The greatest Test batsman since 1970: part one

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By , Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert


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    Australia batsman Matthew Hayden leaves the ground - AAP Image/Paul Miller

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    My selection of the top-10 fast bowlers since 1970 in a recent Roar article was a lot easier than this task – choosing the best batsmen of that era and the greatest of the period.

    A warning first-up – this will take a while!

    Comparing players in any sport across eras is always an extremely subjective exercise. However, statistics can be useful.

    The statistical problem with batsmen over the past 40 years is that those who plied their trade in the last decade or so have had some major advantages including shorter boundaries, and more significantly, major advances in bat technology.

    A miss-hit shot 30 years ago can now often result in a boundary, and at times, even a six.

    The other major difference with the players in the back half of our qualification period is the fact they got to feast on the offerings from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

    Anyway, enough excuses on my part, here we go.

    Again, this is a search for the best Test batsman only.

    For this exercise I am going to include current players, but only those that are into the twilight of their career, so the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sanagakkara are under consideration while others such as Michael Clarke (31yo), Graeme Smith (31), Hashim Amla (29) and Alistair Cook (28) are not.

    Let’s start with some openers.

    Sunil Gavaskar, diminutive in physique was nonetheless a giant of the game. The first man to 10,000 Test runs, he shot onto the international scene with an amazing debut series, scoring 774 runs at 154.8 against the West Indies in the Caribbean in 1970/71.

    The Windies remained a favoured opponent throughout his career, scoring an incredible 13 centuries against them and averaging 70 in a period when they were the game’s dominant side.

    In his final innings against them, at the age of 34 he posted his highest Test score – 236no. He possessed a copybook technique and vast amounts of concentration and in 125 Tests scored 10,122 runs at 51.1, with a then record 34 centuries.

    At home he averaged 50.2 and on the road 52.1.

    Matthew Hayden was the polar opposite of Gavaskar when it came to build. Tall and broad shouldered, the Queenslander batted with both aggression and intimidation. He was renowned for batting well out of his crease and even walking towards opening bowlers before driving them powerfully down the ground.

    Unlike Gavaskar, Hayden’s home record (57.9) far outshone his away (41.7). When you factor in his dominant 2001 series in India (549 runs at 109.8), his away record looks, on balance, even less impressive.

    He played six Tests against the minnows for an average of 95.6 and against Zimbabwe in 2003/04 posted a world record unbeaten 380. Through 103 Tests he scored 30 centuries en route to 8625 runs at 50.7.

    Virender Sehwag in many ways rewrote the opener’s manual. He has played 102 Tests to date and scored 8559 runs at 50 with 23 centuries.

    He has scored his runs at the previously unheard of strike rate of 82. He is one of only four men to score two triple centuries and narrowly missed a third with a score of 293 against Sri Lanka in 2009/10.

    As you would expect for a batsman with such an aggressive attitude and minimal footwork against the new ball he has often had lean spells but when on-song he is almost impossible to bowl to.

    Against Australia he averages 43.7 and has averaged just 44.0 in his seven Tests against the minnows. On home pitches he averages 55.8 against 44.6 on the road.

    Gordon Greenidge took to Test cricket in style with 93 and 107 on debut against India in Bangalore in 1974/75. In his time he was regarded as an extremely aggressive opener with his signature shots a withering square cut and a pull shot played with his left knee high and bent.

    With Desmond Haynes he formed the most prolific opening pair in history. In 108 Tests he scored 7558 runs at 44.7 with 19 centuries. He struggled in Australia were he averaged just 31.0. On Caribbean pitches he averaged 48.6 and away 42.2.

    Graham Gooch scored a pair on debut against Australia at Edgbaston in 1975. Conversely, his high point was a world record aggregate in a single Test when he scored 333 and 123 against India at Lord’s in 1990.

    Standing tall at the crease with bat raised above bail height, he played 118 Tests for an England record of 8900 runs at 42.6 with 20 centuries.

    He averaged just 39.5 from 13 Tests in the sub-continent and 33.3 against Australia but 44.8 against the terror attacks of the West Indies.

    Gary Kirsten played 101 Tests for South Africa. The nuggetty left-hander compiled 7289 runs at 45.3 with 21 centuries, the best of which was 275 against England at Durban in 1999/2000.

    He became the first player to score centuries against all nine Test opponents. In five Tests against the minnows he averaged 106.7. He struggled against the strong Australian sides of his era with an average of 34.4 from 18 Tests and against the West Indies 34.5. His away average was 42.7, compared with 44.3 at home.

    Both feared and revered, Viv Richards gave opposing players and captain’s endless sleepless nights. The ‘Master Blaster’ struggled early on in his career, averaging just 30.4 through his first 11 Tests.

    But after some sessions with renowned sports psychologist Rudi Webster things changed. An elevation up the order to number three brought a poultice of runs, the highlight of which was the 1976 tour of England where in four Tests he scored 829 runs at 118.4, including innings of 291 and 232.

    With the most recognised gait in world cricket and a jaw that chewed gum beneath a maroon cap, and never a helmet, Richards’ audacity at the crease thrilled fans worldwide.

    He played 121 Tests, scoring 8540 runs at 50.2 with 24 centuries.

    In 34 Tests against Australia he averaged 44.4, the same average he compiled in 24 Tests on the sub-continent. He averaged 50 both home and away. He still holds the record for the fastest Test ton – 56 balls against England on his home island of Antigua.

    Two contemporaries of Richards – Greg Chappell and Javed Miandad – also make the list of candidates.

    Chappell was the supreme stylist. Tall and upright, he scored 108 on debut against England at the WACA in 1970/71. Shortly after, his 131 at Lord’s in 1972 has been rated one of the finest innings of all-time.

    A beautiful driver and cutter of the ball, he played 87 Tests for a then Australian record 7110 runs at 53.9 with 24 centuries, four of which were doubles. He played just four Tests on the sub-continent where he averaged 74.5.

    Against the mighty West Indian attack of his era he scored five centuries and averaged 56.0 in 17 Tests. He scored nine centuries and averaged 45.9 in his 35 outings against England.

    He finished his career as he started with an innings of 182 against Pakistan at the SCG in 1983/84. On home soil Chappell averaged 54.4, only slightly more than his 53.0 overseas.

    Javed spent 124 Tests getting under opponents skin with both mouth and willow.

    A punishing batsman he compiled 8832 runs at 52.6 with 23 centuries, the highest of which was an unbeaten 280 against India. Against the bordering arch enemy he excelled with an average 67.5 from 28 Tests.

    He struggled in Australia where he averaged just 38.1 in 16 matches. Against the mighty West Indians his average was 29.8. On the road he averaged 45.8 and at home 61.4. In three Tests against Zimbabwe he scored just 143 runs.

    New Zealand’s premier batsman in its history is Martin Crowe. A stylist at the crease with an ability to score in all areas he debuted at the age of 19. In an injury blighted career of 77 Tests he amassed 5444 runs at 45.4.

    He loved playing against his Trans-Tasman rivals, averaging 48.3 overall – 67.0 on Australian soil – in 17 Tests.

    In the Shaky Isles he averaged 50.0 and on the road 42.3. The sub-continent was not a happy hunting ground with his 15 Tests producing an average of just 34.7. His highest score was 299 against Sri Lanka in Wellington in 1990/91.

    We will be back tomorrow with the remaining candidates as well as the top-ten list.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.