jack Hobbs made his Test debut in 1908 and ‘The Master’ was only toppled from his lofty perch at the top of the Batting Ratings for one match in the entire period from 1912 to 1928 (by South African Herbie Taylor in 1923). He peaked at 942 at the end of 1912 which is the third-highest points tally ever achieved. His opening partnership with Herbert Sutcliffe was legendary and he spent more than a quarter of his Test career with a Rating of over 900 points. His career records of 61,760 first-class runs with 199 centuries will never be beaten and no-one else has ever scored a Test century at the age of 46. Even when he finally ended his international career after the 1930 Ashes series he was still ranked as high as number six.

Frank Woolley made his England debut the year after Hobbs and indeed only Hobbs scored more first-class runs than Woolley. However the Kent left-hander also managed to take more than two thousand wickets and over a thousand catches. Both his batting and bowling were good enough on their own to take him into the top three for each skill at various points of his career peaking at 701 with the bat and 557 with the ball. He finally reached the top spot for all-rounders at the age of 42 after taking nine wickets at Wellington during England’s tour of New Zealand in 1930. He ended his career in somewhat bizarre circumstances as stand-in wicket-keeper for an injured Les Ames against Australia at The Oval in 1934 and let through a Test-record 37 byes.

Brian Close became England’s youngest-ever Test cricketer when he made his debut against New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1949, and became the youngest player to achieve the “double” of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in an English summer the same year. Despite a first-class career spanning 37 years, he never quite hit the heights in the Test game. His highest Batting Rating of 469 and position of 28th were both achieved in 1963 after some consistent scoring in the series with the West Indies and he never made it into the top thirty of the world’s bowlers despite taking more than a thousand wickets in first-class cricket. He is perhaps best remembered for his return to England colours as a 45-year-old against the all-conquering West Indians in 1976.

And so to Tendulkar. He became the youngest player to ever top the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test batsmen at the age of 21 in November 1994 and subsequently spent a total of 125 Tests at the top of the pile – the fourth-most of any player. His highest points tally came in 2002 when he reached 898 and he recently re-entered the world’s top ten after centuries in consecutive Tests against Bangladesh. In the shorter format of the game he has spent a further 112 matches as the world’s number one batsman peaking at 887 points in 1998.