Of scoring rates and partial truths

The series between Australia and the West Indies in Australia in 1960-61 has been hailed as perhaps the greatest of all times. It probably was. But it was a triumph of character, zest, style and personalities, not of hectic scoring rates.

SIR Don Bradman was undoubtedly the greatest cricketer ever. He was also the most knowledgeable and his fairness was legendary. While he was proud of the players of his time, he was also generous and honest in his appraisal of modern day cricketers.

Over the years he was very, very helpful to me. Any query I put to him, he gave me a full and concise explanation.

In the late 1960s or early 1970s I asked him to compare the scoring rates over the years. With the present run rates as high as they have ever been, it is interesting to read Bradman's dissection and conclusion of the other times.

Here is a copy of the reply he sent me all those years ago.

"If you want to start on argument amongst a group of cricket enthusiasts, just make a categorical statement that the rate of run-getting is faster today than it was 30 years ago. But, if you want to escape from the argument unscathed, arm yourself with facts — not fancies.

The first thing to do when someone asks a question on scoring rates is to make sure you understand what the question means or even perhaps from what angle the questioner desires the reply.

This business of scoring rates sets a superb example of how misunderstandings can occur. For instance, let us just take what appears to be a simple question.

How do scoring rates today compare with those in the earlier part of this century?

The average layman would say that was a straight question, but let me illustrate how complex it is.

Firstly, by `scoring rate' do you mean runs scored per day? Because if you do it will be necessary to have a faithful comparison between the number of hours play per day. These have not been by any means uniform.

Secondly, you must compare the type and quality of bowlers. Thirdly, you must have regard to the state of the pitches and whether the outfields have been slow or fast.

Fourthly, you must know whether field placings were defensive or not.

Fifthly, you must know whether the pitches were covered against rain or left uncovered and the various ramifications of such rule changes.

Before running out of numbers let me go on to mention other relevant facts.

There was a period when Test matches were limited to three days and there was also a period when they were played to the finish.

Surely, it is obvious that the duration of a match must have a bearing upon the tempo with which it is played.

What about the size of the wicket?

It has constantly been increasing until today when a batsman has to defend a wicket, which is the largest in history.

Surely, the larger the target one has to defend a wicket much more. It is then likely that the batsman's scoring rate will drop.

What about the LBW law?

That was altered in the 1930s. It now gives the bowler certain advantages, which undoubtedly play a part in restricting run rates.

The taking of a new ball after so many overs has varied over the years. Originally, the fielding side only had one new ball at the start of an innings and used it until the innings was concluded.

In the 1940s, a new ball could be taken after so many overs and it was in fact frequently taken after less than 100 runs had been scored off the previous ball. This meant a predominance of fast seam bowling and pushed the slow bowler into the background, resulting in a decline in the scoring rate.

What of the boundaries?

There was one season where the Adelaide Oval boundary was reduced to a maximum of 75 (and later 80) yards, thereby cutting perhaps 30 yards or so from the old length of the drive. That season's scoring rates cannot fairly be compared with a normal year when the boundary all round was the fence.

There have been variations in the boundary distances in England also. The size of the ball is now smaller than it used to be.

I could go on almost indefinitely, but just one final point. In a season where the principal bowling attack is in the hands of such men as Tyson, Truman, Bailey or Wes Hall, who may take up to seven minutes to bowl one over, how can the number of overs bowled in a day possibly reach the proportion that you would get with slow bowlers like Grimmet and Mailey, who would get through an over in less than three minutes.

Surely the foregoing remarks will be sufficient to justify my belief that

a) It is impossible to have a true and fair comparison of scoring rates between different eras and

b) That the nearest and fairest approach to a true answer, particularly from the batsman's point of view, is to take the number of runs scored per 100 balls bowled.

If that theory be accepted, one can produce some interesting statistics, but again they must be taken having regard to many of the special factors already outlined, and isolated instances must not be used to try, invalidly, to prove a point.

For instance one could say

a) The scoring rates have gone to the park and try to prove it by truthfully saying Australia's scoring rate was 53.2 per 100 balls in 1921 and only 28.5 in 1956.

b) The scoring rates have improved and try to prove it by truthfully saying that Australia's rate was 38.2 in 1926 and 45.5 in 1961.

Taken in isolation, neither comparison would prove anything beyond a direct comparison between those two seasons.

In 1921 for instance, it was a blazing fine summer in England with hard pitches and a magnificent Australian batting side pitted against one of the weakest English attacks ever to take the field — England's ranks sadly depleted by the ravages of the 1914-18 World War.

On the other hand Australia, in 1956, batted in only one Test where the pitch was firm. The rest were either dry or dusty turning pitches or pitches affected by rain.

Australia was batting against one of the strongest English spin attacks ever to represent that country, operating on pitches tailor-made for them and almost invariably the Australian batsmen found themselves fighting a rearguard action to try and save defeat — when survival was the only requisite and runs per over of no consequence."

Taking runs scored per 100 balls bowled, I think it is not untrue to say that batsmen today are more than holding their own having regard to the changes in the laws which have all assisted the bowlers.

Take Australia's scoring rate in England, it was higher in 1961 than in 1902 or 1909 or 1926 or higher than 1930, which was Don Bradman's remarkable season of big scores, proving that while he personally scored fast, the average scoring rate is set by the team as a whole, not one player alone.

England in England scored faster in 1961 than in any season since 1930, if we exclude 1938 when the Australian bowling was notoriously weak.

Turning to matches in Australia, we notice an extraordinary consistency in scoring rates by England over the last 35 years with an encouraging trend in 1962-63 when the rate climbed above that of 1901-02.

Australia's scoring rate in Australia has declined somewhat, though strangely the lowest rate was in 1928-29, which was Don Bradman's first year and also the year of debut of the brilliant young Archie Jackson.

"From 1946-47 onwards I believe the Australian scoring rate has been deliberately restricted by negative bowling and field placing on the part of the Englishmen, who have on many occasions appeared to place more importance on the matter of savings runs than on getting wickets. Individual examples can be taken from any period to prove whatever you want to.

In modern times Bailey's 458 minutes to 68 in Brisbane in 1958 was the low point. But it wasn't as slow as Collins' 290 minutes to score 40 at Manchester in 1921.

On the other end of the scale, Godfrey Evans' 47 in 29 minutes at Manchester in 1956 was, I think, the fastest 47 ever scored in Test cricket and so one could go on.

One outstanding feature of getting out these statistics is that they show conclusively Australia has in the main scored faster than England and that the team scoring at a faster rate has almost invariably won the rubber.

In England, Australia has scored slower on 86% of the occasions. One final interesting comparison.

The series between Australia and the West Indies in Australia in 1960-61 has been hailed as perhaps the greatest of all times. It probably was. But it was a triumph of character, zest, style and personalities, not of hectic scoring rates.

The West Indies' scoring rate for 100 balls bowled was 45.7, a mere two runs more than Australia's rate against England in England in 1961 — a difference of perhaps two runs in a whole day's play.

Australia's scoring rate was 40 per 100 balls or only two runs less than her rate against England in Australia in 1962-63.

One must inevitably come up with the conclusion that attractive cricket cannot be judged solely by the rate of run-getting — an orgy of which, against inferior bowling, can be the most boring thing of all. Attractive cricket comes from personality, character, style and a host of intangible things, associated with quality and with close competition.

It becomes questionable whether the publication of a mass of statistics is a good thing because they may tend to mislead.

The visual enjoyment of the day's play you are watching is the thing that counts."

As usual, Sir Donald Bradman is right and while teams are scoring quick these days the difference between many countries is so wide you seldom consistently see exciting and close matches. England versus Australia this year was a rare exception.