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The best ODI batsmen

August 23, 2009

Continued from What the best ODI batsmen have…

This post is one in a series called ‘The Sachin Tendulkar Debate’

We started with a set of six batsmen to compare on previously defined parameters. Their career highlights:





Strike Rate

Adam Gilchrist 287 9619 35.89 96.94
Brian Lara 298 10353 40.44 79.58
Hershelle Gibbs 244 8038 36.37 83.32
Kevin Pietersen 90 3109 47.83 87.60
Ricky Ponting 311 11251 42.13 80.14
Virender Sehwag 198 6378 34.47 101.83
Sachin Tendulkar 425 16684 44.37 85.66

Why not Mohammed Yousuf, or Michael Bevan, or Saurav Ganguly, or scores of other very good ODI batsmen? Because, these names came readily to mind, and combined, they should offer a reasonable comparison against the performance of the focus of this debate, Sachin Tendulkar.

Consistency – Removing the effect of Minnow-bashing

The first test was to remove all those runs scored against minnows to see whose averages get impacted the most. For the purpose of this discussion, the term ‘minnows’ includes the teams that suck more consistently, than others. The list includes: Bangladesh, Bermuda, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Kenya, Namibia, Netherlands, Scotland, UAE, USA, Zimbabwe.


Adjusted Average

Impact to Career Average

Pietersen 47.72 -0.24%
Tendulkar 42.43 -4.37%
Ponting 41.53 -1.43%
Lara 39.54 -2.23%
Gilchrist 34.99 -2.50%
Sehwag 33.91 -1.63%
Gibbs 33.68 -7.38%

Bad news for Tendulkar fans right off the bat. Barring Gibbs, SRT’s average takes the biggest hit when the free runs against the lesser teams are excluded. Predictably, all the batsmen in this consideration did a little better against the minnows, however, Pietersen’s phenomenal average shows an imperceptible change while Gibbs loses the most. Note that the adjusted average still shows that SRT has scored (over his entire career) nearly 3 runs per game more than Lara, 7 runs a game more than Gilchrist and 8.5 runs per game more than Sehwag.

Performance against the top sides





New Zealand


South Africa

Sri Lanka

West Indies








































































The table above shows difference between the adjusted career average and average against each team. The negative numbers in red show opposition against whom the batsman scored lower than his career average. The right-most column titled ‘Variation’ is a measure of the volatility in the performance of a batsman against the various teams. Lower the variation, better the batsman. The assumption here is that the best batsmen shouldn’t have glaring weaknesses against any teams.

As expected, all batsmen have their favourites and their bugbears, some of them surprising. For example, Gilchrist seemed to have more trouble against the South Africans while gorging on the Lankans. Pietersen on the other hand has an astronomical average against his countrymen while having significant trouble against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand. Pietersen has the best average of the lot but he will need to get more consistent against teams other than South Africa and Australia to be considered a great player. Similarly, Sehwag will not do his talent justice if he keeps under-performing against the Australians.

The table also shows how arguments based on Tendulkar’s lower average against the South Africans are hollow because, apparently, every player has teams they’ve not quite been at their best against.

Going by variation, Ponting and Tendulkar are the most consistent irrespective of opposition.

Percentage of team runs

  Tendulkar Ponting Pietersen Lara Gibbs Gilchrist Sehwag
1990 12%     6%      
1991 17%     12%      
1992 20%     22%      
1993 12%     26%      
1994 21%     14%      
1995 20% 13%   31%      
1996 25% 14%   30% 12% 4%  
1997 14% 36%   23% 8% 17%  
1998 30% 21%   22% 4% 15%  
1999 19% 18%   13% 18% 15%  
2000 17% 16%   17% 15% 14% 8%
2001 32% 22%   21% 17% 18% 13%
2002 23% 18%   20% 17% 15% 18%
2003 26% 20%   21% 19% 16% 15%
2004 17% 16% 46% 17% 10% 18% 11%
2005 11% 18% 29% 13% 23% 14% 13%
2006 20% 15% 19% 15% 15% 16% 12%
2007 19% 31% 19% 18% 20% 14% 14%
2008 17% 10% 21%   13% 14% 21%
2009 20% 13% 10%   17%   22%

the cells in bold red italics are the highest for that year amongst the 7 batsmen considered here

the cells in bold black italics show contributions greater than 20%

The table shows the runs scored in each calendar year as a percentage of the average team score. Considering that the typical ODI lineup, there’ are usually 6 specialist batsmen with a couple of handy lower order hitters, anything approaching 20% of team runs would indicate more than a decent contribution. What surprised me was that Gilchrist and Gibbs rarely breached the 20% barrier (Gilchrist never and Gibbs twice) – An indicator of the relative freedom they had to blaze away to wrest the initiative early. After his initial years of carefree stroke-making, Sehwag will see more of the run-scoring load over the remainder of his career.

Ponting has had one of the most consistent careers with substantial contribution to the team cause almost all through except in the last 2 years.

The frequency of numbers in bold in the Tendulkar column underlines that he has been the bedrock of the Indian ODI innings for most of his career. His worst year without a doubt was 2005 but the last four suggest that there’s some gas left in the tank.

Appetite for the big runs


Scores over 50 (excluding minnows)

Frequency of big scores

Pietersen 25 2.88
Tendulkar 113 3.17
Ponting 79 3.39
Lara 65 3.89
Gilchrist 61 4.02
Sehwag 37 4.51
Gibbs 43 4.58

Frequency of big scores = Number of games between big scores

The longevity of Tendulkar’s career has been used as an excuse by many an expert as the sole explanation for the mountains of runs scored. The table shows scores over 50 against quality opposition. Only Pietersen, who has played all of 90 ODIs scores big more often than Tendulkar.

As an aside, a look at the results of their big scores show that Pietersen’s efforts have been in vain 73% of the time while Lara ended up on the losing side after scoring over 50 nearly half the time.

Big scores in Win-Loss

This stat doesn’t show much except the mediocre ODI sides that Pietersen and Lara play in. The difference in Tendulkar and Sehwag’s ratio suggests an improvement in Indian sides over the last few years. For those who use difference in “average in games won” versus “average in games lost” as arguments are just plain silly.

Ability to dominate

  Strike Rate Innings*
Sehwag 99.91% 167
Gilchrist 95.66% 241
Pietersen 87.34% 66
Tendulkar 84.39% 358
Ponting 80.40% 268
Gibbs 80.15% 197
Lara 77.46% 253

* innings exclude matches against Bangladesh, Bermuda, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Kenya, Namibia, Netherlands, Scotland, UAE, USA, Zimbabwe

Table shows comparison of strike rates (runs scored per 100 balls faced) and Sehwag and Gilchrist underline the sheer destructive capability they bring to their sides. Among the others there is not much to choose and considering the people Tendulkar scores faster than, there is not a lot anyone can detract from it all.

Big match temperament

The biggest drum his detractors like to bang on is that “Tendulkar is not a big-match player”. If only world cup finals count, then our sample set is all of 8 games amongst the seven batsmen here. So, looking at Finals, Semi-Finals & Quarter Finals together and then the big tournaments together, the numbers surprised even me:

Finals, Semi-Finals, Quarter Finals

  Innings Runs Average
Tendulkar 47 2137 50.88
Gibbs 12 465 42.27
Lara 25 861 37.43
Ponting 49 1613 36.66
Gilchrist 39 1277 34.51
Sehwag 18 515 32.19
Pietersen 1 6 6.00

I expected a marginally lower average in ‘big games’ for Tendulkar when I set out to do this exercise. What turned up however indicates even less substance to the argument about Tendulkar not performing in important games.

World Cups, ICC Champions Trophy, Australian Tri-Series

  Innings Runs Average
Pietersen 13 644 58.55
Tendulkar 101 4262 46.84
Ponting 170 6378 41.69
Gibbs 55 2050 41.00
Lara 93 3303 40.28
Sehwag 46 1616 36.73
Gilchrist 146 5032 35.69

Tendulkar’s world cup performance are legendary and so it’s no surprise to see him up there with over 5 runs a game over Ponting and over 10 runs a game over Gilchrist. What a lot of us do tend to remember are the blistering centuries Gilchrist scored in the world cup finals, what we don’t is that its the other batsmen that took Australia to those finals.


















Performance against top sides








Percentage of team runs








Appetite for big runs








Ability to dominate








Big Match Temperament (Deciders)








Big Tournament Temperament
















numbers indicate relative ranking on that parameter. Top 3 have been highlighted

Top seven ODI batsmen:

  1. Sachin Tendulkar
  2. Ricky Ponting
  3. Kevin Pietersen
  4. Brian Lara
  5. Adam Gilchrist
  6. Hershelle Gibbs
  7. Virender Sehwag

This is not a ranking system. Pietersen and Sehwag are only half-way into their careers and their numbers could move either way. The idea is that we should be able to swap the 6 names in this comparison and we can be fairly certain that the numbers in the table here wouldn’t change significantly (although I believe the numbers would tilt further in favour of Tendulkar).

Bottomline: Few batsmen even come close to Tendulkar’s performance in One Day Internationals

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Iskander permalink
    August 26, 2009 1:43 pm

    Great job, very interesting!

  2. Liam permalink
    August 27, 2009 2:42 am

    I echo that sentiment, what a great piece of work, thoroughly enjoyed that.

  3. Iskander permalink
    August 27, 2009 2:57 pm

    It does say that KP is on the verge of taking the title.
    Big match temperament has him at number 7 but how many big matches did he play in the WC? 1!
    He only played an innings seems unfair to compare him to Tendulkar on that
    so he would have 16 to 13 points (if we take out the big match)

    And his average against other teams will become lower as he plays them more often. And if we take that out Pietersen is at 9 and Tendulkar at 11!!!

    So it is saying that KP is just behind Tendulkar but not by much at all he could even become much much bigger.

    I didn’t have a doubt Tendulkar is one of the best ODI batsmen ever but I did not know that KP was so good!

    • August 27, 2009 3:11 pm

      thanks iskander. Great point.

      I completely agree that KP’s scores are inflated partly because of relatively lesser number of games he’s played. There are two reasons I included him in this comparison:
      1. on reputation and sheer ‘star power’, he’s been one of the most talked about players in recent times and
      2. to highlight the high standard of performance that Tendulkar (and many of the others in this group) have maintained over the course of their careers

      Many critics have used specific periods of time from batsmen’s careers to highlight great or poor performance. Having KP in there shows that maybe several can do it over 2-3 seasons, it’s a whole different matter to do it over two decades. I expect KP’s score to subside over time from excellent to just very good.

      • Iskander permalink
        August 27, 2009 7:37 pm

        Yes still early days for KP and massive achievement for Tendulkar.

        Are you going to do a similar post for Test batting?

  4. October 13, 2009 7:42 pm


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  5. alfred permalink
    November 13, 2009 11:51 pm

    Sachin is god and KP is still a kid……..

  6. sushant permalink
    November 25, 2009 6:44 pm


  7. Abhinav Rawat permalink
    November 26, 2009 12:26 pm

    very good work indeed!
    Also,Tendulkar has scored more runs when there was no extra powerplay, longer boundaries and wickets were not that batsmen friendly..
    Remember in the 90’s when a score of 230-250 was deemed good , but for the wickets and boundaries now a even a score of 280+ is not concsidered safe…
    These parameters should also go in favor of Tendulkar and even put him on a high pedestal..

    • November 26, 2009 1:45 pm

      thanks abhinav. good points. however, compared to the others in the list, he almost always had access to the first 15 overs with field restrictions.

  8. sushant upadhyay permalink
    November 26, 2009 3:21 pm

    I’d like to add some more numbers.
    This would add to almost all the categories mentioned above and also emphasize as to what has happened to some of his greatest knocks and the FREQUENCY of it, what all he has had to endure and move on.
    The stat shows scores of 130+ in a losing cause.;filter=advanced;orderby=innings_number;result=2;runsmax2=200;runsmin2=130;runsval2=runs;size=100;template=results;type=batting;view=innings

    Notice that:
    1. Sachin comes 6 times in the list( again way ahead of others)
    2. 3 of them is while chasing
    3. In all three chases note the opposition team
    4. Notice the strike rates in all three

    A person becomes immortal /a hero / a match winnner and what not if he contributes a century in a big chase, as has happened with a few newer players. But that happens with help of the team.
    It is appalling that people use the above stat AGAINST Sachin and shamelessly say that he doesn’t contribute in a big chase!

    This is stat for a wasted 130+ score. There are many more if we consider wasted 100+ scores(12 in all).

    • November 26, 2009 3:31 pm

      Great analysis Sushant. Emphasizes the point that if he’d had some more support at a few critical junctures, India would have won many more.

  9. February 4, 2010 3:15 pm


  10. August 2, 2010 11:03 am

    Nice analysis.
    Looks like Pieterson is a better batsman than what we assume! 😛

    • August 2, 2010 11:20 am

      thanks ganesh. it does look like it but his challenge will be to maintain that high standard through his career.

  11. ashish permalink
    August 5, 2010 5:27 pm

    worst analysis dude………all wrong……


  1. Stats That Prove Tendulkar’s The Best « Ducking Beamers: A Cricket Blog

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