Saturday 4 June 2011

Greatest wicketkeeper-batsman?

I noticed that Matt Prior was unbeaten on 73 off 83 overnight in the test match. That leaves him with an average this year of 191.

I've commented in previous posts about how good his activity rate is, and also how good he is at converting a start. But now I wonder how he compares among the greatest wicket-keeper batsmen.

The stats are quite interesting. First here is the overall averages for the last 5 years:

Namematchesinningsrunsaveragestrike rate100's50's
MJ Prior (Eng) 4262222144.4264.58417
MS Dhoni (India) 4467240340.7257.37317
BJ Haddin (Aus) 3254190539.6858.7438
BB McCullum (NZ) 2850169936.1461.6439
HAPW Jayawardene (SL) 3344127833.6350.7133
MV Boucher (SA) 4564191633.0350.24113
Kamran Akmal (Pak) 3053149630.5363.17210
TR Ambrose (Eng) 111644729.8046.4113
Mushfiqur Rahim (Ban) 2141111629.3644.3916
D Ramdin (WI) 3357113622.7249.6216

He sits at the top of this table, with a better average, strike rate and 50-100 conversion rate than Dhoni. (note this is every player who played 15 or more innings as keeper - hence the exclusion of Sangakkara and AB de Villiers as they played mostly as batsmen, and the low numbers for McCullum, who has scored most of his runs as a batsman also)

So how does he compare overall:
A Flower (Zim) 1992-2002 55100440453.701223
AC Gilchrist (Aus) 1999-2008 96137557047.601726
MJ Prior (Eng) 2007-2011 4262222144.42417
LEG Ames (Eng) 1929-1939 4467238743.4087
KC Sangakkara (SL) 2000-2008 4881311740.48711
CL Walcott (WI) 1948-1951 152488840.3633
MS Dhoni (India) 2005-2011 5482292540.06420
DT Lindsay (SA) 1964-1970 1526100040.0034
BJ Haddin (Aus) 2008-2011 3254190539.6838
AJ Stewart (Eng) 1991-2003 82145454034.92623
BB McCullum (NZ) 2004-2010 5185278234.77515

He is a long way behind Flower, who really was in a class of his own, but is fairly close to Gilchrist's average. But sometimes it is a mistake to assume that where somebody is in their career is where they will end up. One thing that is remarkable about Prior is his consistency. Every single year he has played test cricket he has managed to average 40 or higher. This is quite an achievement. To take in account the development of players, I looked at the averages of a number of the great wicket-keeper batsmen to see how well they were going at the point in their careers that Prior is at now.

Here is a list of the great wicket keeper batsmen after 62 innings:
AC Gilchrist (Aus)4462294058.8082.65816
MJ Prior (Eng)4262222144.4264.58417
A Flower (Zim)3362214541.2541.78512
KC Sangakkara (SL)3862236540.7752.3467
MS Dhoni (Ind)4062217640.2962.24317
LEG Ames (Eng)4162200637.8475

*note Les Ames did not have the number of deliveries recorded, but he scored at about 50 runs per hour, during a time when they bowled about 20 overs per hour, so rough strike rate of 85 - similar to Gilchrist.

Two things stand out from this list. One is how high Gilchrist's average is, and the second is how low Flower's average is. It shows quite clearly the difference between them in the end of their careers. Prior sits quite neatly between them, suggesting that he has the potential to join those two players that totally redefined the role of a wicket-keeper batsman.

The bottom name on that list is an interesting one. Les Ames played in a different era, when keepers often came in at number 11, and were not expected to bat well. Wisden wrote at the time of his death that he "was without a doubt the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman the game has so far produced..." He scored runs with an incredible consistency, seventeen times scoring more than 1000 runs in a first class season. If Prior can have anything like Ames' consistency and durability (he played 593 first class matches over 25 years) then his final career record could be something to behold.

How he goes in comparison to Dhoni will also be interesting to watch. Since Dhoni took over the captaincy his average has been constantly rising. Most players don't find captaincy to be helpful with their figures, but here are the averages for players who were both captain and keeper in the match:

MS Dhoni (India) 2434150350.10311
A Flower (Zim) 1630123249.2837
T Taibu (Zim) 102067437.4415
AJ Stewart (Eng) 122478137.1913

To be ahead of Andy Flower in any list is quite an achievement, and it will be interesting to see if Dhoni manages to hold his spot there.


  1. First time I'm seeing this blog and must say my mind is blown by this.

    I never thought Prior as so successful. Still he has ages to go to be in the same level as Gilchrist or Andy Flower but still he manages to find a spot here....

    Just a random question... If Healy was to feature here....Do you know where he would stand?

  2. Hi Christooher. Welcome to cricketgeek!

    Healey is well off the pace of those guys. His average is 27.39 which puts him in the middle of the group of the traditional wicket keeper batsmen. There is about 17 players who kept for a long time and averaged between 25 and 30 including the likes of Ridley Jacobs, Tatenda Taibu and Adam Parore.

    I was quite surprised to see how high Prior was too. He never looks like someone who is in that class, but he keeps putting up the numbers.

  3. The role of a keeper has changed over the years hasn't it? From just being a keeper to a keeper who can bat and now a batsman who can keep...

    Do you mind sharing your mail ID? There's something I want to ask you.

  4. no problem. I didn't realise that I hadn't already shared it.

    Yeah the days of the specialist keeper are long gone. Before 1950 there had only been 4 keepers who averaged more than 20. Since 1990 there have been only 3 that have averaged under 20. (they are Kaled Mashud, Courtney Browne and Chris Read)

  5. There is no way that Les Ames scored at a strike rate similar to Gilchrist. I think you may have accidentally thought that there are 100 minutes in an hour... ;)

  6. Wisden's obituary said that Ames scored at about 50 runs per hour throughout his career.

    Assuming that he faced half the deliveries, and that the opposition bowled 20 overs per hour, he would have faced about 60 deliveries per hour.

    If he scored 50 runs off 60 deliveries that is a strike rate of 83.33. (higher than Gilchrist)

    However if the over rate had been lower than that (in his last test match they only averaged 68 overs per day) scoring at 50 runs per hour would have made his strike rate about 170. (double Gilchrist's)

    He hit a number of first class hundreds in 100 minutes, which means that he scored them at 60 runs per hour. That's faster than Nathan Astle's 222. It's unlikely that he did that against 15 overs per hour, but even at 20 overs per hour, it is still racing.

  7. For the innings that Cricinfo has his minutes batted, he scored at .51 runs per minute (hence my guess that you used a "metric" hour). For innings with balls-faced data, his strike rate was 40.

    Charles Davis has near-exact values or close estimates of strike rates for every major Test batsman in history, and Ames is not in the top 100 of his list (ie, his Test strike rate could not have been more than 51.1).

    Perhaps the Wisden writer was basing his suspicion off Ames's county batting, though I'm also inclined to think that the true value was not so extreme as 50 runs per hour.

  8. This is a very interesting article, although there is one minor point I'd raise - here you concentrate solely on the quality of the wicketkeeper's batting (which is fine in itself) but to then call the article "Greatest Wicketkeeper - Batsmen" neglects to analyse the quality of each player's wicketkeeping. Although Prior has improved, I doubt many would argue he is as good as Jayawardene, say.

  9. Yes - I just did the same analysis, and came to the same conclusion. It seems that he scored considerably faster in the county game than in test matches. (possibly in part due to having played in the timeless tests). However it seems that the Wisden writer was a little over-excited.

    Thanks for the comment, I always prefer to get things like that correct.

    Also I had a glance at your blog and I really enjoyed what I saw there. Great stuff.

  10. Cheers, though my blog is more than a bit neglected these days!

  11. Would Les Ames not have faced 8 ball overs too? Persumably this would actually increase his strike rate if they were bowling 20 of these an hour.

  12. A few of his games would have had 8 ball overs, but most would have been 6. The 8 ball over started coming into fashion at the end of his career.

  13. And it would decrease his strike rate.

  14. The ICC awards are the opinion of a 5 man selection panel.

    My post is about who is scoring the most runs. It is not about who is the most popular.

    However, remember that Prior was the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2010.

  15. nice read, and some very interesting trivia n stats you have there. thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog.

    Having said that, I do share Brian's opinion here. The analysis here seems to be concentrating solely on the batting aspect of a 'keeper-batsman's role.

    Andy Flower was in my opinion, the first modern keeper who took the onus of being the mainstay of the batting. Gilchrist completely revolutionized that, but both were damn good wicket-keepers. Ditto for Sangakkara.

    both Prior and Dhoni weren't the sharpest glovesmen to start with, but Prior's beginnings have been particularly horrific [that too, with some consistency]. He has improved a great deal, though.

  16. I never knew prior was this great; today someone linked this post on cricinfo, and i checked out this one!

    Quite interesting dude. Keep writing more.

  17. To $h0unak and Brian: you both make a good point.

    Adam Parore was asked by an Australian commentator in 1999 if he was aiming to be like Ian Healy. Parore replied that he already averaged the same as Healy and was a better keeper, so why would he want to do that. The Australian commentator was dumbfounded that anyone could be as good a keeper as Healy, but Parore showed them in that series that he was indeed a quite special gloveman. (Particulalry impressive was his ability to change styles for different conditions, moving his hands behind the ball and keeping his body relatively still on pitches with true bounce, and moving his body behind the ball, and his hands relatively still when on greener or cracked pitches)

    Unfortunately the statistics that we keep are not very helpful for assessing the ability of a keeper, and we need to rely on watching them. As I am in New Zealand, I don't often get to watch either Dhoni or Prior particularly regularly. Perhaps the title should have been more like 'The keeper who is best at batting' but I think the role of the wicket-keeper batsman in modern cricket is understood as being largely about the contribution with the bat.

  18. any mention of AB DeVilliers?

  19. Amongst the current lot, Matt Prior is the best wicket-keeper batsman in Tests at the moment.

    However, almost all of these guys (including Adam Glichrist) batted down the order at number 7 behind a fantastic batting line up and none of them carried the mantle of being their side's best batsman that the team depended on hugely.

    Kumar Sangakkara when he was keeping wickets for Sri Lanka in Tests had the arduous task of keeping to Murali bowling 50 plus overs on turning tracks and then batting at number 3 and carrying the mantle of being his team’s best batsman as well. More often than not Sangakkara was almost always in within the first 5 overs of the innings to face the new ball as we never really had a solid opening batting pair as such.

    To have averaged 43 with the bat (inclusive of 7 hundreds) despite the above and also score a double hundred is a phenomenal achievement indeed from Sanga.

    I don't think there is a harder job in cricket than keeping wickets in Tests and batting in the top 3 and that too carrying the mantle of being the lynchpin around whom the team’s batting fortunes revolve.

    The following are the wicket-keeper batters who have batted in the top 3 in Test cricket history and scored at least 500 runs or more.

    Player Span Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave 100 50 0

    KC Sangakkara (SL) 2000-2008 45 72 4 2934 230 43.14 7 11 3
    FM Engineer (India) 1965-1975 27 50 0 1632 121 32.64 2 9 5
    AJ Stewart (Eng) 1992-2000 19 32 3 1122 173 38.68 2 4 1
    Imtiaz Ahmed (Pak) 1954-1962 20 33 1 1064 135 33.25 2 5 3
    JHB Waite (SA) 1951-1962 22 34 1 871 101 26.39 1 6 6
    NR Mongia (India) 1994-1998 17 26 0 664 152 25.53 1 3 3
    BK Kunderan (India) 1960-1967 10 17 1 654 192 40.87 2 2 1

  20. You make a good point about Sangakkara. If we expand the scope to batting in the top five (because I think there is not a lot of difference at batting 3 for Sri Lanka and 5 for Zimbabwe) Sangakkara actually gets quite close to Andy Flower's numbers:

    Overall figures
    Player Inns Runs HS Ave
    A Flower (Zim) 83 3672 232* 52.45
    LEG Ames (Eng) 21 832 149 48.94
    KC Sangakkara (SL)80 3092 230 40.68
    BK Kunderan (India)18 687 192 40.41
    AJ Stewart (Eng)95 2877 173 33.06
    WW Wade (SA) 15 459 125 32.78
    CL Walcott (WI) 18 555 152 32.64

    An interesting side issue will be how well keepers who bat in the top order go in the second innings as opposed to the first innings. Ie how much they are affected by keeping.

    Perhaps that will make it into my next post.

  21. Yes batting second after keeping wickets makes the task that much harder for wicket keepers who bat in the top 3.

    Here are the numbers of WK/Bat batting 2nd and in the top 3.

    Player Span Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave 100 50 0

    KC Sangakkara (SL) 2000-2006 22 30 2 1243 230 44.39 3 4 2
    FM Engineer (India) 1965-1975 16 28 0 779 89 27.82 0 5 4
    AJ Stewart (Eng) 1993-2000 9 15 1 624 173 44.57 1 3 1
    Imtiaz Ahmed (Pak) 1954-1962 9 13 0 490 98 37.69 0 3 1
    NR Mongia (India) 1994-1998 7 11 0 362 152 32.90 1 1 2

    Sangakkara's 230 against a Pak attack consisting of the likes of Akthar and Waqar was scored batting 2nd in the match.

    One final point about Sangakkara is that he is perhaps the only keeper batsman in the modern game that can not only walk into the Sri Lankan Test line up but also any international Test line up purely for his batting.In 49 Tests that Sangakkara has played purely as a batsman he averages an astonishing 72 with the bat.

  22. Interestingly, Sangakkara averaged better at the top of the order than he did lower down after keeping. I've had a look at these stats in my most recent post: