Tuesday 16 June 2020

Flat track bullies?

One of the reactions that I got a couple of times to my last article was incredulity about how high up David Warner was. I was assured by a number of people that he was just a flat track bully, and shouldn't be rated as an opener.

I found that suggestion quite strange, because the innings I best remember of Warner's were ones where everyone else had failed, but he had stood up. So I decided to look into it.

I broke his innings into five separate groups, based on the average of every other top 7 batsman in those matches. To set my boundaries, I looked at all test matches since 1970, and found that in roughly 20% of them the top 7 batsmen had averaged below 27, the next quintile borders were roughly 33, 40 and 45.

Looking at the matches where everyone else averaged under 27 gives a good indication of how he went in difficult pitches. In those matches on the most difficult pitches, he averaged 39.45. That seemed to be really good, but it was hard to know without adding in context. What was normal?

I decided to graph the top 50 run scorers, based on those rough quintiles and see how Warner's numbers stacked up. The result is quite messy, but I highlighted a few players to provide some context.

Warner and others by quintile
Warner starts just below average for the top players in Quintile 1, and ends just above average for top players in Quintile 5 but generally shows a similar pattern to lots of other top players.

The line that's very high for quintile 4 was one that was of interest to me, and it turned out to be Steven Smith. He's someone who really does cash in once he gets an opportunity, so I thought it would be good to see the big 4 together here.

Big four
To get the data for Williamson, I needed to look at batsmen who had scored less than 7000 runs, and once you do that, one player generally shades all others: Don Bradman. Len Hutton also enters the fray, so I decided to extend the axis to show the Don.

The Don appears - on top as usual

The next thing that I though would be interesting was to look at the batsmen who had the biggest  difference between innings on the easier pitches and the harder ones.

Finally, it's possible to get a list of players who were in the top 30% at one end of the graph, and in the bottom 30% at the other.

Four players end up as flat-track bullies in terms of this analysis. Younis Khan, Michael Clarke, Virender Sehwag and David Warner. So it appears that there was certainly merit to those accusations.

At the other end of the spectrum were players who performed better when everyone else didn't: Inzamam-ul-Haq, Ross Taylor, Mathew Hayden and AB de Villiers.

The appearance of two team mates here was interesting. Inzamam and Younis scored 1652 runs batting together, but both had others that they scored more with, and for both of them, their partnerships together were at a worse average than with anyone else that they combined for over 1000 runs with.

The criticism of Warner as being a flat-track bully might have some basis in reality, but the difference between him and most others is really quite small. Anyone who can average just under 40 even when everyone else in the match averages under 27 is someone who is a quality player.

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