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Opinion

Australia’s 'winningest' Test cricketers

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Roar Guru
14th September, 2020
24

The Australian cricket team has had some pretty handy Test match players over the 143 years or so since they first knocked over the English in Melbourne in 1877.

At times those players have arrived in a sufficiently large cluster to form some handy teams as well, as evidenced by Australia’s world record of 16 consecutive Test wins, achieved twice.

Adam Gilchrist famously won his first 15 Test matches in a row and performed fairly well in them too (992 runs at an average of 58.35 and a strike rate of 76.54).

Which got me thinking, who are our ‘winningest’ players. That led me to three criteria:
– Most total wins
– Best win/loss ratio – e.g. a ratio of three means between every Test loss a player would have expected to win three other matches (ignoring draws).
– Best performances in those wins.

I thought there’d be plenty of readily available lists to cover these statistics, but apparently not.

Nevertheless I have ploughed on and present a snapshot of some of our most successful Test cricketers. Today I will look at total wins and winning percentages, with individual performances in wins examined in a later article.

There have been 14 Australians who have won at least 50 career Test matches (refer table at the end of the article for details). It’s no surprise, given the greater number of matches played in the modern era and Australia’s dominance between 1995 and 2007, that most of these players come from or at least overlap with that era.

One notable exception is Allan Border. After taking charge of the Australian team after they hit absolute rock bottom in late 1984, AB bowed out just as his country was on the cusp of overtaking the West Indies as world number one.

Border won exactly 50 of his 156 Test matches. Despite the era he endured, Border’s win/loss ratio was actually just in the black, 1.09 to be exact. Border was a fighter during his entire career.

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Australia celebrate winning the 1987 Cricket World Cup.

Australia celebrate winning the 1987 Cricket World Cup, just three years after one of their lowest points. (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images)

He averaged 51.4 in wins, which is good but not much more than his career average. In losses he managed only 33.4, in other words when Border failed so did the team. But in draws Border averaged 68.7 and scored 16 of his 27 centuries. He was a rock when the team needed to avoid a loss.

And his team drew a lot. Of his 156 Tests, 59 were draws compared to 50 wins and 46 losses (plus one memorable tie).

The only other Australians to win at least 50 Tests with a win/loss ratio of less than two are Ian Healy and Michael Clarke. Plus one player who has recently joined the 50 wins club, but more on him later.

Now contrast Border with the aforementioned Gilchrist. This turbo charged keeper batsman transformed an already world leading side into a virtually unbeatable juggernaut, finishing with 73 wins from only 96 matches and a win/loss ratio of 6.64.

To put that in perspective, Gilchrist was expected to lose one single Test match out of each seven he played.

This record is 35 per cent better than any other Australian in history. In fact, only five other players in the history of Test cricket have ever finished with a win/loss ratio of even four and none of these achieved a ratio of 5.

Those five players are Glenn McGrath (84 wins at 4.2), Justin Langer (70 at 4.12), Brett Lee (54 at 4.91) and the great West Indian openers Gordon Greenidge (57 wins at 4.09) and Desmond Haynes (60 at 4.0).

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Why do the Australians of the 1990s to 2000s era have higher win/loss ratios than even the great West Indian side of the 1980s? Partly this is due to the two streaks of 16 wins in a row, but also because the instances of drawn Tests dropped dramatically after the mid 1980s, especially in Australia.

In the modern era Australia simply didn’t do draws. On the few occasions where they didn’t simply crush their hapless opponents, they tended to implode, going down in a blaze of glory. For example, Glenn McGrath was involved in only 20 draws from 128 Tests (15.6 per cent).

Desmond Haynes had 41 draws from 116 matches (35.3 per cent or three times as often). So while McGrath’s win/loss ratio of 4.2 is marginally higher than Haynes’ 4.0, McGrath also lost 20 Tests, which was 16 per cent of those he played, while Haynes only lost 15 times or 13 per cent. In summary the Australians may have been the better attacking side, but the West Indies were able to defend and were slightly harder to beat.

Ricky Ponting is only player in cricket history from any nation to notch up more than 100 Test wins – 108 to be exact from 168 matches. Ponting only lost 31 Tests in his entire career, but somehow managed to lose three Ashes series with that record.

Ricky Ponting of Australia works the ball to leg

Ricky Ponting in 2006. (James Knowler/Getty Images)

There are some other interesting names on this list.

For those with 50 career Test wins, Brett Lee has the second highest win/loss ratio in world Test cricket history, at 4.91. Lee lost just 11 out of 76 career Tests. That surprised me, but I guess he was usually the third seamer behind the impressive McGrath/Gillespie pairing and lost only 4 of his first 37 Tests prior to the famous 2005 Ashes in England.

Steve Waugh won 86 from 168 Tests with a win/loss ratio of 2.39, which is not too shabby. Two periods from Waugh’s career have contrasting effects on his winning record.

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Waugh only won four of his first 26 Tests prior to the famous 1989 Ashes victory and his record during that period was an underwhelming 1,099 runs at an average of 30.5 and 40 wickets at 39.3. In fact Waugh did not get to sing the team song until his 13th appearance.

Much later on, Waugh won 49 Tests from 57 matches as captain for a win/loss ratio of 4.56, which makes him one of Australia’s ‘winningest captains’ (Bradman won 15 and lost only three, while ‘The Big Ship’ Warwick Armstrong won 8 Tests and never lost). During that period as captain Waugh scored 3,714 runs at 52.3.

However, Mark Waugh actually had a marginally better career win/loss ratio than his older brother.

In other comparisons of win/loss ratios, current national coach Justin Langer had a better ratio than his long time opening partner Matthew Hayden, although Haydos did win one more Test than Langer over his career. Glenn McGrath also shades his superstar compatriot Shane Warne.

But to fair in each of those cases we are comparing great with great. They all won at least three Tests for each loss suffered.

Given players from earlier periods did not have the opportunity to play so much Test cricket (Bradman played only 52 matches across nearly 20 years), how do some of these past greats stack up?

I’ve added a table below showing selected players for comparison. The interesting ones include:

– The great opening bowling partnership of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, both with win loss ratios around the 3.5 mark, similar to Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne
– The underrated Neil Harvey, often forgotten now in best of sides, with 41 wins, more than Greg Chappell and at a win/loss ratio of 2.73 compared to Chappell’s 2.00. For comparison, Don Bradman’s win/loss ratio was 2.50.
– No player on the list, even David Boon who played through the 1980’s, has a win/loss ratio of less than 1.

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How do our modern stars look? We hold the Ashes, but little else in the current era. There is one player who has reached the magical 50 wins mark and it’s not Steve smith or David Warner.

Nathan Lyon currently sites at 51 wins from 96 Tests, although his win/loss ratio of 1.76 is the worst after Border.

Here is a selection of other modern Australian cricketers:

Player Matches played Won Lost Draws Win/loss ratio
David Warner 84 47 25 12 1.88
Mitchell Johnson 73 39 22 12 1.77
Steve Smith 73 39 25 9 1.56
Mitchell Starc 57 31 20 6 1.55
Josh Hazlewood 51 25 18 8 1.39
Pat Cummins 30 17 9 4 1.89
Ryan Harris 27 16 6 5 2.67

Ryan Harris, what a player!

Looking around the world, there is a select group of players who have won more than 50 career Tests but only West Indians Greenidge and Haynes, plus the mighty Viv Richards, did it with a win/loss ratios greater than 3.

The very strong South African sides of recent vintage including players such as Hashim Amla (64 wins), AB de Villiers (57), Jacques Kallis (82), Mark Boucher (74) and Graeme Smith (60) had ratios hovering around the two mark. The great Dale Steyn finished with 48 career wins.

The extremely long career of Sachin Tendulkar netted him 72 wins (10 less than Kallis and 26 less than Ricky Ponting) but at a win/loss ratio of only 1.29.

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The great Sri Lankan trio of Muralitharan (54 wins), Sangakkara (58) and Jayawardene (53) all had win/loss ratios around 1.3.

For England, Alastair Cook netted 67 wins at 1.22. James Anderson has 53 wins at home but only 17 away for a total of 70 win at a win/loss ratio of 1.32. Stuart Broad is the king of wins for England – his 65 wins came at a win/loss ratio of 1.48. Joe Root currently has 43 wins at 1.22.

Alastair Cook celebrates reaching 200.

Alastair Cook. Winner. (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Action Plus via Getty Images)

And what of the very good modern Indian team. King Virat Kohli has 44 wins to date from 86 Tests, one less than his much less compatriot Cheteshwar Pujara who heads the list with 45 wins from only 77 Tests at a win/loss ratio of 2.5. A truly valuable Test player. Ishant Sharma has 44 wins and Ravi Ashwin has 42.

Our Kiwi cousins don’t win as much as they would like and no one has tasted victory more than Ross Taylor with 37 career wins, at a ratio just under 1 (i.e. he has lost slightly more than he has won). Trent Boult has had his share of success, with 31 wins coming at a very respectable rate of 1.4.

Elsewhere, the great Pakistan batsman Younis Khan participated in 46 wins and 45 losses from 118.

So this article shows us what we already know – during the 1990’s and 200’s Australia won a lot, an awful lot. We may never see their like again.

Next time we will look at players who shine when Australia wins and drag their teammates over the line.

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Australian players involved in 50 or more Test wins (to 12 September 2020):

Player Matches played Won Lost Draws Win/loss ratio
Ricky Ponting 168 108 31 29 3.48
Shane Warne 145 92 26 27 3.54
Steve Waugh 168 86 36 45 2.39
Glenn McGrath 124 84 20 20 4.2
Adam Gilchrist 96 73 11 12 6.64
Mark Waugh 128 72 27 29 2.67
Matthew Hayden 103 71 18 14 3.94
Justin Langer 105 70 17 18 4.12
Michael Clarke 114 63 32 19 1.97
Ian Healy 119 55 29 35 1.9
Brett Lee 76 54 11 11 4.91
Mark Taylor 104 52 20 32 2.6
Nathan Lyon 96* 51 29 16 1.76
Allan Border 156 50 46 59 1.09

A selection of other great Australian players, for comparison

Player Matches played Won Lost Draws Win/loss ratio
Victor Trumper 48 22 14 12 1.57
Clem Hill 49 25 16 8 1.56
Warwick Armstrong 50 28 12 10 2.33
Clarrie Grimmett 37 20 10 7 2
Don Bradman 52 30 12 10 2.5
Ray Lindwall 61 33 9 19 3.67
Keith Miller 55 31 9 15 3.44
Neil Harvey * 79 41 15 22 2.73
Richie Benaud * 63 24 13 25 1.85
Greg Chappell 87 38 19 30 2
Dennis Lillee 70 31 16 23 1.94
Jeff Thomson 51 21 18 12 1.17
David Boon * 106 41 25 40 1.64
* 1 tie