Recently, someone who started following cricket closely in the 1980s asked me who were the best batsman and bowler of that decade. I did not have an immediate answer. Was the batsman Viv Richards or Allan Border or Greg Chappell? Where did Javed Miandad fit in? How did Sunil Gavaskar do in his last seven years as a Test batsman? Who scored the most runs and who had the best average? When it came to bowlers, it was still more confusing. Malcolm Marshall, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee and Joel Garner all clamoured for attention.

So I decided to do a comprehensive analysis of who the best performers of each decade were. It helps that we are in the last year of the current decade.

Also in this article, I also decided to update my list of the best Test innings of all time, the GW25 (Golden Willow 25) table, in the light of Ben Stokes' magnificent match-winning innings at Headingley.

It was easy to settle on the decade as the unit for this exercise, until 1960. Before that point, there were very few Tests over the course of some calendar decades, for various reasons. So I took the decision to create three "decades" based on logical cut-off points. The first such period is from 1877 to 1914, during which time 134 Tests were played. The second decade comprises the 20 years between the two wars, 1920 to 1939; 140 Tests were played during this period. The third decade is a decade and a bit, between 1946 and 1959, when 209 Tests were played.

Let us now move on to the bowlers who have done well in each of those decades. I earlier included an analysis of batsmen in this article as well, but had to take it out since the piece became too long because of the substantial GW25 update. The analysis of batsmen will be published next month. The data for this analysis is current up to the Old Trafford Test between England and Australia.

For the bowlers, let us first look at the current decade, which is almost over. Pat Cummins just about edges out Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada on the bowling-average front; all three bowlers have averages between 21 and 22. However, they have all taken fewer than 250 wickets. Dale Steyn is just behind the trio, but with 250-plus wickets. Quite a few bowlers have taken more than 350 wickets, with James Anderson leading the pack. Ravindra Jadeja, with his glut of home wickets (144 at 19.7), is a surprise placement with a sub-25 average. Mitchell Starc is another surprise, with a rather high bowling average.

In the first decade of the millennium, Muttiah Muralitharan and Glenn McGrath take the honours. Muralitharan's 550-plus wickets, way above the others, were captured at an outstanding average of around 21. McGrath was even more effective, although with only around 300 wickets.

Look at the outstanding average of Shoaib Akhtar, though with only around 150 wickets. Shane Warne's wickets came at an average of just above 25. All the other spinners had averages above 30. Shaun Pollock was very well placed.

The 1990s were dominated by four fast bowlers - Curtly Ambrose, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Allan Donald - all with over 250 wickets at sub-22 averages. McGrath was lurking nearby. Pollock was equally good but took only around 150 wickets. Warne's 350 wickets cost him just over 26.

The 1980s were the decade of fast bowlers. Malcolm Marshall, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and Joel Garner dominated the decade. All had averages below 20. Michael Holding and Dennis Lillee were not far behind, with sub-25 averages. The spinners of note were Abdul Qadir, who took over 200 wickets, and Iqbal Qasim, who had a good average of around 25. It was indeed very tragic and shocking to hear about Qadir passing away. He was one of the greatest exponents of legspin bowling.

The 1970s were a difficult decade for bowlers. Ian Botham, with an excellent sub-20 average, took just over 100 wickets. Derek Underwood and Bishan Bedi took around 200 wickets each but at averages nearing 30. BS Chandrasekhar was close to these two spinners. Possibly the bowler of the decade was Dennis Lillee, with over 180 wickets at an average just over 23. Hadlee's career had just begun.

The 1960s were dominated by two fast bowlers from Australia and England - Graham McKenzie and Fred Trueman. The former took nearly 250 wickets and Trueman averaged below 22. Peter Pollock had a good average but with 100 wickets only. Erapalli Prasanna, for a spinner in those days, had a reasonable average. This is the decade when very few bowlers qualified.

The post-war years were dominated by three England spinners - Jim Laker, Tony Lock and Johnny Wardle. All had averages just above 20. Ray Lindwall was the best fast bowler of this era. Alec Bedser was quite close. Trueman and Fazal Mahmood were quite good, although with fewer wickets.

The years in between the two World Wars were dominated by three spinners - Clarrie Grimmett, Bill O'Reilly and Hedley Verity. All of them had sub-25 averages. Maurice Tate was around there. All the other bowlers had fewer than 100 wickets each. Despite the success he enjoyed against Australia, Harold Larwood did not have a great average.

The first period of Test cricket was dominated by two medium-pacers - George Lohmann and Sydney Barnes. The former had the amazing average of 10.76 and the latter took 187 wickets. Then there were three left-arm spinners - Colin Blythe, Johnny Briggs and Bobby Peel - who all had sub-20 averages. Charlie Turner had even better figures. No bowler in this decade averaged above 27.

Now that the primary topic of the article has been completed, let me move on to the England win at Headingley, orchestrated by the Stokes classic innings and the effect this had on the Golden Willow 25 table.

For more information on the GW25, please refer to my earlier article on it, and other articles that can be accessed on my ESPNcricinfo author page.

The Golden Willow 25 update, after Stokes' innings
Once the adrenaline wears off, the numbers take over and we are back on the ground. It is a human tendency to consider the last great performance we watch as the "greatest". Our tried and trusted programs, methods and processes keep us in check. The hype created by visual viewing as compared to listening to radio commentary and reading about a performance in the newspaper the next day is also a significant factor. Looking only at the Ashes, the 2019 Headingley Test seems greater than the 2005 Edgbaston Test, which in turn eclipsed the 1982 MCG one, which made us forget the 1981 Headingley Test, which put the 1961 Old Trafford Test in the shade. And so on.

In order to help readers who might be new to my articles, I will briefly explained some of the terms used below.

HSI (High Score Index): The HSI is a parametrisation of the support factor. The player's HSI is determined by dividing his score by the next highest score in the innings and adjusting this factor by the share of team runs.

IPV (Innings Peer Value): The IPV compares a player's score with the average individual score of the batsmen in the two team innings (excluding the subject player's score). It is a clear indication of the value of the player's contribution to the team.

PQI (Pitch Quality Index): This is derived using a combination of expected runs from batsmen, actual runs scored by batsmen, expected wickets from bowlers, actual wickets taken by bowlers, and Match RpW weighted by quality of wickets lost. It runs from 10 to 100 and is an accurate indicator of pitch quality.

Runs added with late order: This is a very important measure, giving credit to the batsmen who shepherd the late order and add valuable runs. Often these runs are gold and normally mean the difference between an unexpected win and defeat, as happened at Headingley.

The player contribution analysis: This is a complex top-down process which allocates Team Performance points based on the runs scored and wickets taken. This is a non-contextual parameter. The result points are allocated based on this.

All quality analyses are done based on CTD (Career-to-date) values. As of now, the CTD-Home is a very sound measure and will continue to be used. However, the value used for measuring away performances, the CTD-Away value, is a composite of all values - in Asia and in other countries. A significant change in this process is part of the major revision I briefly mention later in the article.

There is no doubt about the magnificence of Stokes' innings, which comfortably made it to the GW25. It is in 19th place. I initially estimated a top-ten position, but that was a subjective, off-the-cuff estimate. After detailed analysis, the following number-related facts come to light.

  • The big difference between Home and Away wins. It is true that the ICC treats home and away results at par in the World Championship Table. However, I will always incorporate the location and relative team strengths in my analysis.
  • The superlative support Stokes received - from Joe Root, Joe Denly and Jonny Bairstow. And to a lesser extent, from Jack Leach and Jofra Archer. This lowered the HSI considerably.
  • The quality of the Australia attack was good but not great, though England were 67 all out in the first innings. Only Cummins has really good numbers (56 wickets overseas at 22). James Pattinson, on numbers, is sub-par (29 at 35). There is no comparison to, say, the superlative South African attack that Kusal Perera faced in Durban earlier this year (Philander 135 wickets at home at 19 - only eight overs considered, Kagiso Rabada 119 at 18, Dale Steyn 255 at 21 and Duanne Olivier 34 at 16) or for that matter what Steve Smith faced at Edgbaston (Stuart Broad 282 wickets at home at 26, Chris Woakes 60 at 22, and Moeen Ali and Stokes with an average of just above 30). It is quite possible that the Australian bowling attack bowled much better than their numbers indicate and the South African attack worse. But any objective analysis has to go by the numbers.
  • Stokes came in at 141 for 3, not that disastrous a situation, and the score at one point stood at 245 for 4 - a 52% winning situation for England in my database.
  • Stokes scored 135 and the other batsmen over 220 runs. That means the other batsmen scored over 60% of the runs.
  • Stokes gets 761 rating points. Very well-deserved indeed. But keep in mind that Root got 411 points, Denly's 272, Bairstow 200, and Archer 80 for their batting in that innings. All very timely and significant innings.
  • Perera, Smith and Stokes all added valuable runs with the late-order batsmen. As such, all three got valuable points. Perera secured the most, followed by Smith and Stokes, in that order.
  • The Headingley pitch was the toughest of all three (PQI of 37.3). The Durban one was slightly better (41.7) and the Edgbaston one reasonable (53.6).
  • While Stokes contributed significantly to the team, the other batsmen, together, contributed a lot more under the non-contextual contribution metric.

In summary, Stokes gained on the PQI and IPV measures but lost ground on bowling quality, result location, support (HSI), entry situation and share of team score. Some of those losses, on high-weightage parameters like bowling quality and result location, were quite substantial. However, it is important to remember that Stokes' innings is placed 19th out of 82,911 innings played so far.

If anyone feels that their own emotional, adrenaline-driven feelings should result in Stokes' innings ranking higher than the numbers justify, I have no problems with that. I understand where that sort of expectation comes from and appreciate the warm feelings these create. However, the numbers have their own stories to tell and these are set in stone. Do not expect my mind to be totally in tune with your heart. For that matter, my mind does not sync with my own heart.

A simple piece of advice to current followers of English cricket: Ian Botham was not forgotten when Andrew Flintoff came a few years back; do not forget Flintoff now that Stokes has arrived; and do not forget Stokes when some other great allrounder comes along in future.

There is no doubt that Stokes' innings was one of the greatest of all time. However, this was neither the greatest Test ever played (at least five other Tests contending for that title come to mind), nor the greatest Test innings played. It was not even the greatest innings played by an Englishman (a couple of other Headingley innings, either side of 150, cannot be forgotten), nor even the greatest innings in a chase (a couple of other left-handers might raise their hands). Before any talk of bias rises, let me remind readers that England is the most represented country in the GW25, with seven entries, one more than Australia; and India has but three entries.

Of course, the numbers cannot reflect the importance of the Ashes, the overwhelming need for England to win this specific Test, the frenzy at the ground, the expectations of a sport-loving country, and so on. Those have been captured by other writers. I will only confine myself to analysis and will make no reference to any factors outside of the scorecard.

X-Factor: I realize that this Test will certainly benefit from my newly minted X-Factor parameter (please see below). England would have lost the Ashes at that point without Stokes; innings, and almost certainly lost the series; World Test Championship points would have been lost; there would not have been the kind of blanket media coverage there was. All of this could be reflected in the X-Factor. My feeling is that the X-Factor would have pushed Stokes' innings into the top ten. Let us leave it that. But let us not forget that a one-run win for Australia would have been an equally great fillip to the future of Test cricket.

It is amazing that in 2019, three innings came into the GW25 table, one of them in the top position. All these were never-say-die innings that deserved the recognition received. Each of these innings was played against great opposition and facing insurmountable situations. Numbers do not do justice to the quality of all these innings. The current GW25 table is shown below. It can be seen that Stokes' 135 not out has pushed Brendon McCullum's Eden Park classic of 224 out of the GW25 table.

A reader, Nathan Whiting, lamented the fact that Stokes was magnificent in the latter half of the Test, and this fact, especially his bowling part, might not be recognised. I then realised that my bouquet of options does not include analysis of performance in half or three-fourths of matches. I did the work required to factor that in and Stokes comes third behind Botham (Bombay, 1980) and Mushtaq Mohammad (Trinidad, 1977). The relevant short table is below. My thanks to Nathan for providing the spark.

The top performances in 1st/2nd or 3rd/4th innings taken togetherYearTestPlayerForVsBattingBowlingBatRtgBowRtgRtg Pts
1980 874Ian Botham ENG Ind 114 6/58 630.2 627.7 1257.9
1977 802Mushtaq Mohd PAK Wi 121 5/28 565.4 602.0 1167.5
20192357Ben Stokes ENG Aus 135* 3/56 761.4 402.3 1163.7
1974 734Tony Greig ENG Wi 148 6/164 491.2 614.4 1105.6
20051758Andrew Flintoff ENG Aus 73 4/79 545.8 552.0 1097.8
1966 608Garry Sobers WI Eng 174 5/41 515.3 574.0 1089.3
20091926Shakib Al Hasan BNG Wi 96* 5/70 565.8 507.3 1073.2
19891113Allan Border AUS Wi 75 7/46 309.8 747.0 1056.9
1983 957Richard Hadlee NZ Eng 84 6/53 519.9 536.6 1056.5
1968 628Bob Cowper AUS Ind 165 4/49 583.7 464.0 1047.6

This is clear indication that Stokes' memorable spell on the third day at Headingley has received due recognition, to the tune of over 400 points.

A final nugget, from the just concluded Old Trafford Test. In my previous article I mentioned that Smith's twin 140s at Edgbaston Test fetched him over 1320 rating points and moved into the best ever match-batting-performance position. Well, just to nail down the fact that he is having a once-in-a-lifetime Ashes series, may I indicate that his match-winning 211 and 82 at Old Trafford gathered just over 1150 points and is sixth on the same table.

And how can one assign points to Stokes' magnificent gesture when he "walked" against Cummings on the last day at Old Trafford? He won a few million admirers with this simple gesture, which showed that he thought the game at large was more important than anything else. This was not inconsequential: he walked when a lot was at stake.

A final note on the magnificent win by the Afghanistan Test team over the much more experienced Bangladesh side, that too playing away. It is one of the greatest wins by a team new to Test cricket. Rashid Khan bowled like the white-ball giant he is. That they could achieve this with a sparse first-class structure is amazing. Rashid's all-round performance is comfortably in the top 50 of match performances.

Test Ratings - redesign-related points

Here is a summary. This topic will be covered in depth in the next article.

1. Use PQI for innings halves and three-fourths separately, as against the current method of using the PQI-Match.
2. Split CTD_Away into CTD_Asia and CTD_Others in all away workings.
3. Introduce Recent Form (last ten innings or spells) while determining player quality.
4. Bowling quality to be a dynamic combination of "four best bowlers who took the field" and the "bowlers who bowled in the innings"
5. Rationalise innings size points, taking into account redundancy and slack.
6. Factor in the margin of result. Reward performances in close losses - both bowling and batting in 3/4 innings.
7. Completely rework the processing of the late order of the innings. Create a complete snapshot of the innings.
8. Analyse partnerships more in depth and more effectively, keeping in mind the value to the team.
9. X-Factor to be introduced. For both scorecard and non-scorecard factors.

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