In this series 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 two of our modern premier batsmen, David Warner and Steve Smith. But first we will see what we can find out about two great stylists whose basic averages may not do justice to their talents.
22 wins; 1717 runs at 46.4 with six centuries (losses: 41.52; draws: 23.38)
Top six comparison: 34.65 (losses: 25.13; draws: 34.13)
Victor Trumper, the idol of the golden age, is more myth than batsman these days. Those who saw him and left their observations regarded Trumper as the greatest of them all. An average of just on 39 with eight career centuries doesn’t really bear this view out. For example, his contemporary Clem Hill finished with almost exactly the same record.
So what exactly was it about Trumper? Let’s see what the statistics can tell us.
In wins Trumper was a very good contributor, with an average of 46.4. In before World War I this was a top average. Six of Trumper’s eight centuries were in wins. His contribution was on average 11.8 runs, or 34 per cent more than his contemporaries. These are all-time great contributions, but Clem Hill’s winning average was 51.7. The wins average is also behind near contemporaries Warwick Armstrong and Warren Bardsley.
Trumper obviously wasn’t interested in draws. An average of 23.38 is comfortably the worst we’ve seen so far and nearly 11 runs behind his peers.
But then we get to the average in losses and something truly amazing shows up. Trumper’s average in losses was 41.52. If we take a cut off of ten losses, there’s Bradman and then there’s Trumper. He was 16.4 runs ahead of his peers, or 65 per cent better.
Trumper’s 214 not out in a loss to South Africa in 1911 is the second-highest in Australian history behind Ricky Ponting’s 242 against India. Despite playing in an era of relatively low scoring, Trumper’s record in losses is four more runs per innings than Steve Waugh, eight more than Allan Border, nine more than Ricky Ponting, ten more than Steve Smith and 16 more than Greg Chappell.
This plays almost exactly to the Trumper legend. When the team was on top it was alleged Trumper would lose interest and sometimes throw his wicket away to a deserving bowler or to give another fellow a go. Even so, an average 34 per cent higher than his peers suggests a man in control of the game. As a game was petering out to a draw, Trumper was not interested in playing for averages. But if the team was in real trouble, Trumper was the champion of lost causes. Let’s have a look at some of those.
In the Sydney Ashes Test of 1903 Australia’s first innings of 285 was dwarfed by England’s 577, featuring a then record 287 by ‘Tip’ Foster. Australia start their second innings well but Trumper comes in at No. 5 with the hosts still 101 runs behind. His majestic unbeaten 185 out of 294 scored while at the crease turns this huge deficit into a testing target of 194, but England are ultimately successful by five wickets.
In Melbourne in 1904 England scored 315 before the pitch turned sour. The next three innings were 122, 103 and 111 for a comfortable England win. In Australia’s first innings of 122 Trumper’s contribution was to carry his bat for 74 – just over 60 per cent of all runs – with no-one else reaching 20. He also top scored in the second innings.
In the Adelaide Test of 1911 against South Africa Trumper’s first innings of 214 not out was from only 247 balls, and 354 runs were scored while he was at the crease. In an epic match the home side failed to chase down 378 by a mere 38 runs. Trumper’s score was the highest in an Australian loss for 90 years.
Trumper’s best performances in wins also tended to be in difficult situations. It’s just that in some of these he managed to turn horrible positions into remarkable victories.
In the fifth Test in 1908 in Sydney the home side had a shocker, scoring only 137 in the first innings as the great Sid Barnes took 7-60. Trumper was energised as usual by the hopeless situation, with Australia 144 runs behind on the first innings. He proceeded to smash 166 in the second innings, with the next highest score being 56. England ended up failing in their chase by 49 runs to complete a remarkable turnaround victory.
In Melbourne in 1910 Australia were again in terrible trouble. Thanks to an Aubrey Faulkner double century, South Africa were ahead by 158 heading into the second innings. Trumper then glided to 159 from just 158 balls to set South Africa a tricky 170-run target. No other Australian reached 50. The tourists’ spirit was broken and Bill Whitty and Albert Tibby Cotter combined to roll them for just 80 runs. The fifth Test was almost a mirror image the other way. South Africa conceded a big first innings lead but produced a great second innings to set Australia a 198 run chase. But the difference was Trumper, who top scored with 74 not out in the tricky chase to guide the hosts to a comfortable win.
In 1902 in the fourth Test at Manchester Trumper started off with a rapid 104 in under two hours, one of the very few centuries before lunch on the first day of a Test. Despite a terrible second innings wobble – he was bowled out for 86! – Hugh Trumble and Jack Saunders dismissed England just three runs short of their target in one of the closest matches in history.
In Melbourne in 1904 Trumper was a class above on a tricky pitch. Batting first, Trumper smashed 88 in 110 minutes as Australia made 247. The next highest score was 36, and that remained the next highest score for the rest of the match as the next three completed innings read 61, 133 and 101.
So there is substance to the legend. In a relatively short career of 48 Tests Trumper produced a number of truly outstanding performances, almost always when his team was in dire need. And he did it with wonderful strokeplay and some of the fastest scoring seen in Tests. No wonder he is still spoken about today.
72 wins; 4794 runs at 48.91 with 15 centuries (losses: 27.88; draws: 42.5)
Top six comparison: 49.43 (losses: 28.47; draws: 42.59)
The widely held perception of Mark Waugh is him being supremely talented with the bat but maybe a bit more ‘loose’ than his brother and prone to lapses in concentration. What the stats show is a player almost exactly on par with his teammates in wins, losses and draws.
Waugh’s percentage up or down from his top-six peers reads: wins, down 1.1 per cent; losses, down 2.1 per cent; and draws, down 0.2 per cent. So on any given day the expectation would be that Mark Waugh would contribute pretty much on par with everyone else.
But there were still 72 wins, sixth on Australia’s all-time list, and 15 centuries scored in wins. Some of the more memorable are below.
Probably Waugh’s most famous winning knock was in Part Elizabeth in 1997 against a strong South African side. The hosts scored 209 in the first innings and Australia managed to concede a 101-run lead, scoring only 108 all out. South Africa reached 168 in their second innings, leaving Australia a seemingly impossibly 270 to win. Mark Waugh came in with the score at 2-30 and left with only 12 required for victory after scoring 116. The next highest score in the entire match was 55. Ian Healy then hit a six to seal a nervous victory.
In the Birmingham Test of the 1993 Ashes Australia were 2-39 in reply to England’s first innings of 276. From there Waugh top scored with 137 to set up a 130-run lead. England still set the tourists a tricky 120-run target, and these have often troubled the Australians. An early score of 1-12 duly became 2-12 before Waugh came in a steadied the ship with a dominant 62 from 87 balls to complete a comfortable win.
In 1995 Mark Waugh and his brother Steve broke the back of the mighty West Indies to secure the unofficial world championship. The twins’ 231-run partnership from 3-73 set up an innings victory and two decades of domination.
Mark Waugh was always an excellent player of spin. In 1998 on yet another unsuccessful Australian tour of India the hosts hit 424 in their first innings thanks to a superb Sachin Tendulkar 177. Waugh responded by scoring 153 and remaining not out as Australia limited the lead to just 24. India’s second innings fell apart thanks to the unheralded duo of Michael Kasprowicz and Gavin Robertson, and Waugh was not out again as Australia completed a comfortable eight-wicket victory.
47 wins; 4372 runs at 56.05 with 16 centuries (losses: 37.22; draws: 49.9)
Top six comparison: 55.99 (losses: 23.00; draws: 52.26)
When you think of David Warner you think of flat tracks, turbocharged innings and struggles in England. Resilience is not a word that first comes to mind.
Warner has scored 16 centuries in wins and his average is virtually identical to his peers in those wins. In a previous article where we looked at other great openers, including Matt Hayden, Justin Langer and Mark Taylor, we noted that they generally averaged a little less than their top-six contemporaries, so this result for Warner puts him ahead of, say, Langer and Taylor. In drawn matches Warner’s output is 2.4 runs or 4.5 per cent below his teammates, which matches results for openers.
It is in losses that we get a different picture of David Warner. Warner averages 37.22 in losses, a whopping 14.2 runs or 62 per cent higher than his teammates, and that’s as an opener. This is a startling result. For players who have participated in at least ten losses, the only names above Warner are Sir Donald Bradman, Trumper and Steve Waugh.
Some of Warners most admirable performances were in losses include the following.
In only his second Test match a player still thought to be a T20 specialist came up against a Hobart green top perfectly suited to the New Zealand seam attack. After crumbling for 136 in the first innings, Australia were left to chase 241 runs. Warner carried his bat through the second innings for 123 not out. The next-best contribution was only 21 as Australia fell just seven runs short of victory.
In Dubai in October 2014 Pakistan took a 150-run first-innings lead and pulverised the Australians by 221 runs. Warner stood alone, hitting 133 in Australia’s first innings, with the next best score Mitchell Johnson’s 38.
On the 2017 tour of Bangladesh Australia stumbled badly chasing 265 for victory, falling 21 runs short. Warner’s 117 at the top of the order was in vain, with no other player scoring over 40.
These articles are about wins, so for completeness, here are some of Warner’s best.
During the Indian tour of Australia in 2012 the tourists stumbled in Perth, dismissed for only 161. Warner responded with a ballistic 180 from only 159 balls to put the game out of reach within two sessions.
In the 2013 summer of Johnson in the first Test in Brisbane Warner gave an early demonstration of a common theme for him through the years: the super-aggressive third-innings century to ensure there was no comeback for an opposition behind on the first innings. In this case it was 124 from 154 balls to set up a 561 lead, allowing Mitchell Johnson the freedom to attack. In Perth it was the same, with 112 from 140 balls, before Ryan Harris castles poor Alastair Cook first ball in their forlorn fourth-innings chase.
On the 2014 tour of South Africa Warner showed his liking for the local pitches with three centuries in the series. In the first Test he swatted a typically aggressive third innings target setter, then in the third Test Warner hit a century in each innings, a combined 280 runs from only 308 balls for the match.
And finally there was the epic 335 not out against Pakistan in the Adelaide Test of 2019. Warner’s speed of scoring, taking only 418 balls, ensured plenty of time to push for a comfortable victory.
39 wins; 4455 runs at 81.0 with 18 centuries (losses: 31.06; draws: 106.75)
Top six comparison: 51.77 (losses: 23.49; draws: 44.03)
Let’s contrast the player widely considered to be the best current Test batsman in the world, Steven Smith.
The standout mark here is performances in wins at 81.0. This puts Smith at fourth all-time behind Adam Voges, Sir Donald Bradman and interestingly Marnus Labuschagne – Marnus averages 81.9 but from only eight wins, so let’s wait and see. On average Smith scores 29.2 runs per innings more than his peers in wins, which is 56.5 per cent better. Smith is even more of an outlier in draws, his average of 106.75 just behind Bradman, and that pair are miles ahead of anyone else. This may provide some insight into the mindset of these two batsmen, an insatiable appetite for runs no matter what the situation and a focus that doesn’t waver.
In losses, however, while Smith is actually pretty good, he is in line with most batsmen. A player’s loss average is generally around half their overall mark, and it is with Smith as well. This places him above Matt Hayden but below Allan Border and Ricky Ponting on raw averages. However, the result is still 7.6 more runs or 32 per cent better than his peers. That is really standing out from the crowd, just behind Border but ahead of the others mentioned. But it’s not in Warner’s league in losses and certainly not anywhere near Trumper or Bradman.
Let’s revisit some of Steve Smith’s winning performances where he has scored 18 of his 26 centuries so far. A really interesting thing about these innings is that 16 of those 18 centuries have been in Australia’s first innings. Smith is a specialist at setting up the win early. He also maintains concentration and grinds down any opposition that don’t possess special bowling resources. Outmatched teams, especially in Australia, could pretty much expect multiple centuries and 50s each series, such as West Indies 2015-16, New Zealand 2016, Pakistan 2016-17 and England 2017-18.
The following are some other more memorable moments.
In the 2013 Ashes Smith scored first-innings centuries in the Perth and Sydney wins. In both cases Australia were three for not many (3-106 in Perth and 3-78 in Sydney). Smith held both innings together being the eighth and last out respectively to get his team past 300 runs, which was more than enough for Johnson and Marcus Harris to control the matches.
In the Adelaide Test of India’s 2014 tour Smith scored a combined 214 without being dismissed as Australia racked up huge scores, which in the end proved to be just enough by 48 runs to defeat twin Virat Kohli masterpiece centuries in a great Test match.
A 277-run win over the West Indies doesn’t seem like a match to get excited about, but in Kingston in 2015 it could have all been very different. Batting at No. 3, Smith was in the middle from the fourth ball of the innings. He left as ninth man out for 199 with no other Australian reaching 50 to put on a score well beyond the hosts’ batting abilities. Throw in a half-century in the second innings as well.
I’ve saved Smith’s best few until last.
Pune, India. February 2017. The hosts produced a diabolical spitting turner of a pitch. Australia made an admirable team effort to put on 260 first-innings runs. India ere then humbled by Steve O’Keefe on a pitch that was becoming completely unplayable. Somehow Smith scored a second-innings 109 while no teammate could pass 31. The quality of that innings is shown when the entire Indian team was dismissed for just 107 in the fourth innings. Further Smith centuries followed in the drawn third Test and losing fourth Test as Australia just fell short of stealing an enthralling series.
In the 2019 Ashes Smith came back from a year’s suspension from the game and hit a century in each innings in the first Test to set up Australia to retain the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001. In the first innings no other player passed 45 as Smith was the last man out.
After being concussed by Joffra Archer in the second Test and missing the third, Smith returned in the fourth Test with a first-innings double century plus an 80 in the second as Australia took the lead in the series.
Next time we will tackle a selection of middle-order legends.