Who is the greatest test batsman of all time? In a follow up to a recent paper I created a media furore by suggesting that India’s Sachin Tendulkar had eclipsed Australian great Sir Donald Bradman in terms of career performance.
The spirited reaction to my research is perhaps not surprising. Never mind the fact he’s chasing an elusive hundredth hundred.
Batting averages: just not cricket
The most common way to assess a batsman’s career is to look at their average, which is simply the ratio of runs scored to the number of times the player has been dismissed.
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Sachin Tendulkar, on the other hand, has a relatively low (albeit still exceptional) average of 56.02.
But the batting average has problems. Cricket fans will often point to factors such as the quality of opposition, as well variations in playing conditions and equipment over time as reasons not to completely trust a player’s average as a measure of performance.
While Bradman’s average is exceptional, it is actually not the highest in test cricket.
Such a system ensures that all players have had ample time to demonstrate their quality at test level.
Better than average
A batsman is only of use to his team if he averages more than his replacement player could have; a value known as the player’s “opportunity cost”. For test cricketers this value is approximately 40, although it changes from season to season.
Both players are miles ahead of the rest of the pack.
Mastering the stats
Perhaps the best way to think about the result is this: innings for innings, Bradman is vastly superior to Tendulkar, just as Ganteaume is slightly ahead of Bradman.
But if the Australian selectors could unearth another Bradman (restricted to playing just 52 tests) or another Tendulkar, they would be wise to opt for a local version of India’s Little Master. Just.