Sunday, December 21, 2008

Centuries galore

I had gone past the part on the report on 3rd day's play at cricinfo which said Kevin Pietersen had just scored his 15th Test ton but I came back to the line a little while later to re-confirm what I just read. I did so after I recalled that the present English skipper made his Test debut less than 3½ years earlier in the Lord's Test of the 2005 Ashes.

Kevin is brilliant in his shots, worth going miles to watch and, after the marginal decline of Ricky Ponting in the past year, perhaps the most consciously dominating Test batting great in the world game today(*) - if only amongst those who approach cricket 'normally'. But it still came as a huge surprise that KP is scoring nearly 5 Test centuries a year. What does it convert to - a ton every second match? That would place his ton rate per match, and thereby his batting average maybe, next to Don Bradman.

I rush to KP's player page on cricinfo. Batting average first. He averages a shade under 50, which I reckon to be a bit of an underselling of his ability. I was expecting it to be 60 or thereabouts. But then that average make the tally of 15 centuries even more eye popping. Interested, I move to the 'number of caps' column for Pietersen. There. Turns out that the 2nd Test at Mohali is already his 45th Test match. A century in 3 matches and a conversion ratio of over 50% are still rather special but at least we have seen comparable figures in the past against people not called The Don.

45 is a lot of matches for a man to play in under 3½ years. I had a similar shocker last year when I learnt that Matthew Hayden has scored circa 25 Test tons in a period of just over 6 years, and that Ricky Ponting had taken his tally of Test hundreds from 10 to 32 in about the same time frame. No one in history of Test cricket has even been that prolific in notching up tons. Then we looked a little deeper.

While the 'number of hundreds' column does reflect Hayden & Ponting's brilliant form over these periods, we also see the other side of the coin when we find that these players never did cross the so-near-yet-so-far 60 mark in their overall averages even during these glorious phases of their careers. The large number of tons, therefore, are more a product of these modern greats playing many more matches than previous great batsmen in history rather than them going through patches of form unforeseen in other non-Bradman greats across the ages.

Tailpiece: I hope you already know the famous snippet that even Don Bradman failed to match English opener Herbert Sutcliffe's unique feat of never letting his overall Test average dip below 60. And that really means NEVER in Sutcliffe's full career spanning 11 years! Amazing, isn't it? Striking too, because Sutcliffe ended with a barely sixty plus average (60.73) in Tests while Don ended with you-know-what.

(*) - The Test batting strike rates will put Graeme Smith & Matthew Hayden over KP & Ponting but I suggest you take a vote from the opposition bowlers and the captains as to which players, on their day, can make perfectly good Test bowling line ups look toothless and scurry for cover at the same time. This statement once again excludes freaks. E.g. men from Najafgarh, India.

No comments: