Sorry Sachin: Kallis is the best of the modern greats BUT not the best all-rounder (mathematically speaking)

I have spent a lot of time of late pondering the career of Jacques Kallis and his place in the game.  There has been much made of the retirement of him and Tendulkar this year and much said in the media, both formal and social, of which of the two of them is the second best player after the great Sir Donald Bradman.

If I have said it once I have said it a thousand times: it is impossible to compare players from this generation with those who played in the 1930s and earlier and that premise probably extends right up to the 80s.  It is equally difficult to compare the records of the other “great” players of Kallis’ generation with his record because of his sustained excellence across both key forms of play: batting and bowling.

Thinking about it though, if one makes an assumption that a five wicket all by a bowler is akin to a batter scoring a hundred then there is a mathematical way to compare the careers of say Tendulkar and Muralitharan to Kallis simply by adding the amount of runs scored by the respective players to number of wickets taken by each player multiplied by 20 (on my hypothesis a wicket is equal to 20 runs).  I have taken the top 5 run scorers and top 5 wicket takers in the game (noting that they are all players of the modern age given the amount of test played when compared to 80s and before) and come up with the following table:

Player Runs Wickets Combined Rating
Tendulkar 15921 46 16841 4
Ponting 13378 5 13478 6
Kallis 13289 292 19129 1
Dravid 13288 1 13308 7
Lara 11953 0 11953 8
Muralitharan 1261 800 17261 3
Warne 3154 708 17314 2
Kumble 2506 619 14886 5
McGrath 641 563 11901 9
Walsh 936 519 11316 10

It is pretty clear from this mathematic approach to considering the greats of the modern game that Kallis is head and shoulders above the rest. I apologise to all Tendulkar fans for saying this but when you look at his overall contribution across both key aspects of the game but Kallis hits him out of the park.  Indeed Tendulkar is not, statistically, even the second best of the modern generation of players.  Both of Muralitharan and Warne best him based on a combined consideration of the player’s contribution to both key skills of the game.

Having established who is the mathematically superior player between Kallis and Tendulkar it got me thinking about coming up with a way of measuring the efforts of the previous all-round greats who have preceded Kallis.  Because of the lack of test matches played during the period from the 1950s through 1980s (when the great all-rounders were playing) the methodology for comparison of the players has been necessarily tweaked to consider each players average contribution to each game in which the played.  I have not considered any player that pre-dates 1950 for this analysis and have come up with this list of all-rounders: Kallis, Sobers, Hadlee, Dev, Botham, Khan and Benaud.  I am sure I have missed some from this analysis (be happy to hear your thoughts on who).

Most pundits of late seem to box Sobers and Kallis together and then the rest in a contest to determine who the best all-rounder to play the game is.  Based on the mathematical approach I have outlined, that position seems to be short sited.  Here are the results of applying a statistical analysis to foregoing list of all-rounders:

Player Tests Runs Wickets Combined Ave / game Rating
Kallis 166 13289 292 19129 115.23 5
Sobers 93 8032 235 12732 136.90 1
Hadlee 86 3124 431 11744 136.56 2
Kapil Dev 131 5248 434 13928 106.32 7
Imran Khan 88 3807 362 11047 125.53 4
Botham 102 5200 383 12860 126.08 3
Benaud 63 2201 248 7161 113.67 6

This analysis shows that Sobers contributed most, statistically, to each game he played when compared to each of the other “great’ all-rounders.  Unsurprisingly, when you consider his bowling strike rate, Hadlee comes in a close second and, frankly, a long way back, Kallis comes in fifth.

This analysis is, of course, necessarily predicated on the pure numbers each player has “put up” and does not account, at all, for the intangibles each brings to the game.  That said, I am absolutely comfortable with the outcome of the analysis: it strikes me that Kallis is the leader of the pack when it comes to the modern greats of the game because he was a true double threat (and that is forgetting his acumen in the slips) and, as such, was constantly involved in the game.  Tendulkar, by comparison, oft spent his time in the field stationed at mid off and did not have anywhere near the work load of Kallis.

I did not have the pleasure of watching Gary Sobers play but those who did always bracket him at the second greatest player to play the game after Bradman.  I mentioned in the preamble that it is really impossible to compare players for different eras.  That said, I am prepared to conclude that Sobers must be considered in any consideration of the player next after Bradman.  The player though that sticks out for me as having been missed out in a lot of consideration of the “great” players of the game is Sir Richard Hadlee.  His contribution to each game is only minimally lower than that of Sobers and, it must be remembered, he was regularly playing a team that was a losing rather than winning.

All of this number crunching proves one thing really: Kallis has had an unbelievable career of excellence at the top level of the game for a long time.  I, for one, believe he gets the short shrift from many in comparison to Tendulkar which is just statistically wrong.

With no active player in the top 10 players I have noted above of the modern, I am left to wonder who the next “modern great” will be.  One suspects he will come from Kallis’ own team or that of Tendulkar but only time will tell.

Cricket: Will the administrators listen to Rahul Dravid?

I have waiting until this evening to read the speech of Rahul Dravid to the ESPNcricinfo For Cricket Summit and to say it is a must read for any cricket fan would be an understatement. If you want to read it in full here is a link to the speech

In describing test cricket Dravid relies on an allegory about a tree to make the point that test cricket is the life blood of the game. He says:

“Test cricket, an older, larger entity is the trunk of a tree and the shorter game – be it T20 or ODIs – is its branches, its offshoots,” he said. “Now to be fair, it is the branches that carry the fruit, earn the benefits of the larger garden in which they stand and so catch the eye. The trunk, though, is the old, massive, larger thing which took a very long time to reach height and bulk. But it is actually a life source: chip away at the trunk or cut it down and the branches will fall off, the fruit will dry up.”

Dravid expresses concern for test match cricket and suggests a series of improvements to assist the development of the game such as:

  • Re-working first-class and test match cricket contracts to increase the pay of players who specialise in those forms.
  • Regularising the itinerary of all cricket so that in test cricket all teams play each other in a four year cycle.
  • Introduce marques tournaments in a test match context: a Champions trophy of Test Match cricket for example.
  • Improving first class competitions in developing nations or smaller, less resourced countries.
  • For less resourced countries integrating overseas teams into the domestic competitions of better resourced countries. Dravid suggests a Bangladesh team playing in India, a Zimbabwe team in South Africa, a West Indian team in England and a New Zealand team in Australia.

I love the ideas in this speech from Rahul Dravid and I have to say I only hope that the administrators of the game worldwide look at this roadmap for improving the game of cricket and actually take on board the ideas presented. If they do not then the fear that Dravid states for the game, I suspect will become reality.

Dravid warns:

“We are, I believe, maybe one generation away from reaching the point where our entire youth structures could cater only to T20 without any emphasis on the longer form of the game. By not giving young players a chance to explore their versatility, endurance or even improvisational skills, we will be selling ourselves and our sport well short.”

I can only pray he is wrong!