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Series Points – A New Way of Ranking Test Players – The 1920s

Series Points - A New Way of Ranking Test Players - The 1920s

Recently I presented this article which introduced Series Points, a new ranking method for Test players which directly compares all players together (i.e. batsmen and bowlers as well as fielding ability), whilst also awarding more points to players who performed well against stronger opposition (the original article has a more detailed description of series points for teams and individuals, suffice it to say here that we divide up the team series points [TSPs, which are allocated when calculating the ICC Test Team Rankings] into individual series points [ISPs] based on each player’s performances with bat, ball and in the field).

I also covered in the first article the Test Player of the Decade for the 1930s, which turned out to be (to no one’s surprise) one Donald Bradman, although surprisingly he was not a significant amount greater than the next man, Clarrie Grimmett.

Test Player of The Decade – the ’20s

So, this time we’re going to look at the period which encompassed the beginning of Bradman’s Test career, the 1920s.

Player of the Series

Nowadays, a Player of the Series is awarded for Test series’, so for interest here is a list of the Test series’ played during the years 1920-29, with the Player of the Series identified for each multi-Test series (based on highest ISPs – I didn’t show this for single Test series as this amounts to a Man of the Match):-

Year Tourists Host Result Player(s) of the Series ISPs TSPs %age
1920-21 England Australia 0-0-5 JM Gregory (Aus) 156 846 18.4%
1921 Australia England 3-2-0 JM Gregory (Aus) 127 829 15.3%
1921-22 Australia South Africa 1-2-0 JM Gregory (Aus) 85 434 19.6%
1922-23 England South Africa 2-2-1 AS Kennedy (Eng) 93 523 17.8%
1924 South Africa England 0-2-3 MW Tate (Eng) 126 656 19.2%
1924-25 England Australia 1-0-4 JM Gregory (Aus) 101 775 13.0%
1926 Australia England 0-4-1 H Sutcliffe (Eng) 137 877 15.6%
1927-28 England South Africa 2-1-2 CL Vincent (SA) 84 521 16.1%
1928 West Indies England 0-0-3 AP Freeman & MW Tate (Eng) 71 556 12.8%
1928-29 England Australia 4-0-1 WR Hammond (Eng) 139 894 15.5%
1929 South Africa England 0-3-2 DP Morkel (SA) 99 593 16.7%

ISP: Individual Series Points
TSP: Team Series Points
%age: percentage of total team points contributed by the individual

(Players generally score more points if a series has more Tests, e.g. top-rated players in a 5-Test series will have substantially more points than top players in a 3-Test series, because their teams have more points to go around)

We can see that the above list contains some great players whom we would expect to be prominent for the time period, such as Sutcliffe and Hammond, but what shines like a beacon is the dominance of Jack Gregory, taking Player of the Series honours in the first four of Australia’s series during this decade. England’s Maurice Tate was the only other player that managed to gain more than one Player of the Series (one shared).

Gregory was much more than a fast bowler, as his 442 runs in the 1920-21 Ashes series will attest. Not only that, he excelled in the field too, taking 15 catches in that series to go with 23 wickets.

Player of the Decade

Turning our attention to individual performance throughout the period, here is a list of the top-ranked players in terms of total ISPs for all of the Tests played in the period 1920-29:-

Total ISPs Player Series Matches
536 MW Tate (Eng) 6 26
509 JM Gregory (Aus) 6 24
479 H Sutcliffe (Eng) 7 32
419 FE Woolley (Eng) 7 33
398 JB Hobbs (Eng) 8 28
330 AA Mailey (Aus) 5 21
319 WR Hammond (Eng) 4 17
302 EH Hendren (Eng) 8 32
257 CG Macartney (Aus) 4 14
246 J Ryder (Aus) 5 20
244 HL Collins (Aus) 5 19
224 H Larwood (Eng) 4 12
221 HW Taylor (SA) 5 21
199 AP Freeman (Eng) 4 12
187 G Geary (Eng) 5 11
185 RH Catterall (SA) 4 20
? WW Armstrong (Aus) 2 10
181 WAS Oldfield (Aus) 4 20
177 W Bardsley (Aus) 5 21
? JM Taylor (Aus) 5 20

It should be noted that, at this time, only England, Australia and South Africa were involved in Test cricket.

Tate is slightly ahead of Gregory in terms of total ISPs, and three other all-time greats round out the top five – Herbert Sutcliffe, Frank Woolley and Jack Hobbs. As Tate played in more Tests than Gregory, and Hammond in far fewer, again we need to look at the picture slightly differently. Hammond is the only player to feature in the top ten total ISPs for both the 1920s and 1930s.

Levelling the field

In order to take into account this inequality as regards number of Test matches played, let’s look at each player’s points per five-Test series (PP5), i.e. the average number of points the player would have scored in a five-Test series, based on his average points per match multiplied by five (as we did last time when considering the 1930s).

Below is the revised list based on points per five-Test series (PP5), with a minimum qualifying number of Tests applied which is different for each country based on their total number of Tests played during the period in question:-

PP5 Player Matches
106.0 JM Gregory (Aus) 24
103.1 MW Tate (Eng) 26
93.8 WR Hammond (Eng) 17
93.3 H Larwood (Eng) 12
92.5 WW Armstrong (Aus) 10
91.8 CG Macartney (Aus) 14
82.9 AP Freeman (Eng) 12
81.7 CL Vincent (SA) 9
79.1 EA McDonald (Aus) 11
78.6 AA Mailey (Aus) 21
78.2 C Kelleway (Aus) 11
76.0 CV Grimmett (Aus) 10
74.8 H Sutcliffe (Eng) 32
73.1 H Carter (Aus) 8
71.1 JB Hobbs (Eng) 28
66.0 DPB Morkel (SA) 10
64.2 HL Collins (Aus) 19
63.5 FE Woolley (Eng) 33
61.5 J Ryder (Aus) 20
60.9 AER Gilligan (Eng) 11

As we can see, Gregory is now in first place ahead of Tate, with Hammond placed much higher in third.

Maurice Tate burst onto the Test match scene against South Africa in 1924, taking 27 wickets, and continued to score consistently highly in terms of ISPs throughout the decade. He also took 38 wickets during the 1924-25 Ashes series, at that time a record for a Test series. Wally Hammond made his Test debut during the 1927-28 tour of South Africa, but came to full prominence in the 1928-29 Ashes series, when he scored two double hundreds along with two other centuries. Again, Hammond is the only player to feature n the top ten PP5 list for both the 1920s and 1930s.

Harold Larwood is of course forever linked with the ‘Bodyline’ controversy, but as with the 1930s ranking he features highly here too. The famous unbeaten Australian captain, Warwick Armstrong, ended his career with two fine captain’s performances against the English in 1920 and 1921.

Charles Macartney was Australia’s highest points scorer by a significant margin, albeit in a losing cause, in the 1926 Ashes series. He scored almost twice as many points as the next highest, Arthur Mailey, and this in his last ever series! Tich Freeman did not play in many Tests (12 total), but played well enough against West Indies in 1928 to share the Player of the Series award, when he took 22 wickets in only three matches.

Cyril Vincent was Player of the Series when the England team toured South Africa in 1927-28, scoring 134 runs, and taking eight catches and 23 wickets. Ted McDonald provided, with Gregory, one of the greatest fast bowling tandems in Test history. Indeed, had Gregory not been so dominant McDonald would have been Player of the Series in the 1921 Ashes series (125 ISPs to Gregory’s 127 ISPs).

Arthur Mailey also played very well in series for which Gregory was Player of the Series, in the 1920-21 and 1924-25 Ashes.

So close

As mentioned at the close of the previous article, it was necessary to have a qualifying number of games, however at least one of the non-qualifiers deserves a special mention. Alex Kennedy played in only one series of Tests in his career, in South Africa 1922-23, but was good enough to take Player of the Series honours thanks largely to a 31 wicket haul.

Next time….

We’ll look at the 1940s, the conclusion of Bradman’s career, after which we should have a good idea of how he ranks alongside all of his peers.

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