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Analysing Australia’s Test cricket winners: Ponting, Waugh and Sir Donald

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Roar Guru
28th September, 2020
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In previous articles we have been looking at how Australian players have performed in Test match wins, both how many career wins they have compared to losses and how they have performed in those wins.

In this edition we look at three batsmen each considered the greatest Australian batsman of their era: Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Sir Donald Bradman

Ricky Ponting
108 wins. 9,157 runs at 59.46 with 30 centuries (Losses: 32.83, Draws: 52.02). Top 6 comparison: 50.68 (Losses: 28.61, Draws: 53.68)

Ricky Ponting had more wins than most players have career matches. His 30 centuries are comfortably the most in career wins and his average of 59.46 is the best non-Voges mark we’ve seen so far (but not for long!).

If you set ten wins as a minimum this is the tenth highest average for all Australians. On average Ponting scored 8.8 runs more than his peers in wins, which is a 17 per cent difference, the highest seen so far.

Ponting’s average in losses is not too bad either at 32.83. This is 4.2 runs and nearly 15 per cent better than his peers in those matches. That puts him right up there, although nowhere near Allan Border’s high mark of 34 per cent.

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He is one of the few players to hit a double century and lose, 242 against India in Adelaide in 2003. This was the highest score by a player in any loss involving Ponting.

His duck in the second innings that Test didn’t help. He also managed to find himself on the wrong side of the scoreboard against South Africa in the Boxing Day Test of 2008 despite scoring 101 and 99 in his two innings.

ricky ponting plays a sweep

Ricky Ponting at the 2011 ICC World Cup. (Photo by Nagesh Ohal/India Today Group/Getty Images)

In draws Ponting’s average of 52.02 was slightly less than his peers. His most famous innings in a draw would be his rear-guard 156 in Manchester in 2005 in that Ashes series, enabling the tourists to hold on nine wickets down.

The image of the previously invincible Australians wildly celebrating the draw is said to be the moment when Michael Vaughan knew he had their measure.

Ponting’s other 150 in a draw was in Cardiff in 2009 and is memorable for exactly the opposite reason. Ponting’s decision to bowl the innocuous spin of Marcus North as England tail held on for a draw was not his greatest moment.

There isn’t room in this article to even touch on a fraction of great Ponting performances in Australian victories but here is a small selection:

– Away to the West Indies in 2003, Ponting made first innings scores of 117, 206 and 113 in the three Tests to bat the home side out of the series.
– In the second Test of the 2002 Ashes in Adelaide Michael Vaughan announced himself with a beautiful 177 as England posted a competitive 342. As so often happened in the 2000’s, competitive turned out to be inadequate as Ponting’s 154 drove Australia to 552 and an innings victory. This became a regular pattern, for example versus India in the Boxing Day Test of 2003, the tourist’s admirable 366 was destroyed by Ponting’s 257 and a total of 558 leading to a nine-wicket win. In Sydney in 2005 Pakistan’s 304 was outdone by Ponting’s 207 and a total of 568 leading to a nine-wicket win.
– In the third Test against New Zealand in Auckland in 2005 Ponting’s double of 105 and 86 not out were the two highest scores in the match as Australia turned a 166-run fourth innings chase into a nine-wicket victory.
– After the disappointment of the 2005 Ashes Ponting was a driven man and his 2006 calendar year was one of the best. When South Africa toured in January Ponting’s played his 100th test. South Africa started with a formidable 451. Only Ponting’s 120 and a Gilchrist half-century provided resistance as Australia conceded a 92-run first innings lead. Desperate for a series leveling victory, the tourists declared with a 286-run lead. Ponting finished unbeaten on 143 from just 159 balls as the chase was made to look easy, resulting in an eight-wicket win and series victory. In the return series, in Durban Ponting again scored a century in each innings as Australia secured a 112-run win.

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– You wouldn’t think of Bangladesh as a tough win in those days, but in the first Test in Fatullah in April 2006 the home side put on 427 first innings runs. Australia conceded a whopping 158 first innings lead, but Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie broke the Bangladesh second innings to leave a tough but not impossible 307-run chase. In turning conditions, Australia made hard work of the chase but Ponting manufactured an unbeaten 118 to guide his side to a three-wicket win.
– Then England toured in 2006/07 and Ponting made his statement from the beginning, smashing 196 in the first innings in Brisbane as Australia powered to 602. He scored a quick 60 in the second innings setting up a declaration and the huge 277-run victory signaled that England were in for a rough tour.
– Outside of Tests, there is of course the 2003 World Cup final when Ponting played one of the all-time great innings to bury India in an avalanche of sixes, eight in all, on his way to 140 not out from 121 balls.

Steve Waugh
86 wins. 6,460 runs at 69.46 with 25 centuries (Losses: 37.77, Draws: 35.74). Top 6 comparison: 50.56 (Losses: 25.98, Draws: 50.04).

The remarkable Steven Waugh.

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Let’s get draws out of the way first. Waugh didn’t like them. His average of 35.74 puts him at 28.5 per cent less output than his peers in those matches, with only two centuries.

Waugh’s philosophy was aggressive and his teams generally won or lost. This contradicts the widely accepted theory that Waugh batted for himself and his average.

In fact, Waugh never scored a second innings century in a draw. From 45 drawn matches his best second innings score was 80 in his last ever draw and there were only four other 50s throughout his entire career.

So let’s look at wins and losses. Waugh’s average in wins is fully ten runs higher than Ricky Ponting. Let that sink in.

His average is sixth all-time with a cut off of ten wins. Then consider that his average was 18.9 runs or 37per cent higher than his teammates in those matches.

Over 86 matches that is truly incredible. It must be said that Waugh had a gift for getting in and staying in and his average in wins is positively affected by 27 not outs from 120 innings (more than one in five innings). Waugh remained not out in 14 of his 25 centuries in Test matches wins. You can’t score runs in the sheds!

Steve Waugh looking thrilled

(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Waugh didn’t like losing even more than he liked winning. His average in losses of 37.77 is bettered by only two players who played in at least ten losses – Don Bradman and Victor Trumper (which is so remarkable that I’ll give Trumper his own section in a later article).

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Only Allan Border matches Waugh’s five centuries in defeats. His output was 45 per cent more than his teammates, which is huge.

Waugh really, really hated losing to the West Indies, who were the benchmark during much of his early career. Twice in the 1988 series, a young Waugh scored over 90 against Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh and Patterson in lost causes.

In the third Test in the famous 1995 series when Australia finally broke through for a series win, Waugh played a lone hand on a minefield where the highest innings total in the match was 136. His 84 runs for once out was nearly triple the next best Australian.

In the 1999 series in the West Indies, Waugh scored two fine centuries, only to have Brian Lara produce all-time great performances to drag his team over the line on both occasions.

But it was winning that Steve Waugh was best at so let’s look through some of these fine performances:

– In the 1989 Ashes which announced Waugh and the Australian team as a power on the world stage, Waugh scored 350 runs without being dismissed across Australia’s wins in the first two Tests. He topped scored with 92 in the fourth Test victory as well.
– Waugh was at it again in England four years later, in the fourth Test at Leeds sharing an unbeaten 332 run stand with Allan Border to bat England into oblivion.
– And again in 1997, Waugh scored a century in each innings in the third Test at Manchester. In a low scoring match, no other Australian passed 40 in the first innings or 55 in the second innings.
– Four years later (boy he loved England), Waugh hit two unbeaten centuries resulting in two innings victories for the Australians.
– In 1995 in Kingston, Waugh scored 200 to be last man out in the first innings as Australia finally defeated the West Indies in a Test series to become the unofficial world champions.

Waugh was a winner and these statistics show he was one of the greatest winners and losers we’ve ever produced.

Just for the sake of comparison, let’s also have a brief look at:

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Sir Donald Bradman
30 wins. 4,813 runs at 130.08 with 23 centuries (Losses: 43.27, Draws: 111.9). Top six comparison: 45.99 (Losses: 27.38, Draws: 47.54)

Well what can you say.? Bradman contributed 84 more runs in wins than his peers (183 per cent). The runs differential is slightly less than Adam Voges from my last article, but the percentage difference is greater. 23 Centuries in 30 wins. In draws, Bradman was also 64.6 runs and 135 per cent better than his teammates.

But wait, in losses was the great man mortal after all!? An average of 43.27 is nothing to write home about is it? Well actually, for players involved in at least five losses it is the second-highest in Australian history, behind only Jack Ryder from the 1920s who averaged 44.3 (but he only played in five losses).

Bradman’s average is just under two runs better than Trumper and 5.5 runs better than Steve Waugh (or around 14.5per cent). Compared to his peers we are talking 15.9 runs or 58 per cent better. It is the best so far by a fair way, but I have a feeling Victor Trumper’s will be even better, given the general batting averages of his era. We will find out in a future article.

Australia's best-ever Don Bradman

(PA Images via Getty Images)

So all in all Bradman is still very much Bradman. He was better across all result types than his peers by historically unmatched margins, although less so in losses.

Maybe that was because if you didn’t get Bradman out early, beating his teams was simply never an option.

Here are some of Bradman’s finest winning innings (honestly, I don’t know where to start!):

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– In the fifth Ashes Test in Melbourne in 1929, England put on 519 in the first innings and lost. A young Bradman top-scored in Australia’s first innings with 123 out of 491 and was not out 37 as Australia chased down 286 for victory.
– In his breakthrough tour of England in 1930, Bradman’s famous 300 in a day is matched by his performance at Lord’s in the second Test. England again put on a good first innings of 419, but Australia responded with an outrageous six declared for 729. Bradman hit 254 and Australia cruised to a seven-wicket victory. The fifth Test at the Oval follows the same pattern: England put on 400, Bradman responds with a double century and Australia cruise home, this time by an innings.
– In the summer of 1931, Bradman scores a century in four Tests in a row against South Africa, culminating in 299 not out in Adelaide. His performance read: 226 in Brisbane with a next highest score of 76, 112 in Sydney, 167 in the second innings in Melbourne after trailing by 160 on the first innings and finally 299 not out, left stranded when number 11 Pud Thurlow was run out. The next highest score was 82.
– In December 1932 in Melbourne in the second Test of the famous ‘Bodyline’ series, Bradman, who had been out injured for the first Test, returns to be Australia’s saviour and was promptly clean bowled by Bill Bowes for a golden duck. Thanks to a gritty half-century by Jack Fingleton, Australia took a 59-run lead into the second innings. Bradman proceeded to make amends in the second innings. After coming in at 2/27, he scored 103 not out from a total score of 191, the next best score being Victor Richardson’s 32. Bill O’Reilly and Bert Ironmonger combined to dismiss England 112 runs short of their target.
– After ‘leg theory’ is shelved, Bradman scored 244 at the Oval in the 1934 Ashes. This time he was overshadowed by Bill Ponsford’s 266 as they put on a record 451 runs for the second wicket. Incidentally, Ponsford took 151 additional balls for that extra 22 runs. Bradman top-scored with 77 in the second innings and Australia won by 562 runs.
– In the 1937 home Ashes, Bradman was now captain but was struggling for runs as his team went two-nil down in the five-match series. In the third Test on a sticky wicket, Bradman held himself back to seven in the second innings and scored 270 to seal an emphatic victory. The series turned from there. In the following Test, Bradman hit 212 in the second innings after Australia had given up a 48-run first innings deficit and the home side squared the series. He then made 169 in the decider as Bill O’Reilly eight took eight wickets for the match to deliver the only series win in history after being two Tests down.
– After WWII, many more centuries followed at home against a depleted England and an overmatched India, but the final flourish came in England. Bradman was no longer the force he had been but he still top-scored with 138 in the first innings of the series to set the tone. fourth Testth test, Bradman and Arthur Morris famously chased down a record 403 to win, with Bradman remaining 173 not out at the finish.

Next time we will tackle a couple of modern-day greats, a talent considered by some to be unfulfilled and the most celebrated Australian batting stylist of all time.