A nuanced look at Test players’ careers

In this article, the author looks at the careers of players by splitting their careers into three distinct phases: The first 25%, middle 50% and final 25%.

Published : Jul 05, 2017 18:02 IST

KANPUR, 20/09/2016: The Green Park which will be hosting India's 500th Test Match when they play New Zealand on Thursday. Photo: V. V. Krishnan KANPUR, 20/09/2016: The Green Park which will be hosting India's 500th Test Match when they play New Zealand on Thursday. Photo: V. V. Krishnan -
KANPUR, 20/09/2016: The Green Park which will be hosting India's 500th Test Match when they play New Zealand on Thursday. Photo: V. V. Krishnan KANPUR, 20/09/2016: The Green Park which will be hosting India's 500th Test Match when they play New Zealand on Thursday. Photo: V. V. Krishnan -

KANPUR, 20/09/2016: The Green Park which will be hosting India's 500th Test Match when they play New Zealand on Thursday. Photo: V. V. Krishnan KANPUR, 20/09/2016: The Green Park which will be hosting India's 500th Test Match when they play New Zealand on Thursday. Photo: V. V. Krishnan -

Anyone who followed Test matches during the 1970s and 80s, and even a few die-hard enthusiasts who might have been born during the 80s, would never forget how Sunil Gavaskar ended his illustrious career: a magnificent innings of 96 against a couple of very tough Pakistani spinners on a turning pitch. However, it may be more important to see how Gavaskar finished his career, across more Tests than merely the last one.

In this article, I will look at the careers of players by splitting their careers into three distinct phases: The first 25%, middle 50% and final 25%. It will mean that the middle phase of the career is a long one, allowing for multiple periods of form changes. The idea is to gauge how the players performed during these three periods: How they started and ended their careers, how they performed during the important middle part and whether they maintained a consistent level of performances across the three phases.

For a player like Sachin Tendulkar, the starting and ending periods would last 50 Tests each, and these seem quite long. On the other hand, for a player like Colin McDonald, the career itself is only 47 Tests long, making the initial and closing phases a mere 12 Tests long. However, such wide variations cannot be helped.

I will not worry about the averages in this analysis. In any case, the batting average is a flawed one, with the inclusion of not outs, a middle-order batsman’s domain. The bowling average is an excellent measure. I will only look at the base delivery of a player: Runs and Wickets. The performances across the phases will be compared to the career-level performances of the player concerned. This will allow the players with widely varying averages to be evaluated across a common analytical base.

There has to be a cut-off. Otherwise, we will have too many players. Hence, I have set 3000 Test runs (around 40 Tests for a typical batsman) and 100 wickets (around 30 Tests for a typical bowler) as the qualifying marks. As on date, 184 batsmen and 174 bowlers qualify. This represents a good size for analysis.

These tables and graphs are current up to Test #2261, the third Test played between West Indies and Pakistan at Roseau, Dominica during May 2017.

Let us first look at how the players started their careers. In the first table, I will look at the 10 batsmen who started their careers like an express train and the five batsmen who started on a miserable note. 

The starting phase of batsmen: The highs and lows

Jimmy Adams had, inarguably the most lop-sided career any batsman has had. He scored 43.1% of his career runs in the introductory phase consisting of 25% of his career Tests, and then chugged along, like a slow moving goods train, scoring 57% in the next 75% of the Tests. He is way ahead of the next batsman in this regard.

The trio of Australian batsmen, Brad Haddin, Doug Walters and Michael Hussey, scored about 34% of their career runs in the first 25%. Then comes a trio of West Indian batsmen, led by the still-active Darren Bravo, Viv Richards and Frank Worrell. These batsmen scored a little over a third of their career runs in the first quarter.

At the other end, Dennis Amiss had, inarguably, the poorest start any batsman has ever had, scoring only 13% of his career runs in the first quarter. Daniel Vettori’s presence at this end of the table is understandable, considering that he blossomed into a full-fledged all-rounder only during the second half of his career. Steve Smith is an interesting presence, possibly because his initial selection was as a fledgling leg-spinner, who could bat: And, boy, how he could bat! 

Now let us look at how the batsmen ended their careers.

The finishing phase of batsmen: The highs and lows

Vettori started his career as a left-arm spinner who could bat. Then, a couple of fifties and a near hundred in three Tests changed everything. Vettori metamorphosed into a dependable all-rounder. He ended his career as a batsman who could comfortably bat at No. 6 or 7. This translates into a last career quarter in which he scored over 36% of his career runs. Incidentally, he has a higher career batting average than Krish Srikkanth, Martin Guptill and Mark Ramprakash. Mohammad Hafeez, who is still an active batsman, has had a similar ending of his career, as it stands at this stage. Victor Trumper finished his career scoring over a third of his career runs in the last phase. It is interesting to note how Cheteshwar Pujara’s career has blossomed recently, mainly on the strength of the last 13 Tests at home.

At the other end of the table, Alvin Kallicharran finished quite poorly, scoring less than half of what he was supposed to score: That is only 12.1% of his career. Surprisingly, the doyen of consistency, Herbert Sutcliffe also scored only around 14%. However, that lapse only lowered his average from above-60 to a sub-60 figure. Ashwell Prince and Keith Fletcher also finished quite poorly.

Let me now look at the bowlers. First, the start of their careers: those who thundered in and those who took time to find their feet.

The starting phase of bowlers: The highs and lows

Wilfred Rhodes started his career like a dream, capturing well over four wickets per Test and batting at No.11. He finished batting much higher and virtually not bowling at all. It is no wonder that he captured well over 50% of his career wickets, 71 to be precise, during the first 25% of his career. He captured 56 wickets in the next 43 Tests: That is Carl Hooper territory. “Charlie” Turner averaged nearly six wickets per Test in his career, but nine in the first five Tests. Rodney Hogg captured well over 40% of his career wickets in the first quarter of his career, as did Mohammad Rafique and Maurice Tate. Readers will notice the presence of a modern top bowler, Vernon Philander, in this table.

At the other end of the table, Alan Davidson, playing as a bowler, averaged less than a wicket and a half in the initial phase. Australia kept faith in him and how he responded! Carl Hooper averaged less than half-a-wicket per Test. Then come two olden day bowlers, George Giffen and Hugh Trumble, and finally Intikhab Alam, who, despite capturing a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket, managed only 16 wickets in the first 12 Tests.

The finishing phase of bowlers: The highs and lows

Now we come to the last quarter of a bowler’s career. The four top bowlers — Trumble, Syd Barnes, Giffen and George Lohmann — are all from the pre-WW-I era. Barnes was, and is, one of the greatest fast medium bowlers who ever played. He averaged 11 wickets per Test in his last six Tests: That is more than what some teams average per Test. Intikhab Alam compensated for his first quarter failure by doing very well at the end. Look at Ravindra Jadeja, averaging nearly seven wickets per Test in the last seven Tests! However, let us not forget that these were the recent ones, all at home.

Of the bowlers at the other end of the table, two deserve a mention. Ian Bishop, who had a magnificent three quarters of a career, was unfortunately severely injured and could manage only 14 wickets in the last 10 Tests. Fazal Mahmood, sitting on a very impressive 125 wickets in 26 Tests could only add 14 wickets in the next eight Tests.

Let us now have a look at the graphical representation of the three phases.

These are graphs, which do not need any description. Note the almost perfect symmetry. 25%, 50% and 25% of career runs are almost truly replicated in the three phases. Dilip Vengsarkar’s % values are 24.6, 50.7 and 24.7 respectively. Clive Lloyd’s numbers are 24.6%, 50.4% and 25.4%. Rahul Dravid’s values are 25.4%, 50.8% and 23.8%. To determine the first amongst these equals, I add the weighted absolute differences in the three phases to derive an index. 

We see the other extreme here. Keith Fletcher’s phase values are 15.1%, 70.5% and 14.4%. Gautam Gambhir’s numbers are 18.6%, 66.4% and 15.0%. The first four batsmen — Fletcher, Mike Gatting, Herschelle Gibbs and Gambhir — all follow a pattern. Poor start, terrific middle and indifferent end. Only Jimmy Adams follows a different pattern. His numbers are 43.1%, 39.0% and 17.9%. The differences are obvious.

Monty Panesar is some bowler. His overall figures are the best in this regard amongst all batsmen and bowlers. He captured 25.14%, 49.7% and 25.16% in the three phases. Morne Morkel has almost similar numbers. The only significant point here is that all the bowlers, the others being Bill O’Reilly, Danish Kaneria and Chris Cairns, have similar patterns. 

Wilfred Rhodes, we have already seen. With the three phase numbers being 55.9%, 22.8% and 21.3%, there is no wonder that he is right at the top. Mushtaq Ahmed and Johnny Briggs follow the by now familiar pattern of a bloated middle. Then comes “Charlie” Turner, who has a similar, but less varying set of numbers, to Rhodes. Finally, Alan Davidson does it the other way around. A very poor start and excellent middle and third phases.

To round off this fascinating theme, I have provided below the three phase % values for a few top batsmen and bowlers.

Summary figures for selected batsmen

Viv Richards and Jack Hobbs started well. Ricky Ponting and Kumar Sangakkara started in an indifferent manner, but Sangakkara finished very strongly. Ponting had the best middle phase amongst these illustrious batsmen. Gary Sobers and Herbert Sutcliffe finished poorly. Dravid achieved almost exactly what was expected of him always. Sutcliffe had the maximum turbulence in the three phases of his career.

Summary figures for selected bowlers


Ian Botham and Waqar Younis started very well and finished indifferently. Muttiah Muralitharan started very poorly but had a great middle phase, as did Richard Hadlee. Wasim Akram and Malcolm Marshall had middle phases in which they exceeded 60%. Finally, look at the way Syd Barnes finished! Curtly Ambrose and Glenn McGrath had the smoothest careers amongst these great bowlers, while Wasim Akram had the maximum variations from the expected phase values.

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