The aim of this article is to look at the batting averages for the top batsmen in the world, and normalise them with respect to the opposition. Do the averages of these top players stand up when the quality of the opposition is taken into account?
First of all, we need to set a time period for this research to take place over. We decided to look at modern players. The player whose career spanned the longest was that of Sachin Tendulkar. His career started in late 1989. Therefore we will cap our time limit at the more rounded date of the 1st of January 1990. With the exception of Tendulkar, the players we will be looking at are the ones whose careers were within this time. We'll only be looking at Test cricket, because that's the form of cricket which matters.
On the left, you can see the records of each international team during the time period we defined. Our win percentage is calculated by treating each draw as half a win. This is clearly not an exact method, but it gives us a pretty fair figure to compare the strength of each team.
Below you can see this data represented graphically.
Clearly, all teams are not equal. A good performance against Australia is better than a good performance against Bangladesh. So we now need see how far above the average each nation is.
New Zealand 0.86
South Africa 1.21
Sri Lanka 1.01
West Indies 0.79
As mentioned earlier, we are only going to look at players whose careers started after the 1st of January, 1990. As we are only looking at the top players in the world, we shall only consider players whose batting average is over 50. We are also going to ignore any players who have played in less than 50 Test matches, as it prevents players getting into the list on the back of a few good performances. Below are the resulting 12 players, showing the amount of games they've competed in and their batting averages:
vs. Bangladesh 50 x 0.18 = 9
Total = 78
Average = 78/1 = 78
Below is a graph showing how the averages change for each batsman:
If you wish to try our new method on cricketers of your choosing, see the appendices.
Our method of normalising cricket averages generally seems to have had a positive effect in terms of bringing the best batsmen to the top of the pile. However, cricket can be a very subjective game, so really who can say whether we've identified the right players. What we have found is that Australia are far and away the the most successful cricket side of the last 22 years, unsurprisingly, with South Africa leading the chasing pack. There is a cluster of similarly-ranked nations, followed by stragglers such as New Zealand and the West Indies. And unsurprisingly, Zimbabwe followed by Bangladesh bring up the rear.
We have also found that the two most feted batsmen of the era are in fact also the best when it comes to performances against the bigger nations. This is perhaps what has cemented their reputations at the top of world cricket. Aside from these two, Lara and Tendulkar, the average of every player in our list fell. This is not surprising - the poor nations are poor for a reason.
In the future we may try a similar method to look at averages with respect to home and away, as well as other factors.
Cricinfo - in particular the Statsguru section of their website. Comprehensive, brilliant, statistics on pretty much everything you could wish for in cricket. The single greatest thing in the world. All figures procured from here, and correct as of the 22nd of February, 2012.
Appendix 1: full table of figures for our calculations:
Appendix 2: Excel document allowing you to work out modified averages for any player you like during this era: