Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: Tests

James Anderson’s record highlights England’s weakness

470122776Amid all the articles congratulating James Anderson for surpassing Ian Botham as England’s all-time Test wicket taker, I’ve not seen one to put the numbers in perspective. It’s a fine achievement, certainly, but compared to other countries, it’s pretty small beer.

Just like the centuries record that three years ago fell to Alastair Cook, the England Test wickets record was abnormally low.

For starters, England still is the only major Test nation (bar Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) to have its leading all-time Test wickets record below 400.

Put another way, if Anderson was from India or South Africa, he would be just 4th on that country’s list of all-time wicket-takers. His mark of 384 would put him third in Australia and the West Indies too.

Essentially, Botham’s record has been there for the taking for a long time. England play a lot of Test cricket, so there’s no excuse in terms of matches played. There just hasn’t been a bowler of the class and longevity required to take the record.

Botham was top of the whole world for a while, with a test record that stood for a couple of years. But then the record was pushed up over 400 by two other all rounders, Richard Hadlee and Kapil Dev; and and then 500 by Courtney Walsh.

Subsequently, the two spinners Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan took the record out of sight, over 600, then 700, with Murali on exactly 800 at the end of his career. The all-time list is below the break.

test-wicket-progression-1

Anderson is a fine bowler, but I would be surprised if he gets over 500 wickets when he’s finished. He may well end up around 6th on the all time list if he can stay healthy and get to 450+ wickets. But Dale Steyn of South Africa is ahead of him already, despite playing 22 fewer tests. (A bit old now, but a superb Steyn-Anderson comparison is here that shows how far superior Steyn really is.)

England have not had a world-class consistent bowling attack for a generation. When the team has done well, the bowlers have flourished, but have then faded – such as Steve Harmison and Simon Jones, who had the potential to become a combination as good as any. Great test teams have needed bowlers who work as a unit, and stick around. Anderson has too often carried the attack alone, and while he has earned the record, it is a figure born of hard work and persistence, rather than from blowing teams away.

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How far can cricket’s one-day record go?

The cricket World Cup usually has a pretty dull round of opening matches, but Chris Gayle has done his bit to keep things interesting. His (World Cup record) knock of 215 has been rightly praised and analysed – I won’t go into detail here.

However, it is not the highest One-Day International score ever. And recent cricket records show that 200-plus scores could soon be more common.

Below are the progressive records for the highest Test innings, and highest One-day score.

If we look at the ODI highest-innings record, it charts an interesting course. Unlike the equivalent Test record, which quickly got to over 300 in the 193rd Test in 1930, and then nudged up to 400 over the next 1,500 matches, the ODI record shows the new, go-for-broke batting style of the last few years.

The charts below show the record not by years, but by international matches played. This is a better gauge than the date when the innings was made, as the frequency of cricket matches has accelerated over the years. (Just to illustrate: there were 266 tests played in the 1980s, compared to 420 in the last 10 years. Equally, there were 516 ODIs in the 1980s, compared to 1,385 played in the last 10 years. I have not included the T20 record as it is still early days in that format, internationally at least.)

test indiv record

ODI indiv record

The ODI record starts up towards 200 runs over the first 300 matches or so, and then tails off. Viv Richards’ record of 189 stood from 1984 to 1997, for just under 950 ODIs. Then Saeed Anwar’s record of 194 was the top score from 1997 to 2009, covering over 1,600 ODIs.

But in the last 500 ODIs or so, the record has been pushed over 200 and quickly towards 300.

This is a reflection of new rules – the power plays which restrict fielders on the boundary, as well as a new breed of batsmen who play far more T20 cricket and have pushed the style of the one day format. Players such as Chris Gayle, in fact.

This seems counter-intuitive. The ODI match is restricted to 300 deliveries, whereas the only limit to a test innings is time. However, the Test record has stalled – partly as teams are now keener to push for victories rather than indulge a player who might rack up a huge score, which can often lead to a draw.

So how far can the ODI record go?

Theoretically, a player who hit every ball for 6, except the last ball of the over which is hit for 3 (so he can retain the strike next over) could score 1,653. However, a million ODIs could be played without that happening. More realistically, a player could face around 200 of the deliveries bowled – the current record of 264 by India’s Rohit Sharma was scored in 173 deliveries; the 1975 record of 171 by New Zealander Glenn Turner took 201 balls. If we took Sharma’s strike rate of 1.53 and applied it to 200 balls, that would be a score of 306.

However, a look at the ODI scores of 150-plus shows that higher strike rates are possible. Shane Watson of Australia hit 185 in just 96 balls in 2011. If we applied his strike rate of 1.92 runs per ball to an innings of 200 deliveries, that would result in a score of 380 or so. If we take into account the strike rate of the quickest ODI century – the recent record of just 31 balls was set by South Africa’s AB de Villiers hitting at over 3 runs per ball –  could 400 be feasible?

For that to happen, a lot of things would need to go right: short boundaries; a player of supreme power in luck and in form; poor bowling; and two in three deliveries to that one player. That’s a lot to ask, but the two individual elements (strike rate, number of deliveries) have both been achieved before, so this is not an impossible scenario.

We might even end up with a seemingly unthinkable situation: the ODI innings record higher than the Test mark. Still, a long way to go, as the chart below shows.

test and odi record

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