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Batting through the Ages
18 September 2005

The word “great” is used frequently, easily, sometimes even flippantly in sport. Maybe that’s because we are always looking for the “next big thing”. Achievement in sport is always measured against history, for sport has no parallel. Every time a new sportsperson emerges questions arise about his or her place in history. Is he really the greatest bowler in history? Is she the best tennis player we have ever seen?

But inter-temporal comparisons are fraught with danger. And cricket in particular does not lend itself to such comparisons. The nature of cricket keeps changing and comparisons across eras must be viewed with caution. Are we really living in an age of “great” cricket, or are we just biased because we believe what we have seen could have no equal? Is Shane Warne really the greatest bowler of all time? Or Dennis Lilee? Or Muthaih Muralitharan? But why do Syndey Barnes, George Lohmann and Tom Richardson never enter the equation?  

When it comes to batting there is a slight difference. Sir Donald George Bradman continues to be held in the highest regard because he was head and shoulders above the rest. But how do today’s crop of batsmen compare with the all-time greats?

Figure 1 shows the top 50 averages of test batsmen, mapped against the midpoint of their test careers. 15 of these batsmen (including Andy Flower who is no longer playing test cricket for political reasons) are still playing cricket and statistically speaking we truly are in the midst of the greatest batting decade ever.  

Figure 1: The 50 Highest Batting Averages in Test Cricket

Highest Averages in Test Cricket

 

Centuries, double centuries and even triple centuries have been scored with greater regularity over the last 15 years, and we have even seen the first ever quadruple century in the history of test cricket. So do we now get to see the greatest batsmen of all time? Or is there more to this than meets the eye?  

The first purple patch for batting was in the 1930s. With batsmen like Bradman, Hammond, McCabe and Sutcliffe, this decade saw the blossoming of batsmanship. But these batsmen had to deal with significantly trickier circumstances since pitches were uncovered and less manicured than they are today.

Figure 2 shows a decade-wise split of the 49 top scores in the history of test cricket. 23 of the 49 top scores have been scored in the last 15 years. 12 of these scores have come in this decade.
 

Figure 2: The 49 Highest Scores in Test Cricket

Highest Scores in Test Cricket

 

Test cricket have been played for 128 years. And a quarter of the top scores have come in the last 5 years. While it is possible that the last 5 years have provided us with some of the most exquisite batsmen, I believe a more compelling argument is that batting has become easier in the last decade and a half.

Under pressure from TV channels and sponsors cricket boards are keen to ensure that test matches last the entire 5 days. This has resulted in more docile pitches and easier batting conditions where scores in excess of 400 are par for the course. But easier conditions is just one of the many reasons for this recent glut large scores. Light and strong protective gear provide batsmen with a sense of security and therefore confidence that the earlier generations never had. Bats have become larger and stronger yet lighter allowing modern day batsmen to wield their willow scepters with ease and confidence verging on arrogance.  

Cricket has always had the proverbial whipping boys – South Africa in the early 20th century, India and New Zealand after the Second World War and Sri Lanka during the 1980s, who all struggled against the superior, more professional teams. But we are now in a situation where too any matches have been rendered meaningless with both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh failing to put up any resistance whatsoever in the face of most other teams. This has also led to some massive innings of no consequence in the larger scheme of things. Hayden’s then world record of 380, Sangakarra’s 270 against Zimbabwe and Sarwan’s 261* against Bangledesh are all a result of playing against weakened bowling attacks that would struggle against most respectable first-class teams.

And while we are still treated to some exquisite batting performances, notably VVS Laxman’s epic 281 against Australia, most of the high scores seen today are in one-sided matches against mediocre bowling which lack the timeless brilliance that causes them to be etched in the minds of cricket followers for years to come.

TABLES USED FOR THIS ARTICLE:

Table 1: The 49 Highest Scores in Test Cricket

Score

Batsman

Test Match

400*

BC Lara

West Indies v England at St John's, 4th Test, 2003/04

380

ML Hayden

Australia v Zimbabwe at Perth, 1st Test, 2003/04

375

BC Lara

West Indies v England at St John's, 5th Test, 1993/94

365*

GS Sobers

West Indies v Pakistan at Kingston, 3rd Test, 1957/58

364

L Hutton

England v Australia at The Oval, 5th Test, 1938

340

ST Jayasuriya

Sri Lanka v India at Colombo (RPS), 1st Test, 1997/98

337

Hanif Mohammad

Pakistan v West Indies at Bridgetown, 1st Test, 1957/58

336*

WR Hammond

England v New Zealand at Auckland, 2nd Test, 1932/33

334*

MA Taylor

Australia v Pakistan at Peshawar, 2nd Test, 1998/99

334

DG Bradman

Australia v England at Leeds, 3rd Test, 1930

333

GA Gooch

England v India at Lord's, 1st Test, 1990

329

Inzamam-ul-Haq

Pakistan v New Zealand at Lahore, 1st Test, 2002

325

A Sandham

England v West Indies at Kingston, 4th Test, 1929/30

317

CH Gayle

West Indies v South Africa at St John's, 4th Test, 2004/05

311

RB Simpson

Australia v England at Manchester, 4th Test, 1964

310*

JH Edrich

England v New Zealand at Leeds, 3rd Test, 1965

309

V Sehwag

India v Pakistan at Multan, 1st Test, 2003/04

307

RM Cowper

Australia v England at Melbourne, 5th Test, 1965/66

304

DG Bradman

Australia v England at Leeds, 4th Test, 1934

302

LG Rowe

West Indies v England at Bridgetown, 3rd Test, 1973/74

299*

DG Bradman

Australia v South Africa at Adelaide, 4th Test, 1931/32

299

MD Crowe

New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Wellington, 1st Test, 1990/91

291

IVA Richards

West Indies v England at The Oval, 5th Test, 1976

287

RE Foster

England v Australia at Sydney, 1st Test, 1903/04

285*

PBH May

England v West Indies at Birmingham, 1st Test, 1957

281

VVS Laxman

India v Australia at Calcutta, 2nd Test, 2000/01

280*

Javed Miandad

Pakistan v India at Hyderabad (Sind), 4th Test, 1982/83

278

DCS Compton

England v Pakistan at Nottingham, 2nd Test, 1954

277

BC Lara

West Indies v Australia at Sydney, 3rd Test, 1992/93

277

GC Smith

South Africa v England at Birmingham, 1st Test, 2003

275*

DJ Cullinan

South Africa v New Zealand at Auckland, 1st Test, 1998/99

275

G Kirsten

South Africa v England at Durban, 3rd Test, 1999/00

274*

SP Fleming

New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Colombo (PSS), 1st Test, 2003

274

RG Pollock

South Africa v Australia at Durban, 2nd Test, 1969/70

274

Zaheer Abbas

Pakistan v England at Birmingham, 1st Test, 1971

271

Javed Miandad

Pakistan v New Zealand at Auckland, 3rd Test, 1988/89

270*

GA Headley

West Indies v England at Kingston, 4th Test, 1934/35

270

DG Bradman

Australia v England at Melbourne, 3rd Test, 1936/37

270

R Dravid

India v Pakistan at Rawalpindi, 3rd Test, 2003/04

270

KC Sangakkara

Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe at Bulawayo, 2nd Test, 2004

268

GN Yallop

Australia v Pakistan at Melbourne, 4th Test, 1983/84

267*

BA Young

New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Dunedin, 1st Test, 1996/97

267

PA de Silva

Sri Lanka v New Zealand at Wellington, 1st Test, 1990/91

267

Younis Khan

Pakistan v India at Bangalore, 3rd Test, 2004/05

266

WH Ponsford

Australia v England at The Oval, 5th Test, 1934

266

DL Houghton

Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka at Bulawayo, 2nd Test, 1994/95

 

Table 2: The 50 Highest Batting Averages in Test Cricket

Batsman

Team

Career Midpoint

Test Batting average

DG Bradman

Australia

1938

99.94

RG Pollock

South Africa

1967

60.97

GA Headley

West Indies

1942

60.83

H Sutcliffe

England

1930

60.73

E Paynter

England

1935

59.23

KF Barrington

England

1962

58.67

ED Weekes

West Indies

1953

58.61

WR Hammond

England

1937

58.45

R Dravid

India

2001

57.86

GS Sobers

West Indies

1964

57.78

SR Tendulkar

India

1997

57.25

JB Hobbs

England

1919

56.94

JH Kallis

South Africa

2000

56.87

CL Walcott

West Indies

1954

56.68

L Hutton

England

1946

56.67

RT Ponting

Australia

2000

56.5

V Sehwag

India

2003

55.98

AC Gilchrist

Australia

2002

55.65

GC Smith

South Africa

2004

55.5

AJ Strauss

England

2005

55.12

GE Tyldesley

England

1925

55

CA Davis

West Indies

1971

54.2

VG Kambli

India

1994

54.2

BC Lara

West Indies

1998

54.09

GS Chappell

Australia

1977

53.86

AD Nourse

South Africa

1943

53.81

ML Hayden

Australia

2000

53.46

Javed Miandad

Pakistan

1985

52.57

J Ryder

Australia

1925

51.62

A Flower

Zimbabwe

1997

51.54

DR Martyn

Australia

1999

51.25

SM Gavaskar

India

1979

51.12

SR Waugh

Australia

1995

51.06

Inzamam-ul-Haq

Pakistan

1999

50.8

AR Border

Australia

1987

50.56

IVA Richards

West Indies

1983

50.23

DCS Compton

England

1947

50.06

FMM Worrell

West Indies

1956

49.48

CP Mead

England

1920

49.37

KC Bland

South Africa

1964

49.08

B Mitchell

South Africa

1939

48.88

TT Samaraweera

Sri Lanka

2003

48.81

Hon.FS Jackson

England

1899

48.79

RN Harvey

Australia

1956

48.41

DPMD Jayawardene

Sri Lanka

2001

48.4

KD Walters

Australia

1973

48.26

WH Ponsford

Australia

1929

48.22

SJ McCabe

Australia

1934

48.21

DR Jardine

England

1931

48

ER Dexter

England

1963

47.89


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