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Greg Matthews – Mo’ Better Impact

Greg Matthews in action
Greg Matthews - making an impact

Recently I posted this feature looking at a way to combine the various impact measures such as peak career impact, total career impact etc., into one measure using the geometric mean. The geometric mean allows us to bring together various parameters of different magnitudes to give a single number.

I was surprised, after doing this, to find that Greg Matthews figured quite highly, in fact he was as high as 119th of all-time. Considering that there have been almost 2800 cricketers awarded their Test caps, this is quite an achievement for someone who I had frankly overlooked as an impactful player. In fact, he is in the top 5% all-time in terms of impact.

“Mo” had a somewhat fractured career, being overlooked for four years after the 1986-87 Ashes, however he certainly made an impact on the great Steve Waugh, who considered him to be a player “who could play better than he probably ever realised”.

Matthews averaged over 53 with the bat during that 86-87 Ashes series, however 2/295 with the ball was enough, along with his “out there” image, to see him cast aside for Peter Taylor. Solid seasons for New South Wales over the next four years, where he averaged 36.46 with the bat (four hundreds) and 28.56 with the ball (137 wickets), saw him recalled for the 1990-91 Ashes Test in Brisbane. However, he again proved to be far more successful with the bat, averaging over 70 for the series but with only seven wickets at 60.

So how can he fare so well in terms of the impact measure?

Well first let’s put his actual Test figures into perspective. The closest Aussie all-rounder in terms of matches played is Charlie Macartney – here are their Test figures:-

Matthews 33 53 8 1849 41.08 4 61 2941 48.22 2 17 -7.14
Macartney 35 55 4 2131 41.78 7 45 1240 27.55 2 17 +14.23

Using the traditional measure for all-rounders of the difference between batting average and bowling average, as can be seen Macartney is streets ahead, +14.23 as against -7.14 for Matthews. However, there are two things we need to take into account which were different for each player – quality of opposition, and era.

Some time ago I determined the ICC Test team ratings for all Test teams going back to 1876-77, and close inspection of each player’s opponents shows that Macartney went up against teams which rated on average 92, whereas Matthews had to take on opponents which rated 110. The average team, i.e. one which wins around as many as it loses, rates at around 100, so we can use that average team rate to adjust each player’s figures to account for strength of opponent. Matthews faced opponents with a rating of more than 100 on 21 occasions in 33 matches, or 64% of the time; Macartney faced similar strength opposition only eight times in 35 matches, or 23% of the time – this is significant and should be accounted for.

The various averages for batting and bowling for teams playing opposition of each rating are as shown below:-

110 34.08 28.99
100 31.85 32.34
92 29.04 32.59

Secondly, we adjust for era. Here are the figures for batting and bowling average for each player’s era (i.e. the exact period covering their actual careers), as against the all-time numbers:-

Macartney 32.26 29.58
Matthews 31.90 34.31
All-time 30.32 31.92

After we make the above adjustments, we get the following numbers:-

Matthews 1880 41.78 61 2443 40.05 +1.73
Macartney 1826 35.81 45 1464 32.54 +3.27

Their all-round ability as measured by batting and bowling averages is now much closer.

Now, I’m not saying that Matthews is basically the same quality player as Macartney, as quality is measured in many different ways, including style, leadership, etc. and usually takes into account the type of man they are; all I’m saying is that the gap between them is not necessarily as large as their traditional averages would have us believe, once those averages are put into perspective.

In terms of impact, we can compare the two players in terms of their impact measures by career as well as per match.


Macartney 35 489 14.82
Matthews 33 569 17.25


PLAYER 20% 30% 40% 50%
Macartney 12 5 1 0
Matthews 9 7 3 2

We can see from the above figures that Macartney was more consistently impactful, but that Matthews had more high-impact matches.

It will come as no surprise that Matthew’s most impactful match was of course the Tied Test, when he took his only ten-wicket haul, including the vital last wicket which ensured Australia did not lose. Matthews also played a key role on his return to the side in the 1990-91 Ashes, including a four-hour 128 with 17 fours to guide Australia from 292/5 to 512/9, though his bowling was once again expensive. Fine performances against Sri Lanka preceeded his swansong against the mighty West Indies, such that his final innings in Test cricket, 79, was overshadowed by his expensive bowling (2/169) and Brian Lara’s maiden century of 277. Apparently miscast as a bowling all-rounder, his batting was not as much of a necessity to the Australian side at that time and he was not selected again for Tests.

Although I’ve compared Matthews to Macartney, that doesn’t tell us why he is rated highly as related to all of the other players in this study. As can be seen above, Matthews had quite a lot of high-impact Tests, in fact 9 in 33, or 28.13%. This ranks him 73rd all time for players with at least 14 Tests (Macartney is 42nd); here are the top 20:-

55.56% 27 15 Sydney Barnes
53.55% 15 8 Bert Vogler
50.00% 52 26 Don Bradman
50.00% 24 12 Jack Gregory
50.00% 14 7 Tom Richardson
48.78% 41 20 Trevor Goddard
47.06% 17 8 Charlie Turner
43.01% 93 40 Garry Sobers
40.91% 44 18 Allan Davidson
40.00% 15 6 Gary Gilmour
39.53% 86 34 Richard Hadlee
39.08% 87 34 Imran Khan
38.89% 18 7 Fred Spofforth
38.89% 18 7 Learie Constantine
38.10% 21 8 Tibby Cotter
37.96% 107 41 Shaun Pollock
37.31% 67 25 Dennis Lillee
37.10% 62 23 Bob Simpson
37.04% 27 10 Bill O’Reilly

I chose 14 Tests as I thought Tom Richardson deserved to get a mention, however this gives us six out of 20 who were pre-WW1 players; a golden age it may have been, but possibly not to the tune of 30% of the all-time top 20. We can instead cut off at 50 Tests so as not to discriminate against modern players:-

50.00% 52 26 Don Bradman
43.01% 93 40 Garry Sobers
39.53% 86 34 Richard Hadlee
39.08% 87 34 Imran Khan
37.96% 108 41 Shaun Pollock
37.31% 67 25 Dennis Lillee
37.10% 62 23 Bob Simpson
36.63% 101 37 Ian Botham
35.94% 128 46 Jacques Kallis
35.63% 87 31 Greg Chappell
34.48% 58 20 Tony Greig
31.78% 129 41 Brian Lara
31.34% 67 21 Bill Lawry
31.20% 125 39 Muttiah Muralitharan
31.07% 103 32 Virender Sehwag
30.86% 81 25 Ken Barrington
30.86% 81 25 Malcolm Marshall
30.77% 52 16 Mushtaq Ahmed
30.40% 125 38 Sunil Gavaskar

Don Bradman the only player to have exceeded 20% in match impact in half of his matches played. Honourable mention to Saqlain Mushtaq, who just missed out on the arbitrary cut-off:-

32.65% 49 16 Saqlain Mushtaq

It’s also worth noting that if Ian Botham had retired after 75 Tests, he would have ranked behind only Bradman with 46.67% (35 in 75 Tests).

Wait a minute – Murali, Mushtaq Ahmed but no Warne? Warne is actually in 44th on a precentage basis, with 39 of 144 Tests, exactly the same number of high-impact Tests as Murali. That’s an opportune moment to look instead at total numbers of high-impact matches:-

52 Sachin Tendulkar
46 Jacques Kallis
41 Shaun Pollock
41 Brian Lara
40 Garry Sobers
39 Muttiah Muralitharan
39 Ricky Ponting
39 Shane Warne
38 Sunil Gavaskar
38 Anil Kumble
37 Ian Botham
36 Alec Stewart
35 Kapil Dev
34 Richard Hadlee
34 Imran Khan
34 Graham Gooch
34 Rahul Dravid
32 Virender Sehwag
32 Kumar Sangakkara
31 Greg Chappell
31 Steve Waugh
30 Wasim Akram
30 Viv Richards
30 Allan Border
29 Matthew Hayden
29 Colin Cowdrey
29 Javed Miandad
28 Chaminda Vaas
27 Sanath Jayasuriya
27 Shriv Chanderpaul
26 Don Bradman
26 Inzamam-ul-Haq
25 Dennis Lillee
25 Ken Barrington
25 Malcolm Marshall
25 Walter Hammond
25 Daniel Vettori
25 Adam Gilchrist
25 Curtley Ambrose
25 Alastair Cook
25 David Gower

41 players who amassed at least 25 high-impact matches, i.e. 20% or more in impact, and quite a list of all-time greats it is too. There are some interesting clusters there:- Murali, Warne and Kumble all within one, while Botham, Kapil Dev, Hadlee and Imran are all within positions 11-15.

It is the desire to be fair both to players of past and present which led me to using the geometric mean to take into account the various methods of ranking based on impact. Next time I’ll post the best ever teams in terms of impacts.


Pretty good analysis. Although seems rather skewed towards the bowlers…

Comment by honestbharani | 5:49pm BST 3 October 2015

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