Remember the days when a batting average of 50+ was a sign that a player was something special? When Greg Chappell, Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar were among a select handful of then-current players whose greatness was rubber stamped by that “5” at the start of their Test batting average?
These days, however, it seems that every major cricketing nation boasts a player who is not only creeping past the 50 barrier, but fairly bashing it down.
In Australia, we have Ricky Ponting edging into the 60s, while Mike Hussey continues to stack up the runs, pushing his average up towards the 80s after the official qualification period of 20 innings. Opener Matt Hayden also averages 52 runs for every time he’s been at the crease in his 86 Tests, while ‘keeper Adam Gilchrist has spent almost his entire career with an average in the 50s before his current slump.
It’s not much different in India, with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag well above the line that divides the “very goods” from the “greats”. South Africa has Jaques Kallis and Graham Smith (the latter of whom has just slipped beneath the plimsoll line), the West Indies Brian Lara, Pakistan Mohammad Yousef and Inzamam-ul-Haq, England Kevin Pietersen while Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara (another wicketkeeper, if you don’t mind) and Mahela Jayawardene are just one good innings each from jumping back into the 50s.
So why is it that almost a third of the highest averages in the 130-year history of Test cricket belongs to players who are still currently playing? Obviously the era of uncovered pitches would have seen off many of the players in the early years of the game, while protective gear like helmets, pads and guards have been a major plus for the players of today.
Maybe it’s the fact that this era of bowlers aren’t as potent as they once were. There’s a point to be made there, especially when you consider that of the current crop of international bowlers, you could argue that perhaps only Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Shaun Pollock are among those with a record that ranks them among the absolute greats of the game.
So how has this situation, where bat is clearly dominating over ball, come about?
Perhaps we’re just going through a generation of exceptional batting talent. Or maybe the laws of the game have become too heavily weighted in the batsman’s favour.
But it might just be that the technology used to create today’s pitches has improved so much that nearly every international deck is becoming too much like the highways produced this year in Adelaide.