The greatest Test batsman since 1970

Date: January 23, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

My selection of the top-10 fast bowlers since 1970 in a recent Roar article was a lot easier than this task – choosing the best batsmen of that era and the greatest of the period.

A warning first-up – this will take a while!

Comparing players in any sport across eras is always an extremely subjective exercise; however the use of statistics can be useful.

The statistical problem with batsmen over the past 40 years is that those who plied their trade in the last decade or so have had some major advantages including shorter boundaries, and more significantly, major advances in bat technology – a miss-hit shot 30 years ago can now often result in a boundary, and at times, even a six.

The other major difference with the players in the back half of our qualification period is the fact they got to feast on the offerings from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Anyway, enough excuses on my part, here we go.

Again, this is a search for the best Test batsman only.

For this exercise I am going to include current players, but only those that are into the twilight of their career, so the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sanagakkara are under consideration while others such as Michael Clarke (31yo), Graeme Smith (31), Hashim Amla (29) and Alistair Cook (28) are not.

Let’s start with some openers.

Sunil Gavaskar, diminutive in physique was nonetheless a giant of the game. The first man to 10,000 Test runs, he shot onto the international scene with an amazing debut series, scoring 774 runs at 154.8 against the West Indies in the Caribbean in 1970/71. The Windies remained a favoured opponent throughout his career, scoring an incredible 13 centuries against them and averaging 70 in a period when they were the game’s dominant side.

In his final innings against them, at the age of 34 he posted his highest Test score – 236no. He possessed a copybook technique and vast amounts of concentration and in 125 Tests scored 10,122 runs at 51.1, with a then record 34 centuries. At home he averaged 50.2 and on the road 52.1.

Matthew Hayden was the polar opposite of Gavaskar when it came to build. Tall and broad shouldered, the Queenslander batted with both aggression and intimidation. He was renowned for batting well out of his crease and even walking towards opening bowlers before driving them powerfully down the ground.

Unlike Gavaskar, Hayden’s home record (57.9) far outshone his away (41.7). When you factor in his dominant 2001 series in India (549 runs at 109.8), his away record looks, on balance, even less impressive. He played six Tests against the minnows for an average of 95.6 and against Zimbabwe in 2003/04 posted a world record unbeaten 380. Through 103 Tests he scored 30 centuries en route to 8625 runs at 50.7.

Virender Sehwag in many ways rewrote the opener’s manual. He has played 102 Tests to date and scored 8559 runs at 50.0 with 23 centuries. He has scored his runs at the previously unheard of strike rate of 82. He is one of only four men to score two triple centuries and narrowly missed a third with a score of 293 against Sri Lanka in 2009/10.

As you would expect for a batsman with such an aggressive attitude and minimal footwork against the new ball he has often had lean spells but when on-song he is almost impossible to bowl to. Against Australia he averages 43.7 and has averaged just 44.0 in his seven Tests against the minnows. On home pitches he averages 55.8 against 44.6 on the road.

Gordon Greenidge took to Test cricket in style with 93 and 107 on debut against India in Bangalore in 1974/75. In his time he was regarded as an extremely aggressive opener with his signature shots a withering square cut and pull shot played with left knee high and bent.

With Desmond Haynes he formed the most prolific opening pair in history. In 108 Tests he scored 7558 runs at 44.7 with 19 centuries. He struggled in Australia were he averaged just 31.0. On Caribbean pitches he averaged 48.6 and away 42.2.

Graham Gooch scored a pair on debut against Australia at Edgbaston in 1975. Conversely, his high point was a world record aggregate in a single Test when he scored 333 and 123 against India at Lord’s in 1990. Standing tall at the crease with bat raised above bail height, he played 118 Tests for an England record of 8900 runs at 42.6 with 20 centuries. He averaged just 39.5 from 13 Tests in the sub-continent and 33.3 against Australia but 44.8 against the terror attacks of the West Indies.

Gary Kirsten played 101 Tests for South Africa. The nuggetty left-hander compiled 7289 runs at 45.3 with 21 centuries, the best of which was 275 against England at Durban in 1999/2000. He became the first player to score centuries against all nine Test opponents.

In five Tests against the minnows he averaged 106.7. He struggled against the strong Australian sides of his era with an average of 34.4 from 18 Tests and against the West Indies 34.5. His away average was 42.7, compared with 44.3 at home.

Both feared and revered, Viv Richards gave opposing players and captain’s endless sleepless nights. The ‘Master Blaster’ struggled early on in his career, averaging just 30.4 through his first 11 Tests. But after some sessions with renowned sports psychologist Rudi Webster things changed. An elevation up the order to number three brought a poultice of runs, the highlight of which was the 1976 tour of England where in four Tests he scored 829 runs at 118.4, including innings of 291 and 232.

With the most recognized gait in world cricket and a jaw that chewed gum beneath a maroon cap, and never a helmet, Richards’ audacity at the crease thrilled fans worldwide. He played 121 Tests, scoring 8540 runs at 50.2 with 24 centuries. In 34 Tests against Australia he averaged 44.4, the same average he compiled in 24 Tests on the sub-continent. He averaged 50 both home and away. He still holds the record for the fastest Test ton – 56 balls against England on his home island of Antigua.

Two contemporaries of Richards – Greg Chappell and Javed Miandad – were also dominant players for their country.

Chappell was the supreme stylist. Tall and upright, he scored 108 on debut against England at the WACA in 1970/71. Shortly after, his 131 at Lord’s in 1972 has been rated one of the finest innings of all-time. A beautiful driver and cutter of the ball, he played 87 Tests for a then Australian record 7110 runs at 53.9 with 24 centuries, four of which were doubles. He played just four Tests on the sub-continent where he averaged 74.5.

Against the mighty West Indian attack of his era he scored five centuries and averaged 56.0 in 17 Tests. He scored nine centuries and averaged 45.9 in his 35 outing against England. He finished his career as he started with an innings of 182 against Pakistan at the SCG in 1983/84. On home soil Chappell averaged 54.4, only slightly more than his 53.0 overseas.

Javed spent 124 Tests getting under opponents skin with both mouth and willow. A punishing batsman he compiled 8832 runs at 52.6 with 23 centuries, the highest of which was an unbeaten 280 against India. Against the bordering arch enemy he excelled with an average 67.5 from 28 Tests. He struggled in Australia where he averaged just 38.1 in 16 matches. Against the mighty West Indians his average was 29.8. On the road he averaged 45.8 and at home 61.4. In three Tests against Zimbabwe he scored just 143 runs.

New Zealand’s premier batsman in its history is Martin Crowe. A stylist at the crease with an ability to score in all areas he debuted at the age of 19. In an injury blighted career of 77 Tests he amassed 5444 runs at 45.4. He loved playing against his Trans-Tasman rival, averaging 48.3 overall – 67.0 on Australian soil – in 17 Tests. In the Shaky Isles he averaged 50.0 and on the road 42.3. The sub-continent was not a happy hunting ground with his 15 Tests producing an average of just 34.7. His highest score was 299 against Sri Lanka in Wellington in 1990/91.

Sri Lanka has produced two outstanding batsmen – Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

Jayawardene’s record really is in two distinct halves with a home average of 61.1 and a mere 39.3 on the road. In 25 Tests at his beloved Singhalese Sports Club ground in Colombo he has scored ten of his 31 career centuries. Against South Africa at the SSC in 2006 he made 374. A powerful driver through the covers and with the familiar flick of the wrist to the leg side that defines so many sub-continental batsmen, Jayawardene is another all-round player. In 138 Tests to date he has totalled a Sri Lankan record 10,806 runs at 49.6 with 31 tons. He averages 64.0 in 17 Tests against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Sangakkara loves to compile big scores. In 115 Tests to date he has scored eight double centuries and three scores in the 190s. He has produced 10,045 runs at 55.8 with 30 centuries. Unlike Jayawardene, he has been consistent both home (55.6) and away (52.3). England has been his Achilles heel with nine Tests in the home of cricket producing an average of just 30.6. Early on he was a predominantly back-foot player with the bulk of his runs coming square of the wicket. He later bloomed into a far more rounded player. In 16 Tests against the minnows he boasts a Bradmanesque average of 100.8.

While Sangakkara is a stylist, Shivnarine Chanderpaul is far from it. With the most open stance in the game the 38-year-old has used clever deflections and a powerful pull shot to amass 10,696 runs at 51.7 from 146 matches. He has scored 27 hundreds and 61 half-centuries. Away from home he has an average of 46.8 against 58.5 at home. His 11 Tests in Australia have produced a highest score of 82 and an average of 30.2. He has played 14 Tests against the minnows for an average of 59.0.

His long-time teammate Brian Lara is a giant of the game. Twice the left-hander has held the world record, both posted England in Antigua – 375 in 1993/94 and the current benchmark of 400no ten years later. In his 131 Tests he scored 34 centuries, nine of them doubles, second only to Don Bradman’s 13. Lara thrived against the might of Australia during his time, averaging 51.0 and peeling off nine centuries in 31 matches. He scored 11,953 runs in all at 52.9.

He had an unusually small number of not outs, just six in 232 innings. A free-flowing player who unfurled from a low stance he holds the record for the most runs in a losing series – 688 runs in Sri Lanka in 2001/02. At home in 1988/89 he almost single-handedly disposed of Australia with innings of 213, 153no and 100. At home his benchmark was 58.6 and away 47.8. His four Tests against the minnows produced an average of 65.8.

Sachin Tendulkar has rewritten the record book during a yet to end 23-year, 194 Test career – the most runs (15,645 at 54.3 and a strike rate of 61) and an all-time best 51 centuries. Tendulkar’s career has been built around one of the straightest bats in the game, yet he at times plays inventive shots that defy description.

The ‘Little Master’ has thrived against Australia, averaging 57.3 and posting 11 centuries in 35 matches. He has been incredibly consistent with averages slightly either side of 54 both home and away. He has scored six double centuries with his best being 248no against Bangladesh in 2004/05. Against them and Zimbabwe he has made 1738 runs in 16 matches at 124.1 with eight centuries.

Tendulkar’s long-time teammate, Rahul Dravid was known as ‘The Wall’, such was his seemingly impregnable defence although his stumps were rattled many times late in his 164-Test career. In all, his technically correct game and infinite concentration saw him score 13,288 runs at 52.3 with 36 centuries.

He was often far from his best against Australia, with the notable exceptions his 180 in the famous Kolkata Test of 2000/01 and his double century in Adelaide in 2003/04.  In his 33 Tests against Australia he averaged a disappointing 38.7. In South Africa he averaged 29.7 from his 11 Tests, yet his benchmark all-up on foreign soil was 53.0 and at home 51.3. He played against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh 16 times for an average of 85.5 and six tons.

Aside from Greg Chappell, three other Australian captains have flourished since 1970 – Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting.

Border was the epitome of the street fighter, all grit and determination. With a powerful cover drive allied to piercing shots square of the wicket he retired after his 156 Tests with a then world record 11,174 runs at 50.6 with 27 centuries.

He had the misfortune to have to take on the mighty West Indian sides of his era 31 times during which he produced an average of 39.5. On the sub-continent the pugnacious Border averaged 54.5 and he is one of few players to have played over 100 Tests to have performed better away than at home with averages of 46.0 and 56.8 respectively.

Waugh, like Border, was seen as a scrapper who loved nothing more than a fight out in the middle. Debuting at 20 years of age he was initially a free-flowing stroke maker who over time gave away the pull shot and as a result was attacked to the body by fast bowlers everywhere yet it hardly ever brought about his demise. In 168 Tests he made 10,927 runs at 51.1. It took Waugh 27 Tests to score his first century before going on to compile a career total of 32.

Like Border, he performed better on the road – on home soil he averaged 47.6 and 55.9 away. Strangely, he averaged just 38.5 against New Zealand. But against the strong West Indian pace attack he averaged 49.8 in 32 outings. He is the only player to have scored in excess of 150 against all nine opponents. In five Tests against the minnows he produced an overall average of 273.0.

Ponting retired having equalled Waugh’s Australian record of 168 Tests. He struggled for runs for the bulk of his last three years in the game but that cannot detract at all from his overall record – 13,378 runs at 51.8 with 41 centuries, six of them beyond 200.

In 2003 he amassed 1503 runs at 100.2 with six hundreds. Sometimes a candidate for leg before early in his innings, if he got through that phase the opponents were in trouble as he scored freely off both back and front foot. He was one of the finest exponents of the pull shot in the game. He averaged 57.0 in Australia and 45.8 away. His lower mark on foreign soil was largely as a result of a poor record in India where his 14 Tests produced the meagre average of 26.5. He suited up against the minnows seven times, scoring 550 runs at 78.6.

Jacques Kallis has built a career around being virtually unbreakable. His 285 wickets have been largely overshadowed by his gargantuan feats at the batting crease – 160 matches, 13,048 runs at 56.7 and 44 centuries. He approaches his job with the bat very much in the way Dravid did – defence first, attack second.

That approach has resulted in a strike rate to date of 46. For a player blessed with such a well formed technique and boundless levels of concentration he has surprisingly scored just two double centuries with his first coming 142 matches into his career. Against Australia he has an average of 41.2 after 29 matches. At home he boasts a standard of 58.2 and away 53.8. His 12 Tests against the minnows have produced four centuries and 996 runs at 124.5.

Few batsmen have impacted the game outside the top six in the order like Adam Gilchrist did. One of the cleanest hitters of a cricket ball he is the only man to have struck 100 sixes at Test level. In 96 consecutive matches he blasted 17 centuries on the way to 5570 runs at 47.6. He averaged 50.2 at home and 45.9 away. He struggled on the sub-continent with his hard-handed approach often bringing him undone against the spinners.

His 15 Tests on the dusty, turning tracks produced an average of 37.3 with his efforts in India coming at 28.5. The fall of the fifth Australian cricket often brought massive headaches to the opposition as Gilchrist either shored up a stuttering innings or put the icing on the cake with a rapid fire knock. His career strike rate was 82. He played six Tests against the minnows for 332 runs at 83.

Inzamam-ul-Haq wasn’t the most fleet afoot batsman but he built a magnificent career – 120 Tests, 8830 runs (two less than Miandad’s Pakistan record) at 49.6 with 25 centuries, the best of them 329. He was more lethal at home then away – 53.7 versus 45.9. He always found the Australian attack hard work with his 11 Tests producing an average of just 31.4 He played ten times against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, averaging 61.5.

Inzi’s teammate Yousuf Mohammad played 90 Tests and scored 7530 runs at 52.3 with 24 tons. His 11 Tests against Australia were disappointing with a meagre average of 29.6. He fared little better against South Africa (29.7). He was a bully at home (65.2) and much less convincing away (44.9).

He holds the record for the most runs in a calendar year with nine centuries and 1788 runs at 99.3 in 2006. He seemingly played later than most other batsman with his willow coming down from an extremely high back lift. He played 11 Tests against the minnows, scoring 1119 runs at 101.7.

So, there you have it – 23 candidates in all.

Why did I decide to do this?

This is my top ten.

  1. Brian Lara
  2. Sachin Tendulkar
  3. Greg Chappell
  4. Viv Richards
  5. Sunil Gavaskar
  6. Ricky Ponting
  7. Jacques Kallis
  8. Allan Border
  9. Kumar Sangakkara
  10. Javed Miandad

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 22 January 2013