Looking at batting strength!

Does this English team have the strongest ever ODI batting line-up? The author explores the possibility.

A BSI of 40.0 is very difficult to reach. Jos Buttler’s Index is 39.7!   -  Getty Images

Is England's ODI batting line-up the strongest ever? <EP>How do we define a team which

— loses to Scotland but only after scoring 365,

— scores 342 and wins comfortably,

— nearly scores 500 and wins by 242 runs and

— finally, chases 310 with a lot of fuel left in the tank.

I am referring to the English ODI team of recent vintage. The question arises: By any chance, does this English team have the strongest ever ODI batting line-up?

What about the Indian teams during the first decade of the current millennium, or the Australian teams a few years earlier or during the World Cup 2015, or the recent South African line-ups or, finally, the formidable West Indian teams of the 90s?

This is not a subjective question that can be answered by the opinions of individuals. These are objective questions and will require proper objective answers based on clearly understandable analytical methods.

How do we define a team’s batting strength? Let me define the overall guidelines.

  • I will consider only the top seven batsmen to decide the team’s Batting Strength Index (BSI). This is based on facts. Out of the 70,061 ODI innings played so far, 52,218 (75 per cent) have been played by the top seven batsmen. A Mitchell Starc, Chris Woakes and Thisara Perera swinging their bats about should be a bonus and not come into consideration.
  • I will consider the two aspects of ODI batting. The Wted Runs per Innings (WRpI) and Batting Strike Rate (BSR). I would any day use WRpI rather than batting average. This is explained in greater detail later.
  • I have thought long and hard about this and decided that WRpI and BSR will have equal weights.
  • BSI will be determined by which batsmen are available to bat and not by batsmen who took strike. This is correct.
  • Normally I would use career-to-date batting averages. However, that would mean that the same team will have differing BSI values in successive matches, and that is not what we are looking for. Hence, I will use only career figures. Therefore, each run of the program will give me the BSI values as at that time. The figures will change only for the current teams and batsmen.
  • Finally, how do I take care of Marcus Stoinis, who has scored 642 runs at 37.37/101.1, or Shreyas Iyer, who has scored 210 runs at 42.0/96.3? Very flattering figures indeed, overall much better than Aaron Finch or Eoin Morgan. Not really true because of the very few number of runs scored. Hence, if a batsman has scored less than 1,000 runs, WRpI will be limited to 25 and BSR to 80. Again, very fair indeed.

WRpI vs batting average

If we use the batting average, batsmen like M. S. Dhoni (28.7 per cent not outs), Michael Bevan (34.2 per cent) and Steve Waugh (20.1 per cent) get an undue advantage over batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar (9.1 per cent), Sanath Jayasuriya (4.2 per cent) and Mark Waugh (8.5 per cent).

WRpI is determined by assigning an innings weight of between 0 and 1 for each not out innings, based on the basic runs per innings value. If the RpI is 40, an innings of 12 not out will get a weighted value of 0.3, an innings of 27 not out will get 0.675 and an innings of 75 not out will get 1.0. These are then added and the WRpI is arrived at. This is a very fair and accurate determination of the batting average/RpI.

The all-time highest WRpI has been achieved by Virat Kohli, with 49.1. He is followed by Hashim Amla (47.6) and A. B. de Villiers (45.1). Thus, it can be seen that a WRpI value of 40 is an extraordinary one and has been achieved by only 13 batsmen. For the purposes of this exercise, a WRpI of 40 will be equated to a BSR of 100, which itself has been reached by only seven batsmen.

The index value for each of the top seven batsmen is derived by the following formula: Index = WRpI/2 + BSR/5

This is done to ensure that an index value of 50 indicates a truly extraordinary batsman, let us say, an ODI Don Bradman. The index value for Kohli is 43, for de Villiers it is 42.8 and for Viv Richards it is 38.6. An index value of 40 has been reached by only seven batsmen.

The average of these seven values is determined. Thus, all top-order batsmen are treated equally. The final value is the BSI of the team. A BSI value of 40 has never been reached until now and probably represents the ultimate batting team.

It should not be forgotten that this measure defines the batting strength of the teams and not the overall strength. That requires the bowling strength to be analysed, and that is for another day.

Now let me come back to the question we started with: Is the current English batting line-up the best ever? The answer is a paradoxical ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

‘Yes’ because the current English batting team has the strongest batting line-up of all times. ‘No’ because, with a minor tweak, this team can become still stronger. This change might very well happen against India. Let me explain.

England – 2018 (ODI #4013)

The current English team has the following members and their batting numbers are given. This line-up has been playing in quite a few matches and the BSI remains the same because of my decision to use career figures.

England’s BSI is a highly impressive and all-time high of 38.2. This confirms our earlier conclusion that a BSI of 40 is the pinnacle and quite tough to reach. Just a recap: Buttler’s index is 39.7 (32.4/2 + 117.5/5).

BatsmanWRpIBSRIndex
Jason Roy38.34104.540.1
Jonny Bairstow44.07104.042.8
Alex Hales37.0096.237.7
Joe Root43.8486.739.3
Jos Buttler32.42117.539.7
Eoin Morgan33.3188.634.4
Moeen Ali24.09105.133.1
England – BSI38.2

Note how those with slightly lower WRpI figures (Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali) have high scoring rates. And someone like Joe Root with a lower strike rate makes up with a high WRpI. Only Morgan is slightly below par. Both opening batsmen have index values exceeding 40. And the other five batsmen have index values exceeding 33.

The scary thing is that this team can be further strengthened if England replaces Ali with Ben Stokes. Stokes has better figures than Ali: 34.8 (31.02 and 96.2). That is exactly what England did against India.

However, let me make this thing clear. After seeing the manner in which England floundered against the wrist-spinners in the Twenty 20 matches, this team strength index of England is a mirage. But this article only presents the on-ground strength of teams and not what happens against specific opposition and bowlers and at different locations. The same England could lose to Scotland one day and within the next 10 days defeat Australia by an innings and three runs in an ODI match (A very descriptive depiction of the 242-run win).

Other teams

Now let us see the strongest squads that were fielded by the other teams. In all cases, there would be quite a few occasions in which the team strengths are equal since the top seven batsmen are the same. In these cases, the latest match is indicated.

South Africa – 2015 (ODI #3644)

In the semifinal of World Cup 2015 held in Auckland, South Africa fielded one heck of a team, one that had a BSI just below that of the recent England team. The line-up is there for all of us to appreciate.

BatsmanWRpIBSRIndex
Hashim Amla47.6188.941.6
Quinton de Kock40.4594.039.0
Faf du Plessis37.5688.336.4
Rilee Rossouw36.6094.437.2
A. B. de Villiers42.75101.141.6
David Miller34.77101.137.6
JP Duminy31.8083.232.5
South Africa – BSI38.0

The opening batsmen had index values either side of 40. De Villiers, with a magnificent 41.6, led a formidable middle order. JP Duminy was the seemingly weak link. However, even he clocked in at 32.5. I have tried my best to see how this team’s batting can be strengthened. Finally, I can say with certainty that this was, by far, the strongest team South Africa could have put on field.

India – 2017 (ODI #3148)

This is a bit of a surprise. I was almost certain that the most recent Indian ODI team, with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan leading the pack, would be the best ever batting unit. However, it is clear that the problem lies in positions six and seven. Players like Shreyas Iyer and Hardik Pandya do not have enough runs to secure the relatively better values and are pegged at 25 and 80. I am sure that as more matches are played, K. L. Rahul and Pandya will help the Indian team to cross this high value.

BatsmanWRpIBSRIndex
Virender Sehwag33.98104.337.9
Sachin Tendulkar41.3886.237.9
Gautam Gambhir36.8585.335.5
Virat Kohli49.0992.143.0
M. S. Dhoni39.0688.437.2
Yuvraj Singh32.1187.733.6
Suresh Raina30.4493.834.0
India – BSI37.0

But that gives us a chance to admire the magnificent Indian team that won the World Cup in 2011. That match was the final. What a magnificent team it was! The two greats Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar opened and, in a nice coincidence, had identical index values. Then came Gautam Gambhir, who could very well exchange places with Tendulkar. It is agreed that this was the Kohli of 2011. However, his current numbers bolster that team’s values. Dhoni, the finisher extraordinary, came in at No.5. Afterwards came the two left-handers.

Australia — 2015 (ODI #3600)

This was not the shadow team that currently plays for Australia. This was the team every other team in the world, barring none, feared and it was playing at home in World Cup 2015. This was in the first group match against England. Australia fielded the best team it could.

BatsmanWRpIBSRIndex
David Warner42.3796.640.5
Aaron Finch37.7690.336.9
Shane Watson35.7090.435.9
Steve Smith37.5286.436.0
George Bailey36.7883.535.1
Glenn Maxwell29.79121.339.2
Mitchell Marsh30.3893.133.8
Australia – BSI36.8

Two top-class opening batsmen in David Warner and Finch were expected to provide explosive starts more often than not. Then, Shane Watson to continue in the same vein. Steve Smith to control the middle order, walking in at No.4. The ever dependable George Bailey was there to take care of slip-ups. Arguably the most explosive middle-order batsman who has ever played, Glenn Maxwell came in at No.6. Look at his strike rate. It moves his index to a near-Warner value. Finally, the attacking all-rounder Mithcell Marsh. What a line-up!

I can sense a very relevant question. Why is this the last match with this line-up? After all, the World Cup saw many more matches for Australia. What happened was the return of Michael Clarke, whose index value of 34.4 is slightly below that of Bailey.

New Zealand — 2014 (ODI #3462)

BatsmanWRpIBSRIndex
Martin Guptill38.5686.436.6
Jesse Ryder32.4295.335.3
Kane Williamson43.4683.238.4
Ross Taylor39.5082.936.3
Corey Anderson25.80108.734.6
Brendon McCullum27.2796.432.9
Luke Ronchi21.41114.533.6
New Zealand – BSI35.4

This was a very fine New Zealand team indeed. There is no surprise as to why this comes out as the best ever Kiwi batting line-up. I would say that the two key players who make a difference are Jesse Ryder and Luke Ronchi. These two have very good career index values well over 30. The range of index values is amazing: 32.9 to 38.4.

Pakistan – 1998 (ODI #1375)

Pakistan was blessed with a very good team during the late 1990s, and this high placement proves it. These are all-time great Pakistani players and the presence of Shahid Afridi at No6 is the icing on the cake. In terms of index values, he is the best player in the Pakistan team.

BatsmanWRpIBSRIndex
Saeed Anwar36.3480.734.3
Aamer Sohail30.8365.528.5
Ijaz Ahmed29.3880.330.8
Inzaman-ul-Haq33.7574.231.7
Mohd Yousuf35.9175.133.0
Shahid Afridi22.40117.034.6
Moin Khan19.0781.325.8
Pakistan – BSI31.2

Is this a valid conclusion? Certainly. A career average strike rate of 117 means that he scores his average 22 runs in 18 balls, on an average, every single time. Since he normally walks in after the 40th over, this average means that the team scores around 40 runs in six overs every single time. This is the value Afridi and other 110-plus BSR batsmen bring to the table.

West Indies – 1991 (ODI #675)

We are now three decades back and the change is clear. The top four batsmen have strike rates in the 60s. And nos. 6 and 7 have strike rates in the 70s. Barring Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge, it has no great WRpI values either. However, the one batsman who makes the huge difference is the king, Viv Richards. His numbers would prove great even today. His index value of 38.6 gives some respectability to the West Indian team.

BatsmanWRpIBSRIndex
Phil Simmons27.0468.027.1
Desmond Haynes36.6763.131.0
Richie Richardson29.3463.727.4
Gordon Greenidge40.9564.933.5
Viv Richards41.1890.238.6
Gus Logie22.6373.926.1
Carl Hooper29.5376.630.1
West Indies – BSI30.5

It should be remembered that this index value was very good during the first 15-20 years of ODI cricket. The average scores were much less than what they are today, and Greenidge and Haynes were match-winners. It is difficult to judge them by today’s standards.

Sri Lanka – 1999 (ODI #1463)

BatsmanWRpIBSRIndex
Sanath Jayasuriya31.2791.233.9
Roshan Mahanama26.9060.625.6
Marvan Atapattu33.7367.730.4
Aravinda de Silva31.6781.132.1
Arjuna Ranatunga30.2977.930.7
Mahela Jayawardene30.9779.031.3
Romesh Kaluwitharana21.0777.726.1
Sri Lanka – BSI30.0

This was the nucleus of the Sri Lankan team that won the World Cup in 1996. Sanath Jayasuriya’s high strike rate, Aravinda de Silva’s overall greatness and Romesh Kaluwitharana’s explosive cameos won many matches for Sri Lanka. Once more, I suggest that readers move the goal-posts. Today’s cameo is 30 in 15. During the 1980s and ’90s, a 20 in 15 was good.

Conclusion

This English team is a very strong side and could improve further. However, once India gets its middle order settled, there is going to be a fight for the top spot.

This is a first level analysis. What are the ways in which this analysis can be improved?

The most obvious change is to take the career-to-date values instead of career values. This would mean that the same group of seven batsmen could present different BSI values for the initial 40 years or so. However, the benefit is that each program run would not produce different BSI values for current teams. Another possibility is to introduce recent form, say, for the last 10 matches or so, into the analysis.

Finally, the weight could be changed to, say, 60:40 in favour of the WRpI against the current split of 50:50.