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Was Grace Better Than Bradman? by David Cooke

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Was Grace Better Than Bradman? by David Cooke

10.99

**PRE-ORDER, BOOK RELEASED 08.12.17, ORDER NOW TO GUARANTEE CHRISTMAS DELIVER**

A new way to rank Ashes cricketers from 1877 to 2015, David Cooke has created a statistical model to look seriously at players from different eras on a level playing field for the first time.

With a foreword from Geoffrey Boycott and a greatest ever Ashes team for both Ashes nations created in conclusion, let's put some of the old arguments to rest, and the let all new ones begin...

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**PRE-ORDER, BOOK RELEASED 08.12.17, ORDER NOW TO GUARANTEE CHRISTMAS DELIVER**

A new way to rank Ashes cricketers from 1877 to 2015, David Cooke has created a statistical model to look seriously at players from different eras on a level playing field for the first time.

With a foreword from Geoffrey Boycott and a greatest ever Ashes team for both Ashes nations created in conclusion, let's put some of the old arguments to rest, and the let all new ones begin...

Extract:

How should we compare players?

It is now more than 140 years since the first ever Test match was played, between England and Australia. Eleven years later South Africa made their first Test appearance. The West Indies made theirs in 1928, followed by New Zealand in 1930, India in 1932, Pakistan in 1952, Sri Lanka in 1981, Zimbabwe in 1992 and Bangladesh in 2001.

More than 2,500 cricketers have played at least one Test and it’s natural for us to want to compare them. Although cricket is a team game, the way it’s played means that individual performances are measured directly in assessing the result. Because of that not only do we want to know the teams’ scores but also the runs scored by each batsman and the wickets taken by each bowler. The outcome is a much greater proliferation of data on individual performances than in, say, rugby or football, where it is only comparatively recently that data beyond merely the number of games played and the number of tries or goals scored has been captured.

With all this cricket data there quickly grew up widely accepted methods for comparing players. For batsmen popular measures were total runs, highest score, average score and number of centuries. For bowlers, total wickets taken, average runs conceded for each wicket and most wickets in a match were considered important. Because most other measures are dependent on the number of matches played, it seems generally accepted that to the extent a player can be measured by numbers, the average runs per dismissal for a batsman and the average runs per wicket conceded by a bowler are the most important figures.

I emphasise “to the extent a player can be measured by numbers”. Surely the most interesting discussions about the merits of players do not involve numbers at all but instead consider subjective opinions about who is the greatest leader, can bowl the fastest, or has the most beautiful cover drive. Nevertheless averages are here to stay.

This book starts by suggesting a method of adjusting averages in order to mitigate some of their limitations. Then I review the figures for these adjusted averages for the top players through history based on Test matches between England and Australia.

This approach might prompt some questions for example:

What are these limitations in averages?

How can the normal averages, (I call them “raw” averages) be adjusted?

Why look only at matches between England and Australia?

Limitations in averages

Raw averages take no account of playing conditions. A half century on a difficult pitch against tough opposition is treated in exactly the same way as one in easy conditions. Many matters affect the overall playing conditions and the balance between batsman and bowler, and the combined effect can be enormous, particularly when comparing early Test matches with those in the inter-war years or in more recent times. For example, few of us would attempt to use averages to compare Clem Hill, one of the leading early Australian batsmen with Michael Clarke. Our acceptance that we can’t really use averages for that purpose, and the fact that it is unlikely that there is anyone who will have seen both Hill and Clarke play, probably means we don’t make much, if any, attempt to make such comparisons between players from these different eras. Except that we effectively do just that when we select our greatest ever England, Australian or even combined XI. In that case the raw averages just aren’t suitable. There is virtually no batsman in early Ashes cricket who has an average over 40 and many early Ashes bowlers have better averages than even the most revered of their later compatriots. Yet, few would suggest that a Greatest Ever XI should be composed only of bowlers from the early Ashes tests and batsmen from later ones. The reality is that the balance between batsman and bowler has changed considerably over the years due to a number of factors including developments in pitch preparation and changes in the LBW and no ball laws. These factors can affect the raw averages significantly.

How can raw averages be adjusted?

Any attempt to adjust averages for particular factors like pitch conditions, rule changes, quality of the opposition would be subjective and arbitrary. However there is an automatic, objective measure of the impact of these and other factors. All of them affect the overall average runs scored per wicket taken in a given match. So, a 50 scored in a match where the average runs per wicket is only 20 should count for more than a 50 in a match where the average runs per wicket is 30.

A calculation of the average runs scored (excluding extras) per wicket in all Test matches between England and Australia, from the first Test, in Melbourne in 1877, to the last at the time of writing, at the Oval in 2015, gives a figure of approximately 28.7.

The standard method of calculating a batsman’s average of course is to divide his total runs scored by the number of times he has been dismissed. The method used in this book for calculating a batsman’s “adjusted average” involves adjusting the total aggregate of runs scored before dividing by the number of dismissals. The adjustment is made on a match-by-match basis for each batsman by scaling the runs he has scored up or down according to whether the average runs per wicket scored in that match is, respectively, below or above the overall average of 28.7. A similar exercise is carried out for bowlers by adjusting the runs conceded in each match.

As an example consider a low scoring match in the early history of the Ashes where the average runs per wicket was 14.35 - just half of the overall average of 28.7 mentioned above. A batting score of 50 in this match would be scaled up by a factor of two (28.7 divided by 14.35) and so taken as a score of 100. All scores for an individual batsman are adjusted, aggregated and then divided by the total number of times the batsman has been dismissed. Similarly a bowler who conceded 50 runs in this same match would have those runs scaled up to 100, aggregated with their other adjusted figures, in the same way as for batsmen, and then divided, in the case of bowlers, by the total number of wickets taken.

In broad overview, batsmen and bowlers who have played predominantly in low scoring matches will have their averages adjusted upwards and those who have played predominantly in high scoring matches will have their averages adjusted downwards.

We can then rank the players both according to their “raw” averages and their “adjusted” averages, explore the changes and discuss both the merits of the adjusted averages and what they tell us about the players from different eras.

Why only look at matches between England and Australia?

The average runs per wicket in any match is affected by the batting (and bowling) performances of both sides. If one side is much superior to the other, players on that superior side will tend to enjoy better results compared with their results against stronger sides. When comparing players, those who have played more games against weaker opposition will be advantaged.

If we look just at matches between England and Australia this advantage is eliminated. We still need the adjustment mechanism of course to take account of the changing conditions between the ages as discussed above.

General

A book purely on how to adjust averages would not be very exciting. To give the numbers some context and to review the factors which have caused variations in the batting/bowling balance I have attempted a brief review of the history of the matches which have been played between England and Australia and also a brief look at the careers of the key players.