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Test cricket’s progressive batting average records

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Roar Guru
4th June, 2021
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Most cricket followers around the world will instantly know what I’m talking about when I write 99.94. Significantly fewer will recognise 10.75.

These two numbers signify the highest Test batting and bowling averages using a cut-off of 20 innings for batsmen and 100 wickets for bowlers. The batsman is, of course, Sir Donald Bradman. The bower is the less celebrated 19th century Englishman, George Lohmann.

However if there were no innings or wickets cut-off points, neither Bradman nor Lohmann actually possess the best averages.

Many will know the story of West Indian opening batsman Andy Ganteaume, who scored 112 on debut in 1948 and was never selected again, leaving him with the highest batting average with no qualifying criteria. A combination of island politics and the fact he was just filling in led to his lack of opportunity.

Ganteaume’s long standing record was recently beaten by New South Welshman Kurtis Patterson, who hit 144 runs for once out against Sri Lanka in early 2019, across two Tests. I’m sure Patterson would give almost anything to give this record up by playing some more Test cricket.

Kurtis Patterson CA XI

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

At the extreme, Queenslanders might argue that maiden Shield-winning captain Stuart Law has the potential quantum average of infinity, as he scored 54 not out in his only Test innings.

This got me wondering just who are the holders of the record for best batting and bowling average as we move progressively through number of games (for batsmen) and number of wickets (for bowlers).

For batsmen, we’ve already established that Kurtis Patterson holds the record with no minimum Test requirement. Okay, so technically the minimum would be zero Tests, however that that would be taking the quantum infinity average concept to a whole new level!

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Patterson holds onto that progressive average for players with two Tests as well. That is where his reign ends, unless he is afforded another chance in the future.

Donald Bradman takes over the mantle of highest world average from Test number three. No player who has played three or more Tests can boast a better record than that famous 99.94.

This means Bradman holds the record right up to Test 52 when he showed bowlers around the world some mercy and focussed on stockbroking.

Australia's best-ever Don Bradman

(PA Images via Getty Images)

But as usual, the Don is a statistical fun killer, so I’m going to head to an alternate universe where the great man really enjoyed tennis and won 17 Wimbledon titles until brought undone by Douglas Jardine’s unsportsmanlike ‘backhand theory’.

So let’s journey through Test cricket and look at who holds the progressive non-Don average records. The interesting part to this is to try and find out why these successful players received fewer Test caps than their records warranted.

From one Test to two Tests – Kurtis Patterson (Australia), 144.0
After hitting 157 on debut for New South Wales as an 18-year-old, Patterson has been a solid player for his state for many years, without ever rising to the ‘pick me or else’ standard. Patterson found his way into the Test side on the back of Sandpaper-gate and a desire to bring back ‘real’ Test cricketers who could display some consistency and build an innings.

Patterson may have been afforded more chances, but injuries and form troubles arose at the wrong time. A career-to-date first class average of 38.46 and some trouble converting starts into substantial scores indicates he will need a rich vein of form to come back into consideration.

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Three Tests – Desmond Lewis (West Indies), 86.33
Desmond Lewis made his Test debut in 1971 on the back of twin half centuries for Jamaica against the touring Indians. He had only debuted in first class cricket in 1970. Lewis played as wicketkeeper, replacing Mike Findlay, and scored 81 not out from number seven.

He was then was promoted to open and finished the series with 259 runs. Findlay returned to the Test team for the next tour and in an era when a keeper’s batting was not a primary consideration, Lewis never played Tests again. Lewis had a first class average of 31.82 and never scored a century.

Generic cricket ball

(Steven Paston – EMPICS/Getty Images)

Four Tests – Daryl Mitchell (New Zealand), 75.33
All-rounder Mitchell has grabbed a spot on this list due to impressive performance in four Tests since 2019, however he is currently out of the Test side playing in England, with the selectors favouring Colin de Grandhomme.

Given Mitchell has a central contract for 2021-22 and has scored a century in both Test and ODI cricket, there is plenty of time for him to tarnish this fine average in the future. Mitchell is the son of former All Blacks player and coach John Mitchell.

Five to ten Tests – Stewie Dempster (New Zealand), 65.72
Dempster was a star Kiwi batsman in the 1930s. New Zealand had only just entered the Test arena so opportunities were limited. In fact, no Tests were played during his first tour of England in 1927, although Dempster topped the first class tour averages.

He has the distinction of his name on the honours board at Lord’s as well as being named one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1932. Dempster subsequently moved to the UK, where he played for Leicestershire and also represented Scotland. Dempster’s run-scoring feats may have been in part due to the five shillings bribe his father paid him for each century scored.

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11 to 13 Tests – Sid Barnes (Australia), 63.05
Sid Barnes was a supremely talented opening batsman during the Bradman era. The highlight of his 12-match Test career was a then-world record 405-run partnership with the Don as well as a Test average of 80 during the 1948 Invincibles tour.

Unfortunately for his Test career, Barnes was also somewhat of a rebel and difficult character in an era when neither were appreciated. His career was effectively over when he was overlooked for a tour of the West Indies, officially for reasons other than cricket ability.

14 to 20 Tests – Adam Voges (Australia), 61.87
I have written on the Voges anomaly before, so let’s just show some respect for one of Western Australia’s greatest servants. This is where the anomalies end and the significant careers start.

21 to 77 Tests and counting – Steve Smith (Australia), 61.8
The batting machine that is Steve Smith has produced a record not matched by any other modern player with a significant career. Some 27 hundreds from 77 Tests, a hundred against every country against whom he has played at least three Tests, and an average of over 87 when Australia bat first set him apart. All this after averaging under 30 for his first 11 Tests.

Steve Smith celebrates a century

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

78 to 82 Tests – Ken Barrington (England), 58.67
Barrington is in grave danger of losing his place in this company. If Steve Smith scores ten consecutive ducks he will finish his 82nd Test with an average of 57.1, so there is hope yet for the Englishman.

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Barrington provided the template for Steve Waugh’s career. He started off as an aggressive stroke maker, was dropped and then returned as an immovable limpet who averaged over 69 in five of the six overseas countries he visited.

83 to 85 Tests – Wally Hammond (England), 58.45
We have all heard of many versions of the ‘best since Bradman’. Hammond was the other way: the best before Bradman. Hammond was a truly dominant player and one of the first picked for England’s all-time greatest side. His greatest series was in Australian 1928-29 where he scored 905 runs across the five Tests to destroy the Australians.

86 to 93 Tests – Sir Garfield Sobers (West Indies), 57.78
Garry Sobers needs no biography. He could bowl a bit too.

Gary Sobers batting

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

94 to 134 Tests – Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), 57.4
The great Sri Lankan was a glorious batsman in all conditions and averaged 66.78 in the 86 Tests where he did not don the gloves. That subset of Tests would have knocked everyone else off this list down to the five-Test mark.

135 to 166 Tests – Jacques Kallis (South Africa), 55.37
The South African lack-of-excitement machine was possibly the most dedicated and efficient cricketer of all time. There were not really any chinks in the Kallis armour and he is right up there as the African nation’s greatest ever cricketer.

166 to 200 Tests – Sachin Tendulkar (India), 53.78
There is an advantage to simply playing longer than any else ever has, however to hold up an average in excess of 53 for 329 trips to the crease is a stupendous feat.

After outlasting Kallis, Tendulkar still had to take care of Australians Steve Waugh (51.06 from 168 Tests) and Ricky Ponting (51.85 from 168 Tests) to assume the title from Test 167.

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So there you have it. Next time you want to impress your friends or clear a room, these are the statistics to do it.

Next time I will look at bowling averages.

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