By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published February 22, 2016In evaluating consistency in Test cricket, the sky is the limit as to the parameters to use and how to evaluate them. Over the years, cricket analysts have relied objectively on statistical parameters – batting average and standard deviation – for their evaluations while the average fan looks subjectively at how often his favourite batsman scores meaningful runs, including hundreds and fifties.
Both positions are juxtaposed; however, I attempted to capture the tenets of the cricket analyst and the average cricket fan in a top-10 list of the most consistently productive batsmen in Test cricket.
The careers of all batsmen who have scored 5,000 plus runs in Test cricket were inspected and their production rates for runs scored, centuries and fifty plus scores on a per match and per inning basis were evaluated. Unfortunately, this restriction of 5,000 plus runs in a career left out several batting juggernauts who will all remain nameless in consideration for my health and safety.
The list of batsmen who have scored 5,000 plus runs in Test cricket dwindled to 87 after my restriction. At the bottom of the list in terms of runs with 5,062 runs was my namesake, Zaheer Abbas, and at the top was the god of cricket with 15,921 runs, Sachin Tendulkar. Of those 87 batsmen, where did they rank in terms of runs, centuries and fifty plus scores per match and per inning? How consistent were they in all six categories?
Surprisingly, this list shrunk to ten when I looked at players who averaged a century in 4 matches or less (100pM), a century in 7 innings or less (100pI), a score of 50 plus in less than 2 matches (50+pM), and a score of 50 plus in less than 3 innings (50+pI). Interestingly, these ten players all averaged above 79 runs per match (RpM) and 47 runs per innings (RpI) for their careers. Of note, the batting averages of the players were not used in this analysis due to the limitations of batting averages and it not being a ‘true average’.
So, after all this mumbo jumbo, who made the top-10, and how did they rank amongst themselves?
X – Hashim Amla
At number ten, South African Hashim Amla is the only active player to make the list. Amla has scored 7,358 runs in 92 matches at an average of 51.45 with 25 centuries and 29 half centuries. Among the top-10, Amla ranks high in his century production per match and per inning, at sixth and fifth respectively. Amla is possibly the last of a dying breed of automatons of the ilk of Steve Waugh, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Rahul Dravid.
IX – Sachin Tendulkar
At number nine, surprisingly, is the Bombay Bomber, Indian Sachin Tendulkar, an anomaly in every sense. This lowly status is due to Tendulkar’s prolonged career and the grandfather years’ plunge in performance towards the end. No other player has played more matches (200), scored more runs (15,921) or scored more centuries in Test cricket (51). A career spanning 24 years has seen infrequent ebbs and frequent flows, and in his heyday, hardly any batsman in history was more consistent.
VIII – Brian Lara
The obliterator of individual batting records, Brian Charles Lara, emerges at number eight. Unsurprisingly, Lara and Tendulkar will always be compared and it’s no surprise they are ranked eighth and ninth respectively on this list. Lara’s batting career was littered with style, elegance, and flamboyance over 11,953 runs in 131 matches at an average of 52.88 with 34 centuries and 48 half-centuries. He ranks third in the production table in both runs per match and runs per inning among this elite-10: a truly impressive feat.
VII – Jacques Kallis
The class player of his era with bat and ball combined, Jacques Kallis, rests at number seven. Often limited to an all-rounder status or described as ‘chilling not thrilling’, Kallis was one of the most consistent and prolific batsmen of all-time. His remarkable consistency and production are seen best in his century and half-century production rates per inning in the tables, both ranked fourth among this elite-10. Forty-five (45) centuries, 58 half centuries in 166 matches at an average of 55.37 is no fluke and cements him as one of the all-time great batsmen.
VI – Greg Chappell
7,110 runs in 87 matches at an average of 53.86 with 24 centuries and 31 half centuries is how I’ll introduce Australia’s second greatest batsmen, Greg Chappell, who comes in at number six. Chappell disheartened many attacks in his career and his insatiable appetite for big scores is highlighted in his above average rank in five of the six production parameters for runs, centuries and fifty plus scores.
V – Mohammad Yousuf
At number five comes the bearded assassin, Mohammad Yousuf. Elegant, prolific and a hunger to bat for eons is how Yousuf is often described. Originally named, Yousuf Youhana, he scored 7,530 runs in 90 matches at an average of 52.29 with 24 centuries and 33 fifties over his career. He still has the record for the most runs scored in a calendar year – 1,788 runs – a record which Sir Viv Richards had for 30 years.
IV – Sunil Gavaskar
The “Little Master” and tormentor of elite fast bowlers, Sunil Gavaskar comes in at number four. Gavaskar scored 10,122 runs in 125 matches at an average of 51.12 with 34 centuries and 45 half centuries. For 19 years he had the record for the most centuries scored in Test cricket, a feat only five men have since eclipsed. Gavaskar’s consistency among this elite-10 is seen in his top-5 production rankings in hundreds scored per match and scores of 50 plus per match and per inning.
III – Gary Sobers
At number three is Sir Garfield Sobers who set the standards for the modern day batsmen to follow. Powerful, stylish and memorable are words often used to describe this living legend. Sobers’ average of 57.78, over 93 matches and 8,032 runs with 26 centuries and 30 fifties, is the highest we’ve seen so far. Among this elite-10, Sobers ranks in the top-4 in runs and hundreds scored per match and per inning: a verification of his consistency in the categories that matter most.
II – Kumar Sangakkara
Unsurprising to me, but possibly surprising to others, Kumar Sangakkara rests comfortably at number two on this list of most consistent batsmen and number two in every category evaluated. This is refutable proof as to why I’ve called him Bradman 2.0. Sangakkara, the batsman, has been able to encapsulate contrasting embodiments of grace and belligerence. He scored 12,400 runs in 134 matches at an average of 57.40 with 38 centuries and 52 half centuries.
I – Donald Bradman
Number Uno is without a doubt, Sir Donald Bradman. He was light years before his time in every statistical category and ranks number one in each. The only batsman to average over 100 runs per match and have a batting average of almost 100 (99.94) per innings speaks to his greatness and consistency. In 52 matches he scored 6,996 runs with 29 centuries and 13 half centuries, with 12 of his 29 centuries being double centuries, a record which still stands 68 years after his retirement.
So, to review, the top-10:
1. Donald Bradman (Aus), 2. Kumar Sangakkara (SL), 3. Gary Sobers (WI), 4. Sunil Gavaskar (India), 5. Mohammad Yousuf (Pak), 6. Greg Chappell (Aus), 7. Jacques Kallis (SA), 8. Brian Lara (WI), 9. Sachin Tendulkar (India), 10. Hashim Amla (SA).
Table 1. Test career batting numbers of the top-10 list
|Overall Rank||Player||Matches||Innings||Runs||Batting Average||100s||50s|
|1||Donald Bradman (Aus)||52||80||6996||99.94||29||13|
|2||Kumar Sangakkara (SL)||134||233||12400||57.4||38||52|
|3||Garfield Sobers (WI)||93||160||8032||57.78||26||30|
|4||Sunil Gavaskar (India)||125||214||10122||51.12||34||45|
|5||Mohammad Yousuf (Pak)||90||156||7530||52.29||24||33|
|6||Greg Chappell (Aus)||87||151||7110||53.86||24||31|
|7||Jacques Kallis (ICC/SA)||166||280||13289||55.37||45||58|
|8||Brian Lara (ICC/WI)||131||232||11953||52.88||34||48|
|9||Sachin Tendulkar (India)||200||329||15921||53.78||51||68|
|10||Hashim Amla (SA)||92||156||7358||51.45||25||29|
Table 2. The six production parameters based on runs, hundreds and fifty plus scores per match and per inning, used to obtain the consistently productive overall rank.
|Overall Rank||Player||Runs per Match (RpM)||Runs per Inning (RpI)||Matches per 100 scored (Mp100)||Innings per 100 scored (Ip100)||Matches per 50+ score (Mp50+)||Innings per 50+ score (Ip50+)|
|1||Donald Bradman (Aus)||134.5||87.45||1.79||2.76||1.24||1.90|
|2||Kumar Sangakkara (SL)||92.5||53.22||3.53||6.13||1.49||2.59|
|3||Garfield Sobers (WI)||86.4||50.20||3.58||6.15||1.66||2.86|
|4||Sunil Gavaskar (India)||81.0||47.30||3.68||6.29||1.58||2.71|
|5||Mohammad Yousuf (Pak)||83.7||48.27||3.75||6.50||1.58||2.74|
|6||Greg Chappell (Aus)||81.7||47.09||3.63||6.29||1.58||2.75|
|7||Jacques Kallis (ICC/SA)||80.1||47.46||3.69||6.22||1.61||2.72|
|8||Brian Lara (ICC/WI)||91.2||51.52||3.85||6.82||1.60||2.83|
|9||Sachin Tendulkar (India)||79.6||48.39||3.92||6.45||1.68||2.76|
|10||Hashim Amla (SA)||80.0||47.17||3.68||6.24||1.70||2.89|
I wonder how the top-10 will look when the 5000-run restriction is removed. Who from this list will remain in the top-10? Is an indexed ranking analysis better suited than a raw ranking analysis? These questions and more will be answered. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait…
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Author: Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning journalist, lecturer, columnist, blogger, sports analyst and statistician from Jamaica, West Indies.
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From the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published February 22, 2016)