Graham Gooch glances during his 333

Lord Goochie: 456 runs and 1 for 26 in one game at Lord's

© Getty Images

Stats feature

The best from 50 years, by the numbers

Four stats buffs put their analytical tools and algorithms to work to determine the top Test performances since 1966

The Cricket Monthly recently asked 25 experts to vote on the 50 greatest Test performances of the last 50 years. We also asked four cricket statisticians to complement the jury's pick by coming up with their own lists, based on their algorithms and databases. The two are not connected in any way.

Allrounder supremacy
By Anantha Narayanan

There are two ways of compiling such an elite list. I could use one or more of a number of analytical processes I have available to measure player performances. This is not necessarily a good method since analysis reflects the mind, not the heart. Bare numbers and derivatives do not often tell the story. The other method is to do a personal selection.

I adopted a method that combines both options. I used my Performance Analysis methodology to shortlist 25 to 30 performances. Then I selected the top 10, using rigorous standards. I selected six of the top seven, and then three more from within the top 20. Only one entry came from outside the top 20, for very justifiable reasons.

The performance analysis is structured as follows.

The cornerstone of these computations is that the two teams would be accorded 50-50 performance points only when a Test was tied. Everything else flows from this base. The point spread for wins varies between a one-run win (Test #1210 scored 50.08-49.92 for West Indies) and a 675-run win (Test #176 scored 92.82-7.18 for England). The total points for a draw depend on the extent of completion of the match. It could range from 0.38 points (Test #1907) to 99.89 points (Test #2019: India-West Indies near-tie).

There are two ways of selecting player performances. The first method is to use the absolute performance points received by the player. However, this would mean that the selection is too much in favour of wins, and among these, big wins. We are also interested in great performances in draws and losses. So I used the percentage of contribution (player's to team's) as the base. Of course, meaningless high-percentage contributions have been weeded out. Here are the top 10.

Rank Player Year Vs Runs Wickets Perf %
 1  Ian Botham (Eng)  1980  Ind  114  6/58, 7/48  45.7 %
 2  Tony Greig (Eng)  1974  WI  148, 25  6/164  41.6%
 3  Brian Lara (WI)  2001  SL  221, 130  NA  38.5%
 4  Richard Hadlee (NZ)  1985  Eng  99  3/16, 5/28  38.5%
 5  Andy Flower (Zim)  2001  SA  142, 199  NA  38.4%
 6  Mushtaq Mohammad (Pak)  1973  NZ  201  2/15, 5/49  38.1%
 7  Kapil Dev (Ind)  1982  Eng  41, 89  5/125, 3/43  36.6%
 8  Garry Sobers (WI)  1966  Eng  174  5/41, 3/39  36.5%
 9  Ian Botham (Eng)  1981  Aus  50, 149  6/95, 1/14  35.3%
 10  Muttiah Muralitharan (SL)  1998  Eng  30  7/155, 9/65  33.7%

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings


Hadlee for the win
By Ric Finlay

The biggest challenge in determining the "greatest" Test match performances is to find the numerical balance that equates runs to wickets, so that performances over an entire match can all be rolled into one statistic. I decided the best way to do this was to attribute to each wicket the value of 33.05, which is the average number of runs scored between wickets in the 50 years of Test match cricket under review. I also attributed a run value of 9.91 to each catch taken, calculated by working out the proportion of wickets that fell to catches (roughly 60%), and sharing equally that run value with the bowler. For those who bowled, I deducted one point for every run conceded.

Doing this for all match performances gave me the following ten qualifiers, without regard to conditions or strength of the opposition:

Rank Player Vs Season Venue Points
 1  Graham Gooch (Eng)  Ind  1990  Lord's  482.87
 2  Richard Hadlee (NZ)  Aus  1985-86  Brisbane  446.57
 3  Ian Botham (Eng)  Ind  1979-80  Bombay  437.65
 4  Tillakaratne Dilshan (SL)  Bang  2008-09  Chittagong  437.11
 5  Mark Taylor (Aus)  Pak  1998-99  Peshawar  435.91
 6  Kumar Sangakkara (SL)  Bang  2013-14  Chittagong  424
 7  Brian Lara (WI)  Eng  2003-04  Antigua  409.91
 8  Matthew Hayden (Aus)  Zim  2003-04  Perth  409.73
 9  Sanath Jayasuriya (SL)  Ind  1997-98  Colombo  404.06
 10  Mushtaq Mohammad (Pak)  NZ  1972-73  Dunedin  398.08

(Points = Runs + 33.05*Wickets + 9.91*Catches - Runs Conceded)

For those who think that the list is dominated by batsmen to the detriment of bowlers, it should be noted that the next three positions were filled by those with significant bowling performances: Imran Khan, Narendra Hirwani and Bob Massie. It was a close-run thing.

To determine a final ranking, I decided that some match context was needed to moderate the differences in conditions. To do this, I calculated the proportion of the match runs and wickets each player above achieved, added the two together, and re-ranked them. This gave me my final listing for the ten greatest Test match performances in the last 50 years.

Rank Player Runs ratio Wickets ratio Total ratio Vs Year
 1  Richard Hadlee (NZ)  0.051  0.556  0.606  Aus  1985
 2  Ian Botham (Eng)  0.145  0.433  0.579  Ind  1980
 3  Sanath Jayasuriya (SL)  0.228  0.214  0.443  Ind  1997
 4  Mushtaq Mohammad (Pak)  0.112  0.269  0.381  NZ  1973
 5  Tillakaratne Dilshan (SL)  0.255  0.111  0.366  Ban  2009
 6  Graham Gooch (Eng)  0.284  0.036  0.320  Ind  1990
 7  Matthew Hayden (Aus)  0.293  NA  0.293  Zim  2003
 8  Mark Taylor (Aus)  0.290  NA  0.290  Pak  1998
 9  Brian Lara (WI)  0.274  NA  0.274  Eng  2004
 10  Kumar Sangakkara (SL)  0.267  NA  0.267  Ban  2014

Ric Finlay is a statistician, historian and data provider based in Tasmania


Botham, followed by the rest
By Andrew Samson

The primary idea of the methodology is to calculate a "standardised" value for batting and bowling performances in each match. This needs an assessment of the quality of the pitch and the quality of the bowling attack faced for each innings played, and the quality of the batsmen dismissed for each innings bowling performance. This system rewards performances that really stand out within the context of a particular match and not just those performances where lots of runs were scored or wickets taken.

Virender Sehwag in Galle, 2008: the best match batting figures

Virender Sehwag in Galle, 2008: the best match batting figures © AFP

The calculation is done as follows:

  • Each batsman's career average is divided by the average runs per wicket totalled over the matches he played in to give a "batting index". For example Peter May and Ken Barrington each have a batting index of 1.77 although May averaged 46.77 compared to Barrington's 58.67, having played in much lower-scoring matches than Barrington.
  • Similarly a "bowling index" is calculated by dividing the total runs per wicket in the matches he has played by the bowler's career average.
  • A "pitch quality" value is calculated, which is the average runs per wicket in each match.
  • A team bowling index is calculated by adding the individual bowling indices for each bowler in each innings proportioned by the number of overs each bowler bowled in that innings.
  • For each individual innings a standardised score is calculated by dividing the actual score by the pitch quality and multiplying it by the team bowling index for the attack faced.
  • The batting score for each player for each match is this standardised score added up for both innings.
  • The bowling score for each match is the sum of the batting indices of the batsmen that the bowler dismissed in each match, minus the runs conceded/pitch-quality figure.

The leading bowling performance of all time is Jim Laker's 19 for 90 against at Old Trafford with a score of 15.87, followed by Hedley Verity's 15 for 104 against Australia at Lord's in 1934, at 11.49. The best match batting figures are Virender Sehwag's 12.07 (for 201 not out and 50 against Sri Lanka in Galle in 2008), followed by Graham Gooch's 34 and 154 not out versus West Indies at Headingley in 1991. So the scales for batting and bowling performances are very similar and the final score is the sum of the batting score and the bowling score.

The top 10 performances by this measure since January 1, 1966:

Rank Player Vs Bat Bowl Year Bat Bowl Total
 1  Ian Botham (Eng)  Aus  50, 149*  6/95, 1/14  1981  8.908  3.386  12.294
 2  Ian Botham (Eng)  Ind  114  6/58, 7/48  1980  4.703  7.505  12.208
 3  Virender Sehwag (Ind)  SL  201*, 50  NA  2001  12.077  NA  12.077
 4  Graham Gooch (Eng)  WI  34, 154*  NA  1991  11.655  NA  11.655
 5  Mushtaq Mohammad (Pak)  WI  121, 56  5/28, 3/69  1977  7.377  3.638  11.015
 6  Allan Border (Aus)  WI  75, 16*  7/46, 4/50  1989  3.108  7.702  10.810
 7  Richard Hadlee (NZ)  WI  51, 17  5/34, 6/68  1980  4.726  5.991  10.716
 8  Narendra Hirwani (Ind)  WI  1  8/61, 8/75  1988  0.034  10.517  10.551
 9  Sanath Jayasuriya (SL)  Pak  38, 253  1/4, 0/2  2004  9.789  0.688  10.477
 10  Richard Hadlee (NZ)  Eng  99  3/16, 5/28  1984  5.552  4.873  10.425

Andrew Samson has been the official statistician for Cricket South Africa since 1994


Gooch lords it over the giants
By Charles Davis

One challenge in judging the most remarkable cricketing performances lies in putting batting and bowling on the same scale, without using arbitrary conversion formulas or weighting factors. But it can be done.

To properly rank bowling performances, we must take into account both wickets taken and runs conceded. For example: while standard lists would rank a return of 11 for 150 above 10 for 30, most would agree that the latter is the more remarkable. I have found a way to quantify this statistically, based on the observation that bowling returns follow a "normal distribution" or bell curve.

For each specific number of wickets, there is a separate bell curve, and the remarkable thing is that each of the curves has much in common; at five wickets or above, they all peak at 110-135 runs and have similar spreads or standard deviations of around 35-40. The difference is in the height of the curves, reflecting increasing rarity as the number of wickets climb.

King of Spain: Mushtaq Mohammad made 121 and 56 and took 8 for 97 against West Indies in Trinidad in 1977

King of Spain: Mushtaq Mohammad made 121 and 56 and took 8 for 97 against West Indies in Trinidad in 1977 © Getty Images

Using these observations, different bowling performances can be matched according to how rare they are. The analysis of all Tests since 1966 shows that the following match returns are similar in terms of rarity: 7 for 35, 8 for 50, 9 for 65, 10 for 80, 11 for 100, 12 for 125, and 13 for 150-plus. These are equivalent, in terms of rarity, to a batsman scoring about 225 runs in a match. (Note that taking 14 or more wickets, regardless of runs conceded, will always have a rarity value higher than 225.)

By expanding this analysis, any bowling performance can be matched with its batting equivalent, based on rarity value. The calculation can be reduced to a statistical formula based on normal distributions. Batting and bowling can now be ranked on the same scale. Batting performances are untouched, a simple total of runs scored. Using these methods, performances like Narendra Hirwani's 16 for 136 in Madras in 1987-88, and Bob Massie's 16 for 137 at Lord's in 1972, are equivalent to a batsman scoring just under 400 runs.

It must be stressed that these are pure statistical assessments, with a minimum of adjustment factors or arbitrary weightings. If you are looking for "the greatest", there are many other factors to consider: too many, perhaps. For now, it might be feasible to build on these rankings by bringing in some of these factors.

Once batting and bowling are on the same scale, all-round performances can now be evaluated, simply by adding up the totals. The final list looks like this:

Rank Player Vs Year Bat Bowl Combined score
 1  Graham Gooch (Eng)  Ind  1990  333, 123  1/26  481
 2  Tillakaratne Dilshan (SL)  Bang  2009  162, 143  4/10  441
 3  Ian Botham (Eng)  Ind  1980  114  6/58, 7/48  432
 4  Mark Taylor (Aus)  Pak  1998  334*, 92  NA  426
 5  Richard Hadlee (NZ)  Aus  1985  54  9/52, 6/71  424
 6  Kumar Sangakkara (SL)  Bang  2014  319, 105  NA  424
 7  Courtney Walsh (WI)  NZ  1995  DNB  7/37, 6/18  414
 8  Sanath Jayasuriya (SL)  Ind  1997  340  3/45  404
 9  Mushtaq Mohammad (Pak)  Pak  1973  201  2/15, 5/49  401
 10  Brian Lara (WI)  Eng  2004  400*  NA  400

For those interested in earlier performances, the highest rating of all goes to Jim Laker's 19 for 90 at Old Trafford in 1956, equivalent to a runs total in the region of 550. This is not surprising, given that no one else has taken more than 17 wickets in a first-class (11-a-side) match.

Charles Davis is a Melbourne-based statistician and author who had developed a large ball-by-ball database for Test matches





  • POSTED BY Anant on | January 30, 2016, 16:01 GMT

    Funny!! No place for Kumble's 10/10. Probably the Pakistan Batting was not worth at all. In high pressure matches even the Best fail... What about performance against Formidable Aussie's???? Ridiculous Stats in Short!!!

  • POSTED BY zomma on | January 22, 2016, 13:32 GMT

    Absolute poppycock! This goes to show how well versed the statisticians were!! In the table of all round performances, even a child knows that only three players have taken 10 wickets and scored a 100 in test match history and yet none of the tables were even aware of Imran Khans 10 wickets (on bone dry Faisalabad wicket) and a 100 in the same test, not to mention his 40 wickets on those dead tracks against world class batters such as Gavaskar, Vensarkar, Vishwanath, Amarnath etc. Arguably the greatest all rounder of all times alongside Sobers and Botham features in non of the tables....If ever some statisticians sir, if ever some statisticians....

  • POSTED BY Mark on | January 21, 2016, 10:55 GMT

    @YorkshireDeano72 Your question about Lara/Hayden can be answered by the rating points that the respective innings receive in the ICC ratings. Lara's 400* was made against the best attack, but on a featherbed pitch, so scores relatively poorly compared to his 375. The Hayden 380 was scored against a weak Zimbabwe attack. So, of the three, it is the 375 that gets the highest number of points.

  • POSTED BY Mark on | January 20, 2016, 14:12 GMT

    What I find interesting here is that there are a few performances that appear several times in the different lists (Ian Botham in the Diamond Jubilee Test, Richard Hadlee v England in 1984, Graeme Gooch v India, but other performances seem to appear in one list and in none of the others. I saw the name of Mushtaq Mohammad, one of the heroes of my youth, appear time and again, but each time for a different match. So, the performances that appear in most or all of the lists are genuinely the great ones, while many of the others fall under the category of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and depend purely on the methodology. What some fans will find curious is that Ian Botham's legendary performance at Headingley in 1981 tops one list, just squeezes into the bottom of another and does not make the cut in the rest - there is a certain inconsistency of criteria here.

  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | January 20, 2016, 9:44 GMT

    Lies. And statistics! Whenever the author(s) were not happy with the outcome, their formula seemed to change. We should not let statistics interfere with our thoughts. For example, was Hayden's 380 better than Lara's 375 (or 400* for that matter)? What about Atherton's 185*? How good in context against the opposition? Botham is my idol however as an all rounder, has two opportunities to increase his scores however Headingley will go down as legend. Let's just be happy with the masterclasses we remember without having to calculate the numbers. That's what averages are for.

  • POSTED BY Adi on | January 20, 2016, 8:56 GMT

    Each one has come up with an interesting methodology. However, I am surprised none of them spoke about the value of wickets, in the sense that top order wickets would be more valuable than lower order wickets. For instance a 3 for 40 comprising the top three batsmen would be far more valuable than a 5 for 35 comprising batsmen 7 to 11.

  • POSTED BY Yagya on | January 20, 2016, 7:58 GMT

    I have seen always that whatever the situation and significant contribution is done by openers it is ignored only because they opened the innings when they had all wickets in hand and that is why their contribution is hardly appreciated. But if the openers are falling quickly and lower order batsmen are performing well they are given loud appreciations. In my view opening batsmen should also appreciated as they play new ball with fresh balling attack and very live pitch with difficult batting condition. Don't mind just a personal opinion.

  • POSTED BY Harsh on | January 16, 2016, 7:28 GMT

    What is significant is that the best performers never curbed their blistering agression in the gravest of crises's proving that attack is the ultimate form of defence..They blended the skill of a surgeon ,the tenacity of a soldier and the agression of a lion .They proved that it is not all bout talent but more of mental attitude.It is this very virtue that put performers like BothamLaxman,Lara,Sobers ,Imran and Lillee at the top..Cricketing art may have been taken to a higher zenith in the best performnaces of David Gower,Zaheer Abbas,Wasim Akram or Azharrudin but they did not match the mental fortitude of a Sobers.Botham,Lara,Laxman or Imran at their best.

  • POSTED BY Harsh on | January 16, 2016, 7:19 GMT

    The top 12 should constitute performances in matches won while the next list should include the heroic efforts in losses and drawn games.To me overall the best bowling efforts include Imran's 12-165 at Sydney,Bob Willis's 8-43 at LeedsDennis Lillees 11-164 at Melbourne in 1977,Curtly Ambroses's 7-25 at Perth and Michael Holding's 16-149 at the Oval.The best batting efforts include Lara's 153 and 213 in the 1999 Frank Worel trophy,Laxamna nad Dravid's double hundreds v Australia,Kim Hughes century v West Indies at Melbourne in 1981-82 ,Gordon Greenidge's 214 at Lords in 1984 and Gooch's 154 v WEst Indies at Leeds in 1991.

    The next bracket may include innins like Sunil Gavaskar's 221 at the Oval in 1979 or 96 at Bangalore in 1987 ,Tendulkar's 136 v Pakistan at Chennai or Wasim Akram's 11-160 at Melbourne in 1960.

    At their best it is surprising that Botham has overshadowed Sobers ,Ambrose has eclipsed Wasim Akram and Marshall and Lara has eclipsed Viv Richards.and Tendulkar.

  • POSTED BY Harsh on | January 16, 2016, 7:08 GMT

    I applaud the selection of Mushtaq Muhammad who captured 8 wickets and scored 121 and 56 in the 4th test at Trinidad in 1977.Above all he single-handedly won a test for his country against arguably the best team in the world.It was the best ever all-round performance against a great West Indian team and the best by an overseas all-rounder on Carribean soil.The likes of Imran or Botham have not equalled such an effort against the mighty West Indies.In a losing or non-winning cause I place Alan Border's 98 and 100 at Trinidad in 1984,Imran Khan's 121 runs and 8 wickets at Leeds in 1982 and Sunil Gavaskar's 96 at Bangalore in 1987 close to the top .Lara's scintillating strokeplay posessed the skill of a surgeon blended with the artistry of a painter and agression of a tiger single-handedly turning games like no great batsmen .Botham radiated energy on a cricket field like no one else at his best creating the impact of a hurricane.

  • POSTED BY Harsh on | January 16, 2016, 6:59 GMT

    Ian Botham's 1980 Jubilee test all-round performance,Brian Lara's unbeaten 153 at Barbados in 1999,VV.S.Laxman's 281 at Kolkata in 2001 ,Ian Botham's 1981 Leeds test performance and Gary Sobers 1966 all-round effort at Leeds are on the top of the tree.What was characteristic about these efforts were that they were an equivalent of creating a reversal ina polot ina Holywood film,literally ressurecting their team from the grave.There were more artistic performances like Michael Holding's 16-149 at the Oval ,Wasim Akram's 11.160 at Melbourne in 1990or Azharrudin's 121 at Lords in 1990 but the criteria is the situation and conditions the player faced.Ability to revert a crisis and turn the complexion of game 180 degrees has to b e given preference to artistyry or technical skill.Otherwise the best innings if Sachin Tendulkar and the best spell of Wasim Akram would certainly be at the top.Bob Wiili's 8-43 at Leeds in 1981 and Gooch's 154 at Leeds in 1991 almost joined the top fray.

  • POSTED BY madhu on | January 12, 2016, 13:27 GMT

    Any list that ignores Roy Fredericks at Perth in the top 10, let alone 50, is not worth spending a lot of time in writing or reading

  • POSTED BY Hidayat on | January 6, 2016, 11:40 GMT

    Very interesting. It would have been interesting to provide a "Top 50 performance" list so that it can be compared with the corresponding list judged by the jurors.

  • POSTED BY GV on | January 5, 2016, 9:46 GMT

    Nice work. I have seen several analysis of this type on cricinfo. I am not clear however on how the final list was chosen. For instance, were these 4 lists (extended presumably to more number of performances than only 10), the exclusive basis for choosing performances? Were other performances outside the ones shortlisted here included based on expert opinion? A small note on the basis for selection or at least an assurance that subjectivity was not loosely superimposed on this marvellous statistical work would be great.