The Strongest Test Batting Line-ups?

The Strongest Test Batting Line-ups?

Post by John Hal » Sun, 17 Dec 1995 04:00:00

The discussion a little while ago about strong Test batting line-ups
prompted me to do a little analysis. Ideally, I would have looked at
every Test line-up that has ever appeared, but since that was
impractical I have made a selection that hopefully includes most of the
strongest line-ups (before anyone points it out, yes this was largely a
subjective process). Since the method I've adopted is very simple, if
you think I've overlooked a strong batting side you can apply it
yourself and compare the results with mine. The line-ups I chose, with
the aim of getting a good spread over time, were:

England         1928-9          v Australia
Australia       1930            v England
England         1938            v Australia
Australia       1948            v England
West Indies     1950            v England
Australia       1961            v England
West Indies     1966            v England
England         1967-8          v West Indies
South Africa    1969-70         v Australia
Pakistan        1974            v England
West Indies     1976            v England
West Indies     1984            v England
England         1985            v Australia
India           1986            v England
Pakistan        1987            v England
Australia       1989            v England
India           1995            Current
Australia       1995            Current

I've avoided choosing two line-ups from the same country too close
together in time, as most of the batsmen would probably be the same in
both sides. I decided to define the batting line-up as the top six (so a
side with a useful batsman at number 7 could be undervalued). Where a
side changed its line-up during the course of a series, I've generally
taken the six batsmen who appeared most often. What I did was simply to
total the career Test averages of these six players, and rank the line-
ups on that basis. This is obviously a very simple method, which suffers
from the following problems:

1. A batsman who is just starting or alternatively near the end of his
career, or going through a bad patch, may be overvalued by his career
average when we focus on a particular year. For example, at first sight
the 1957 WI team had a very strong line-up (the three W's, Sobers,
Kanhai), but at that time the 3 W's were slightly past their best whilst
Sobers and Kanhai were just starting out, so the batting was a lot
weaker than the career averages would suggest (as the totals they
achieved in that series indicate). Conversely, if a batsman is in the
middle of a hot streak, then his career average may undervalue him.

2. There's the risk that Bradman may overshadow things to the extent
that any line-up he's a part of automatically outranks any of the
others. There's not much we can do about this; any line-up including
Bradman *was* automatically very strong.

3. Perhaps most importantly, the strength of bowling and the general
condition of pitches may change from one era to another. We can't tell
(at least, not without an awful lot more analysis) how a batting average
of say 40 in 1930 compares with one of 40 today (as we've discussed so
often in this group :)

So, having bored you rigid with all these caveats, on to the results,
which I hope will be interesting even though they can't be conclusive.

Position        Side            Year    Average runs per top 6 batsman

1.              Australia       1948    56.90

(Barnes, Morris, Bradman, Hassett, Miller, Harvey. Harvey played in only
2 Tests, as did Brown. Loxton played in 3 Tests, but batted at number 7
in 2 of them.)

2.              Australia       1930    54.96

(Woodfull, Ponsford, Fairfax, Bradman, Kippax, McCabe. No great
surprise, I suppose, that the 2 teams with Bradman take the top 2
places.)

3.              England         1928-9  50.11

(Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Jardine, Hendren, Chapman. The only line-up
without Bradman to average 50, and in spite of Chapman averaging only
28.90. This side had Leyland, Mead and E.Tydlesley in reserve.)

4.              England         1938    49.97

(Barnett, Hutton, W.J.Edrich, Hammond, Paynter, Compton. If you were to
conclude from the top 4 line-ups that batsmen had it easier in those
days I wouldn't argue.)

5.              South Africa    1969-70 49.42

(Richards, Goddard, Bacher, Pollock, Barlow, Irvine. Both Richards and
Irvine only played 4 Tests, so their averages, and hence that of the
side, may be higher than they would have been with longer careers.
Richards averaged 72.57 and Irvine 50.42, and I suspect that Irvine's
average in particular is higher than it would have been with a longer
career.)

6.              West Indies     1950    47.26

(Rae, Stollmeyer, Worrell, Weekes, Walcott, Gomez. Gomez's average of
30.31 somewhat depresses the overall figure.)

7.              England         1967-8  46.40

(Boycott, J.H.Edrich, Cowdrey, Barrington, Graveney, D'Oliveira. The
only instance I have found where *all* the top 6 averaged over 40.)

8.              West Indies     1966    44.66

(Hunte, McMorris, Kanhai, Butcher, Nurse, Sobers. Badly let down by
McMorris's average of 26.85. He only played in 2 Tests in that series,
but the alternatives were no better.)

9.              Australia       1989    44.57

(Marsh, Taylor, Boon, Border, Jones, S.Waugh. Here the weak link was
Marsh, who to my surprise only averaged 33.18. Since 3 of this side are
still playing Test cricket, their averages and hence that of the line-up
are subject to fluctuation. Their averages are almost, but possibly not
quite, up to date.)

10.             Australia       1995    44.30

(Slater, Taylor, Boon, M.Waugh, S.Waugh, Blewett. The weak link is
Blewett, average 35.15. Similar caveats apply to those made about the
1989 side.)

11.             Australia       1961    44.23

(Lawry, McDonald, Harvey, O'Neill, Burge, Simpson. Nobody averaging over
49 or less than 38.)

12.             India           1995    44.07

(Prabhakar, Sidhu, Manjrekar, Tendulkar, Azharuddin, Kambli. In spite of
Prabhakar averaging only 32.65 (the alternative, Jadeja, averages only
24.75), there is clearly very little to choose on these figures between
the current Indian and Australian line-ups. They could easily swap
places after the next Test they play.)

13.             West Indies     1976    43.45

(Fredericks, Greenidge, Richards, Kallicharran, Lloyd, King. King only
averaged 32.15.)

14.             West Indies     1984    42.58

(Greenidge, Haynes, Gomes, Richards, Lloyd, Dujon. Dujon averaged
31.94.)

15.             India           1986    41.45

(Gavaskar, Srikkanth, M.Amarnath, Vengsarkar, Azharuddin, Shastri.
Srikkanth only averaged 29.88, whilst Shastri managed 35.79.

16.             Pakistan        1987    40.44

(Mudassar Nazar, Shoaib Mohammed, Mansoor Akhtar, Javed Miandad, Salim
Malik, Ijaz Ahmed. The main problem here was Akhtar's 25.19 average.
Only 3 out of the 6 average over 40.)

17.             Pakistan        1974    38.95

(Sadiq Mohammed, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Mohammed, Asif Iqbal,
Wasim Raja. This side's batting *sounds* very strong, but to my surprise
only Zaheer Abbas had a career average over 40, the rest all being in
the 35-40 bracket. They did have the considerable advantage of Imran
Khan batting at number 7, though, with an average of 37.69.)

18.             England         1985    38.06

(Gooch, Robinson, Gower, Gatting, Lamb, Botham. Only Gooch and Gower
averaged over 40, the rest in the mid 30s.)

Thanks to cricinfo and those rsc subscribers who kindly provided me with
those batting averages that I couldn't get from my cricket books.

One could obviously do a similar analysis for bowlers, taking a bowling
line-up to consist of four or five bowlers. However, I think this would
be less valid, since if a side has two or three outstanding bowlers the
quality of the remainder of the attack may hardly matter.

--
John