How far back is number 2? and number 50?
That is an intriguing, but very revealing title. Let me illustrate the theme with an example from tennis.
At the beginning of 2017, Roger Federer had 17 Grand Slam titles and Rafael Nadal, 14. Nadal, at 82.3% (although the difference of three titles is a better way to illustrate this particular gap), was in reasonable touch with Federer. Novak Djokovic, with 12 titles (70.5%-12 titles) was some distance away.
During 2017, the two masters, either side of 35, swept everything before them and shared the four Grand Slam titles. Let us now look at the gaps. Nadal, with 16 titles, is at the almost-identical figure of 84.2%, while Djokovic has gone further back at 63.2%. Therefore, it is clear that Nadal has kept in touch, while Djokovic has fallen behind. Continuing on this theme, with each win, Federer is closing the gap on Jimmy Connors’ 109 tournament wins. The ratio now stands at 87.1% (95/109). At the beginning of 2017, this ratio stood at 80.7%. The Swiss maestro is closing the gap, although overhauling this mark appears unlikely.
In tennis, it is easy to present this concept since such key numbers are not that many. However, in cricket, there are many such metrics, especially across formats. There are many numbers: batting, bowling and team-related. A study of these numbers, specifically how far back is the second value, will give us a clear indication of how easy or difficult it would be for the top value to be overhauled. A look at how far back the 50th-placed player is will give us a clear idea on the distribution of the numbers and the population density at the top.
I will look at the following metric:
* Test Batting: Runs/Average/Strike rate/Individual score
* Test Bowling: Wickets/Average/Strike rate/Runs per Over
* ODI Batting: Runs/RpAI/Strike rate/Individual score
* ODI Bowling: Wickets/Average/Strike rate/Runs per Over
* Test Team: Highest score/Lowest score
* ODI Team: Highest score/Lowest score
I will not present any table since too much space will be taken. Instead, I will present graphs depicting the spread of these critical values, discuss these graphs and arrive at a reasonable conclusion.
There are two types of achievements. I will call these landmarks and records. The landmarks are longevity-based. These are the ones that would benefit from this analysis. Let us accept this statement: If Habibul Bashar had played 200 Tests, he would have crossed Brian Lara’s tally.
However, playing in over 150 Tests is still a terrific achievement. Very few players, that too, playing for the right teams, can do this. The productivity of the top players is another thing. Sachin Tendulkar averaged less than 80 runs per Test, while Muttiah Muralitharan averaged over six wickets per Test (a rough equivalent of 120 runs). So many factors are at play.
The records could have been set 100 years back and not crossed now — and may never be crossed. For instance, Jim Laker’s 19 wickets in the Manchester Test in 1956 is likely to remain unconquered forever. He himself overtook Sid Barnes’ 17 wickets, set 43 years earlier. So here, the second-placed value would give us a clue as to the chances of the record being overtaken.
For the performance related measures, the cut-off is 2000 Test runs. 185 batsmen qualify.
The most well-known statistic is the Test batting average. Don Bradman’s average of 99.94 is so far ahead of the next placed one that Graeme Pollock, with 60.97, is at 61.0% of Bradman’s average. Before the rather unproductive tour of Bangladesh, Steve Smith was in second position.
Since publishing the article, Steve Smith has attained a career average of 61.23 (61.3%) and moved into second place after Bradman.
Stan McCabe, with an average of 48.21 (48.2%), is in 50th position. Let us say that this average will not ever be overhauled. It is important to recall how quickly Adam Voges’ 1300 at 95 went downhill to 1500 at 67.
Tendulkar has a 16% lead over Ricky Ponting. That is a substantial lead and it is unlikely that Tendulkar’s aggregate will be overhauled, especially as the only active Test batsman in the Top-20, Alastair Cook, is 27% off Tendulkar. Len Hutton’s 43.8% is in 50th position.
When it comes to batting strike rate, the table is partial since the base data is available only for the past 15 years. Virender Sehwag is at the top, with 82.2 and Adam Gilchrist is only a few decimal points behind, at 82.0 (99.7%). Kane Williamson, with a strike rate of 50.4 (61.3%), is in 50th position. There is a fair chance that David Warner, who is in third position, could overtake Sehwag.
The top individual scores are Lara’s 400, Matthew Hayden’s 380, Lara’s 375, Mahela Jayawardene’s 374 and Garfield Sobers’ 365 in the top-five positions. This is a crowded top, unlike the first two metrics. Graeme Pollock’s 274 (68.5%) is the 50th best score. My take is that a combination of a quick scoring batsman in great form, an average bowling attack and an accommodating captain could lead to Lara’s record being overhauled. Warner seems to be the only candidate who could achieve this.
For the performance related measures, the cut-off is 100 Test wickets. This ensures a substantial career with about 25 Tests. 180 bowlers qualify.
George Lohmann, with an unbelievable average of 10.76, is nearly as much ahead of Barnes as Bradman is of Pollock. Barnes is at 16.43 (65.5%). Needless to say that the division is the other way around for some of the bowling metrics. Tony Lock’s 50th place average of 25.58 (42.1%) will tell us how low the bowling average was in the days gone by. When I say that very few bowlers have had sub-10 averages at the end of their first Tests, leave alone end of their careers, that will tell the story. Lohmann and Barnes will never be overhauled.
The top of the wickets table, after Muralitharan tells the story. Shane Warne, with 708 wickets (88.5%), Anil Kumble, with 619 wickets (77.4%), and Glenn McGrath, with 563 wickets (70.4%) — who is going to overhaul these three great bowlers, leave alone Muralitharan? James Anderson needs to play in another 20 Tests to get past Kumble. Therefore, it is not rocket science to say that Muralitharan will stand supreme at the turn of the 22nd century.
Now things turn interesting. Lohmann’s strike rate was 34.1 balls per wicket. Whoever would have thought that Kagiso Rabada, with a magnificent BpW value of 39.8 (85.6%), and Dale Steyn, with 41.5 (82.3%), would do better than Barnes’ strike rate of 41.7 (81.9%). This is one of the most amazing bowling achievements, unfortunately pushed into the background with our batting-centric views. Let us salute Rabada. Whether he can maintain a 40-level BpW value is doubtful.
Nevertheless, let us enjoy this phenomenon while it is there. It is of interest to note that Rabada was not there in my first cut of the article since he crossed 100 wickets only in the last Test against Bangladesh.
Trevor Goddard conceded 1.65 runs per over in his career. What is more important is that he was better than India’s own bowling machine Bapu Nadkarni. The cut-off for this analysis is 500 overs (normalised to 6 balls). I had to go through the list with a fine tooth-comb to locate the most accurate modern bowler. That turned out to be Hansie Cronje, with an RpO value of 2.03 (81.1%). But he retired in 2000. What about modern active bowlers? I got Ravindra Jadeja, with an RpO value of 2.33 (70.6%). He is in the 99th position.
I have not provided the graph here. However, it is worth talking about Laker’s performance, which I have referred to earlier. Laker’s 19 wickets in the Manchester Test of 1956 is, in my opinion, the record, which will never ever be broken. I would say that Bradman’s 99.94 or Lohmann’s 10.76 have better chances of being overhauled than Laker’s 19-wicket haul. The reason is simple. The bowler has to achieve the 10-wickets in an innings twice in one Test, within five days. It is worthwhile remembering that the feat of 10 wickets in an innings itself has only been achieved twice in 140 years of Test cricket, that too, 43 years apart. Also, the pitch has to suit one particular bowler only. After the fall of the 18th wicket, the fellow bowlers have to co-operate. The batsmen of the other team have to co-operate. Finally, the umpires should co-operate. I would categorically say, absolutely zero chance. Incidentally, Barnes’ 17 wickets is at 89.4%, and the 50th best performance, 13-wicket captures by many bowlers are at 68.4%.
Tendulkar, with 18426 runs, is way ahead of Kumar Sangakkara (14234-77.2%). One would be tempted to conclude that Tendulkar’s position at the top is safe. But then we look at where Virat Kohli is. He has played just over 200 matches and has aggregated in excess of 9000 runs. If he plays for another 8-10 years and another 200 matches, he has a good chance of reaching 18000. However, everything has to fall in place: The number of matches, Kohli’s own hunger for run-accumulation and motivation. I would say, quite unlikely. Hayden is placed at No. 50 with a run tally of 6133 runs (33.3%).
For the performance related measures, the cut-off is 2000 ODI runs. 205 batsmen qualify.
RpAI (Runs per Adjusted Innings) is a far better measure than the batting average. This was explained in my recent article on ODI Spells, published in Sportstar , issue dated October 28, 2017. (The online link is https://sportstar.thehindu.com/magazine/evaluating-odi-bowling-spells/article19882830.ece .)
Hashim Amla, with an RpAI value of 48.47, is just ahead of Kohli, with 47.66 (98.3%). AB de Villiers follows close behind. All three are active players and the positions are likely to change often during the coming years. The 50th-placed batsman is Misbah-ul-Haq, with 35.54 (73.3%). Of course, Kohli leads the batting average table, closely followed by de Villiers.
Shahid Afridi was the undisputed leader of the strike rate table. However, recently, Glenn Maxwell has taken over the mantle by crossing 2000 ODI runs. His strike rate is 123.9. He is followed by Jos Buttler, who, with 117.9 (95.2%), has elbowed out Afridi, with 117.0. The 50th entry is Angelo Mathews, with 84.2 (68.0%). Since David Miller, de Villiers and Warner are in the top-10, there is a good chance that the top-10 of this table would undergo a major churn over the next few years.
Rohit Sharma’s 264 stands on top, 27 runs and over 10% above Martin Guptill. As such, it is a record quite likely to stand for a long time. An absolute flat-belter, batting first, 65-yard boundaries, an insipid bowling attack and a huge appetite for the record might see an attacking opener cross the mark. Quite unlikely, though. Brendon McCullum’s 166 (62.9%) is in 50th position.
Muralitharan has captured 534 wickets in ODI matches. He played 349 matches. It is extremely unlikely that anyone would play 400 ODI matches as a bowler to get to this number. Wasim Akram is 32 wickets and 6.0% behind. The drop in this table is amazing: Umar Gul is in 50th position, with 179 wickets (33.5%). With Lasith Malinga almost certainly out of the team, the only other active bowler within the 50% mark is Anderson. He needs to play another 194 matches to double his tally.
For the performance related measures, the cut-off is 100 ODI wickets. Only 129 bowlers qualify.
Joel Garner is the only bowler in history with a bowling average below 20. His average of 18.85 is a testament to his accuracy. Mitchell Starc is a magnificent ODI bowler. His average of 20.14 (93.6%) is proof of that. There was a time in the career of Ajantha Mendis when he had 71 wickets at 15.18 and threatened Garner’s place. Then he fell off but still finished with 152 wickets at 21.87. Malinga is in 50th position with an average of 28.92 (65.2%). This is a measure that could come under threat from Starc and even Jasprit Bumrah.
However, Starc gets ahead of Garner in the bowling strike rate stakes. He has captured a wicket every 25.1 balls. Mendis is second with 27.4 (91.7%). Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir are not far behind. It is possible that this table may see changes at the top in the years to come.
In the bowling accuracy table, Garner stands tall with a terrific value of 3.10. Bob Willis is second at 3.28 (94.3%). This table is stuffed at the top with older bowlers. Rashid Khan of Afghanistan is the current bowler with the best bowling accuracy value. He has conceded 3.95 RpO and is placed 33rd. So Garner’s position is unlikely to be challenged soon.
What are the two top Test team scores I am referring to? The eminently forgettable 952 at Premadasa, Colombo. What was the purpose behind an innings of such size? But here we are only looking at records. The 903 (94.9%) at The Oval, nearly 60 years before, at least produced a result. This is a record very few followers would like to see beaten since teams would have to bat for three days to reach 1000 runs. The 50th highest innings is England’s 653 (68.6%) against India in 1990.
In Auckland, in 1955, New Zealand conceded a first innings lead of 46 and then proceeded to lose by an innings and 20 runs. Their 26 is as amazing a score as the 952. The only consolation is that the innings only lasted an hour and a half, while the other one lasted 19 hours. The next lowest score of 30 (86.7%) was reached by South Africa. The 50th lowest score is 65 (40%), reached by three teams. It is of interest to note that in 2011, Australia slumped to 21 for 9, before reaching 47.
In ODIs, England’s 444 against Pakistan last year is the highest. It is followed closely by Sri Lanka’s 443 (99.8%). The next three best scores are by South Africa. There are 18 scores in excess of 400. The 50th highest score is Australia’s recent accumulation of 369 (83.1%) against Pakistan. The 100th best score is 351, indicating how closely these scores are bunched together. There is a good chance that the 450-mark will be breached soon.
When it comes to low scores, the lowest three have all been against Sri Lanka. Zimbabwe’s 35 is followed by Canada’s 36 and Zimbabwe’s 38. The 50th lowest score is Canada’s 94 against Kenya. Let us face it: it is tough to score below 35. Therefore, this record looks like it might stay for some time.
Let me conclude. I have given below the performances/records, in the least likely order of overhaul. In my considered opinion, not one of these landmarks will ever be breached.
* Laker’s 19 wickets in a Test.
* Bradman’s Test career batting average of 99.94.
* Lohmann’s Test career bowling average of 10.76.
* Muralitharan’s 800 Test career wickets.
* Tendulkar’s 15921 Test career runs.
I cannot make such far-reaching statements on the ODI records. As I have already explained, many of the records are being overhauled. If I am asked to name one record that will be intact 50 years from now, I would say Garner’s amazing RpO of 3.10.