What happened to the gigantic batting of my childhood? (Part 1)
As a child of the early 90s I grew up watching Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Kumar Sangakkara and many other great players churn out test match runs at jaw-dropping rates. Their strokeplay was mesmerising, their concentration levels unimaginable, their batting reputations unquestionable.
Even more remarkable than these giants of 2000s and early 2010s test cricket was a host of other players who, despite not quite being as prolific, also averaged 45+ in test match cricket. Batters like Damien Martyn, Graeme Smith, and VVS Laxman, regularly performed for their teams even though you wouldn’t call them goats of the game.
Having recently returned to following test match cricket, it seems things have dramatically changed. From the tests I’ve watched since 2020, my impression has been that it’s much more common to find top and middle orders featuring one or two players who average more than 45, with the rest averaging between 35 and 45. For example, let’s look at the teams that played in the December 2021 and January 2022 test matches I’ve just watched: among players with 10 caps or more, South Africa has none, England each have one, India has two and Australia is an outlier with three.
But, am I just remembering badly, or do the data back up my impressions? Thanks to Christopher Clayford’s Kaggle dataset on men's test innings scraped from Cricinfo, I can have a look. If you take the most simple analyses — averages and centuries — it seems I’m right. Over my lifetime, batting averages first increased from the 1990s to the 2000s, then have been declining since the 2000s
The trend also holds for the rate at which hundreds are scored: they increase from the 1990s heading into the 2000s, then decline thereafter.
However, these are the most simplistic analyses one can do. Statistically, are these results even significant enough to be called a trend? Are there changes in the cricket played across these decades that mean that these decades cannot be simplistically compared? Most importantly, these simple analyses don’t explain the trends, even if they are indeed significant.
So, over a few articles, I’ll look at men’s test cricket batting in more detail. I’ll first establish whether we can describe this as a valid trend. Then, I’ll use a hypothesis-driven problem-solving approach to get to the bottom of why this has been happening.