Stats across eras 2: Bradman, Sobers, Tendulkar... top batsmen by decades

Sachin Tendulkar was the best in the world between 1991-2000 © Getty Images

In the second part of the statistics across eras series, Arunabha Sengupta looks at the top batsmen across the history of cricket by the decades, and finds that the career average actually does not quite lie.

 

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)

600

35.29 

633

35.16 

896

32 

1891-1900

KS. Ranjitsinhji (Eng)

Tom Hayward (Eng)

R. Abel (Eng)

970

53.88 

976

44.36 

671

41.9 

1901 – 1910

Aubrey Faulkner (SA)

Clem Hill (Aus)

Victor Trumper (Aus)

1108

44.32 

2160

40.75 

2173

36.2 

1911-1920

Jack Hobbs (Eng)

Victor Trumper (Aus)

J.W. Zulch (SA)

1742

64.51 

710

54.61 

540

45 

1921-1930

Don Bradman (Aus)

CG McCartney (Aus)

Herbert Sutcliffe (Eng)

 

1446

96.4 

1164

72.75 

3396

66.6 

1931-1940

Bradman

Len Hutton (Eng)

George Headley (WI)

3647

98.56 

1345

67.25 

1421

64.6 

1941-1950

Bradman

Frank Worrell (WI)

Neil Harvey (Aus)

1903

105.7 

833

104.1 

1118

86 

1951-1960

Gary Sobers (WI)

Clyde Walcott (WI)

Len Hutton

3077

61.54 

2984

60.89 

2728

55.7 

1961-1970

Ken Barrington (Eng)

Greame Pollock (SA)

Gary Sobers (WI)

 

5750

62.5 

2256

60.97 

3699

56.9 

1971-1980

Viv Richards (WI)

Javed Miandad (Pak)

SM Gavaskar (Ind)

3629

60.48 

2663

57.89 

5974

56.4 

1981-1990

Clive Lloyd (WI)

Zaheer Abbas (Pak)

Allan Border (Aus)

2342

61.63 

2343

54.48 

6940

53.8 

1991-2000

Sachin Tendulkar (Ind)

Steve Waugh (Aus)

Rahul Dravid (Ind)

5828

60.08 

6578

56.22 

3322

53.6 

2001-2010

JH Kallis (SA)

KC Sangakkara (SL)

Brian Lara (WI)

9048

61.97 

8070

58.9 

5883

58.2 

2011-2012

Younis Khan (Pak)

Kallis

Ian Bell (Eng)

 

958

68.42 

702

63.81 

1084

63.8 

Note:

 

Minimum runs criteria –

 

# 500 runs till 1900, 1911-1920 and 2011-2012

 

#1000 runs from 1901-1910, 1921-1940

 

#800 for 1941-1950

 

#2000 elsewhere.

 

This distinction is required for the varying number of Tests played in the early days and during the decades disrupted due to World Wars.

 

Appendix:

 

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
W Bates
1891-1900 Joe Darling (Aus) 1139, 35.59 FS Jackson
1901 -1910 Victor Trumper (Aus) 2173, 36.20 RA Duff
JT Tyldesley
1911-1920 Jack Hobbs (Eng) 1742, 64.50 Warwick Armstrong
William Bardsley
1921-1930 Herbert Sutcliffe (Eng)  3396, 66.60 Wally Hammond
Patsy Hendren
1931-1940 Wally Hammond (Eng)  4776, 62.80 Bill Ponsford
Eddie Paynter
1941-1950 Len Hutton (Eng)  2898, 53.70 Denis Compton
Everton Weekes
1951-1960 Peter May (Eng)   4265, 47.40 Neil Harvey
Hanif Mohammad
1961-1970 Ken Barrington (Eng) 5750, 62.50 Doug Walters
Ted Dexter
1971-1980 SM Gavaskar (Ind)  5974, 56.40 Geoff Boycott
Greg Chappell
1981 – 1990 Allan Border (Aus) 6940, 53.80 Javed Miandad
Mohd. Azharuddin
1991-2000 Mark Waugh (Aus)  6907, 42.40 Brian Lara
Andy Flower
2001-2010 Ricky Ponting (Aus)   9953, 55.60 Mohammad Yousuf
Sachin Tendulkar
2011-2012 Michael Clarke (Aus)  1336, 60.70 Early days yet …

 

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

 

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