As part of a discussion a few days ago regarding Brendon McCullum’s legacy, a stat was cited by Geoff Lemon that McCullum had scored some 17.6 per cent of his runs from a mere five innings.
That gives some idea of what happened in the other 169.
The obvious intent of citing such a statistic is to try and show McCullum to be somewhat of a boom or bust player. He’s either on, or he’s not – and more often than not, he’s not.
Chris Gayle was cited too. He has a similar percentage from his top five innings, courtesy of a couple of big triple hundreds. It’s an interesting statistic. But it got me wondering, who are the candidates for the greatest boom or bust players of all time?
Off the top of my head, I plumped for Stan McCabe. He lit things up with some stellar knocks – 232 against England in 1938, 187 during the bodyline series, 189* against South Africa in 1935/36. Incidentally, during those innings, he was striking the ball so hard in the gathering dusk under looming storm clouds that South Africa appealed against the light while fielding and had it upheld.
But outside of these moments of legend there wasn’t much to capture the imagination, so I thought, and so it proved. After a quick statistics check, McCabe scored a colossal 36.5 per cent of his total Test runs in five innings, leaving presumably 57 innings where not a great deal happened at all.
But is he the standout candidate? Can anyone else rival his ‘Lonely Mountain’ style Manhattan graph, with great chasms between soaring peaks?
Understandably, it’s a little hard to sift the stats for something like this. Even Statsguru on Cricinfo wasn’t much help.
In the end I settled for some manual searching. The main thing I was looking for was a century tally of around four to six with not many fifties. Plenty of innings though – the more the better. In the end I settled for a minimum cut off of 50 innings – but dropped that to 48 after a couple of names eclipsed McCabe on that mark.
I have only included players who have finished their Test career. Kragg Braithwaite would have made the list otherwise, with 38.96 per cent of his Test runs coming from his highest five innings thus far.
So let’s see who the very best of the boom or bust players are.
5. Shahid Afridi – 48 innings. 36.59 per cent of career runs scored in his top five innings
It’s perhaps not surprising to see the remarkable Mr Afridi make this list. He approached his Test career much as if it was a Twenty20 match in white uniforms. From 48 Test innings he blazed five hundreds, sure. However, in fully half those innings he never made it past 20. Of his 1716 Test runs he made 1248 of them in boundaries and at a strike rate of 86, so even when he wasn’t on for a big score it was entertaining nonetheless.
4. Scott Styris – 48 innings. 38.72% of career runs scored in his top five innings
Styris scored five centuries in his career – most of them early on. A five-year Test career from 2002–2007 saw a century on debut against the West Indies, a hundred in India in a high scoring draw, and a match winning 170 against South Africa, paired with 158 from Chris Cairns in 2004. But he also failed to pass 20 in 26 of his innings, mainly in the latter part of his career, which saw him axed from the Test team permanently in 2007.
3. Dilip Sardesai – 55 innings, 38.98 per cent of career runs scored in his top five innings
I must confess I’d never heard of this player – cricinfo describes him as a limpet-like defender who could occasionally counterattack. Unusually for an Indian batsman he was much more comfortable against pace than spin. A purple patch against the West Indies in 1971 saw him peel off 212*, 112 and 150 during the five-Test series when India was playing away from home.
This series was perhaps even more remembered for Sunny Gavaskar’s amazing feats of batsmanship, as he racked up 774 runs. Five years earlier Sardesai had played a monumental 548 minute knock against New Zealand, to score an unbeaten 200*. In 55 innings he only passed the half century 14 times though, and his figures are somewhat distorted by the daddy hundreds he racked up when he did raise the bat.
2. Vinoo Mankad – 72 innings, 41.01 per cent of career runs scored in his top 5 innings
Perhaps a bit unfair to put Mankad in this list surrounded by inconsistent batsmen as he was predominantly an all-rounder. His figures are also distorted by a couple of massive scores. A pair of double tons against New Zealand in 1955-56 during India’s series at home inflates his numbers, and he showed his class in scoring a pair of centuries against a powerful Australian side during India’s hiding-to-nothing tour in 1947-48.
But these were rare high water marks – in 72 innings, he only passed the half century 11 times, and was dismissed for single figures 31 times, fully half of the innings he played.
1.Matthew Sinclair – 56 innings, 43.91 per cent of career runs scored in his top five innings
This shouldn’t surprise deductive readers in the slightest. Cricinfo describes the pair of double centuries Sinclair struck at the start of his career as a yoke around his neck, and whether or not that’s true, that’s how it will look in the history books. Three career centuries, 214, 204* and 150, plus four half centuries, eight innings between 30-50 – and then 41 innings where he scored less than 30.
Sinclair showed a remarkable aptitude to get himself set and then get out, and in the end he was never able to replicate the dizzying heights of his early career. Truly the ultimate boom or bust player – although had the cut-off been a few less innings, one player comfortably had him covered…
Honourable mention – Marcus North – 35 innings. 50.55 per cent of runs scored in his top five innings
Couldn’t not mention Marcus – if Mike Hussey was Mr Cricket, North was Mr Inconsistent. Of retired players, North is perhaps the greatest feast or famine type. He struck five centuries, a couple of 90s, a few 50s – and then, nothing. In 22 of his 35 innings he didn’t get past 20, and by the end of his career he was notorious for his inconsistency, that led to him being axed from the side permanently in 2010.
There were moments when he was able to get in and get going – for whatever reason, he just couldn’t do it more often.