A Tribute to Australian Test Cricket’s ANZACS

I will be out of the country on Thursday, but like all Australians my thoughts will turn in some way to the sacrifices made by our servicemen in wars across more than a century in defence of our nation and the principles of freedom and democracy.

Over 136 years of Test cricket, 433 players have had the distinction of wearing the ‘baggy green’. This piece is about a very small number of these men, in fact just 16, who served their country on active overseas service during war. Some returned to, or commenced their cricketing careers, some did not play Test cricket again, and some tragically did not return home at all.

For a young and emerging nation, still very much part of the British Empire, thousands of young Australians enthusiastically enlisted for active duty in the ‘Great War’, serving with distinction in all theatres of war, from the murderous Gallipoli peninsula, to the sodden vermin-infested trenches of France and Belgium, in blazing heat and bitter frost and in everything in between.

The era saw a certain glory in war and sacrifice, although attitudes changed and became more weary as the conflict dragged inexorably on, and the news of the deaths of sons, brothers, fathers and uncles came with increasingly regularity.

As a nation Australia saw an opportunity to prove its mettle and surely few nations sacrificed as much or as willingly as this embryonic little nation, thousands of miles and many months removed from the battlegrounds, a nation of almost 5,000,000 people who somehow saw almost 10% of its entire population enlist, and half of whom were either killed in battle, wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

Our sportsmen, and in particular our cricketers, were not immune from the conflict or the enthusiasm to participate, and nor were they immune to the horrors of it.

Albert “Tibby” Cotter was one of the finest bowlers of the ‘Golden Age’ of cricket, playing in 21 Tests between 1904 and 1912. He had stopped playing Test cricket at the time due to disputes over management and selection of the team, but he was still a fit man at the age of 31.

Taken by the patriotic fervour of the age, “Tibby”, despite his limited ability, enlisted in the 1st Australian Light Horse in April 1915 in something of a coup for recruitment spruikers who could point to the example of a famous sportsman to encourage others to make a similar commitment.

He set sail soon after and saw active duty during the latter stages of the Gallipoli campaign. Following the ‘tactical’ withdrawal, he then transferred to the 12th Light Horse where he received an official commendation for courage under fire during the second battle of Gaza.

Tragically Albert Cotter was shot dead at close range some months later when, on 31 October 1917, he was carrying out his duties as a stretcher-bearer as part of a group that had captured Beersheba. He was the only Australian Test cricketer killed in WWI and shortly before heading to the front that day it is rumoured a rolled his arm over to deliver an item to someone and with eerie premonition proclaimed that it would probably be the last ball he bowled as he had a bad feeling about what was to come.

Slightly more fortunate was Bert Oldfield, a man who famously played in 54 Tests as a wicket keeper between 1920 and 1937, a number of Tests that exceeded the number of any other Australian during that period.

However, this record very nearly did not happen as Oldfield suffered extremely serious wounds and almost died at Polygon Wood in 1918 when buried for some time under rubble following a bombardment of his mission. Oldfield recovered, with the aid of a steel plate in his head, famously struck during the Bodyline series, to enjoy a marvellous career as well as serve his nation again during active service in WWII rising to the rank of major.

For some the ‘Great War’ saw an interruption to careers that had started to blossom during the ‘Golden Age’, most notably for Charles Kelleway and Charlie Macartney.

I can find little information about the service record of Charles Kelleway who played for his country in 26 Tests between 1910 and 1928 as a sound top-order batsman. What is known is that he ended the War with the rank of captain and served in the Middle East, and that he was the captain of the Services cricket team formed immediately following the cessation of hostilities.

Macartney on the other hands was regarded as one of Australia’s finest early players and was a player much admired and watched by Bradman for his inventiveness and stroke play. He enlisted in the AIF in January 1916 and was posted to the western front, arriving in France in July 1917 where he served with the 3rd Division Artillery and where he was recognised with a Meritorious Service Medal for gallantry and reached the rank of corporal.

Macartney is unusual in that he is one of the few players to have played either side of a war to have become a better player after the hostilities. Overall he played 35 Tests between 1907 and 1926 but transformed himself from a middling all-rounder prior to the conflict, to one of the great batsmen of his age.

Herbert Collins enlisted in the 1st AIF in 1915 as part of the reinforcements for the Australian Light Horse Brigade, serving in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns before seeing action on the western front where he would cart ammunition to artillery units at the front.

After the War, “Herbie” went on to play 19 Tests between 1921 and 1926, captaining his country on 11 occasions. He was a highly regarded batsman who scored 4 centuries at an average of 45.06 as well as a highly gifted rugby league player as part of the Eastern Suburbs 1911 premiership team.

Our final player to have served in the ‘Great War’ is Dr Roy Park who served as a medic and captain from July 1917 with the Australian Army Medical Corps. Prior to the War, Park was a very fine VFL footballer with University, Footscray and Melbourne, who switched his focus to cricket upon his return. He only played the one Test for his country, unfortunately recording a first ball duck and a solitary over of spin to show for it, but interestingly was the father-in-law of Ian Johnson who went on to captain Australia.

Like his father-in-law, Johnson also served during war, enlisting in the RAAF in March 1941 and seeing action as a Flight Lieutenant in the Pacific with the No 22 Squadron .

Following his return home, Johnson went on to play 45 Tests for his county as an off-spin bowler and took 109 wickets. He enjoyed the great honour of captaining his country between 1953 and 1956, before retiring after leading his side to consecutive Ashes defeats.

The man he replaced, Lindsay Hassett, also saw active service with the 2nd AIF in the Middle East and New Guinea. Prior to the war he had just commenced his international career and, as its only capped player, he was given the honour of leading the Australian Services team in the Victory Tests, a series that heralded the arrival of a very special talent in the form of Keith Miller.

Hassett went on to play 43 Tests in which he scored 10 centuries at a very fine average of 46.46. He captained Australia for 4 years until forfeiting the Ashes in 1953 for the first time since 1934, as well as famously being vice captain of Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles, one of the finest teams ever assembled.

Many of that team had seen active service  during WWII and for Bill Brown it marked the end of his career in reality. Brown was one of our more loved Test players in his 22 Tests and was a formidable opening batsman prior to the outbreak of hostilities averaging just under 50. However, after serving with the RAAF in New Guinea and the Philippines, he returned a shadow of his former self, and lost his spot to the pairing of Sid Barnes and Arthur Morris.

Morris had also served in the Pacific from 1943 as a private in the AIF, primarily in the transport corps in New Guinea and he went on to be named as a member of the Australian Team of the Century as he compiled 3,533 runs at 46.48 across 46 Tests between 1946 and 1955, including 12 centuries and famously outscoring Bradman in the Tests of the Invincibles tour.

Doug Ring and Colin McCool played only a small role in the overall triumph of the Invincibles – in fact McCool only played in the tour matches, however both were talented players who might have played more often in a different era.

Both served with distinction during WWII, with McCool stationed for 4 years in New Guinea with No 33 RAAF Squadron and rising to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, and Ring also seeing action in New Guinea with an anti-aircraft regiment.

The Invincibles tour also brought together one of Australia’s finest ever opening bowling combinations in Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, two men who will always be a part of the discussions on our greatest team, and two men who had survived the horrors of war.

Lindwall was a prodigious talent, equally adept at rugby league where he played for the famous St George club and was the competition’s leading scorer, who showed remarkable determination to serve. Initially rejected from enlisting in the RAAF due to an exemption for employees of the company he worked for, Lindwall quit his job and  joined the army where he served in an anti-aircraft and fortress unit based at Port Moresby, came under fire while arriving, and contracted malaria.

All that aside, Lindwall also famously used his down time to perfect his run-up between two palm trees. He obviously managed this well, taking 228 wickets at 23.03 in 61 Tests to become one of our greats.

His partner in crime was the handsome, dashing Keith Miller who announced himself on the Victory Tour of England.

Miller, who was also a very fine VFL footballer for St Kilda, served with the RAAF in Europe where he flew bombing missions over enemy lines, before debuting as a Test player. Miller bowled with extreme pace and was a hard-hitting batsman who compiled a tremendous record over 55 Tests to become Australia’s greatest all-rounder, and one of the greatest of all time.

Surely his experiences in battle, held aloft in a potential tin coffin, tempered his approach to the game and to life itself – a rebellious, carousing, entertaining approach that placed the love of the contest as the primary reason to play rather than victory itself, after all as he famously said “pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, cricket is not”.

It is a point worth remembering either as a player or member of the crowd, especially considering the sacrifices of “Tibby” Cotter and Ross Gregory, a prodigiously talented young man who debuted for Victoria prior to leaving school and played 2 Tests at the age of 21, who was sadly killed in action in his aircraft over what is now Bangladesh.

I apologise for anyone that I may not have mentioned – it would be a genuine oversight and please let me know about them.

But finally, whether you are at the dawn service, watching the march, playing two-up at the pub or RSL, or doing something else, please take a moment to think about and acknowledge our servicemen and women – you may know or be related to some personally, and you certainly know of a few more now and a contribution they made that is far broader than cricket.

So when Anzac Day rolls around on Thursday raise a glass and give them a toast. I know I will be, and until next time …. that is stumps.

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Dale Steyn – a Once in a Century Bowler

This morning the Sunrisers Hyderabad sit jointly atop the IPL table. If, like me, you have been surprised by their strong start to the IPL competition, there is a simple reason in my opinion – in Dale Steyn they have one of the greatest bowlers to have ever graced the field.

This piece is an attempt to find the place of the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ in the firmament of great bowlers, and readers familiar with my previous pieces will be aware that I attempt to design statistical frameworks to come to grips with such questions – after all I certainly was never blessed to witness wonderful bowlers such as O’Reilly, SF Barnes, Grimmett and many others, and perhaps neither have you.

Makes things a touch difficult doesn’t it ?

Well fear not dear reader, for I have found a way to shine a torch through the murky and bamboozling array of numbers and statistics to guide us in this quest.

The first seeds of this method were sown while discussing what defined greatness in a bowler with a fellow cricket tragic while watching the Australian XI battle the touring South Africans at the SCG. His view was that a player could only be classed as a truly great bowler if they had taken at least 100 Test wickets and averaged more than 5 wickets per Test match.

Thirty minutes of frantic iPhone searching ensued, and we found it this was a fairly elite list of an even dozen. Surprisingly it did not include some players that I would have immediately thought were certainties such as Warne and McGrath, to name two obvious examples. Accordingly, I broadened the qualifying criteria slightly to include:

  • all bowlers who have taken 100 Test wickets (amazingly there are only 163), AND
  • of those bowlers, those who have averaged 4.5 wickets per Test match or better

This still left me with a very select list of 24 players, including three current players, although I suspect they will soon be joined by Vernon Philander and Ravichandran Ashwin. Given the spot-fixing findings against him, I have taken the liberty of excluding Mohammad Asif from the field, which leaves the final list at 23.

I have designed a statistical framework designed to measure each players consistency, longevity, impact and greatness for their era. The latter is an important addition and I am indebted to one of my Twitter compadres @BjornThorgesen for his suggestions around this. I hope I have done them justice.

From its early days to the present cricket has seen many, many changes – covered pitches, shorter boundaries on some grounds with the advent of roped boundaries, bat technology, independent umpires, DRS, shorter overs, improved safety protection for batsmen, laws against intimidatory bowling, the frantic schedule involving new formats of the game and many more Test playing nations, and the relative strength of opposition in some eras as new nations joined the fray and struggled for competitiveness and relevance.

Many would argue that it is these very changes that make it so impossible to compare across eras. They may have a point, but it would really limit water cooler conversation about cricket, and many other sports for that matter. After all finding a historical context for performances is an often used way to attribute greatness to an act or individual, and statistics are frequently used in cricket discussions, so my view is that they provide valid insights and answers.

In compiling this analysis with the help of Cricinfo, I was also struck by the fact that despite constant changes in the game over the past century, many aspects of performance remained very similar. For example, it might surprise you to learn that since the Great War roughly a century ago, with the exception of a rebuilding period following the Second World War, that across the careers of most players in this list, the averages and strike rates per wicket across all Tests have remained fairly similar, which tends to suggest a better ability to compare across eras than may initially be apparent.

Nonetheless subtle differences no doubt remain. I am convinced that in the vast majority of cases a great player in one era would succeed in another, but first you have to be great for your time. Accordingly, as you will see below, I have placed significant weight on how players rated against the overall norms of their times and, to a lesser extent, the impact their absence had upon their nation’s fortunes.

Anyway, time to get on with it, and here is the rating system used, noting that each player will be ranked 1 to 23 in each category and these scores multiplied by the rating factors to derive a total score, the lower the score the better. To account for longevity the final score will be reduced by 1.25 times the number of Test matches played (remember, it is the lowest score that wins).

CONSISTENCY RATING FACTORS (27% of total)

  1. wickets per innings bowled (ranking X 8)
  2. career bowling average (ranking X 11)
  3. wickets per Test (ranking X 8)

IMPACT RATING FACTORS (23% of total)

  1. % of innings bowled resulting in 5WI (ranking X 8)
  2. career bowling strike rate (ranking X 12)
  3. career economy rate (ranking X 3)

GREATNESS IN THEIR ERA FACTORS (50% of total)

  1. % difference between player’s career bowling average and the average runs per wicket for ALL Tests played during the period of their career (ranking X 20)
  2. % difference between player’s career economy rate and the average runs per over for ALL Tests played during the period of their career (ranking X 3)
  3. % difference between player’s career strike rate and the average balls per wicket for ALL Tests played during the period of their career (ranking X 17)
  4. difference in winning % between matches they played for their country vs those they didn’t during the period of their career (ranking X 6)
  5. difference in losing % between matches they played for their country vs those they didn’t during the period of their career (ranking X 4)

Without further ado, here is my top 10 in history based on the statistical framework outlined above. Certainly many of you will be surprised by it by I am sticking by it – after all you can claim to have seen or have detailed knowledge of 2,085 Test matches played across 136 years !

10) Allan Donald (South Africa) 1992-2002

In the words of Neil Manthorp, “no living South African player, past or present, commands as much respect from the public and his peers as Donald.”

Very high praise indeed from such a respected commentator and very appropriate for the man labelled ‘White Lightning’ who was the rainbow nation’s first great fast bowler and their first to capture 300 wickets.

During the period in which he played Donald carried a nation’s hopes to a large extent on his shoulders, but more importantly he stood out as a preeminent proponents of his craft, admired and feared in equal parts, a man whose bowling average was nearly 42% better than the average per wicket during his career and whose strike rate 40% better than the average balls per wicket of his era.

From a rhythmical and springy approach, Donald could generate ferocious pace and combined this with a superb outswinger that saw him achieve an outstanding career average of 22.25 and take a wicket every 47 balls, a phenomenal achievement only bettered by 8 players who have taken at least 100 wickets in the history of the game.

9) Charlie Blythe (England) 1901-1910

Charlie Blythe was a slow left arm orthodox bowler from the first decade of the 20th century. My research tells me that he reputedly possessed good flight and turn and was particularly difficult to face on a ‘sticky wicket’, so prevalent in the time.

Nonetheless he captured 100 wickets at an almost unbelievable average of 18.6 combined with a superb strike rate of 45.4. Certainly the age in which he played was one of low scores, uncovered wickets and only three Test nations, however his average was 35% superior to the contemporary runs per wicket and his strike rate was 16% better. What is truly remarkable is that he was able to capture a 5WI once in every four innings that he bowled, and this during a period in which one of the greatest bowlers ever (read further to discover who) bowled alongside him.

Given the scarcity of Test cricket during these times it is easy to dismiss such a player, but before you do consider that he also took 2,503 FC wickets in 439 matches at an average of 16.81. Unbelievably he took 5WI on 218 occasions, in other words once in every two matches.

Sadly Charlie Blythe suffered from epilepsy for his career which saw him in and out of the England team, a fact which strangely improved the winning and losing percentages of the team when it occurred, and he died in action on the Western Front in 1917.

8) Dennis Lillee (Australia) 1971-1984

One of Australia’s most loved and revered players, Dennis Keith Lillee, burst onto the scene as a tear away fast bowler who tore through the English batsmen on the 1972 Ashes tour, and ended his career as a medium fast bowler of incredible intelligence and mastery of all matters swing and seam, after famously remodelling his action following debilitating stress fractures of the back.

Through a combination of charisma, enormous skill, and showmanship, Lillee’s feats thrilled fans everywhere, most notably in his native Australia, where the chant “Lillllllleeeee, Lillllleeee…” would ring out at the start of play and often when his team was down and needed a breakthrough, which he often obtained.

I can still see DK running in at the MCG against the Windies in 1981. Having seen his side skittled late on the first day for 198 (thanks to an amazing unbeaten 100 for Kim Hughes) Lillee responded to the desperate urgings of the crowd removing Haynes and the night-watchman, before skittling Viv Richards on the last ball of the day to reduce the Windies to 4/10.

Not satisfied with that drama, Lillee returned the next day to collect his best Test figures of 7/55, along the way dismissing Larry Gomes to claim the world record for most number of wickets, and leading Australia to a most unlikely victory.

Selected in Australia’s team of the 20th century, Lillee played in one of the most competitive eras ever, one that contained many acknowledged as greats of the game. When Lillee played his team won 48% more often than when he did not. The fact that his bowling average was 36% superior than the average runs per wicket of his time, and his strike rate 35% better, is testimony to his greatness.

7) Fred Trueman (England) 1952-1965

The burly and scowling Yorkshireman holds the distinction of being the first player in the history of Test cricket to break the 300 wicket barrier. At the time it seemed such an Everest, so much so that when asked if he thought his mark would ever be bettered he famously quipped that the person who did would be “bloody tired”.

Since then 24 players have gone past Freddy’s mark, a mark which admittedly might have been higher had he not been stood aside from so many Tests during his prime for run-ins with officialdom. Nonetheless, only one of these players enjoyed a better average than Trueman and just 4 a better strike rate.

During his era, England’s winning percentage was 69% better than when he did not play from his intermittent suspensions, and Trueman was streets ahead of his contemporaries with an average 42% better than the average runs per wicket of the era, and a strike rate a remarkable 56% superior, the largest statistical  dominance of any player considered on this list.

6) Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka) 1992-2010

One of the most remarkable, and to a certain extent controversial cricketers, of our time, Murali’s place among the greatest has always provoked considerable debate, much of it centred on the legality or otherwise of his bowling action, and the disproportionate numbers of occasions he has played against minnow nations like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Personally I think these arguments are a load of rubbish. Murali’s action has been declared legal, players in many different eras have had to play against emerging cricket nations, and his record against all comers across 132 Tests competes can not just rely on dominating lesser lights.

No player in the history of the game has taken more wickets or bowled more deliveries than this little man with the strange action from Kandy – in fact it is unlikely that anyone ever will. No one has taken 5 or more wickets in an innings than this little magician who has achieved the feat an astonishing 67 times, a rate better than once in every four innings bowled.

All of these facts will stand the test of time and during his career Murali did more than any other player to make Sri Lanka a truly competitive Test nation that managed an excellent winning percentage of almost 43% when he played, a figure that was halved on the occasions during his career when he was not available.

Murali played in an era full of terrific players, including his great contemporary Shane Warne. His career average of 22.72 was 46% better than the average runs per wicket of his time, remarkable in an era that included Ponting, Waugh, Sangakkara, Kallis, Tendulkar, Dravid, Hayden and Sehwag, all players who averaged over 50 in Test cricket, and a true mark of his greatness.

5) Sir Richard Hadlee (New Zealand) 1973-1990

During his 17 year Test career, New Zealand NEVER won a Test without the name (Sir) Richard Hadlee appearing on the team sheet. Undoubtedly his nation’s finest cricketer, Hadlee was also one of the finest of his generation, which is some statement considering the quality of the West Indian attack and players such as Lillee, Imran, Kapil, and Botham, to name just a few.

In 2001, Wisden ranked his 9/52 against Australia at the Gabba the fifth greatest bowling performance of all time. It was a display that epitomised all the was great about him as a bowler and one I had the great fortune to witness.

At the time and I was struck not by his hostility but rather the constant menace he posed. With the crowd baying for his blood, Hadlee would whirl away at the top of his mark like Snidely Whiplash, and deliver each ball with metronomic precision in the same spot over after over. There was no respite and no let up and for the batsman it was impossible to predict what would happen next as balls moved late in and away from them both off the seam and with swing.

It is little wonder that Hadlee took a five wicket haul on average once every four innings he bowled in, one of the best ratios in this elite list. The fact that, in one of the greatest ever eras, his career average of 22.29 was 46% superior to the average runs per wicket during that time, and his strike rate was 36% better than the average balls per wicket, is testimony to his greatness and his position on this list.

4) Malcolm Marshall (West Indies) 1978-1991

Marshall played for one of the great sides in one of the great eras – in fact he only played in 8 losing sides over his career and did not play in a losing Test until 1984. He also played alongside some fearsome and wonderful bowlers like Holding, Garner, Roberts and Ambrose, all of whom took over 200 Test wickets, and all of whom had enviable records.

Yet somehow this short man from Barbados managed to become the greatest of them all, and certainly one of the greatest ever to have played, a man as effective on the WACA as he was on a Delhi dust bowl. with a mixture of late outswing and cutters bowled at a great skidding pace.

Marshall’s career average of  20.94 is the lowest of any player to have taken 200 or more Test wickets and only 7 of the 163 players to have taken 100 or more Test wickets can boast a better strike rate than his 46.70. Even more importantly however, for a man to have a career bowling average 55% better than the average runs per wicket of his era, and a strike rate 46% superior than the average balls per wicket in such a wonderful era, marks Marshall as one of the true greats.

3) Dale Steyn (South Africa) 2004-current

There is no doubt that Dale Steyn is the preeminent bowler of today – just this year he has taken 33 wickets in just 5 Tests at the astonishing average of 12.36 and a staggering strike rate of 32.97.

What makes Dale Steyn one of the greats of the game and rates him so highly on this list is his strike rate, and the huge gap between him and his contemporaries. Of all the players in the history of the game to have taken 100 Test wickets, only one (who appears ahead) has a strike rate superior to Steyn’s 41.1 – think of all the great players you know and none will have a better strike rate than this man which says an awful lot I would think.

Against the norms of his time Steyn is vastly superior with his career average of 22.65 being 53% superior to the average runs per wicket of his career, and his strike rate being 54% superior.

Steyn’s career has yet to finish obviously so his final place is still up for grabs, but at the moment his overall record is that of a very special talent and a great of the game.

2) Sydney (SF) Barnes (England) 1901-1914

No greater judge than Richie Benaud rated this man worthy of a spot in his greatest XI of all time and most cricketers and students of the game in the period in which S.F. Barnes played were agreed that he was the bowler of the century.

Barnes played in cricket’s first “Golden Age” against players such as Trumper, Hill, McCartney, Kelleway, Nourse and Taylor. Certainly there were few easy games against good quality opponents, no new balls every so any overs, and significant disadvantage in touring given the distances, time and sacrifices involved – his achievement in taking 77 wickets in Australia a simply staggering one during his time, including famously dismissing the great Victor Trumper for a duck in three successive innings.

The literature describes him as having an upright, high arm action and proclaims him as one of the first bowlers really to use the seam of a new ball and combine swing so subtly with movement that few batsmen could distinguish one from the other.

He took 189 wickets in just 27 Tests, unbelievably averaging 7 wickets per Test and taking 5WI on average every second innings in which he bowled.

His average of 16.43 was 58% superior the average runs per wicket of the age and his strike rate nearly 30% better, so while many might dispute his inclusion due to uncovered pitches and the like, the quality of his opponents and his sheer statistical dominance over his contemporaries should mean that his place is indisputable.

1) George (GA) Lohmann (England) 1886-1896

George Lohmann debuted for England as a 21 year old in the earliest years of the game. While no more than medium pace, Lohmann possessed great variation and unerring accuracy, and he has left some statistical achievements that may never be bettered.

He claimed his 100th wicket in just his 16th Test during his penultimate series against South Africa in 1896, along the way claiming a staggering 35 wickets in just three Tests at the miserly average of just 5.80. Tragically he only played one further Test before tragically retiring early due to effects of tuberculosis.

Lohmann’s career average of 10.75 and strike rate of 34.10 are the best of any player to have taken 100 or more Test wickets and are unlikely to ever be bettered. Certainly he played in an era of uncovered pitches and the like but no player in this list has the statistical dominance over his contemporaries that he does with a career average 85% superior to the average runs per wicket of his era, and a strike rate 43% better than the average balls per wicket.

For these reasons Lohmann can be considered a worthy number one.

So there we have it. Certainly a lower qualification number for wickets per Test might produce a different result – Garner, Ambrose, Waqar and Imran would be worthy additions to the list in these circumstances and may pressure some in this top 10 for a place.

However, you have to draw a line somewhere, and having drawn it one thing is clear – in the past 100 years there has not been a better bowler to have played Test cricket than Dale Steyn.

For those interested in the full list and scores here is a link to them Greatest Bowler Stats.

I hope you enjoyed reading this piece and until next time …. that is stumps.

The Forgotten Men – A New Deal in Australian Cricket’s Great Depression

A great pall has been cast over a once great cricket nation the likes of which have not been seen since those despairing and parlous times of the mid-1980’s. Indeed it might be termed another ‘Great Depression” at least in the sense of hopelessness that has invaded the very soul of many a fan.

History can be a great teacher, and seeking inspiration, I read a little about how US President Franklin D Roosevelt dealt with such challenging circumstances in the 1930’s. In particular I was reminded of his famous ‘The Forgotten Man’ speech of 1932, and in it I found a number of phrases that could apply to the circumstances Australian cricket face today, so much so that I can almost imagine them coming from the mouth of Allan Border.

Accordingly I have taken a little journalistic licence and come up with AB’s State of the Union Address, selected highlights of which are ‘quoted’ below.

“[28] years ago my public duty called me to an active part in a great national emergency, [rebuilding the Australian cricket team] … In my calm judgement, [we] face today a more grave emergency than in [1985].

It is said that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo because he forgot his infantry – he staked too much upon the more spectacular but less substantial cavalry. The present [NSP] provides close parallel. It has either forgotten or it does not want to remember the infantry of our [cricket] army.

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten … that put their faith once more in the forgotten man [atop the Shield pyramid] … It is high time to get back to fundamentals. It is high time to admit with courage that we are in the midst of an emergency at least equal to that of war. Let us mobilise to meet it.”

These words, from so many years ago, seem to tap into a way of thinking once so prevalent in our cricketing ethos, namely that years of hard graft and consistency of results in our premier domestic competition were a prerequisite to attaining a childhood dream of a precious baggy green.

So today I set off on a quest to find those “forgotten men” based on performances over the past three Shield seasons, and to perhaps offer some alternative solutions for Australian cricket moving forward.

Luke Butterworth (Tasmania)

Perhaps there is no more forgotten cricketer in Australia than this unassuming fast-medium all-rounder from Hobart.

Since his debut in 2007, Butterworth has played 61 FC matches taking 205 wickets, including eight 5WI, at 23.55 with an excellent strike rate (51.4) and economy rate (2.74). He has also handily added two centuries and nine 50s while amassing 2,319 runs at 27.28 batting anywhere between 6 and 9 in the order.

Crucially he has scored many of these runs in big games and in three Shield finals he has scored 66 and 106 in 2007, 88 in 2011, and then 86 and 17 in this year’s decider. This, combined with his bowling in all of these victories, shows terrific temperament and fight and a sense of rising to the occasion which is needed in Test cricket.

However, most importantly of all, he is one of only three players (the others being James Faulkner and Michael Hogan) to feature in the top 10 wicket takers for the Shield competition for each of the last three seasons. Indeed no player has taken more than Butterworth’s 121 wickets at 20.22 over the past three years at the excellent strike rate of 48.4 and economy rate of 2.49.

Butterworth is getting better as a player and his useful swing and accurate seam bowling, combined with handy batting and sound temperament, mean he should be anything but forgotten. Indeed, he may be a great metaphor for the malaise affecting our cricket in that his outstanding and consistent performances have rated him barely a mention as a possible Australian player.

Rob Quiney (Victoria)

Some might say he is best forgotten given his performances against the South Africans last summer, but in many respects the selectors got his initial selection right.

Rob Quiney had been in and out of the Victorian team for quite some time and had been at best a modest performer prior to a breakthrough season in 2010/11, indeed his overall FC record of 3,445 from 60 matches at an average of 36.26 is certainly unremarkable to say the least.

But, and here is the kicker, over the past three seasons Rob Quiney has scored more Shield runs AND at a better average than any player recently brought into the team or discussed as a candidate with 1,957 runs at 45.51 with 5 centuries.

Prior to his selection last summer, in the previous 2 seasons Quiney had finished as the second highest run scorer in both years and his total of 1,662 runs at 51.94 during this time was more than anyone else. So yes he was worthy of a call up and it might be said that he deserved a more extended opportunity to show his talents against the Sri Lankans rather than being a crash test dummy for Phil Hughes against the mighty South African pace attack. In fact prior to his debut it is arguable that Quiney had a better and more consistent case than Cowan for inclusion, and steady Eddie is hardly setting the world on fire since selection.

James Faulkner (Tasmania)

Well he is probably not forgotten given his elevation to the pyjama cricket ranks this summer, but James Faulkner absolutely deserves mention as a serious Test candidate, not just for his fiesty approach, but mostly due to his bloody terrific FC record.

In each of the past three seasons he has finished as one of the ten leading Shield wicket takers and his total of 114 during this period has come at the wonderful average of 21.16 and the even more impressive strike rate of 42.2.

Oh, and the guy can bat a bit as can be seen by his performance in the Shield final and overall record of 1,252 runs at 29.11. How he was considered a lesser all-rounder than Henriques or Maxwell for the recent Indian debacle is beyond me.

Mark Cosgrove (Tasmania)

Certainly Mark looks like he might enjoy a little too much of the sponsors product (for those slower on the uptake I mean VB and KFC) to fit in with the metrosexuals Watto, Patto and Clarkey, vegan Siddle, and even studious Ed, however only one player has scored more the big man’s 1,937 runs at 43.04 in Shield cricket over the past three seasons.

With three centuries and twelve 50s, Cosgrove has appeared in the top ten run scorers in two of the past three Shield seasons, a feat only matched by five other players (NO player has appeared in the top ten run scorers for all three summers). In fact his numbers are quite comparable with two young tyros in Phil Hughes (1,558 runs at 43.27 with four centuries) and the invisible tourist Usman Khawaja (1,311 at 43.70 with three centuries).

An experienced player with 120 FC matches to his credit, Cosgrove could surprise if given an opportunity. Perhaps the fact he is not often mentioned in dispatches could be another example of the “cavalryman” being preferred to the “infantryman”.

Chris Rogers (Victoria)

Perhaps not exactly forgotten, but there is only one player still available for Australian selection (unbelievably it is David Hussey) with a better FC average than this redoubtable and vastly experienced opening batsman who has scored 18,962 runs at 49.90 in a FC career that includes 58 centuries across a 14 year career spanning some 231 matches.

During the past three seasons, Rogers has featured in the top ten Shield run scorers for the past two seasons, scoring 1,741 runs at 41.45 with six centuries. What makes Rogers such a remarkable case is not only his even better FC record in English conditions, but the fact that even at the ripe old age of 35, his season Shield average has improved every year of the past three and has occupied a higer position on the run scoring charts each year.

In a war does age really matter, or do you need your best fit men to take up the battle ? Surely we are not so flush with talent that a man such as Chris Rogers could not be a pivotal part of the discussion re our cricketing future over the next few years ?

Australian Spin Bowling

Truly the forgotten men – do they even exist ? It hardly comes as a surprise that we are unable to find a reliable partner for Nathan Lyon and resort to project players and those who have a certain ‘X factor’, given that no spinner has taken more than 26 wickets in a Shield season over the past three years, and that was Michael Beer, an honest journeyman at best (O’Keefe has taken 55 wickets in that time with 24 this season being his best effort).

I am not sure whether this is a statement on the quality of spinners, their lack of opportunity and selection,pitch bias, or something else entirely, but the reality is that no one has truly earned a right to selection so for the moment they will remain the forgotten men.

And then there are a couple of other players who might be best termed as the great pretenders, players who have been mentioned in dispatches but whose cases for inclusion are not really supported by the evidence.

First cab off the rank is Alex Doolan from Tasmania. Supposedly a wonder child Doolan has a modest FC average of 37.92 with just 5 centuries. This is remarkably consistent with his record over the past three Shield seasons where he has amassed 1,684 runs at 37.42 with just 2 centuries. Indeed his return of 715 runs at 42.05 marks his best season in the last three, hardly the mark of a Test player yet.

Then there is young Joe Burns from Queensland. Over the past three seasons he has scored 1,649 runs at 40.21 with five centuries which is acceptable, however in each season his average has gone backwards with last season’s 587 runs at 32.61, not the form of a Test aspirant.

Make no mistake these are desperate times fo Australian cricket and we face a prolonged war for The Ashes and the climb to reaching number one in the world again.

To succeed we will very likely need to call upon our infantry, the forgotten men of Shield cricket.

Until next time … that is stumps.

Test Cricket’s Greatest All-Rounder – Lies, Lies and Damn Statistics

Last summer Australian fans were privileged to see one of the modern greats of world cricket in Jacques Kallis, and his appearance on these shores led to considerable discussion among the Channel 9 and ABC commentary teams about his place in the pantheon of great all-rounders in the history of the game.

The consensus of the punditry was that he is very good, just not as good as a certain West Indian by the name of Sir Garfield Sobers, who incidentally has also been recently rated as the next best batsman after Bradman by some pretty good judges in Mark Nicholas, Martin Crowe and Ian Chappell.

A lot of the discussion was based on the personal experience of playing with or against a particular player or great performances witnessed. This got me to thinking about how one can be so definitive on a subject such as the greatest ever given that Test cricket has been played for 136 years and has had over 2,000 contests. Clearly no-one has witnessed them all, indeed for many it is nigh on impossible to find an account or sepia tinged photograph, let alone a sound or visual recording.

One of the great things about cricket is its consistent range of statistical measures over history, and I believe that it is possible to use these numbers in a way that allows comparison of players across eras in a consistent way, owing less to personal preference, memory and most importantly, to having actually witnessed players like Sobers, Miller, Benaud and the like in the flesh.

So this is a piece on my quest to find an approach that would allow me to contribute to the debate on the greatest all-rounder of all time, and perhaps spark a discussion that might not be as easily settled as one of the protagonists piping up with “well you never saw him play and I can tell you …”. It might be true, but then again millions of others including me have never seen Bradman play and yet he is universally regarded as the greatest without debate. The reason for this is the enormous statistical gap between him and the next best, however I sense the all-rounder question might not be such an open and closed case.

My first step was to establish a criteria for what actually defines an all-rounder. Traditionally, it has been viewed as a player who could genuinely be selected as either a batsman or bowler, however my subjective opinion is that in the history of the game there would be very few on this list. Perhaps this actually defines their greatness, however it is subjective.

I believe there is a simple criteria that at least qualifies a player to be part of the discussion, one which might leave out a couple of surprising players like Alan Davidson, and include some not so obvious players, but which at least forms a basis of comparison and is easy to get data for. Accordingly the criteria I have come up for entry to this list is that firstly a player must have played at least 20 Tests, and that they must have scored at least one Test century AND taken five wickets in an innings at least once. As far as I can gather, surprisingly there are only 97 players in the history of the game that qualify for discussion.

Players were ranked from 1 to 97 across each of a range of factors designed to capture their consistency of excellence, combined with their ability to make a match-winning impact. These factors were then weighted to an overall scale of 100 multiplier points, with the person achieving the lowest score being the top ranked player. The criteria are as follows:

Consistency of Excellence Factors and Multipliers

  1. Batting average = rank X15 multiplier
  2. Bowling average = rank X15 multiplier
  3. Runs per Test = rank X12.5 multiplier
  4. Wickets per Test = rank X12.5 multiplier

Impact Factors and Multipliers

  1. Hundreds per Test = rank X10 multiplier
  2. 5WI per Test = rank X10 multiplier
  3. Bowling S/R = rank X10 multiplier (batting not included as balls faced not always recorded)
  4. Best bowling figures = rank X5 multiplier
  5. Highest score = rank X5 multiplier
  6. Catches per Test = rank X5 multiplier

The rating factors are designed to put all players on an equal footing assuming similar longevity in the game and capture both consistency of performance together with match-winning impact. It differs from the traditional method of taking the difference between the batting and bowling averages, in that it places a higher emphasis on impact factors that have a significant impact on the outcome such as centuries and 5WI hauls.

The analysis throws out a top 10 which contains a couple of surprises but which contains all of the usual suspects. It is based purely on Test match performances and is designed most importantly to highlight those the greatest ability to significantly influence the outcome of a Test with EITHER bat or ball.

So, drumroll please ……. without further ado here they are in reverse order:

10) Mushtaq Mohammad (Pakistan) – a surprising start to my top 10, Mushtaq was one of 5 very talented cricketing brothers that included the great Hanif. Potentially he is the youngest player to have scored a Test century and was Wisden’s cricketer of the year in 1963. In 57 Tests across a 20 year period he scored 3,643 runs at a respectable average of 39.17 with 10 centuries. He is a surprising inclusion given that he only took 79 Test wickets with his leg breaks, however he did so at a good average of 29.22 with 3 five wicket hauls. Considering that he took 936 first class wickets at an excellent average of 24.34 with a strike rate of just over 50 he was probably very much under-utilised as a Test bowler.

9) Chris Cairns (New Zealand) – another surprise entry but a quite deserving one. In 62 Tests over 15 years he scored 3,320 runs at 33.53 at a fast clip and captured 218 wickets at a good average of 29.40. What really gets Cairns into this list is his match winning impact based primarily around his bowling with 13 five wicket hauls, and most surprisingly the best strike rate of any player in the top 10 (53.6)

8) Jack Gregory (Australia) – from a very different era he appeared in 24 Tests between 1920 and 1929. In an era of uncovered pitches his 1,146 runs at 36.96 with 2 centuries is a very meritorious effort combined with 85 wickets at 31.15 with 4 five wicket hauls, albeit figures far inferior to his first class record 504 wickets at an average of 20.99.

7) Shakib al Hasan (Bangladesh) – I hear many of you exclaim “WHAT ??? How does a Bangladeshi make this esteemed list ?”. Understandable yes, but not warranted. Although he has only played 28 Tests to date he plays for a very weak team and in that context his performances are superb – 1,835 runs at 35.98 with 2 centuries and 102 wickets at 32.56 with a staggering 9 five wicket hauls.

6) Tony Greig (England) – the late and much-loved Greigy was a very underrated cricketer who played against some ferocious opponents like Lillee, the Chappells, Roberts, Holding, Richards, Imran, Javed, Kapil Dev, Gavaskar, and the list goes on. Given the quality of the opposition, the excellence of his performances came as a surprise to me when compiling this list. Greigy is a great example of the tricks perhaps memory can play, as when I conducted the exercise off the top of my head he was not in my top 10. In 58 Tests across one of the most competitive eras worldwide, Greigy successfully and combatively captained his adopted country, scoring 3,599 runs at a very proficient 40.43 with 8 centuries, and taking 141 wickets at a respectable 32.20 with 6 five wicket hauls.

Okay so that was the warm up – the real action (and debate) starts now and you could certainly make a case for any of these players being the number one.

5) Jacques Kallis (South Africa) – when the curtain is drawn on his career, Kallis will be regarded as one of the greats across an enormous number of Tests. His total of 13,128 runs at 56.10 with 44 centuries is that of a truly great batsman and the fact that he is near to 300 Test wickets and also one of the great slippers is testimony to his undeniable quality. Where Kallis falls down this list is his match winning ability with the ball having only captured 5 five wicket hauls in his career with an average of 32.43.

4) Keith Miller (Australia) – an exceptional and very fondly remembered player across 55 Tests, I would suggest he was the first truly great all-rounder. Miller was by all accounts a thrilling player with both bat and ball with a terrific back story and endlessly attacking approach. He is probably the first bowling all-rounder on this list and boasts a truly world-class specialist average of 22.97 for his 170 wickets with 7 five wicket hauls and a strike rate of 61.5. With the bat he was a very attacking and hard-hitting player who scored 2,958 runs at 36.97 with a symmetrical 7 centuries to go with his 7 five wicket hauls, a statistic that suggests he performed equally well in either discipline.

3) Imran Khan (Pakistan) – I have always thought Imran to be a vastly underrated player in these discussions of greatness, especially when combined with his inspirational captaincy. Imran was another bowling biased all-rounder however his batting improved dramatically over his career to the point where, in a career spanning a remarkable 21 years, he managed to accrue 3,807 runs over 88 Tests at a more than respectable average of 37.69 with 6 centuries, the majority of which came in the latter part of his career. With the ball Imran is by far the best credentialed player in this top 10, capturing 362 wickets at 22.81 with the world-class strike rate of 53.7 and 23 five wicket hauls.

2) Sir Garfield Sobers (West Indies) – I know this is controversial so I better get to the explanation quick. Across 93 Tests in a 20 year career, Sobers was a world-class bat capable of destroying an attack, hell with 8,032 runs at an average of 57.78 and 26 centuries he may even be the greatest batsman after Bradman. However, like Kallis it is the bowling where he loses out. Yes he could bowl whatever you wanted … left arm fast-medium, leg spin, off spin, slow medium …. BUT although he took 235 wickets his strike rate of 91.9 is NOT that of a true front line bowler in his era or any other, and his average of 34.03 is the worst of any in this top 10 list. When combined with his modest 6 five wicket hauls, Sobers in my opinion would rarely be a match winner with the ball.

And so we come to our surprising, but I think nonetheless deserving winner ….

1) Sir Ian Botham (England) – somewhat appropriately it is another knight of the realm who slips past Sir Garfield into the top position.Certainly Botham was no Sobers with the bat but he was more than useful with 14 centuries in his 5,200 runs at 33.54 and his destructive batting could be match winning, no better exemplified than by his extraordinary hundred against Australia at Headingley in 1981 and a top score of 208. Botham was truly a player who could win a Test with either bat or ball (or even in he slips) across his 15 year career, and his although his 383 wickets came at a surprisingly high average of 28.40, his strike rate of 56.9 and 27 five wicket hauls mark him as a match winner of the highest order.

And so there we have it, at least in my opinion.

Cricket is a great sport that provides so many indelible memories. But what happens when you have not have the fortune to experience the same ones as others with whom you are having a debate. Are you unqualified to participate ? Are the powerful memories of the past, so long-held, more valuable than those more current ? I am not sure I really know, but the other beauty of cricket is the similar statistical records that can be compared and that may shed light on the past. Then again there are lies, lies and damn statistics …..

Until next time, that is stumps.