Thursday, February 17, 2011

A tribute to the Number Ones

Tell anyone who are the number one rated batsman, bowler and all-rounder in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI cricket going into ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 and you may receive some inquisitive looks in return. However, on closer examination, the three players have earned their right to call themselves the current form players as the cricketing world meets on the subcontinent.

South Africa’s Hashim Amla had to wait until March 2008 to make his ODI debut – more than three years after his first Test appearance. However, he has swiftly made up for lost time and he currently boasts an average of just under 60 after 42 matches including seven centuries and 12 fifties. He recently became the fastest player ever to reach 2000 runs, five fewer innings than previous record-holder Kevin Pietersen. In a team of higher-profile players, some of whom have performed successfully on the highest stage in previous competitions, Amla is the leading man coming into this year’s event.

His current batting rating of 889 puts him in pretty exclusive company too. Only one South African batsman has ever sneaked through the 900-point barrier in ODI cricket, and he will be at the World Cup too. Surprisingly it isn’t captain Graeme Smith or even Jacques Kallis – who managed it in Test cricket. The man in question is Gary Kirsten, who will be coaching India as they try to recapture the crown they won so memorably at Lord’s in 1983. Still the holder of the highest individual score in ICC Cricket World Cup history with his unbeaten 188 against the UAE in 1996, his century against Australia at Indore later that year saw his points tally rise to 903.

Amla’s current Rating is the highest achieved by any batsman in ODI cricket since Brian Lara before the turn of the Millennium, and it will be interesting to see if he can push his way up to 900 points over the course of the tournament.

Whereas Amla currently enjoys a healthy lead of more than 100 points at the top of the batting tree, it is far tighter with the ball with that same 100 points covering the top 12 positions. However, the man in pole position has occupied that lofty perch uninterrupted since November 2009.

Daniel Vettori has led from the front for New Zealand over the past few years and he has developed into one of the most economical bowlers in ODI history. Over the past nine years, his worst economy rate in any year was 4.15 in 2007 - his busiest year. Over that same period of time, his fellow Kiwi bowlers have conceded an average of 4.81 runs per over, illustrating his value to the team. He is New Zealand’s leading wicket-taker in the shorter form of the game and also has more than 2000 runs. In Test cricket he is now less than 100 wickets away from Richard Hadlee’s national record of 431.

Vettori will be hoping to improve on his showings in previous ICC Cricket World Cups. His 17 matches covering the last two tournaments have brought him 18 wickets at a disappointing average of 39.22. If New Zealand are to achieve the semi-final place that has almost become theirs by right since the first competition in 1975, he will need to continue the form that took him to the top of the pile nearly 18 months ago.

Now is perhaps the time when Vettori will face the greatest challenge for his number one position with three other left-arm spinners in the top five. Since overtaking Shakib Al Hasan to reclaim top spot, his average points tally has been 748. Perhaps it is an indication of the volume of ODI cricket played around the world nowadays, but no-one has even achieved 800 points since the retirement of Shaun Pollock three years ago.

The leading all-rounder in the world has occupied that position for an even longer stretch than Vettori. Shakib Al Hasan became the first Bangladeshi to rise to number one in any form of the game with bat or ball when he sneaked above Jacob Oram in January 2009. And now – more than two years and 299 matches later – he is still there. It is not difficult to see why. While some of the world’s leading all-rounders have moved down to the table due to retirement, injury or loss of form, Shakib has gone from strength to strength. Since the start of 2009, his 46 ODIs have brought him nearly 1500 runs with three centuries and 72 wickets at less than 25 each with an economy rate of just 4.26 runs per over.

Bangladesh will be relying on him if they are to repeat their successes of the 2007 tournament when they beat India and South Africa, but if he slips up, Australia’s Shane Watson is lurking just behind him, hoping to become the first Australian to top the all-rounders table since Mark Waugh in December 1996.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Year of the Rabbit

The main focus of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings is to determine who the peak performers in world cricket are, be they in Test cricket or in the One Day format of the game. However, as we enter the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, we examine the other end of the scale – the true ‘rabbits’ with the bat – those batsmen who can often be found lurking at number eleven praying they are not required to make it to the crease with a bat in their hands.

Firstly, we need to set some parameters. It is relatively straightforward to discover the players who have achieved the highest number of Ratings points, but how should we judge the lowest? A player who debuts and fails to score has a total of zero points, but that isn’t really a fair way of measuring his lowest point. So we have two points of reference in order to help us discover the true ‘rabbits’ of the world game.

Secondly, it is probably only really fair to limit our investigations to the Test arena. This is due to the fact that in the One Day game, players batting down the order only have a limited amount of time in which to make an impression, and often they fall early on in the quest for quick runs. In addition, they bat far more irregularly than their top-order colleagues.

In order to have a ‘full’ rating, a player has to have batted at least forty times in his career. To date, a total of 551 players have managed this, so more than enough to be getting on with. They range from Sachin Tendulkar with his 290 innings – 51 of which he has converted into centuries – to the fifteen batsman including George Headley and Dilhara Fernando to have batted on exactly forty occasions in their Test careers.

Of these 551 players it will probably come as no surprise to discover the names of the players with the best and worst batting averages. Don Bradman’s average of 99.94 is more than 50% better than anyone else, and at the other end of the spectrum, Chris Martin’s current average of 2.53 is comfortably worse than anyone else. In fact he would need to score 71 in his next innings to edge ahead of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.

Returning to the Ratings, whereas when we look at the high flyers we examine their highest-ever points totals, here we are interested in their lowest points totals, once the player has qualified for a full Rating. So – how do they stack up? Here are the lowest batting Ratings achieved once a player has played the required forty Test innings:

PlayerCountryLow point
Chris MartinNew Zealand22
Fidel EdwardsWest Indies45
Phil TufnellEngland47
Bhagwat ChandrasekharIndia48
Alf ValentineWest Indies53
Danish KaneriaPakistan58
Pedro CollinsWest Indies62
Terry AldermanAustralia62
Devon MalcolmEngland63
Glenn McGrathAustralia63
Corey CollymoreWest Indies64

The first thing that comes to mind is that Chris Martin really is a long way adrift of the rest of the pack. His Rating of 22 came after his 35th Test at which point his batting average stood at precisely two. A recent relative surge of form has seen his points total rocketing up to a career-best 33 – still a fair way adrift of Fidel Edwards in second place.

There are three modern-day West Indian pacemen on this list. Whereas Messrs Holding, Roberts and Garner combined for a total of ten Test fifties, the recent trio of Edwards, Collins and Collymore have never even reached 25 in an innings between them. Comprising one of the greatest tails of all time, all three of them played three Tests against England in 2004. Two of those matches were lost, but they were not required to bat in the third as Brian Lara amassed 400 not out all by himself, more than half the combined career totals of the three tail-enders in their 105 Tests.

The second method of analysing Test cricket’s ‘rabbits’ is to see who has the lowest ‘average’ Rating over the course of their career. This method enables us to include players who have not necessarily acquired the minimum forty innings used in the first method and those who played in the earlier days of Test cricket, when matches were somewhat fewer and farther between.

This now gives us a total of 1134 players who have had at least fifteen innings in Test cricket. Don Bradman’s Rating averaged 855 over the course of his 52 Test matches, but we are not interested in that here. Let’s see who were at the bottom of the pile:

Mohammad AkramPakistan11.44
Cuan McCarthySouth Africa13.00
Pommie MbangwaZimbabwe13.07
Geoff AllottNew Zealand13.10
Rubel HossainBangladesh17.25
Jack SaundersAustralia18.29
Ian SmithSouth Africa19.11
Reon KingWest Indies19.58
Enamul Haque jrBangladesh21.07
Bert IronmongerAustralia22.36

Chris Martin just misses out on the ‘top’ ten, with his average of 23.23. However, if he were to add to his current total of 29 ducks he just might edge his way into the leading pack.

There is perhaps a surprising name at the top. Mohammad Akram played 9 Tests for Pakistan between 1995 and 2000 batting a total of thirteen times. However, in eight of those he failed to score, with his only double-figure effort an undefeated innings of ten against Australia at Perth in November 1999. That kind of batting pedigree meant that his points total never made it out of the teens.

Cuan McCarthy was arguably even worse, although his points tally implies that he batted in slightly more difficult conditions than Akram. He strode to the crease 24 times in his Test career which lasted from 1948 to 1951 and never scored more than five runs in a single innings. He would argue that fifteen of those innings were undefeated so he could have gone on to greater things, but he is a worthy contender for the title of ‘worst Test batsman ever’. The bronze medal goes to medium-pacer-turned-commentator Pommie Mbangwa. His 25 Test innings from 1996 to 2000 included just one innings greater than five, but he did choose Lord’s as the venue for his career-best score of eight!

So, for every Bradman, Hobbs or Lara at the top of the tree, spare a thought for those number 11s who also have to don their pads, gloves and helmets for the good of their team, but with somewhat less success!