2018 saw some enthralling Test matches, with the conditions mostly skewed in favour of the bowlers. We take a look at the statistics to see exactly how the balance tilted in the way of the ball, and how rare it is in the different calendar years of cricket….
On 68 occasions in the year, 2018 was the bat raised skywards, the helmet was taken off, the head tilted to facilitate a look at the heavens.
On 68 occasions in this difficult year for batsmen, a century was scored in Test cricket. Five times by Virat Kohli, in four distinct countries. Which just goes to underline the superb year enjoyed by the Indian skipper.
And yes, the ball had the upper hand. As is quite well known by now, the global average of batsmen was the lowest this year since 1959. And that made for splendid Test cricket.
In 2017 there had been 92 hundreds. The year before that 90. In 2014, there had been as many as 110. That was the year more than 7% innings ended up in centuries. An unusual global high. The highest since 1938, when shirt-front pitches had taken the proportion to a ridiculously high 11%.
We can understand that the ball dominated the bat using another statistic.
As I mentioned, the bat was raised by the celebrating batsmen 68 times.
The ball, on the other hand, was gripped by bowlers in their own gesture of triumph on 71 occasions.
There were 71 five-wicket hauls in this calendar year.
That makes it more five-wicket hauls than centuries.
This is the first time that has happened since 1988.
Five-wicket hauls are often compared to centuries. They carry the same sense of accomplishment.
However, they are not quite the same. For example, mathematically there can be as many as 11 hundreds in an innings. Practically, it not unheard of to get 5 hundreds in an innings, quite commonplace to get 3. Five wicket hauls are restricted to a maximum of two per innings by simple laws of arithmetic. It is more difficult to get fifers than hundreds even if the surfaces are completely fair.
In 2017 there were 55 fifers to 92 centuries. 1.67 centuries for each fifer.
In 2014 the figures were 110 hundreds and 60 fifers. 2.20 centuries for each fifer.
Years loaded in favour of batsmen in terms of centuries and fifers (min 10 hundreds)
To restore balance, we have to go as far back as 1988. 26 fifers to 25 hundreds. 0.96 century for each fifer.
But a temporary respite. 1981 was another exception. The previous year of such rare occurrence was far back, in 1963. And then in that famed 1959.
Years with conditions in favour of bowlers (in terms of centuries and five-fors, min 10 hundreds)
If we look at it in another way, we have to go as far back as 1995 to find a lower frequency of 100s than 3.6% of the innings that was achieved this year. There are 35 years which have had a lower frequency of 100s, but only five of them after the Second World War. Four of them in the 1950s apart from 1995.
Lowest frequency of 100s since the Second World War
The highest frequency of 100s in terms of innings batted is by no means limited to post-World War 2. From the table below we find wickets of the 1920s and 1930s and also some of the post-War years loaded in favour of batsmen. These were the wickets which gave rise to tactics such as Bodyline, and the bowlers struggled yet again when the rules were modified and the leg-theory methods were declared against the spirit of the game.
Highest frequency of 100s (min 10 hundreds)
Three times in the above bat-dominated list, years from the last decade crop up. Which indicate that the current era had been largely ruled by the willow.
In terms of these numbers, the change we witnessed the past year has been a fascinating one. That is borne out by the amount of unbridled excitement generated in Tests around the world.
It certainly augurs well for Test cricket.