Graphic: Who plays how much
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Who plays the most cricket?

Ever wondered which cricketers tot up the most match days in a year? Here's the answer to that and more

Girish TS, Rahul Bhattacharya, Srinath Sripath, Shiva Jayaraman  |  

South Africa's Dane Vilas is the world's most-playing cricketer. Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root are engaged in an international match every fourth day of the year. Virat Kohli faces more balls than anyone else in the business. Jeetan Patel bowls the most balls. And Rashid Khan is the planet's most prolific T20 cricketer, as well as its widest traveller. These are some of the findings of the Cricket Monthly's first annual global survey of cricketers and their workloads.

Vilas racked up 130 days of high-level cricket - first-class, List A and T20 - between September 1 last year and August 31 this year; Bairstow clocked 91 days of international cricket. For context, footballers Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard made 62 and 64 appearances in the same period; in tennis, Rafael Nadal played 76 matches and Roger Federer 71.

Yet, even as leagues and tournaments have mushroomed, the workload of the most-playing cricketers has remained about the same as it was a decade ago. For a similar time-frame in 2006-07, the season before the first IPL, David Hussey put in 137 days of high-level cricket, and Martin van Jaarsveld and Justin Langer matched Vilas' 130. In terms of international days, Paul Collingwood led with 91, the same as Bairstow now.

The exercise also reflects broader trends, such as the large gap that has opened up between the number of 20-over and 50-over matches, and that, even though the financial centre of the game is elsewhere, England continues to be the home of cricket in terms of match volume.

Below is a breakdown of the findings.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The busybees
Although Vilas played his last international match in 2016, he has been a busy man indeed. But turning up for a high-level cricket match every second or third day - not to mention all those travel and training days - seems not to have dulled his appetite at all.

Reporting on a Vilas double-century for Lancashire this summer, Paul Edwards wrote: "Samuel Beckett might enjoy watching Dane Vilas bat. Just when you think he can't go on, he goes on… a batsman who seems not to know fatigue and who regards a century as the end of his beginning, an opening gambit, an opportunity."

Not just batting: Vilas kept wicket in 48 of his 65 matches. Another keeper-batsman, Sri Lanka's Niroshan Dickwella, comes in at No. 3 on the list.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The leader board for busiest international cricketers tells us, naturally, something about national teams and their schedules. Two Englishmen, two Sri Lankans and two Indians comprise the top six. But even in this there is a chasm between England and the rest: as many as 23 days separate Bairstow, in pole position with 91 days, from Hardik Pandya, on sixth with 68.

The six face different types of strains: Bairstow and Dickwella keep wicket, Kohli and Root captain their sides, Suranga Lakmal is a specialist fast bowler, and Pandya an allrounder. Common to them is that they play three formats, an increasingly challenging task in contemporary cricket.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The globetrotters
Few numbers tell us as much about cricket in the current era as this: four cricketers each played for eight teams in a single year. For somebody like Shoaib Malik, five of these teams were from his country (including the national team), but for Rashid Khan only two were: the rest of the time he was playing T20 around the world, from Guyana to Comilla.

All four of the leaders turned out for World XIs - one that visited Pakistan last September, and a different one that played the Hurricane Relief match against West Indies at Lord's in May. Thisara Perera played in both sides, and so technically this puts him ahead of the rest at nine teams.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Given their T20 prowess, and given that even their home matches are played away, it is no surprise that two players from Afghanistan are the game's biggest travellers. Two players from Pakistan, who face similar circumstances, feature among the leaders, and there is a heartening appearance by Nepal's Sandeep Lamichhane, testimony to his talent and potential.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The format specialists
England hosts a high volume of cricket every summer and this is especially true for first-class cricket, where the County Championship offers a player 14 four-day matches over the season. Three of the six leaders for most first-class games are Englishmen; the other three - Vilas, Cheteshwar Pujara and Jeetan Patel - too played the county season. The numbers also reflect England's Test-heavy calendar: of Alastair Cook's 23 first-class games, 14 were Tests.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Meanwhile, in case you hadn't noticed, T20 cricket has truly eclipsed the 50-over match as the limited-overs format of choice. Rashid Khan, the most-playing T20 player, played 65 T20 matches; his counterpart for List A cricket, England's Adil Rashid, played fewer than half that number. Even so, ODIs still take up much more of the elite cricketer's schedule than T20Is: the figures here for the two Rashids are eight T20Is and 24 ODIs.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

While Rashid Khan's position at the top of the T20 table is no surprise, the distance by which he leads might be: he is a good 15 games ahead of Dwayne Bravo. Rashid has also played significantly more T20Is than the other leaders: four times more, in fact, than the six others put together.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The stayers and the toilers
The colossal Kohli tops the table for most balls faced despite having played no domestic first-class and List A cricket, and having missed nine of India's 22 T20Is, in the period considered. On the other hand, over 75% of the deliveries Pujara faced were in first-class cricket, and his strong List A performances for Saurashtra and Yorkshire pushed him up to second position. He is the only one in the top five who did not face a single ball of T20 cricket.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Among bowlers, Jeetan Patel, Warwickshire's stalwart (and now their captain) came up top: and he would have topped the charts on this parameter every season since 2015. Since 2012, no bowler has more than his 383 County Championship wickets, and no one comes within 500 overs of his 3491.5 overs.

Youngest on the list is a 20-year-old left-arm spinner from Afghanistan, Zia-ur-Rehman, who is yet to play an international match and only made his first-class debut last October, when Afghanistan's four-day tournament was awarded status.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Things T20
It is revealing of the T20 circuit and economy that two of the five busiest batsmen have retired from internationals: all the deliveries that Brendon McCullum and Shane Watson faced were in franchise cricket. Babar Azam, with 489, is the only one of the five to have faced more than 300 balls in T20Is.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The five busiest bowlers each make for an impressive attack: there is mystery spin (Rashid and Sunil Narine), death-bowling expertise (Dwayne Bravo), yorkers at pace (Jofra Archer), and knuckle balls (Andrew Tye). Rashid is the only one among the five to breach the 100-wicket mark in the period under consideration.

Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

While familiar globetrotting names adorn the busiest T20 allrounders graph, those who play the T20 Blast and the IPL, the two longest franchise tournaments in terms of number of games, come in exceptionally high: check out Samit Patel, Shakib Al Hasan and Narine.

Who travelled how much? Take a look our graphical romp through cricket-travel history.

Girish TS is a designer at ESPNcricinfo, Srinath Sripath is a sub-editor, Shiva Jayaraman is a senior stats analyst, and Rahul Bhattacharya is a novelist and cricket writer