Tuesday, January 15, 2013

this is a low

It's cricket trivia time again. A question that I've known to come up a few times in sports trivia quizzes is: what's the lowest individual score that no-one has ever made in a Test match? That's not the easiest question to parse at first glance, so consider that every individual batsman's innings ends in a final score, whether the individual is dismissed or not, and furthermore imagine a chart on which these scores are tallied up, so if you make 37 then a tally mark goes in the 37 box, and so on. Well, obviously there are plenty of scores that have no tally marks against them, anything over 400, for instance. So what's the lowest number which has yet to have any tally marks against it?

The current answer to that question, which you should remember for your next trivia quiz, is 229. No-one has ever been dismissed for, or finished not out for, that score in a Test match. But consider this: that must have become the lowest by virtue of someone putting a tick in the box of a lower score. And, if we restrict ourselves to scores of 100 or more, the lowest un-made score before the first Test of all in 1877 must have been (by definition) 100. And once someone eventually registered a score of exactly 100, the title would have passed to the lowest number greater than 100 which hadn't been registered yet, and so on. So it should be possible to construct a list of the upward progression of the record over time, at least theoretically. But you'd need to be able to go through and log the first occurrence of each 100+ score, a task which would have been pretty much impossible before the internet, and the aforementioned Statsguru in particular. Even now, someone would have to expend a smallish amount of effort to do it. And someone has! But who? I'll put you out of your misery: it was me.

ScorePlayerDateMatchSpan (time)Span (Tests)
100JT Tyldesley3rd July 1905ENG v AUS28y 110d84
110WH Ponsford19th December 1924AUS v ENG19y 169d73
114H Sutcliffe15th June 1929ENG v RSA4y 178d23
125PGV van der Bijl3rd March 1939RSA v ENG9y 261d90
139ED Weekes11th April 1955WI v AUS16y 39d133
171IR Redpath11th December 1970AUS v ENG15y 244d271
186Zaheer Abbas23rd December 1982PAK v IND12y 12d267
199Mudassar Nazar24th October 1984PAK v IND1y 306d54
218SV Manjrekar1st December 1989IND v PAK5y 38d134
224VG Kambli19th February 1993IND v ENG2y 80d84
228HH Gibbs2nd January 2003RSA v PAK9y 318d423

So the way this works is as follows: each entry in the list preceded the one below it (in the table, above it numerically) as the lowest un-made score in Test cricket, and was eventually bagged by the batsman in the "Player" column after holding the record for the time in the "Span (time)" column, at which point the record progressed to being held by the next number in the sequence, until it in turn was bagged, and so on. As you can see, the record holder in terms of time is the lowest possible century score, 100, which had to wait until 28 years of Test cricket had elapsed before Johnny Tyldesley bagged it in Leeds in 1905. Of course there are many more Tests per year these days, as the second "Span" column shows, but aside from a bit of a flurry in the 1980s and early 1990s when the record changed hands four times in just over ten years it tends to change hands about once a decade. As if to prove that point, as of today the current record has stood for 10 years and 12 days and 434 Tests. The next few available blank slots, should that one get bagged, since you ask, are 238, 245 and 252.

The way you work this out, just in case you're interested, is to make a list of the first person to bag each individual score, and then put a tick against each score whose bagged date is greater than any of the dates for scores below it. Here's the spreadsheet containing the raw data.

A couple of interesting things emerge from the blizzard of data: firstly that the most prolific score-baggers tend to be people from the earlier days of Test cricket when the list had more available gaps on it. Unsurprisingly this list is dominated, as most batting lists are, by one Don Bradman, who got first dibs on no fewer than eleven separate scores. As so often (and much to his posthumous chagrin no doubt) second place on the list is occupied by Walter Hammond with seven, followed by Denis Compton, Clem Hill and Victor Trumper with four.

Another statistical anomaly is that in all but one case it's easy to tell who the first person to register the score was, just use Statsguru to pull up a list of all the scores for, say, 178, and pick the earliest one (which turns out to be by Joe Darling of Australia in 1898). The only score for which this method fails is 234, since it turns out that both instances of that score were made during the same match, the Sydney Test of December 1946. Even a cursory examination of the scorecard doesn't help, since they were both also made in the same innings, by Sid Barnes and (inevitably) Don Bradman of Australia. So it all comes down to which of them was out first, and remarkably it turns out that not only did they both register the same score, but, having shared what remains a Test record sixth-wicket partnership of 405, were also both out within four balls of each other with the score on 564. Bradman was out first, as it happens (so his name goes in the list), and there is some speculation (encouraged by Barnes himself) that Barnes gave his wicket away shortly afterwards to ensure a share of statistical immortality.

Barnes appears to have been an interesting character; among other things his nickname of Suicide Sid - bestowed because of his habit of taking up fielding positions extremely close to the batsman at some risk of personal injury in those pre-helmet days - presaged the eventual manner of his death, a (probably) self-inflicted overdose of barbiturates. It's still not as good as Stan McCabe chasing a possum off a cliff though.


TonyF said...


electrichalibut said...

next week: a series of one-line blog posts about cheese.