An order to all things
Role-play is a compelling aspect of any sport, and in Test cricket, the opening batsman plays one of the more pivotal roles, and the bunny at the end contributes to the cheer. In between, there's more flux, as this look at players' batting positions indicates. Y Anantha Narayanan picks through the list.
January 31 2005: Sometime back Ashwin and I had a discussion between ourselves on the batting positions at which batsmen typically bat, and also the effectiveness of night-watchmen in Test cricket. Since these two topics are related (a nightwatchman is simply someone who bats considerably higher than his normal batting position) the discussion soon moved from the cricketing aspects to analytical ones.
I then wrote a program to analyse the position at which every batsman has batted in his entire career, and averaged these. The positions of 1 and 2 were combined into a single position of 1 since it really does not matter who faces the first ball; other positions are numbered from 3 to 11. The Batting Position values are totalled and divided by the number of innings each batsman played, thus arriving at the Batting Position Index for each player.
First, a few notes about the BPA Index. A BPI of 1.0 indicates that the batsman has always played in the opening position, while a BPI of 11.0 indicates that the batsman has similarly always batted last for his team. These are the extremes, and fairly clear, as a result. On the other hand a BPA of 5.0 does not indicate that the batsman always batted at No.5, since he could have batted 25 times at No.4 and 25 times at No.6. However a BPA value of 4.15 generally indicates that most of the time he has played at No.4 while a BPA of 4.90 indicates that he has batted at No.5 most of the time. Keep this in mind while you look at the numbers. A number of interesting facts came to light and are presented below.
First an important qualification. In all these analysis only batsmen who played in a minimum of 40 innings were considered. This represents around 25 tests and is considered as a minimum yardstick for comparison purposes.
To begin with, an important question. Are there batsmen who have opened in every innings of their career? I.e. does anyone have a BPI of exactly 1? As it turns out, yes, but very few, and not many of them players one would count among the best openers of Test history. Here's the full list of those who played to open, and no more.
=============================================================== Batsman Ctry Runs Avge Inns BPT BPIdx Taylor M.A Aus 7525 43.50 186 186 1.000 Slater M.J Aus 5312 42.84 131 131 1.000 Lawry W.M Aus 5234 47.15 123 123 1.000 Hayden M.L Aus 5564 54.55 112 112 1.000 Hunte C.C Win 3245 45.07 78 78 1.000 Srikkanth K Ind 2062 29.88 72 72 1.000 Broad B.C Eng 1661 39.55 44 44 1.000 Wettimuny S Slk 1221 29.07 43 43 1.000 Laird B.M Aus 1341 35.29 40 40 1.000 Das S.S Ind 1326 34.89 40 40 1.000 Taufeeq Umar Pak 1610 42.37 40 40 1.000 ===============================================================
Not a very surprising list. These are die-hard opening batsmen who have baulked at doing anything else. The fact that this list is headed by four Australians - and three of them from recent times - seems to indicate the importance they place on the opening position in particular, and a sense of permanence in their batting orders in general. No chopping and changing for the Australians. Even when Taylor struggled, they did not try pushing him down to No.4 or 5. In some cases, batsmen have never been considered for any other role; one such is S S Das, who has just made this list with exactly 40 innings.
What about those other opening stalwarts - Gavaskar, Boycott, Hutton, Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Haynes and Greenidge? Well, Gavaskar batted at No.4 in quite a few matches. Sutcliffe batted at No.6 in a single match. Hobbs batted low down in quite a few matches. Boycott batted at No.4 a few times. Similarly Haynes and Greenidge went off their opening positions for no more than couple of innings.
Next, a look at batting position and longevity of careers. This table lists the batsmen who have played the maximum number of Test innings, in descending order of innings played.
=============================================================== Batsman Ctry Runs Avge Inns BPT BPIdx Border A.R Aus 11174 50.56 265 1245 4.698 Waugh S.R Aus 10927 51.06 260 1410 5.423 Stewart A.J Eng 8465 39.56 235 842 3.583 Gooch G.A Eng 8900 42.58 215 313 1.456 Gavaskar S.M Ind 10122 51.12 214 269 1.257 Atherton M.A Eng 7728 37.70 212 249 1.175 Waugh M.E Aus 8029 41.82 209 886 4.239 Gower D.I Eng 8231 44.25 204 812 3.980 Haynes D.L Win 7487 42.30 202 209 1.035 ===============================================================
Border has oscillated between the positions 4 and 5 most of the time while Steve Waugh has done that a place lower. Stewart has been around the 3rd/4th positions. Gooch is a surprise. One would have expected him to be closer to 1 than what has come through; it must, however, be remembered that there is no position no 2. Gavaskar has batted quite a few times down the order, and Atherton not as often as Gavaskar. Mark Waugh has batted at 4 and after, while Gower has almost always batted at No.4. Haynes almost always at the opening position barring a couple of innings.
The list above, however, excludes many top batsmen, some of whom may yet join the list. Let us take a look at some of those who're not on the list.
=============================================================== Batsman Ctry Runs Avge Inns BPT BPIdx Bradman D.G Aus 6996 99.94 80 292 3.650 Sobers G.St.A Win 8032 57.78 160 807 5.044 Richards I.V.A Win 8540 50.24 182 758 4.165 Lara B.C Win 10094 52.85 197 741 3.761 Tendulkar S.R Ind 9879 57.44 193 835 4.326 Dravid R Ind 7363 57.52 146 487 3.336 Boycott G Eng 8114 47.73 193 199 1.031 ===============================================================
Bradman has moved back and forth the positions 3 and 4. Sobers has batted at No.5 quite a few times. However since he batted at No.6 a number of times in his later career this also means that he has batted at No.4 quite a number of times. Lara and Tendulkar stand on either side of 3 indicating that Lara has batted at 4 when he did not bat at 3 while Tendulkar has batted at No.5 and 6 when he did not bat at No.4. Dravid has batted at No.3 most of his career. Boycott batted at lower positions twice in a single test.
An interesting observation from the above two tables is that openers figure more in the first list than in the second one. One wonders if that means national selectors are generally more likely to give openers a longer leash than they might to those at other positions. It may also be that one persists with openers through dry spells too, because they're harder to replace that middle order batsmen. A third factor is that openers are more likely to get to bat twice a game than others.
Now to look at the other end of the table. Is there a batsman who has ALWAYS batted at No.11? If a player has a long enough career, he inevitably bats at least once in some other position, and thus has a BPI different from 11. The maximum number of innings played by a batsman whose entire career was spent in the #11 position is 17, by Nantie Hayward of South Africa. Here's the list of those who came closest to the low point, however, with at least 50 innings to their names.
=============================================================== Batsman Ctry Runs Avge Inns BPT BPIdx Chatfield E.J Nzl 180 8.57 54 592 10.963 McGrath G.D Aus 556 7.32 118 1290 10.932 Chandrasekhar B.S Ind 167 4.07 80 874 10.925 Valentine A.L Win 141 4.70 51 556 10.902 Malcolm D.E Eng 236 6.05 58 629 10.845 ===============================================================
The nearest we get to perfect inadequacy is in the form of Chatfield, who has batted at No.11 a total of 52 times and at No.9 just once (surprisingly, on that one occassion, two bunnies were considered worse than this all-time bunny!). McGrath has batted at positions earlier than No.11 a few times. Similarly Chandrasekhar has achieved promotion a couple of times. Valentine and Malcolm complete the perfect list of rabbits. Note Chandrasekhar's batting average, which is the lowest in this collection.
Finally, some data for those who are interested. Click here to see the complete list of all batsmen who have played 40 innings and above. This list is organized alphabetically for easy perusal. In the next article I will look at the impact of Night watchmen in Tests, which is the thought that originated this analysis.
Y Anantha Narayanan