Ian Botham and the statistical unit that is a cricketer’s career

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One guy played 25 Tests and finished with a batting average of 40.48 and a bowling average of 18.52. Another guy played the same number of Tests and averaged 23.45 with the bat and 42 with the ball.

Name those cricketers. We’ll give you the answer at the end of the article.

If Ben Stokes statistics tell us anything…

It’s that Ian Botham was bloody good.

The legendary displays during Sir Beef’s career are storied, but dig through this topmost stratum and there’s another layer of performances which were merely exceptional. These are the less familiar feats that are currently cropping up in stats tables featuring Stokes’ name (these and the even more crappy Botham performances a level below which were merely superb).

Time and again it happens. Stokes does something freakish and they throw some table of stats on the screen comprising data that has been stretched and cut to cast him in a good light. It’s nothing nefarious. It’s just the way TV companies work. ‘Most runs by a left-handed touring batsman who went on to take a wicket with the ball in a Newlands Test during the month of January’ kind of thing.

Thing is, when they do this for all-rounders, Stokes often comes second. He comes second in his own stats tables. It’s almost like Botham’s entire career has started a rerun in the background, just out of view, poking through every now and again so as to encourage us to think about it anew.

One career

Cricket encourages the slicing and dicing of stats to suit a particular argument, but one unit always seems to remain unchopped. The career average is an oddity in that its span varies so much from player to player. It can also conceal plenty.

Take Ian Botham’s career averages as an example. We’ve often seen his credentials questioned for his career batting average of 33.54, while his career bowling average of 28.40 doesn’t seem all that breathtaking.

Thing is, the career average really doesn’t do Botham justice what with his having flobbed his way through at least the last four years of his career. Once prime rib, he passed through being that generic ‘steak’ they sell in supermarkets and finished off as some sort of gristly offcut.


Nothing really. We just find it slightly odd that the crappy old duffer who’s long since past it carries as much weight as his younger self when it comes to appraising a player’s career. Both versions are valid, but the statistical mediocrity that is their bastard offspring seems to share few of its parents’ traits.

Those averages at the top are for the first and last 25 Tests of Ian Botham’s career. Make of that what you will. We’re not making any sort of a statement here; more floating a talking point. That’s why, like certain careers, the article’s just going to sort of peter out.


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  1. You should make the title more cryptic. I “got” the answer immediately.

    Actually to be fair, I think this is one of those figures that I happened to know, for some reason. Did The Zaltzhair do a “stat attack” on it in one of his blogs, perhaps?

  2. Interesting analysis. My guess would be that you would also find players whose careers began okay and finished much better. And a few who have mid-career slumps. A career average will not capture the ebb and flow of a man’s cricketing life, nor is it designed to. Given that cricket statistics is gradually approaching baseball standards , I am sure this weakness in one metric will not be that much of a weakness no more.

    1. To take an obvious recent example, Brendon McCullum’s career had great swells – two great years, largely – surrounded by quite a lot of mediocrity.

      But Moneyball stats or not, we don’t think cricket will ever distance itself from the career average. It’s the fact that it’s a career overview in a single number that’s its essential appeal.

    2. A first half vs second half split for Pakistan’s most famous all-rounder politician is instructive.

      Actually I reckon I might have read a statto article on Cricinfo comparing Khan and Beefy, which may be why I’d seen those stats before.

      1. That looks like the one. I think S Rajesh also did some comparative pieces about the 80s allrounders. His articles are interesting stuff but they all become a bit of a blur in my brain.

  3. “at the end of the article”….”the article’s just going to sort of peter out”

    Article? Was this originally intended for publication elsewhere, or is this a ‘Proper Website’ now?

    1. I’ve just noticed the ‘Share this article…’ at the bottom as well, which has apparently been there for a while. Obviously I’m a bit late to the party (particle?) on this.

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