All numbers updated till Day One, Sydney Test (January 3, 2019)
India were reduced to 41/4, and later 127/6, at Adelaide. Cheteshwar Pujara bailed them out with 123. Then he added 71 in the second innings for good measure. At Melbourne, the plan was – we shall not go into how good it was – to grind it out. Sure enough, he got 123.
And when India got their easiest pitch of the series, at Sydney, Pujara put on demonstration an array of quality strokes. His 130 not out has taken India to 303/4 by stumps. As things stand now, Pujara has scored 458 in this series at 76.33 with one innings in hand and another unfinished. Of course, his average may go down – but then, it can also go up.
It has been a stupendous performance against one of the greatest bowling attacks in the world. There is no doubt about that. But how does this attack stand against the other great ones in history? Let us figure out.
For the exercise, we shall pit Pujara’s series against some other outstanding ones in the past. Let us define the cut-off as:
- 250 runs if the batsman has played 3 Tests or fewer
- 400 runs if the batsman has played 4 Tests or more
That gives us a total of 18 series performances. Now we shall consider the bowling attacks.
The ICC Test ratings serve an excellent purpose: not only do they indicate quality, they are also weighted by performances against higher-ranked oppositions.
They also measure form and performance over a long period of time. For example, Brett Lee had a score of 585 in 2003-04 but 726 in 2007-08. Not the same.
Here is what we are doing:
- Consider ICC ratings for the bowlers before the series and include only bowlers with 500+.
- Classify them into three groups, 500-649, 650-799, and 800+.
Let us call the count for each group A1, A2, A3.
- Consider the number of Tests in which the bowler had featured in alongside the batsman in question. For example, Sehwag played two Tests in 2007-08, so we have counted two Tests for the three bowlers in question.
Let us call the overlapping Test counts B1, B2, B3.
- Assign them weights of 0.25, 0.5, and 0.75 respectively. These weights are rounded for the sake of simplicity; sophisticated analysis would reveal more accurate numbers.
Let us call these scores C1, C2, C3.
- Define strengths of attack as (A1 x B1 x C1) + (A2 x B2 x C2) + (A3 x B3 x C3). Once again, this is a crude method that can be improved upon.
Let us call this “attack”.
- Weigh it down by the number of Tests the batsman had played in the series.
Let us call this “weight”.
- Assign a final score, which is the series average of the batsman multiplied by the weight.
Let us call this “score”.
Is this measure fool-proof? By no means. Here are what it does not assume:
- The number of balls each bowler bowled to each batsman (the data is not available for older Tests).
- The total runs scored in the Tests, which is probably an indication of conditions.
- How the bowlers did in the series. However, the performances of the bowlers were dependent on the performances of the batsmen in question.
A more sophisticated analysis will reveal more accurate scoring.
Before we proceed, let us list the 500+ bowlers for every tour:
1967-68: Graham McKenzie 846, Neil Hawke 755
1977-78: Jeff Thomson 777
1980-81: Dennis Lillee 769, Rodney Hogg 714, Ken Higgs 512
1985-86: Craig McDermott 538
1991-92: Bruce Reid 708, Merv Hughes, 701, Craig McDermott 699
1999-00: Glenn McGrath 870, Damien Fleming 684, Shane Warne 678
2003-04: Jason Gillespie 766, Stuart MacGill 668, Brett Lee 585
2007-08: Stuart Clark 769, Brett Lee 726
2014-15: Ryan Harris 870, Mitchell Johnson 844, Nathan Lyon 538
2018-19: Pat Cummins 784, Josh Hazlewood 744, Nathan Lyon 706, Mitchell Starc, 693
|1947-48||Vijay Hazare||5||429||47.67||Explained below|
- Several careers had ended due to the intervention of World War II. Ratings for several top bowlers started from zero or very low ratings. Therefore, the attack for the 1947-48 series, a couple of years after resumption of cricket, was very low on ratings.
- The easiest attack Australia offered was in 1985-86, a series India could have won 1-0 (if not 2-0). Somewhat better was the Packer attack in 1977-78. These two series have accounted for five of the 18 entries.
- The attack Pujara faced was the strongest of these. Every single bowler was 650+, let alone 500+. That, combined with his average, makes it the greatest performance by far.
- Kohli batted against two 800+ bowlers, which pushes him past Dravid of 2003-04. In fact, Vijay’s score from the same series was superior to the others in 2003-04.
- Shastri’s exceptional rating came against one of the strongest attacks.
In conclusion, Pujara had a significantly better series than any Indian in history – provided we consider only runs and quality of opposition attacks, nothing more, nothing less.
This does not mean that Pujara has been the greatest Indian batsman on Australian soil. That analysis can wait. But as for now, we can safely conclude that Pujara has had the best single series by an Indian in Australia.