From Trumper to Warner, comparing apples to oranges

sheek Roar Guru

By sheek, sheek is a Roar Guru

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    Victor Trumper is one of the most revered cricketers in Australian sporting history.

    A man universally loved at the time for his strength of character, integrity, honesty, general warmth and generosity to a fault. Oh, and he was one of the most stylish and daring batsmen of his, or any time.

    People loved Trumper for his attractive batting. Not only did he generally score his runs quickly, but he did so with a grace rarely seen.

    The photo of Trumper striding out (side on), bat back-raised high, ready to swing down into a cover drive, is an iconic sporting moment.

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    Unlike Bradman, who came after him, Trumper never possessed the attitude of grinding down the bowlers every time he batted for as big a score as possible. This was Bradman’s mantra, but not Trumper’s.

    Vic believed once he had set his team on the road to a good total, or had saved them from a batting collapse, it was time to step aside and let someone else enjoy his “day in the sun.”

    Trumper came from the ‘golden age’ of cricket, circa 1895-1914. These players of the ‘heroic era’ had a different outlook.

    For them style, both literally and figuratively, was a constant companion of substance. Not superior, not inferior, but a mate striding side by side.

    These players were from the same time and had the same philosophy as the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. He said “the most important thing in the Olympic games is not to win, but to take part.”

    Old Vic lived his life, both on and off the cricket pitch, by this creed. However, Victor Trumper is also a divisive figure, although this has nothing to do with the man himself.

    Often when chosen in an all-time Australian cricket XI, his selection raises eyebrows, especially among more recent devotees of cricket. ‘But his Test average is only 39.05, they exclaim!’

    Indeed, this is the enduring problem of statistics. As often quoted, stats are like the bikini – what they show is revealing, but what they hide is crucial!

    You would think a stats-dominant sport like cricket would be easier to decipher with so many stats to fall back on. Perhaps only MLB (baseball) can match cricket for its myriad of stats.

    But those who are entirely or mostly dependent on stats will soon find that it is often an unforgiving path to follow that becomes more and more confusing instead of enlightening.

    It is almost impossible to appreciate how differently the environment is that David Warner bats in today compared to the environment Victor Trumper batted in 100 years and more ago.

    Today, the cricket batsman is protected by state of the art equipment, from helmets with grills, to body padding, elbow guards, thigh pads, plus the obligatory gloves, protective ‘valuables’ box and leg pads.

    Fear of death is almost non-existent – albeit the Phil Hughes tragedy shows that cricket can still be unsafe.

    But this was a fluke accident. In Trumper’s time, death was a much more potential scenario for the careless or the unwatchful.

    There were no helmets back then, just caps and sunhats. Indeed, helmets only came into vogue around 1976.

    Today, Warner can hang his bat out and if the ball catches a thick edge it will run way quickly to the boundary for a four. Today’s bats have a 95 per cent sweet spot, meaning even a mistimed shot can look good.

    The pitches are generally well-rolled with an even surface, while the outfields can be as smooth and fast as glass. Boundaries have been shortened for safety and security.

    In Trumper’s day, although pitches were rolled andamp; the outfields cut, the technology wasn’t as advanced as today.

    Bounce could be variable, with the ball sometimes flying awkwardly at the head, or off at an acute angle inwards or outwards.

    And all this before we talk about ‘sticky wickets.’ Until the early 1960s, pitches were left uncovered and open to the elements.

    With a sticky wicket, as I understand it, the bounce becomes lower because of the water that has permeated the pitch, causing the ball to seemingly ‘stick.’

    Playing normal cricket shots becomes difficult. However, as the sun dries the wicket, different parts of the pitch will dry at different rates.

    If a ball hits a dry spot, it will fly off at either an alarming height or angle. Again, conventional batting techniques are tested to the limit and beyond.

    It was not unusual ‘back in the day’ for a captain to reverse his batting order on a sticky wicket, in the hope that by the time the specialists arrive, the wicket will be playing more truly.

    Because of the advantages Warner appears to enjoy today from technology compared to Trumper 100 years ago, it’s almost impossible to know how many runs Trumper loses by comparison. But it’s an exercise still worth pursuing.

    Indeed, as someone I read said the other day, that while the technology of the cricket ball has hardly changed in 100 years, bats, pitches, outfields and protective equipment have undergone a massive turnover.

    Have a look at the three tables I have constructed below. The first table shows the best 10 Test Australian batting averages of the first 50 years, 1877-1926.

    The second table table shows the best 12 Australian batting averages from the second fifty years, 1927-76.

    Finally, the third table shows the best 12 Australian batting averages of the past 40 years, 1977-2016.

    Table 1: Top 10 Test batting averages, 1877-1926
    1. Jack Ryder – 20 Tests, 51.63. [career exclusively post-WW1, 1920-28]
    2. Herbie Collins – 19 Tests, 45.03. [career exclusively post-WW1,1920-26]
    3. Charlie Macartney – 35 Tests, 41.78. [career both sides of WW1, 1907-26]
    4. Warren Bardsley – 41 Tests, 40.48. [career both sides of WW1, 1909-26]
    5. Clem Hill – 49 Tests, 39.2. [career exclusively pre-WW1, 1896-1912]
    6. Victor Trumper – 48 Tests, 39.05. [career exclusively pre-WW1, 1899-1912]
    7. Warwick Armstrong – 50 Tests, 38.69. [career both sides of WW1, 1901-21]
    8. Vernon Ransford – 20 Tests, 37.84. [career exclusively pre-WW1, 1907-12]
    9. Charlie Kelleway – 26 Tests, 37.42. [career both sides of WW1, 1909-28]
    10. Jack Gregory – 24 Tests, 36.97 [career exclusively post-WW1, 1920-28]

    Note that of the cricketers who played exclusively before 1914, Hill and Trumper, had the best batting averages. Ryder’s post-war effort appears a misnomer. He was apparently very good, but not that good a batsman.

    Table 2: Top 12 Test batting averages, 1927-76
    1. Don Bradman – 52 Tests, 99.94. [1928-48]
    2. Neil Harvey – 79 Tests, 48.41. [1047-63]
    3. Doug Walters – 74 Tests, 48.26. [1965-81]
    4. Bill Ponsford – 29 Tests, 48.23. [1924-34]
    5. Stan McCabe – 39 Tests, 48.21. [1930-38]
    6. Bill Lawry – 67 Tests, 47.15. [1961-70]
    7. Bob Cowper – 27 Tests, 46.84 [1964-68]
    8. Bob Simpson – 62 Tests, 46.82. [1957-78]
    9. Bill Brown – 22 Tests, 46.82. [1934-48]
    10. Lindsay Hassett – 43 Tests, 46.56. [1938-53]
    11. Arthur Morris – 46 Tests, 46.49. [1946-55]
    12. Bill Woodfull – 35 Tests, 46.00. [1926-34]

    Sid Barnes averaged 63, but his 13 Tests were considered too few for inclusion. Note that after Bradman, not one other batsman, almost all of them greats of Aussie cricket, reached a Test average of 50.

    Table 3: Top 12 Test batting averages, 1977-2016
    1. Steve Smith – 39 Tests, 57.90. [career continuing]
    2. Greg Chappell – 87 Tests, 53.86. [1970-84]
    3. Ricky Ponting – 168 Tests, 51.85. [1995-2013]
    4. Mike Hussey – 79 Tests, 51.53. [2006-12]
    5. David Warner – 49 Tests, 51.34. [career continuing]
    6. Steve Waugh – 168 Tests, 51.06. [1985-2004]
    7. Matt Hayden – 103 Tests, 50.74. [1994-2011]
    8. Allan Border – 156 Tests, 50.56. [1978-2004]
    9. Michael Clarke – 119 Tests, 49.11. [2004-15]
    10. Adam Gilchrist – 96 Tests, 47.61. [1999-2011]
    11. Dean Jones – 52 Tests, 46.55. [1986-1992]
    12. Damian Martyn – 67 Tests, 46.38. [1992-2006]

    Of the 10 Aussie batsmen to average over 50 in Tests, eight have achieved this in the past 40 years, and seven in the past 20-25 years. This also assumes that Smith and Warner more or less retain their current productivity.

    Are these guys really better than the ones that went before? Or are they enjoying the greater benefits of improved technology?

    I don’t know for sure, but I think there has to be a counter-balance somewhere. I think sometimes that when converting to today’s conditions, Hill and Trumper are worth a 10 point increase in their averages, to 49.22 and 49.05 respectively. This makes them seriously good players.

    Or perhaps some, but not all of today’s batsmen, might require a five point reduction in their average to bring them in line with those players from 1927-76.

    Trying to establish the true worth of players across many generations is an amazingly difficult endeavour, but one I enjoy, all the same. I’ll keep burrowing away, in the hope of always getting closer to the absolute truth.

    The great Don Bradman said, when contemplating this same dilemma, “a champion in one era is a champion in any era.”

    For me, this is always a good place to start, when considering this exercise in any sport.

    A former rugby lock, cricket no.11 bat and no.10 bowler, and surfboat rower. A fan of the major team sports in Australia.

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    The Crowd Says (34)

    • January 27th 2016 @ 7:25am
      macos said | January 27th 2016 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      Great article. Makes some very valid points.

      • Columnist

        January 28th 2016 @ 4:51am
        Ronan O'Connell said | January 28th 2016 @ 4:51am | ! Report

        Great article Sheek, really fascinating stuff.

        • Roar Guru

          January 28th 2016 @ 9:56am
          sheek said | January 28th 2016 @ 9:56am | ! Report

          Thanks Ronan.

    • Roar Rookie

      January 27th 2016 @ 9:41am
      up in the north said | January 27th 2016 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      Geeze mate, you do like to do difficult projects. Good luck with it.

    • January 27th 2016 @ 12:14pm
      dasilva said | January 27th 2016 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

      This is how I do it although I’m quite sure mathematician/statistician will point out the flaws behind it but I feel it gives an interesting ball park how to compare eras statistically

      First go to Cricinfo statsguru and get the average batting average throughout the history of test cricket. To do this go to advance filters and then changed “group figures by” line to “overall aggregate”

      The answer is the average batting average in the history of test cricket is 30.33

      Now for a player you want to update their batting average to modern times. Now in addition to “overall aggregate” in the group figures by” setting, also add the player you want examined in the “Match involving players:”

      Now let’s used the example WG Grace who is generally considered one of the greatest batsman in the history of the game yet with a mediocre average by today status. The average batting average at that time was 19.46 which is much less then the overall batting average in test cricket. This gives an indicator of how batting or bowling friendly the era of that player was (although it also an indicator of the strength of the teammates as well. I mean Brian Lara actually got a pretty low result from this compared to other players of the same era because he was the best batsman of a mediocre team compared to someone like Tendulkar or Waugh or ponting who had more support from teammates)

      Now divide the overall batting average 30.33 by the average of matches involving the player 19.46 and you get the multiplier whic his 1.55.

      Multiply that by the batting average 32.29 and you get the adjusted batting average.

      This is 50.33

      So WG Grace batting average of 32.29 is equivalent to 50.33 if adjusted to the total average

      So the formula is
      (Overall batting average in the history of test cricket/overall batting average in matches involving the player)*batting average of the individual player

      With Victor Trumper it is 44.51
      David Warner – 47.13

      So sorry Warner still has a higher adjusted average than Trumper but it is closer

      • January 27th 2016 @ 12:43pm
        Pope Paul VII said | January 27th 2016 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

        Although Warner has a massive chunk of a bat and shorter boundaries

        and, I’m not sure but I think he played when a hit over the fence was 5 not 6?

        • Roar Guru

          January 27th 2016 @ 12:55pm
          The Bush said | January 27th 2016 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

          But it doesn’t really matter what bat he’s using etc, because the statistical exercise done above is based on increasing or decreasing a players statistics based on their overall performance compared to their contemporaries. Warner is simply using the same style bat that everyone else is. Equally, if a 6 was only worth a 5, Trumper had the same opportunities to score as his compatriots, hence it is “equalised”.. It’s certainly not a perfect exercise, but it is very interesting and perhaps useful method for comparing across generations.

      • Roar Guru

        January 27th 2016 @ 1:46pm
        sheek said | January 27th 2016 @ 1:46pm | ! Report


        Very good. Of course, this is just one method, albeit a good one. But like any methodology, it doesn’t capture everything, as suggested by PPVI.

        Of course, you can find the average batting score for each decade, & adjust each batter or bowler accordingly. But again, this method favours players the more often they appeared in tests.

        It’s useless for example, assessing guys like Barry Richards (4 tests) & Mike Procter (7 tests).

        From my experience, it comes down to a combination of actual stats, methodology & perception.

        • January 27th 2016 @ 2:35pm
          dasilva said | January 27th 2016 @ 2:35pm | ! Report


          I think The Bush pointed out that it does equalised elements such as larger boundaries and 6 being worth a 5. It essentially measure how much better they were compared to their contemporaries.

          Although the limitation is that it takes in consideration the strength of the team-mates as well as it doesn’t take in consideration standard deviation of the era


          I’ll post up the adjusted averages all the players you mention in your article for curiosity sake
          J Ryder 44.34
          HL Collins 41.40
          CG Macartney 44.57
          W Bardsley 39.66
          C Hill 44.36
          VT Trumper 44.51
          WW Armstrong 41.91
          VS Ransford 40.54
          C Kelleway 35.96
          JM Gregory 33.39

          DG Bradman 93.41
          RN Harvey 51.86
          KD Walters 48.18
          WH Ponsford  44.95
          SJ McCabe 47.20
          WM Lawry 43.89
          RM Cowper 43.98
          AL Hassett 46.99
          AR Morris 46.89
          WM Woodfull 42.86

          SPD Smith 53.98
          GS Chappell 52.99
          RT Ponting 48.43
          MEK Hussey 47.36
          DA Warner 47.13
          SR Waugh 49.70
          ML Hayden 47.45
          MJ Clarke 46.29
          AC Gilchrist 44.46
          DM Jones 44.02
          DR Martyn 44.31

          • January 27th 2016 @ 2:41pm
            dasilva said | January 27th 2016 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

            Although you forgot Alan Border in your article
            AR Border 49.61

            • Roar Guru

              January 27th 2016 @ 4:05pm
              The Bush said | January 27th 2016 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

              For mine, one of the batsmen who really stands out there is Chappell.

              Of the batsmen listed in the third lot, he is the only one who’s career encompasses the start of that period, in fact all of them debuted after he’d retired. What that demonstrates is that for the period 1977-1985, Chappell reigned supreme. Considering Australia and the West Indies were the dominant teams of this period, G Chappell looks even more impressive.

      • January 28th 2016 @ 7:24am
        Warnie's Love Child said | January 28th 2016 @ 7:24am | ! Report

        dasiva, that historical batting average is 30.33 – is that for batsmen only, or does it include the likes of McGrath and Jim Higgs ?

    • January 27th 2016 @ 12:19pm
      ChrisB said | January 27th 2016 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

      I do sometimes wonder about these oft-stated views that Golden Age batsmen used to “get themselves out” once past 100 to give someone else a go. I really can’t see top level sportspeople doing this as a matter of course. People often say that Jack Hobbs used to do it as well. Maybe, but who knows.
      A lot of mythologising goes on in cricket history writing, Even with the likes of David Frith, a superb, if somewhat jaundiced cricket writer, I find he does quote a lot of myths for stuff that happened before his time. The story of CB Fry being offered the throne of Albania is one such story. There’s no evidence for this at all. It’s hearsay much-repeated (it’s a little like the silly William Webb Ellis myth if you like).
      You do get the impression that for cricket fans in the relatively-innocent pre-WW1 era style was rated as highly as performance as Trumpers’ actual output doesn’t inflate him above contemporaries as much as his reputation says it should. He was, by all accounts a supreme wet-weather and sticky-wicket batsman, and this is very hard to quantify in the records
      One statement I will challenge though is your comment “These players were from the same time and had the same philosophy as the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. He said “the most important thing in the Olympic games is not to win, but to take part.” – Trumper and his contemporaries were actually in one of the most volatile eras of board/player relationships and he was very much in the centre of it.
      He was one of 6 players who refused to tour England in 1912 due to fighting with the Cricket Board of Australia over appointment of tour managers and over pay. The nominated captain Clem Hill had famously punched selector and former teammate Peter McAllister during the disastrous 1911/12 Ashes series.
      These guys were not innocent amateurs playing just for love of game. They were hard-nosed working guys very protective of their rights and position – and rightly so.
      It’d be hard to imagine a less innocent Australian captain than Warwick Armstrong (one of the 6 rebels) who was really the introducer of many aspects of the modern hard-nosed attitude to cricket during his highly successful tenure in the early 20s
      And finally, don;t forget Trumper was one of the key figures involved in the 1907 rugby league split. Again not really redolent of an innocent view of sport

      • Roar Guru

        January 27th 2016 @ 1:50pm
        sheek said | January 27th 2016 @ 1:50pm | ! Report


        The whole creed of the Olympics as espoused by Baron Pierre de Courbatin is pretty accurate the way most, but not all, people thought back then.

        You can pretty well accept that this is how many of them thought. Totally different to today, but that’s life, perceptions do change over a period of time.

        For example, today we have to endure the politically correct, no concept of context, era.

        • January 27th 2016 @ 10:07pm
          ChrisB said | January 27th 2016 @ 10:07pm | ! Report

          Hang on, why should we accept that most thought that way? That’s pure romance. What historical evidence do you have for that?
          It may have been true by and large for those of independent means, but it certainly wasn’t for working class sportspeople – as evidenced. T the rugby split, which occurred in just the period you are talking about, and a series of disputes over pay and control in cricket, some involving Trumper.
          If your interested, A great book on this is The Player: a social history of the professional cricketer by Ric Sissons, which describes the hardships of many professionals in the so-called Golden Age

          • Roar Guru

            January 28th 2016 @ 10:02am
            sheek said | January 28th 2016 @ 10:02am | ! Report

            Okay ChrisB,

            Mind remain closed.

            When WW1 started, everyone thought it would be over by Xmas. Young men joined not wanting to miss the ”action.’

            Most young men of the time thought war was a jolly jaunt.

            It took the horror of the Great War to force, emphasis force, people to change their perception of war & indeed, life.

            Anyway, the noble ideals that people held in the pre-1914 era doesn’t dismiss the pain that many felt.

            Most people then believed in ‘fighting fair’, a concept hardly anyone follows today.

    • January 27th 2016 @ 12:47pm
      Pope Paul VII said | January 27th 2016 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

      Interestingly Clem Hill averaged slightly higher. He also scored 99, 98, 97 in consecutive tests, coming within whisker of having a mammoth 9 test centuries instead of his commendable 6.

      • January 27th 2016 @ 12:57pm
        Pope Paul VII said | January 27th 2016 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

        Oops he actually got 7 – 100s 19 – 50s – 2 not outs

        compared to Vic 8 – 100s – 13 – 50s – 8 – not outs

        both played 89 innings

        Vic took 8 test wickets as well.

        He also publically denounced the demon drink. Wouldn’t get a VB logo anywhere near him.

        • Roar Guru

          January 27th 2016 @ 1:59pm
          sheek said | January 27th 2016 @ 1:59pm | ! Report


          It does raise the question, if Vic is so celebrated, then Hilly is his shadow. There is so little to choose between them, even if Hilly himself reckons he wasn’t fit to tie Vic’s bootlaces.

          • January 27th 2016 @ 4:19pm
            Pope Paul VII said | January 27th 2016 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

            Yes it’s interesting. Vic’s style must have been dazzling.

    • Roar Guru

      January 27th 2016 @ 1:04pm
      Paul Dawson said | January 27th 2016 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

      Still my favourite story relating to Victor Trumper.

      Helps that Arthur Mailey was a superb writer as well, it’s a wonderful descriptive anecdote.

      • Roar Guru

        January 27th 2016 @ 1:57pm
        sheek said | January 27th 2016 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

        Paul D,

        A beautiful piece of writing on so many levels.

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