Friday, January 22, 2010

The best batsman, across years and format

As usual there has to be a minimum criteria. We have decided on 2000 Test runs and 1977 ODI runs (so that Clive Lloyd is included). I am not going to do a batsman analysis which keeps Lloyd out but Vaas/Akram in. 116 players qualify and this is quite a substantial sample size. No Test player of note misses out. The only one who comes to mind is Shahid Afridi, who is one of the ODI greats but has scored only 1683 Test runs, and is unlikely to add more.

The following are the points allotted for different measures.

Tests: Runs scored - 100
Adjusted runs - 50 (adjusted for matches played during career)
Batting average - 200
% of Team score - 50
Bowling quality - 50 (weighted by runs scored)
Peer comparison - 50 (batting average comparison)

ODIs: Runs scored - 100
Adjusted runs - 50 (adjusted for matches played during career)
Batting average - 100 (adjusted for not outs)
Scoring Rate - 150
Bowling quality - 40 (weighted by runs scored)
Peer comparison - 30 (batting average comparison)
Peer comparison - 30 (strike rate comparison)

For both Tests and ODIs, the bowling quality is used by summing the product of "innings runs scored" and "average of other team bowling average" and dividing the "sum for all innings" by the "career runs scored". A very effective manner of doing this as proved by the fact that Gooch, who faced the formidable West Indian and Australian attacks, has a Test bowling quality figure of 31.98 (index value of 42.1), while Atapattu who has scored tons of runs against the weaker attacks has a bowling quality figure of 40.55 (index value of 10.0).

Now let us unveil the tables. These tables are current upto Test # 1944, which produced the unlikeliest of wins essayed by a resurgent and dynamic England side against a flat and insipid South Africa.

The best batsmen across formats - across years

No surprises for guessing who is at the top. The little maestro, Tendulkar, leads both Test and ODI tables, the Test table narrowly and ODI table by a comfortable margin so that he is placed in an unassailable position at the top of the combined tables. He has 801 points and leads the next batsman by a whopping 10%. He is likely to widen the gap further and is likely to have a near-12% gap by the time he decides to hang up his golden willow.

What does one say of Tendulkar. If one takes away the freakish numbers of Bradman, there is no one to touch Tendulkar. More than the runs he has scored, the manner in which he has scored, the balance, technique and poise he exhibits at the crease, his demeanour and impeccable behaviour, the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch, one could go on. Possibly the best thing I could say is that he is a role model, not just for the public, but for the other players.

After the wide gap comes Lara who just about edges ahead of Richards by single point. Two great West Indian batsmen, two of the greatest ever, are virtually tied for the second place. They are so close together, I am going to discuss them together.

Richards was by far the better ODI batsman than Lara, as evidenced by his second place in the ODI list. However Lara was quite a bit ahead of Richards in Tests, as again evidenced by his second place in the Test table. However what has happened is that each has wiped out the shortfall almost exactly with Lara gaining a point in this exchange. I do not need to say anything more of the two greats who, in different eras, have taken ODI and Test batting to great levels of entertainment. That they enjoyed varying degrees of success as team players and leaders was a reflection of the state of West Indian cricket at their respective times.

Ponting is a well-deserved fourth, couple of points behind. Those who question his leadership capabilities should not forget his batting achievements in both forms of the game. He is fourth in all the tables. In view of his age and form I expect Ponting to comfortably move the two West Indian greats to third/fourth places by end of 2010, or possibly earlier. It would be a well-deserved second place.

After some daylight, there is a surprise at the fifth position. Kallis is positioned here, ahead of Dravid. Kallis and Dravid are almost the same at Test level while Dravid is somewhat behind Kallis at ODI level. Anyhow I have heard many negative comments on these two great players. There is no doubt that Kallis has done most for South Africa amongst all players (let us not forget 509 international wickets). In what Dravid has done for India, he might be lagging behind only Tendulkar and Kapil Dev, and might be matched by Kumble and Gavaskar. Would Kallis and/or Dravid move above the two West Indian stalwarts is a difficult-to-answer question. Possibly Kallis who plays in both formats.

The top-10 has 3 Australians, 2 Indians, 2 West Indians, 2 Pakistanis and one South African batsmen. A fair distribution, one would say, with 5 countries represented. For the record, Jayawardene, Gooch, Martin Crowe, Andy Flower and Habibul Bashar are their countrys' best batsmen.

If there is one placing which has surprised me most, it is that of Sehwag, who almost made it to the top-10. Arguably the most destructive batsman of all time, keep a watch on this eleventh placed batsman. Sehwag is moving fast and how. One more series of matches like the recent Sri Lankan ones would move him up in between the two Pakistani greats and then who knows where he might end. And remember that this high position is without being given any credit for his extraordinary Test strike rate.

And amongst the ODI-10 of Tendulkar, Richards, Jayasuriya, Ponting, Gilchrist, Lara, Sehwag, Zaheer Abbas, De Silva and Saeed Anwar, only Zaheer Abbas might raise a few eyebrows. However readers would do well to remember that 2500+ runs in 62 matches at an average of 47.63 and a strike rate of 84.5 is exceptional, amongst the top-5 of all time. I am assuming that, as Hussey and Dhoni have done, he would have maintained these numbers in 120+ matches. Then his high ranking points make sense and he fully deserves this position. He was as free-scoring as Richards and as graceful as Gower.

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