Lara's greatness in numbers compared to other left-handed greats in Test history

Brian Lara (left) with Gary Sobers, another left-handed genius from the Caribbean Islands © Getty Images

Brian Lara will be inducted into the International Cricket Council (ICC) Hall of Fame later today, Abhishek Mukherjee does an exhaustive statistical study comparing the West Indies legend with other left-handed batsmen in the history of the game.

 

 

You can worship Brian Lara. You can hate him. You can call him superior to Sachin Tendulkar, or inferior to Chris Gayle. Whatever you do – one thing is for sure: you cannot have followed cricket in the 1990s and the 2000s and have ignored the Trinidadian completely. It is difficult, after all, to ignore someone who can score a four hundred. Or even a five hundred, for that matter.

 

There have been far more right-handed batsmen than left-handed ones in the history of the game. Indeed, 1,417,536 out of 1,900,187 Test runs have been scored by right-handers – a whopping 75%.

 

So where does Lara stand in the annals of legendary left-handers? Let us dig into the numbers and find out.

 

Career aggregates

 

Before he had announced his retirement, Lara had gone past Allan Border’s long-standing world record of 11,174 runs, which was also the highest career tally by a left-hander. Since then, players like Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting have gone past Lara – but the left-handed batsman closest him is his own countryman – the dour Shivnarine Chanderpaul:

 

Table 1: Most runs in career by left-handed batsmen

 

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave 100
BC Lara 11,953 400* 52.88 34
AR Border 11,174 205 50.56 27
S Chanderpaul 10,342 203* 50.2 25
KC Sangakkara 9,872 287 56.73 30
ML Hayden 8,625 380 50.73 30

 

 

Not only has Lara scored a lot of Test runs, he has scored them at a terrific average as well. In fact, if one puts a 2,000-run barrier, Lara has a batting average as high as the best in business, and is surpassed only by three legends of three different eras – Graeme Pollock, Sir Gary Sobers and Kumar Sangakkara.

 

Table 2: Highest batting average (qualification: 2,000 runs) by left-handed batsmen

 

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave   100
RG Pollock 2,256 274 60.97 7
GS Sobers 8,032 365* 57.78 26
KC Sangakkara 9,872 287 56.73 30
BC Lara 11,953 400* 52.88 34
A Flower 4,974 232* 51.54 12

 

Lara has also scored his runs at a tremendous strike rate. He ranks second here, only after Adam Gilchrist (whose numbers are on entirely another planet). Not surprisingly, the list is dominated by modern batsmen, thanks to the shorter versions of the game: 

 

Table 3: Highest batting strike rate (qualification: 2,000 runs) by left-handed batsmen

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave     100 SR
AC Gilchrist 5,570 204* 47.6 17 81.95
BC Lara 11,953 400* 52.88 34 60.51
ML Hayden 8,625 380 50.73 30 60.1
GC Smith 8,314 277 49.78 25 59.85
CH Gayle 6,603 333 42.32 14 59.47

 

Note: The complete strike rates for Clem Hill, Sanath Jayasuriya and Frank Woolley are not available. However, if we consider only those innings where number of balls faced is available for the three, Hill has scored runs at a strike rate of 74.91, Jayasuriya at 65.10 and Woolley at 60.61 – all having higher numbers than Lara’s. However, Lara would still make it to the top five.

 

Matches won

 

Of course, Lara had to witness the decline of the once powerful West Indies side. This meant that Lara was not able to be the part of a lot of victories – and even if he had, a lot of wins had to be done single-handedly. He barely makes it to the top ten in terms of batting averages with a qualification of 1,000 runs, with names like Hashan Tillakaratne and teammate Jimmy Adams perched well above him. It is to be noted that the three men above Lara in this table are exactly the same names from the batting averages table! Also to be noted is the fact that less than 25% of Lara’s career hundreds have converted to wins:

 

Table 4: Highest batting average in wins (qualification: 1,000 runs) by left-handed batsmen

 

Player

 

Runs

 

HS

 

Ave    

 

100

 

RG Pollock 1,178 274 84.14 4
GS Sobers 3,097 365* 77.42 12
KC Sangakkara 4,604 287 75.47 17
JC Adams 1,534 174* 69.72 4
HP Tillakaratne 1,534 204* 69.72 5
Saeed Anwar 2,254 188* 66.29 8
GC Smith 4,599 259 63.87 17
GP Thorpe 3,006 200* 62.62 9
BC Lara 2,929 213 61.02 8
MEK Hussey 3,746 182 59.46 11

 

Fourth innings performances

 

Does the above statistic mean that Lara could not perform the way the other left-handed greats did? How good was he in the fourth innings of Tests – typically considered the time when conditions for batting are the toughest? Only seven left-handers have scored a thousand runs in the fourth innings – and Lara has made it only above the recently retired Andrew Strauss. As many as three West Indians make the cut, with the usual suspects – Graeme Smith, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer all making it to the top five:

 

Table 5: Highest batting average in fourth innings of a Test (qualification: 1,000 runs) by left-handed batsmen

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave 100
GC Smith 1,504 154* 57.84 4
ML Hayden 1,287 101* 49.5 1
S Chanderpaul 1,518 116* 44.64 2
CH Gayle 1,256 82 40.51 0
JL Langer 1,053 127 40.5 2
BC Lara 1,440 153* 35.12 2
AJ Strauss 1,005 106 32.41 1

 

A batting average of 35.12 in the fourth innings does not speak very highly of Lara, especially when compared with the maestros of the chase, like Smith. If we consider fourth innings performances only in wins with a 400-run restriction, however, Lara shoots up three positions with an almost Bradmanesque average:

 

Table 6: Highest batting average in successful chases in the fourth innings of a Test (qualification: 400 runs) by left-handed batsmen

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave 100
GP Thorpe 433 104* 108.25 1
GC Smith 1,085 154* 90.41 4
BC Lara 406 153* 81.2 1
AN Cook 457 109* 76.16 1
G Kirsten 605 76 67.22 0

 

Overseas performances

 

Of course, a batsman’s true mettle and character are tested only overseas. Lara did not get a chance to tour West Indies, and hence did not have to stand up to Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh – two of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. Even then, Lara does make it to the top ten, and all names above him on the list belong to champions of various magnitudes: 

 

Table 7: Highest batting average overseas (qualification: 2,000 runs) by left-handed batsmen

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave 100
AR Border 5,431 200* 56.57 14
GC Smith 4,599 277 54.75 14
AN Cook 2,988 235* 54.32 10
RN Harvey 3,343 204 51.43 13
A Flower 2,307 232* 51.26 6
GS Sobers 3,957 198 50.73 12
AC Gilchrist 2,512 204* 50.24 10
G Kirsten 3,905 220 48.2 13
BC Lara 5,736 277 47.8 17
KC Sangakkara 3,680 270 47.17 10

 

If we go countrywise, Lara makes it to the top five (or top ten, as in case of England, South Africa and Pakistan) among southpaws. This is true for all major counties; the only exception to this is India, where Lara’s performance has been way below par:

 

Table 8: Highest batting average in each major country by left-handed batsmen

 

in Australia (qualification: 1,000 runs)

 

Player   

       

Runs

 

HS

 

Ave

 

100

 

AN Cook 1,042 235* 65.12 4
JH Edrich 1,283 130 55.78 4
CH Lloyd 1,616 149 48.96 5
DI Gower 1,824 136 44.48 5
BC Lara 1,469 277 41.97 4

 

in England (qualification: 1,000 runs)

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave 100
GC Smith 1,355 277 67.75 5
S Chanderpaul 1,399 136* 66.61 3
AR Border 2,082 200* 65.06 5
AR Morris 1,033 196 57.38 3
GS Sobers 1,820 174 53.52 5
MA Taylor 1,584 219 52.8 5
BC Lara 1,268 179 48.76 4

 

in South Africa (qualification: 500 runs)

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave 100
E Paynter 653 243 81.62 3
RN Harvey 791 178 71.9 4
AC Gilchrist 523 204* 65.37 2
CH Gayle 545 116 54.5 2
PJ Hughes 532 160 53.2 2
AJ Strauss 826 147 51.62 3
CP Mead 770 181 48.12 3
BC Lara 841 202 46.72 2

 

 in India (qualification: 500 runs)

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave 100
JC Adams 520 174* 173.33 2
A Flower 820 232* 117.14 3
GS Sobers 899 198 99.88 3
CH Lloyd 1,359 242* 75.5 4
B Sutcliffe 885 230* 68.07 3
BC Lara 198 91 33 0

 

in Pakistan (qualification: 500 runs)

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave 100
G Kirsten 529 118 88.16 2
KC Sangakkara 695 230 86.87 3
MA Taylor 619 334* 77.37 1
AR Border 743 153 61.91 3
ST Jayasuriya 894 253 59.6 2
BC Lara 626 216 48.15 2

 

in Sri Lanka (qualification: 400 runs)

 

Player

 

Runs HS Ave 100
SP Fleming 733 274* 104.71 2
BC Lara 706 221 100.85 3
MEK Hussey 463 142 92.6 2
Saeed Anwar 446 136 74.33 2
AN Cook 435 118 48.33 1

 

(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)