Monday, November 25, 2013

distinctly average

An extraordinary amount has been written, and rightly so, on the occasion of the retirement from Test cricket of Sachin Tendulkar, the most prolific international batsman of all time. As with Doris Lessing, there's not much for me to add, so instead I'll dive off at a couple of tangents.

Tendulkar finished with a Test match average of 53.78, which puts him 13th on the all-time list for batsmen who have made over 3000 Test runs. It also puts him in as the latest entry on one of those esoteric cricket lists which I'm so fond of. Let me see if I can explain.

The last man to finish a career of any significant length (again, let's say 3000 runs as a cut-off) with a higher average than Tendulkar, was, rather surprisingly, Australian Greg Chappell all the way back in 1984. Plenty of people have had higher averages in mid-career - Tendulkar himself was averaging over 56 as recently as January 2012, Ricky Ponting averaged between 57 and 60 for a couple of years between 2006 and 2008, Jacques Kallis currently averages over 55, Kumar Sangakkara nearly 57 - but it's all about how you finish. So you might go on to ask, well, who was the last player before Chappell to finish a career with a higher average? And before him? And so on and so forth.

So you end up with the following chart:

Sachin Tendulkar201353.78
Greg Chappell198453.86
Garfield Sobers197457.78
Ken Barrington196858.67
Don Bradman194899.94

The way to read this is: for each entry in the list, no-one who has come after has finished with a higher career average. So if Sangakkara, say, retires tomorrow with his current career average of 56.98, he will instantly erase Chappell and Tendulkar from the list.

The other great debate during most of Tendulkar's career was: who's the greatest batsman in the world? And the two main candidates were almost always Tendulkar himself and the great West Indian Brian Lara, as disrespectful as that might seem to the likes of Kallis and Ponting. I was lucky enough to watch them both bat many times, and my personal view is that for all Tendulkar's metronomic consistency the more mercurial Lara played more individually memorable innings, including the unprecedented feat of breaking the world record for the highest individual Test score twice. To put it another way, if you offered me the opportunity of watching one of them bat for a couple of hours, I'd take Lara.

An interesting contrast between the two players can also be obtained by examining the manner of their exits from Test cricket. Tendulkar departed with all manner of pomp and razzamatazz, but at the end of an extended slump in form, at least by his own high standards (his last Test century having been as long ago as January 2011), whereas Lara had made a double-century against Pakistan in his penultimate Test, and another hundred in the one before that, and was ousted from the captaincy and the team by some shady political wranglings.

Compare, if you will, the last three years of each player's career.


PeriodMatchesInningsNot OutRunsAverage10050
Dec 1990 - Jun 2003961685840451.552141
Nov 2003 - Nov 200635641354956.33137


PeriodMatchesInningsNot OutRunsAverage10050
Nov 1989 - Oct 2010171280301424056.964958
Nov 2010 - Nov 201329493168136.54210

The inescapable conclusion is that Tendulkar probably hung on a bit longer than he should have, whereas Lara could have had another two or three years of prime run-scoring; interesting to speculate how the record books might have ended up looking under those circumstances. Or not; please yourselves.


The Black Rabbit said...

You'd "take Lara".

I'll Lake Tara then.

In fact.

If you look at the top right corner of the map at the bottom of this link page, you'll see I already haaaaaavvvve....

electrichalibut said...

Not only you, but come south-west a bit and you'll find the area where Bill and Hillary Clinton forage for wild berries and make them into jam.

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