Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Against the Best: Statistical Analysis of the Best Batsmen against the Best Bowlers of the Tendulkar Era

    With the recent batting success of Jacques Kallis there have been many cries to elevate Kallis to the post of the vice-'best-modern-day-batsman', ahead of India's Sachin Tendulkar, and just behind West Indian legend, Brian Lara. Since most of these cries are heard from the school of thought that believes Lara to be the epitome of batting in the 90s and 2000s, there was an itch to see who really stood out in this period. As expected, all hype for the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting's inclusion in this illustrious list has lost steam. In fact, it is bemusing to notice that ever since the mid-1990's it's always been a competition between Tendulkar, Lara, and any other in form batsman of the time. This role has been played by luminaries such as Steve Waugh, Matthew Hayden, and more recently, Rahul Dravid, Ponting and Kallis.

    The biggest arguments against Tendulkar and for Lara have traditionally been Lara's penchant for the bigger hundreds. While this is offset by Tendulkar's greater consistency, the backers of Lara have the counter argument that Lara was better against the best bowlers of his era. The biggest evidence seemed to be the Trinidadian's record against Glenn McGrath and Muttiah Muralitharan. While Lara undoubtedly enjoyed greater success against Muralitharan, McGrath dismissed Lara more often than any other bowler. Indeed, it is also debatable whether either bowler could be labeled as the best in his field. McGrath probably comes closest to winning that argument among fast bowlers, but one would assume the likes of Wasim Akram and Curtly Ambrose would have a thing or two to say about that.

    The only seemingly logical answer to such a conundrum is to include each and every bowler who can be considered, without the shred of a doubt, as an all time great of the era Tendulkar, Lara and Kallis have largely played in. An era which is completely encompassed by Tendulkar's 21 year career. The following names will probably have to be added to the initial names of McGrath and Muralitharan:

  1. Courtney Walsh
  2. Curtly Ambrose
  3. Wasim Akram
  4. Waqar Younis
  5. Alan Donald
  6. Shaun Pollock
  7. Shane Warne
  8. Anil Kumble


So now we have an unarguable list of the best bowlers of the Tendulkar-era. In fact, Walsh, Ambrose, Pollock, Warne, Kumble, McGrath and Muralitharan are the top 7 wicket takers of all time against the top 8 ICC ranked nations, while Akram, Younis and Donald are largely recognized as the finest out and out fast bowlers of this era.

Now let the statistics unfold themselves. Since Lara, Tendulkar and Kallis each have at least one bowler in the list that they never faced, those names will be excluded for each from the following figures. For example, Kumble will be excluded for Tendulkar's numbers, and Pollock and Donald for Kallis' and so on.










































Tendulkar and Lara show almost no difference from their career. In matches involving their best opponents, these two stalwarts maintain their career traits: Lara scored bigger hundreds, but Tendulkar has the better centuries-to-innings ratio. Lara averages exactly one run more, while Tendulkar demonstrates a better conversion rate.

But Kallis' case takes a beating at this point. Having played ten innings less than Tendulkar, he lags the Master Blaster by more than 900 runs, at a rate of 90 runs per inning.

Indeed when compared to the much maligned Rahul Dravid's figures under the same criteria, Kallis doesn't seem much better. Dravid played 93 innings against the bowlers on the list (minus Kumble) and scored 3487 runs. With six fewer innings batted, Dravid lags Kallis by 293 runs, which roughly translates to just below 49 runs per inning.

Ricky Ponting perhaps makes the most compelling argument of all. In just 92 innings, Ponting amassed 4734 runs with 17 centuries at 57.73 (10 not outs). But not having batted against two of the three highest wicket takers of all time, and in light of his current form against disciplined swing bowling, one wonders whether those numbers would have been sustained had he faced Warne and McGrath.


Post Script

To a great degree, comparing Tendulkar and Kallis just with these luminaries isn't entirely fair on Kallis. Kallis made his debut in 1995, six years after Tendulkar, five years after Lara. Comparing him to the others over the entire span of their careers, one cannot simply rely on bowlers most of whom retired less than a decade into Kallis' international career. But that also goes to show the large lack of quality in bowling against which Kallis has largely made his runs. Also, it is interesting to note that if Dale Steyn is included to the list of great bowlers, which he undoubtedly already is, Tendulkar's stats come even closer to Lara, and creep farther away from an already distant Kallis (whose stats remain unaffected due to obvious reasons).

In the five subsequent Test matches involving Dale Steyn, Tendulkar has managed to take his record to:

Mat: 71; Inn: 117; NO: 7; Runs: 5065; HS: 179; Ave: 46.04; 100s: 18; 50s: 21; 0s: 7

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