Is the helmet behind batting averages increasing?

ak Roar Guru

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    Until the 1990s cricket was played in a manner wherein bowlers and batsmen had more or less equal chances to succeed. However of late, especially in the last 15 years, the game has tilted heavily in favour of batsmen.

    So many batsmen have averages above 50. But a question to be asked is whether it truly reflects a batsman’s capability.

    Particular pitches have always been batting paradises. Helmets have also made it easy for batsmen to succeed even if they have technical flaws.

    Earlier batsmen had to use their technical skills to combat bouncers. However today batsmen often get trapped and get hit on the head but are saved by helmets. Had it not been for helmets, how many batsmen would have played confidently on the front foot?

    Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting were hit nastily quite a number of times in their careers. Sachin was hit by Shoaib Akhtar in 2006 and by James Anderson in 2007. Ponting got the same treatment from Javagal Srinath in 1999/00 and in the 2005 Ashes.

    What if they did not have helmets on? Now imagine the sight of say a Malcolm Marshall going around the wicket and bowling six consecutive nasty jaw breakers in one over?

    This is not to demean anyone, but the helmet is a major factor which is always overlooked when you compare modern greats with guys like Sunil Gavaskar and Viv Richards.

    True, batting is not all about facing bouncers, but even on other aspects of fast bowling, how many of the modern greats have played top fast bowlers with authority?

    Ponting in his heydays did not have to face a single top fast bowler. Brian Lara and Tendulkar never seemed to dominate Alan Donald or Glen McGrath.

    Als,o even though Sachin, Wasim Akram, Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose were contemporaries for over a decade, the Little Master hardly played any Tests against them and when he did, these guys had crossed 30.

    (It can also be said these bowlers were lucky not to have faced Sachin in his prime but that is a different issue.)

    Even Ponting stuttered while playing Ishant Sharma, the first time he was playing real pace after a long time.

    This is not to undermine the efforts of these guys, who have been fantastic throughout the years. The point is to emphasize the amount of runs and tons scored should not be the sole criteria of comparing batsmen from different generations.

    When you compare Richards with someone from a previous generation like Frank Worrell, there are hardly any problems.

    However when one compares a Sachin or a Ponting with any of these past masters, a second thought needs to be given.

    Or else it’s not just cricket.

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    The Crowd Says (33)

    • May 12th 2013 @ 6:14am
      Johnno said | May 12th 2013 @ 6:14am | ! Report

      A good article. Helmet’s I think do play a part, but it’s the sum of all parts.

      -Better curated pitches overall in the 2000’s, have played a part. And all the modern technology mod-con’s of the 2000’s have stepped up even more from the 1990’s.

      -Even better helmets, GPS tracking of your heart rates and fitness levels, better strength and conditioning programmes, and rehab stuff.
      Video analysis has stepped up and coaching, sometimes information overload.

      The modern day cricket from the 2000’s onwards have helped the batter more than the bowler.

      Technology was good enough in the 90’s to help the batter more, but the pitches were not. They were tougher to play on, now that has been improved too.

      The helmet certainly gave me more confidence in my playing days, and i only ever played social cricket.

      Facing Shaun Tait at 150 clicks, is frightening at any time, but a helmet must surely relax you.

      I think the helmet does make a difference. Guys like Viv and Sunny were that style of player that simply didn’t get afraid. Like some people who used to ride a bike without a helmet.

      Also education on head injuries is much more apparent now. In the old day’s like a cyclin helmet, many people who played cricket simply didn’t think they would be hit, or were not aware of how serious a hit to the head could be. Same in contact sports with the concussion factor, people didn’t know back then how serious concussion was.

      -So that kinda drops out some of the fear factor back then as people didn’t know how serious a head knock was int he 1980’s.

      By the 90’s it became more apparent but in the 2000’s everyone knows head nocks are dangerous . So the helmet helps but one has to look at the times too of when helmets were not used.

      • May 12th 2013 @ 6:59pm
        James said | May 12th 2013 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

        yeah def a combination of things but still the point about batsmen having to be much more technically good and have so much less fear is very important. having that 4 prong west indian attack coming in at you bowling probably 3 balls an over that were round the head with nothing on but a cap would have made any batsmen be terrified thereby making the one that isnt bouncing but hitting middle of middle stump more difficult to keep out.

    • May 12th 2013 @ 8:06am
      brother mouzone said | May 12th 2013 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      agree johnno,helmets,chest pads etc and far better bats have helped.especially less accomplished batsman.how many lower order batsman would feel confident getting in behind the next delivery after a brett lee bouncer hit them on the body or wizzed past their ear-without these aids.
      the test pitches in Australia are more benign than they once were.

    • Roar Guru

      May 12th 2013 @ 8:25am
      sheek said | May 12th 2013 @ 8:25am | ! Report

      Because of all the benefits enjoyed by modern batsmen, I consider their averages to be 5-10% over-inflated, possibly more.

      Similarly, it’s possible to argue that pre 1920s batsmen, because of poorer prepared & uncovered pitches (sticky wickets), & poorer self-protection, their averages are perhaps 10-20% undervalued.

      Consequently, Victor Trumper is closer to a 47 average batsman (add 20%), while Hayden is probably closer to a 45 average batsman (remove 10%).

      Helmets, padding, pitch preparation, physical & mental fitness, are all modern advantages to the batsman, giving him a sense of surety rarely enjoyed by batsmen of the past.

      • May 12th 2013 @ 2:43pm
        Jake said | May 12th 2013 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

        There is no way that you can say those figures have any accuracy to them, they were just pulled out of your head.

        • Roar Guru

          May 12th 2013 @ 9:23pm
          sheek said | May 12th 2013 @ 9:23pm | ! Report

          Jake,

          Funny about that but yes, they were pulled out of my head. 😉

          I’ve been following cricket for about 45 years & have a decent appreciation of the game’s history.

          It’s possible to make such educated guesses based on perception & history.

          A million dollars today doesn’t have the same value as a million dollars one hundred years ago. Similarly, a batting average of 50 today does not necessarily have the same value as 50 or 100 years ago.

          For me, it’s a rule of thumb that helps me separate players across 100 years. Feel free to establish your own ‘rule of thumb’ for similar purposes.

      • May 12th 2013 @ 7:08pm
        James said | May 12th 2013 @ 7:08pm | ! Report

        i dont know about the 5-10% advantage but def think there is a certain advantage. my biggest complaint about comparing averages is that they are so insanely subjective to who you are facing. anyone who played against the west indian bowlers of 20-30 odd years ago would probably jump with glee with the thought of facing most of the bowling attacks of every nation for the last 10-15. in the same way that some batsmens averages are really more than they should be, if you dont have to face decent bowling attacks or if you routinely come in with a healthy amount of runs on the board it would be much easier to score runs than if you come in as the sole hope of your team. but i still think the biggest things that has swung stuff in favour of the batsmen is the niceness of the the pitches that are prepared nowadays and that bowlers are not allowed to kill batsmen anymore with bouncers.

    • May 12th 2013 @ 10:21am
      TJ said | May 12th 2013 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      Imagining facing Malcolm Marshall without a helmet is not the scariest thought from this article. The scariest thought is that, if it is true that helmets have helped increased averages, then imagine how bad the current Australian batting line-up averages would be without them. Players who average over 30 would be a bonus…..

    • May 12th 2013 @ 10:25am
      deanp said | May 12th 2013 @ 10:25am | ! Report

      I think the proposition is partly true. There is no doubt that once you are smacked on the noggin with a very hard object, it is going to have some sort of influence on your batting from then on, from a mental health point of view. In the days before helmets I’d imagine the mental consequences would be a lot more dramatic. Nowadays players who are hit seem to shake it off quite nonchalantly. One point to note is that there are not a lot of instances of players getting hit in the pre-helmet times, compared to now. One reason is that the bowlers of yesteryear were probably not as sharp as now, although some may claim the likes of Tyson or Larwood were as fast as modern bowlers, the evolution of performances in all sports would suggest that probably was not the case. Another reason is that bowlers are not as concerned with hitting a batter now, because of the protection batters have compared to what they had in the past. So while helmets may have contributed to increased averages, there are other factors as well such as the better pitches for batting.

    • Columnist

      May 12th 2013 @ 10:28am
      Brett McKay said | May 12th 2013 @ 10:28am | ! Report

      I don’t think it’s just helmets though. Yes, personal protection has improved greatly in the last 25 years, but consider these points too:
      – more cricket is being played, in general, and across more formats;
      – grounds have shrunk in size, with roped-in boundaries;
      – pitch preparation has generally favoured batsmen, and Tests ‘going the distance’;
      – bats have improved massively in just the last 6-7 years, never mind the 15-18 before that, and
      – I’d also suggest bowling attacks have generally decreased in their quality while at the same time batting has dominated.

      (As a point, of all the Test double and triple centries scored in the history of the game, look how many have come in the last 20 years. It’s staggering..)

      All of these factors would have an upward impact on batting averages. To single out the helmet is being a tad unfair, in my humble opinion…

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