The greatest Test batsman since 1970: part one

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, 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.

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    The Crowd Says (119)

    • January 21st 2013 @ 6:58am
      Jamiej said | January 21st 2013 @ 6:58am | ! Report

      Ohhh, this is so going to turn into a Tendulkar vs the rest comment-a-thon isn’t it!!

      For mine, I think that Richards and Chappell are a cut above the others that you’ve listed here. Haydos was found out by the moving ball at times, Sehwag is a bit of a flat-track bully, Javed benefitted incredibly from home umpiring and Greenidge always struck me as underacheiving just a little.

      Of the four greats that have been present in the last decade, I’d put Ponting and Lara at their best a little ahead of Kallis and Tendilkar simply because they scored that little bit quicker and gave the perception at least of taking a game away from the opposition in a session and a half.

      Slightly different to the topic of the story here also, but I would say that Gilchrist changed the way the game is played like nobody since we stopped bowling round-arm. A no. 7 good enough to score 19 test centuries at an average near 50 and at close on a run a ball. Lethal. Not as good a pure batsman as some of the anove. But more awesome.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 7:02am
        Sunil said | January 21st 2013 @ 7:02am | ! Report

        Where us Tendulkar and Dravid, 2 of the rocks of Indian cricket and what about Lara and Steve Waugh. And don’t forget Ed Cowan(just joking)

        • January 21st 2013 @ 8:04am
          Tony Tea said | January 21st 2013 @ 8:04am | ! Report

          Did you by any chance read the whole post?

        • January 21st 2013 @ 8:42am
          Train Without A Station said | January 21st 2013 @ 8:42am | ! Report

          Sunil I think Border would lay a claim over Waugh. Both are probably my favourite players of all time, but I agree that they don’t really make the top ten. On averages alone they do, but both lack the style as players to compare to those on the list. They got to where they are by pure grit. If the heart both player had was teamed up with the skill and ability by some of those on the list, they probably would have both been greater than Bradman. Due to the fact they lack the skill of some of the all-time greats, they will have to live with the fact they were 2 of Australia’s greatest captains, led some of Australia’s greatest victories (89 Ashes, 99 World Cup), averaged over 50 in test cricket and both scored over 10,000 test runs.

          • January 21st 2013 @ 8:45am
            Red Kev said | January 21st 2013 @ 8:45am | ! Report

            Border’s grit and determination would see him on my Australia all-time list at no.6 (sorry Miller). You’re right though, S.Waugh and AB probably shouldn’t force their way into this discussion.

            • January 21st 2013 @ 10:03am
              Jason said | January 21st 2013 @ 10:03am | ! Report

              Runs v Windies in the 80s (min 600):

              player M runs Ave
              Border 19 1439 46.42
              Vengsarkar 17 1119 43.04
              Gooch 19 1589 41.82
              Boycott 9 663 41.44
              Gavaskar 11 745 41.39
              Javed Miandad 10 688 38.22
              Lamb 14 864 34.56
              Gower 19 1149 32.83
              Amarnath 11 655 32.75
              Willey 13 642 32.1
              Shastri 19 847 30.25
              Wood 12 603 27.41
              Kapil Dev 19 750 25
              Botham 19 757 21.03

              AB gets in for me.

              • January 21st 2013 @ 11:54am
                Justin2 said | January 21st 2013 @ 11:54am | ! Report

                AB was a freak and carried the side for what felt like years. Tugga was a tremendous player but I think played slightly easier attacks.

              • March 27th 2013 @ 5:06am
                Shreyas said | March 27th 2013 @ 5:06am | ! Report

                Well I would put AB & Amarnath on my list as the Best Batsmen against the West Indies of the 80’s..! Amarnath was never talked of really due to Gavaskar’s fame but he went to West Indies scored 598 runs in 5 Matches against them, with an average of 66.5!

                Gavaskar used to score against them on flat-tracks mainly but Amarnath MURDERED the Fearsome Foursome them on Bowling Paradises.! He killed em all – Holding, Garner, Marshall, Andy Roberts! He did the same even in the 1976 tour of West Indies!

                Amarnath = Legend!!

    • Roar Guru

      January 21st 2013 @ 7:21am
      sheek said | January 21st 2013 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      Good morning Glenn,

      It’s a good thing we have the English County Championships. Because if we peruse the stats of all those fine batsmen from many countries who appeared for its different counties from 1968 onwards, & especially from the late 60s through to the mid-80s, then one batsman’s stats shines above just about all others.

      Barry Richards may have only played four official tests (through no fault of his own) but is clearly, in my humble opinion, the best opening batsman I have seen in the past 40 years or more years.

      The only weakness Richards had was a lack of interest if there was no glory in overcoming. He relished the contest. In this respect he shared a similar character to Victor Trumper. Even the diminutive Sunny gavaskar could be troubled by the moving ball, but not Richards.

      Richards opened for Hampshire alongside Gordon Greenedge, & was much more productively excellent & consistent than his celebrated windies partner. During World Series cricket, Barry outshone both Viv Richards & Greg Chappell, then regarded the best two batsmen in the world, & still among the best batsmen of the past 40 years.

      Barry Richards is the best opener of the past 40 years, with Gavaskar his partner. Better than Sehwag, better than Greenidge, better than Boycott or Cook, better than Hayden or Smith.

      I hope also you mention Graeme Pollock somewhere among your best batsmen of the past 40 yesars. technically, he played his last official test in 1970, but he was still only 26.

      The rebel Australians found out out how good he was still in 1985-87 when he scored a ton of runs against them. On his retirement from all cricket in 1987, Don Bradman sent a telegraph claiming Pollock to be th ebest left-hand batsman in history.

      This was a considerable accolade considering Bradman’s close relationship with Gary Sobers.

      Graeme Pollock is still staistically the best left-handed batsman in history today.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 10:31am
        Australian Rules said | January 21st 2013 @ 10:31am | ! Report

        Great call sheek.

        ‘Crash’ Craddock wrote this article about the appalling treatment of Sth Afrcian cricketers by its modern administrators, worth a read:

      • January 21st 2013 @ 11:12am
        Ian said | January 21st 2013 @ 11:12am | ! Report

        Have to agree with you Sheek. Barry Richards is certainly the best opening batsman I’ve ever seen (i.e. in the last 40 odd years). He seemed to have so much time to play his shots and it was extraordinary, particularly in comparison to most batsman today, he never moved in the crease until the ball had left the bowler’s hand. He played every shot in the book, and with so much elegance. He never looked troubled at the crease and as you rightly point out, his biggest weakness was boredom as the crease!

        Not only did he outscore Viv Richards in World Series Cricket, but he scored at almost double the rate. It is a great tragedy that the world did not get to see more of Richards as test level, due to South Africa’s sporting isolation.

        Bradman also said that he considered Barry Richards as the best opening batsman he’d ever seen and thus included him in his world XI.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 7:01pm
        Guy said | January 21st 2013 @ 7:01pm | ! Report

        Isn’t the article referring to test cricket. So Richards unfortunately is out of the picture as he never had the chance to show his undoubted talent often enough at that level,

        • January 22nd 2013 @ 10:55am
          Ian said | January 22nd 2013 @ 10:55am | ! Report

          He did play test cricket-only 4 tests however.

    • January 21st 2013 @ 7:21am
      Josh said | January 21st 2013 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      3 of those in real contention for mine – Richards, Chappel and gavaskar

      • January 21st 2013 @ 8:26am
        jamesb said | January 21st 2013 @ 8:26am | ! Report

        Josh I agree

        Viv, Gregory Stephen and Sunny are the three best batters on that list. Gooch and Greenidge are in the next tier

        IMO, I think Hayden and Sehwag would have struggled against that WIndies attack of the seventies and eighties. Kirsten doesn’t deserve to be talked about. Might as well bring in tubby Taylor.

        But all time since 1970: Lara, Sachin, Viv and Sunny.

        Lara and Viv dead heat.

    • January 21st 2013 @ 8:36am
      Mike said | January 21st 2013 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      cant wait for the second part but Kallis would get my vote, just ahead of Richards/Tendulkar/Lara.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 11:59am
        Justin2 said | January 21st 2013 @ 11:59am | ! Report

        As a batsmen Id disagree. All of the above scored at much better rates (anecdotal, gut feel). Scoring rates are vitally important in winning tests and that is a key element IMO. Viv and Lara at a guess would be in front of Sachin in that regard too.

        Its why I never understand the “if he had to bat for your life Id pick XXX”. Its irrelevant how long someone can bat for, its about scoring runs and winning matches.

        • January 21st 2013 @ 1:58pm
          Bayman said | January 21st 2013 @ 1:58pm | ! Report


          You’d understand it better if someone had to bat for your life……….. Then you might pick Boycott over Sehwag.

          • January 21st 2013 @ 3:24pm
            Justin2 said | January 21st 2013 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

            I am yet to see anyone bat for anyone elses life!

        • Roar Guru

          January 21st 2013 @ 6:53pm
          TheGenuineTailender said | January 21st 2013 @ 6:53pm | ! Report

          Who would you pick to bat for you if your life depended on a hundred being scored?

          • Roar Guru

            January 21st 2013 @ 7:20pm
            biltongbek said | January 21st 2013 @ 7:20pm | ! Report

            Judging by your name, not you. 🙂

            • January 21st 2013 @ 7:55pm
              Johnno said | January 21st 2013 @ 7:55pm | ! Report

              lol call of the day Biltongbek.

          • Roar Pro

            January 21st 2013 @ 8:34pm
            boes said | January 21st 2013 @ 8:34pm | ! Report

            Border or Waugh. Couldn’t split them.

          • January 22nd 2013 @ 1:32pm
            Justin2 said | January 22nd 2013 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

            Whoever had the best ratio of hundreds to innings played 🙂

    • January 21st 2013 @ 8:43am
      Red Kev said | January 21st 2013 @ 8:43am | ! Report

      Gavaskar + 1 to open (I never saw him play but sheek and many radio commentators I’ve heard over the years wax lyrical over Barry Richards so I am prepared to give him the slot based on that).
      Leaving 4 spots I am not sure how go about putting 6 guys into 4 spots Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Viv Richards and Kallis. The Chappells can probably feel aggrieved at not making that a list of 8 too.

      • Roar Guru

        January 21st 2013 @ 9:44am
        sheek said | January 21st 2013 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        Hi Red Kev,

        Please don’t take my word for it. Read up on Barry Richards, it’ll be worth it, his record speaks for itself.

        In 1970 in only his second test (& against Australia) he hit 94 before lunch, easing up in the last few overs. He recalled many years later that if he knew he was only going to play four tests, he would have gone for the century before lunch. The Aussies have no doubt he would have got it had he wished.

        Then in 1970/71, hopefully in preparation for South Africa’s tour of Australia in 1971/72 (subsequently cancelled) he played for South Australia. His performances were stunning. He averaaged over 100 in first class cricket.

        He hit 356 against WA, 224 & 146 against England (separate matches), 178 against NSW, 135 against Queensland & 105 against Victoria. In other words, he hit a century against every available first class opponent in 1970/71.

        Facing Lillee, Gilmour, Walker & Mallett at their peak in 1975/76 (after Australia had trounced the Windies), playing for South Africa against the International Wanderers, he hit 52, 0, 33 & 80. A bit of a low return but still commendable considering the bowling quality at the time.

        During WSC (1977-79), he had limited opportunities but still averaged an awesome 79.14 in 5 supertests, hitting 207 & 101 not out against the Australians. Compare this to Greg Chappell & Viv Richards, who played 14 supertests each & averaged 56.60 & 55.70 respectively.

        He was also often dominant in English County Cricket (1968-76), which also featured many other prominent overseas & English batsmen of the day.

        • January 21st 2013 @ 2:04pm
          Bayman said | January 21st 2013 @ 2:04pm | ! Report


          Barry also told me this summer that in the last 15-20 minutes before lunch Bill Lawry slowed the game down to reduce the amount of overs bowled so he could not score the hundred before lunch.

          • Roar Guru

            January 21st 2013 @ 2:47pm
            sheek said | January 21st 2013 @ 2:47pm | ! Report


            You & I both know Barry is being too modest. He could’ve got that hundred batting on his ear!

        • January 21st 2013 @ 8:27pm
          Ajax said | January 21st 2013 @ 8:27pm | ! Report

          My dad saw his 300 against WA, who had the Australian attack, Dennis Lillee in his prime.. said he had never seen anything like it… and he saw Sobers and Bradman (the latter in 1949) …

    • January 21st 2013 @ 8:45am
      Jayden said | January 21st 2013 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      Personally I’ve always found Lara to be better than sachin

      He could always turn a game on its head in a session. mention that he could play every shot in the book.

      My top 3 would be Lara, Viv Richards, Border or Tendulkar to finish the. Three