Saturday, September 05, 2009

Cricket Interlude

A welcome piece on the inflation of test match batting averages in the current decade, as the game's historic balance between bat and ball seems to have shifted in favor of the former:

...[A]fter the exits of Walsh and Ambrose, Wasim and Waqar, Donald and Pollock, McGrath and Gillespie, life has become much easier for batsmen around the world. Some of those bowlers played well into the 2000s, but with pitches easing up and other weaker teams coming into the fray, this decade has generally been an excellent one for batting. Once upon a time, an average of 50 used to be the benchmark of batting excellence; now, it seems, that's no longer true. . . . It's clear from the numbers that the current decade has been a prolific one for batting, with an average of 38.22 runs per wicket. Only in the 1940s were the averages higher. The 1990s, on the other hand, was among the worst decades for batting - the average of 35.34 was the second-worst in the last eight decades.

One problem with the generally excellent analysis is that, while the average of most top batsmen this decade suffers once Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are excluded, minnows are not being excluded when the averages of batsmen in other eras are computed. Thus Bradman averaged 160 or 180 in the one series he played against India; if I remember correctly, 10 of Everton Weekes' 16 centuries came against India, Pakistan, or New Zealand (none of them especially strong at the time), and Freddie Trueman terrorized India. Not suggesting any of these are Zimbabwe or Bangladesh, but they were considered very weak teams. In the 1980s, Sri Lanka were a very weak team, especially on foreign soil; one could go on...

[Tendulkar's average this decade against the top eight teams is 46.73; that figure must be contextualized by reference to his numerous injuries during the 2004-2007 period, not just to a general decline -- he has performed much better in test matches over the last two years, after career-rescuing elbow surgeries -- but what is truly remarkable is his batting average of 58 in the 1990s, a decade that was among the worst for batsmen, testimony to his stature among the game's greats.]

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