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The Most All-Round All-Rounder

THE MOST ALL-ROUND ALL-ROUNDER

JACKS OF ALL TRADES, MASTERS OF NONE?

I have often heard players described as batting all-rounders (think Sobers) or bowling all-rounders (think Hadlee), and I wondered which players could be considered the most “all-round” all-rounders. I’ve been thinking about how I could investigate this, and eventually came to the conclusion that this could be done by comparing the all-rounder’s performance on each side of the ball to the level of a top-order batsman and a front-line bowler, such that a player who measured up against both would merit selection based on either discipline. For a true all-rounder test, I decided to chuck in fielding as well. I also decided to use a per-innings basis rather than a per-match basis, as that should give us a more accurate measure.

I made a list of players and looked at their runs/innings, wickets/innings and dismissals/innings, then adjusted them with respect to era – for example, runs/innings for top-order batsmen increased from a 19th-century low of 22.96 to a high of 37.43 during the 1940s. Similarly, the average wickets/innings for front-line bowlers during the same periods were 2.11 and 1.65 respectively. Fielder dismissals have actually hardly changed at all over time, staying around one catch every three games, although wicketkeeper dismissals have increased substantially, from roughly one per innings in the 19th century to approximately 1.75 since 1990.

I decided to assess the all-rounders effectiveness in each discipline as a ratio of their performance to his era average, such that if a player could maintain a career average for each of the three disciplines equal to the era average for a top-order batsmen, a front-line bowler and average fielder, he would have a ratio of 1.000 for each discipline; in other words, a level of 1.000 means he was or is worthy of a place based on his performances in that discipline alone.

Perhaps an example would help – below are the figures for Andrew Flintoff:-

Player Mtch Inns (Bat) Runs Runs/Inns Inns (Bwl) Wkts Wkts/Inns Inns (Fld) Dis Dis/Inns Bat-Index Bwl-Index Fld-Index
A Flintoff (Eng) 79 130 3845 29.58 137 226 1.65 144 52 0.361 0.846 0.899 1.032

So Flintoff measures almost to the level of a top-order batsmen (0.846) and a front-line bowler (0.899), being slightly better with the ball than the bat, and is slightly better than average in the field (1.032). To give you an idea of what these indices mean, the top performers ever in each discipline in terms of ratio to era average are:-

BATTING 2.479 Don Bradman
BOWLING 1.929 Syd Barnes (and John Cowie, albeit in only seven Tests)
FIELDING 2.926 Learie Constantine

KEEPERS CAN BE ALL-ROUNDERS TOO

Let’s digress for a moment and consider wicket-keepers in isolation, to see which glovemen were the most “all-round”. TO get a feel for the varying levels of achievement either side of the stumps, the following table shows the keepers who have played most, based on the ratio of their total matches played to the average number of matches played during their time:-

PLAYER MATCHES RUNS DISMISSALS
TG Evans (Eng) 91 2439 219
WAS Oldfield (Aus) 54 1427 130
MV Boucher (SA) 134 5171 503
IA Healy (Aus) 119 4356 395
LEG Ames (Eng) 44 2387 95
APE Knott (Eng) 95 4389 269
RW Marsh (Aus) 96 3633 355
SMH Kirmani (Ind) 88 2759 198
JM Blackham (Aus) 32 719 59
Wasim Bari (Pak) 81 1366 228

Obviously, if we only looked at sheer numbers Boucher would stand out, but these keepers come from different eras, and the numbers of Tests played, selection criteria and the numbers of runs and dismissals have varied over time, therefore we need to consider these other factors.

We can begin by deriving the batting and fielding indices as explained above. Here is a list of the top keepers based first on the index of dismissals/innings based on era, followed by the same list for runs/innings:-

Player Mtch D/I WK-IDX
KJ Wright (Aus) 10 2.19 1.375
GRA Langley (Aus) 26 1.92 1.343
HB Taber (Aus) 16 2.00 1.342
DT Lindsay (SA) 15 2.00 1.342
FCM Alexander (WI) 25 1.91 1.325
PW Sherwell (SA) 13 1.50 1.316
ATW Grout (Aus) 51 1.91 1.296
H Strudwick (Eng) 27 1.52 1.295
CO Browne (WI) 20 2.25 1.290
SJ Rhodes (Eng) 11 2.23 1.273
Player Mtch R/I BT-IDX
A Flower (Zim) 55 44.04 1.323
AC Gilchrist (Aus) 96 40.66 1.158
DT Lindsay (SA) 15 38.46 1.144
CL Walcott (WI) 15 37.00 1.093
KC Sangakkara (SL) 48 38.48 1.087
MS Dhoni (Ind) 43 36.79 1.039
LEG Ames (Eng) 44 35.63 1.033
BJ Haddin (Aus) 27 34.33 0.970
Imtiaz Ahmed (Pak) 38 30.00 0.963
MJ Prior (Eng) 31 33.92 0.958

In the history of Test cricket, only seven players have managed to maintain an average good enough to qualify them as better than average as a top-order batsman while playing as a wicketkeeper, those being the top seven listed in the second table above. Additionally, only two players have ever maintained an average sufficient to qualify as a top-order batsman AND also achieved a level of wicket-keeping excellence higher than the average number of dismissals; those two players are Australia’s Adam Gilchrist (1.251 WK AND 1.151 BAT) and, possibly less obviously to most, South Africa’s Denis Lindsay (1.342 and 1.144). Lindsay was the wicket-keeper with that great 1960s South African side which was ousted from Test cricket, so there is no telling just how great he could have become.

As we’re interested in the “degree” of all-roundedness, to highlight this aspect we can re-rank the players based on how close they were to achieving a level of 1 in both disciplines – so anything over 1 counts as 1, while anything below counts against them, meaning that a player who achieves top-level performace in all disciplines would score zero, while players who don’t make the grade in one or bothdisciplines will have negative differentials. For example, Imtiaz Ahmed achieved a high degree of all-round excellence, having a career rating slightly below that of a top-order batsman (ratio of 0.963) and also slightly below average levels for dismissals (0.972) – he therefore scores -0.065, which is the amount by which he missed out on scoring 1.000 in batting and keeping. Here are the players ranked by the differential from “level 1s”:-

Player WK-Index BT-Index Diff
AC Gilchrist (SA) 1.251 1.158 0.000
DT Lindsay (SA) 1.342 1.144 0.000
LEG Ames (Eng) 0.977 1.033 -0.023
BJ Haddin (Aus) 1.214 0.970 -0.030
MS Dhoni (Ind) 0.955 1.039 -0.045
Imtiaz Ahmed (Pak) 0.972 0.963 -0.065
BB McCullum (NZ) 1.063 0.924 -0.076
KC Sangakkara (SL) 0.920 1.087 -0.080
AJ Stewart (Eng) 0.978 0.937 -0.085
HP Tillakaratne (SL) 1.029 0.910 -0.090

The above list shows those who most closely achieved excellence in both disciplines, but that doesn’t necessarily measure “flatness” or all-roundedness. To assess who was the most level all-round keeper, we can look at the standard deviation of the ratios – if they are equal the standard deviation would be zero, the less flat they become the higher the standard deviation becomes. Here are the keepers ranked by ascending standard deviation:-

Player WK-Index BT-Index Std Dev
Imtiaz Ahmed (Pak) 0.972 0.963 0.006
WW Wade (SA) 0.722 0.736 0.010
AJ Stewart (Eng) 0.978 0.937 0.029
MJ Prior (Eng) 0.905 0.958 0.038
LEG Ames (Eng) 0.977 1.033 0.039
TR Ambrose (Eng) 0.848 0.789 0.042
JM Parks (Eng) 0.940 0.872 0.048
RS Kaluwitharana (SL) 0.802 0.733 0.049
T Taibu (Zim) 0.853 0.782 0.051
Moin Khan (Pak) 0.713 0.787 0.052

Of course, a keeper can be all-round in terms of equal ability, but with the ability level not being especially high – Billy Wade may have played more had it not been for the First World War, but it’s fair to say he didn’t reach the levels of players such as Imtiaz or Alec Stewart. Gilchrist and Lindsay’s standard deviations were 0.066 and 0.140 respectively.

ALL-ROUNDERS WHO ALSO BOWL

Let’s look at non-wicketkeeping all-rounders now – I’ll begin by listing the leaders in each discipline, to give us a feel for how well the all-rounders are measuring up in each discipline:-

Player Mtch R/I BT-IDX
DG Bradman (Aus) 52 87.45 2.479
ED Weekes (WI) 48 55.00 1.745
JB Hobbs (Eng) 61 53.04 1.667
CL Walcott (WI) 44 51.32 1.640
RG Pollock (SA) 23 55.02 1.636
KF Barrington (Eng) 82 51.95 1.604
IVA Richards (WI) 121 52.72 1.590
GA Headley (WI) 22 54.75 1.581
H Sutcliffe (Eng) 54 54.23 1.567
GS Sobers (WI) 93 50.20 1.535
Player Mtch W/I BW-IDX
SF Barnes (Eng) 27 3.78 1.929
M Murali (SL) 132 3.47 1.883
CV Grimmett (Aus) 37 3.22 1.797
T RIchardson (Eng) 14 3.67 1.738
WJ O’Reilly (Aus) 27 3.00 1.668
AP Freeman (Eng) 12 3.00 1.667
RJ Hadlee (NZ) 86 2.87 1.603
CTB Turner (Aus) 17 3.37 1.596
HJ Tayfield (SA) 37 2.79 1.583
DW Steyn (SA) 41 2.80 1.537
Player Mtch D/I FLD-IDX
LN Constantine (WI) 18 0.97 2.926
JM Gregory (Aus) 24 0.84 2.548
SP Fleming (NZ) 111 0.86 2.455
WG Grace (Eng) 22 0.93 2.444
B Mitchell (SA) 42 0.79 2.436
CL Walcott (WI) 44 0.78 2.303
AW Greig (Eng) 58 0.81 2.259
WR Hammond (Eng) 85 0.71 2.190
DG Phadkar (Ind) 31 0.68 2.185

(Note: Walcott’s fielding ratio is a combination based on games either as designated keeper or otherwise)

Nice to see the Grand Old Man in an all-time list.

So let’s look at all-round “flatness” as we did for keepers, but now of course there are three disciplines. Here are the top players listed by ascending standard deviation, based on batting, bowling and fielding as a ratio to top-order batting, front-line bowling and average fielding:-

Player Bat-Index Bwl-Index Fld-Index Std-Dev
Trevor Bailey (Eng) 0.816 0.786 0.875 0.045
George Giffen (Aus) 1.017 1.135 1.148 0.072
Keith Miller (Aus) 1.036 1.032 1.167 0.077
Monty Noble (Aus) 1.026 0.860 0.907 0.085
Andrew Flintoff (Eng) 0.846 0.899 1.032 0.096
Kapil Dev (Ind) 0.867 1.048 0.807 0.125
Billy Bates (Eng) 1.099 1.030 0.817 0.147
Ravi Shastri (Ind) 0.952 0.652 0.735 0.155
Aubrey Faulkner (SA) 1.245 1.002 1.302 0.159
Daniel Vettori (NZ) 0.750 1.072 0.873 0.163

Trevor Bailey has the flattest performance of all, that is, he was equally as good with bat, ball and in the field. However, as good as he was, he didn’t quite measure up as a top-order batsman and front-line bowler. To highlight this aspect, we can re-rank the players based on how close they were to achieving a level of 1 in all three disciplines, as we did for keepers. For example, Ian Botham achieved better than average levels for bowling (1.259) and fielding (1.934), but didn’t quite measure up as a top-order batsman (0.977) – he therefore scores -0.023, which is the amount by which he missed out on scoring 1.000 in batting. Here are the players ranked by the differential from level 1s:-

Player Bat-Index Bwl-Index Fld-Index Diff
Aubrey Faulkner (SA) 1.245 1.002 1.302 0.000
George Giffen (Aus) 1.017 1.135 1.148 0.000
Keith Miller (Aus) 1.036 1.032 1.167 0.000
Ian Botham (Eng) 0.977 1.259 1.934 -0.023
Jack Gregory (Aus) 0.970 1.124 2.548 -0.030
Vinoo Mankad (Ind) 0.938 1.314 1.478 -0.062
Trevor Goddard (SA) 0.990 0.911 1.798 -0.099
Tony Greig (Eng) 1.141 0.876 2.259 -0.124
Garry Sobers (WI) 1.535 0.861 1.886 -0.139
Billy Barnes (Eng) 0.957 0.863 1.250 -0.180

That is a simply mouth-watering list of all-round luminaries! In the whole history of test cricket, by this measure only four players have managed to maintain performances throughout their careers good enough to rank as both as a top-order batsman and also as a front-line bowler, independently for each discipline:- George Giffen, Billy Bates, Aubrey Faulkner and Keith Miller; only Bates of the four was a below-average fielder.

THE ALL-TIME, ALL-ROUND ALL-ROUNDER

So all things considered, and despite the fact that Keith Miller is my personal favourite, based on his superior batting and fielding I would probably have to single out Aubrey Faulkner as the all-time, all-round all-rounder.

Comments

Very interesting article.

Was there any reason why you chose wickets per innings, not bowling average?

Just letting you know that you’ve got Stephen Fleming listed as WI at the moment too. :)

Comment by NUFAN | 12:00am BST 16 July 2010

chasingthedon, is it possible to provide a list of players who were the next best?

I’m interested in seeing where Kallis ranks.

Comment by NUFAN | 12:00am BST 16 July 2010

Good article. I always find Dave’s work interesting.

I’m not a huge fan of using runs-per-innings as a measure of performance ahead of batting average, personally. It entails all sorts of arbitrariness of its own. For instance, a batsman walks out to the crease with one run needed for victory which his partner then scores. The new batsman’s innings closes at 0* which drags his runs-per-innings score down – and arbitrary distortion of his record.

Comment by zaremba | 12:00am BST 16 July 2010

I really enjoyed that article. Thanks.

The key thing about a good all-rounder is providing balance to a side. Whether that be as a batting all-rounder or a bowling all-rounder depends on the team in which they play.

Keith Miller did both which means effectively his team was playing with 12 men. No wonder the invincibles were well…. invincible.

Comment by Oasisbob | 12:00am BST 16 July 2010

NUFAN and zaremba, fair comment, other comparisons could have been used. I’m not a fan of averages for comparison purposes myself, but there are issues with all measures – just a preference on my part. Wickets/innings I feel gives a better measure of a bowler’s impact than average, and as I wanted to use dismissals/innings for fielding I decided to standardize on a per-innings basis.

Comment by Dave Wilson | 12:00am BST 16 July 2010

Kallis didn’t rank too highly in this study as his batting and fielding are of a significantly higher order than his bowling:-

ALL-ROUND “FLATNESS”:
rank 102, standard deviation .554 (1.363 batting, 0.625 bowling, 1.710 fielding)

The large variation in the three ratios means the standard deviation is quite large.

LEVEL 1s:
rank 24, difference 0.375

Basically the amount by which his bowling is below the level required for a 1.000 ratio.

Comment by Dave Wilson | 12:00am BST 16 July 2010

Great Work Dave.

Would be interesting to think of a reason why players of such a earlier generation are coming out more balanced than the current one.

Comment by Cevno | 12:00am BST 18 July 2010

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