Liars, damn liars and statisticians – An Expert View from Kersi Meher-Homji
Kersi Meher-Homji, renowned author of 14 Books on Cricket (a 15th, “From Bradman to Kohli” is on the way soon) takes a pot shot at his own profession (or does he?), in his next Guest Article on Cricket Writer!
I admit that I am a cricket statistician. But a liar?
What I am going to say now will make you may think that I am not only a liar but a nutcase.
South Africa’s 21 year-old fast-medium bowler and a tailender Andile Phehlukwayo averages 124.00 with the bat after playing 12 ODIs. This may change on Saturday (25 February) if he is dismissed in the third ODI against New Zealand at Wellington.
So far he has played 12 ODIs from September 2016 till today. In five innings he has played to date he has remained unbeaten four times, scoring 124 runs at an average of 124.00.
It is the highest batting average in any major form of cricket – Tests, ODIs, T20 and first-class.
Averages are at times unsatisfactory yardsticks to measure greatness. For example, the West Indies opener Andy Ganteaume averaged 112.00 with the bat. He played only one Test, against England at Port-of-Spain in February 1948, scored 112 runs, did not bat in the second innings and was never selected in a Test again.
That is why qualifications are needed to interpret greatness. Else we statisticians (damn liars?) would place Ganteaume above Don Bradman, whose Test batting average is an iconic 99.94. The honest statisticians (that means me!) always write that the cricketer played over 10 innings.
Now listen to this.
Bill Johnston, a fast bowler and a tailend Australian batsman averaged 102 with the bat on the tour of England in 1953. This was made possible by Australia’s fun-loving captain Lindsay Hassett. Towards the end of the tour, Hassett gave Johnston’s batting partners instructions to get out first in matches where results did not matter so that Johnson remained not out.
Hassett also sent notes to opposing county captains requesting complicity. Johnston scored only 102 runs on the tour but was dismissed only once.
In the last game of the tour against TN Pearce’s XI at Scarborough, legendary England fast-medium bowler Alec Bedser bowled deliberately wide of the stumps so as to preserve Johnston’s record! On that 1953 tour of England Johnston played 17 innings, scored 102 runs and was dismissed only once. His batting average: 102.00.
There was nothing “fishy” about Andile Phehlukwayo’s unbeaten 29 in the Christchurch ODI Wednesday. I watched the match live on Wednesday on TV. He faced the last over. Any time he could have taken a single to ensure that he remained not out. But he played the first four balls defensively and hit fours off the last two balls from accurate Kiwi bowler Tin Southee.
Despite this selfless innings, South Africa lost by six runs.
This was not his only innings to remember. To quote Andrew McGlashan from ESPN cricinfo:
“There were wide eyes and a wide smile from Andile Phehlukwayo as he reflected on his second match-winning hand with the bat in a brief international career.
“With AB de Villiers, one of the game’s great batsmen at the other end, it was Phehlukwayo who hit the crucial boundaries late in the Hamilton chase. South Africa needed 22 off 12 balls, which became 21 off 10 at which point Phehlukwayo lofted Trent Boult over long-off. Then came an even sweeter blow in the final over as he drilled Tim Southee back over his head to virtually kill the game.”
‘I just tried to watch the ball, swing really hard and hit straight,’ he said. ‘The first one, I was just trying to play straight but the second one I definitely knew when it came off the bat that it was going for six.’, he told McGlashan.
So believe me. All statisticians are not damn liars!
Cricket Writer fans and readers: any other instances of century or near century batting averages by tailenders in international / first-class cricket?