In the previous episode of this series we dealt with the facts and fables regarding the difficulty of run making across generations. Now, let us turn our attention to some of the best performers across eras.
Batting average is the most commonly accepted metric used to evaluate the merit of a batsman in cricket. However, there are sceptics who underplay its importance as an indicator of quality. While some quote ‘lies, damned lies, statistics’, or the corporate cliché ‘analysis paralysis’, the more knowledgeable argue that certain confirmed greats of the stature of WG Grace and Victor Trumper ended up with remarkably ordinary figures when compared to current standards. Hence, it does not make sense to attach too much importance to respective records.
Granted, with the evolution of the game, comparison of raw figures of batsmen separated by a hundred or so years may not make sense. However, what happens if we restrict our assessment and analysis to batsmen with their contemporaries?
According to this simple analysis, batting average actually turns out to be an excellent indicator. During their eras, both WG Grace and Trumper, the two players cited most often as counter examples, end up right at the top when measured against their rivals.
It is actually quite intuitive that better batsmen will be more consistent and prolific and will hence end up with better figures. But, let us not leave it to discussions and debates and move straight the figures.
In the table that follows, the top three batsmen have been identified for each decade (1877-1890 considered the first decade, and every calendar decade from then on). All the usual suspects are there, the ones most would expect to end up on top. From Grace to Jack Hobbs, Trumper to Don Bradman, Gary Sobers to Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar to Jacques Kallis.
Considered within an era, average definitely makes a lot of sense.
Of particular interest are two very relevant facts.
1. In the last part, we saw that the wickets started becoming standardised and run making easier and consistent starting from the 1910s and reached a very stable state by the 1920s. Accordingly, we find Victor Trumper’s average tending to figures very comparable with the modern greats in the 1910s.
2. From the 1950s, after Bradman was done playing havoc with reason and ratio, the top averages of every ten years are strikingly similar. Another confirmation of the consistency of run making.
Top averages by decades:
|Decade||Leading Batsman 1||Leading Batsman 2||Leading Batsman 3|
|1877-1890||Allan Steel (Eng)||WG Grace (Eng)||Billy Murdoch (Aus)|
|1891-1900||KS. Ranjitsinhji (Eng)||Tom Hayward (Eng)||R. Abel (Eng)|
|1901 - 1910||Aubrey Faulkner (SA)||Clem Hill (Aus)||Victor Trumper (Aus)|
|1911-1920||Jack Hobbs (Eng)||Victor Trumper (Aus)||J.W. Zulch (SA)|
|1921-1930||Don Bradman (Aus)||CG McCartney (Aus)||Herbert Sutcliffe (Eng)|
|1931-1940||Bradman||Len Hutton (Eng)||George Headley (WI)|
|1941-1950||Bradman||Frank Worrell (WI)||Neil Harvey (Aus)|
|1951-1960||Gary Sobers (WI)||Clyde Walcott (WI)||Len Hutton|
|1961-1970||Ken Barrington (Eng)||Greame Pollock (SA)||Gary Sobers (WI)|
|1971-1980||Viv Richards (WI)||Javed Miandad (Pak)||SM Gavaskar (Ind)|
|1981-1990||Clive Lloyd (WI)||Zaheer Abbas (Pak)||Allan Border (Aus)|
|1991-2000||Sachin Tendulkar (Ind)||Steve Waugh (Aus)||Rahul Dravid (Ind)|
|2001-2010||JH Kallis (SA)||KC Sangakkara (SL)||Brian Lara (WI)|
|2011-2012||Younis Khan (Pak)||Kallis||Ian Bell (Eng)|
Minimum runs criteria –
# 500 runs till 1900, 1911-1920 and 2011-2012
#1000 runs from 1901-1910, 1921-1940
#800 for 1941-1950
This distinction is required for the varying number of Tests played in the early days and during the decades disrupted due to World Wars.
Other than the top averages given above, the following table lists the top run-getters of each decade along with the other notable scorers who just missed out featuring among the top 3 averages in the above table.
|Decade||Top run getter, tally & avge||Other Notables|
|1877-1890||Arthur Shrewsbury sr (Eng) 993, 31.00||P.S. McDonnell|
|1891-1900||Joe Darling (Aus) 1139, 35.59||FS Jackson|
|1901 -1910||Victor Trumper (Aus) 2173, 36.20||RA Duff|
|1911-1920||Jack Hobbs (Eng) 1742, 64.50||Warwick Armstrong|
|1921-1930||Herbert Sutcliffe (Eng) 3396, 66.60||Wally Hammond|
|1931-1940||Wally Hammond (Eng) 4776, 62.80||Bill Ponsford|
|1941-1950||Len Hutton (Eng) 2898, 53.70||Denis Compton|
|1951-1960||Peter May (Eng) 4265, 47.40||Neil Harvey|
|1961-1970||Ken Barrington (Eng) 5750, 62.50||Doug Walters|
|1971-1980||SM Gavaskar (Ind) 5974, 56.40||Geoff Boycott|
|1981 - 1990||Allan Border (Aus) 6940, 53.80||Javed Miandad|
|1991-2000||Mark Waugh (Aus) 6907, 42.40||Brian Lara|
|2001-2010||Ricky Ponting (Aus) 9953, 55.60||Mohammad Yousuf|
|2011-2012||Michael Clarke (Aus) 1336, 60.70||Early days yet …|