World’s best all-rounders

The traditional dilemma with a cricket team is how to get a guinea’s worth of value from a £1 budget. Ideally you’d want seven batsmen and five bowlers. That’s twelve players in an 11-a-side sport. The extra shilling usually comes from a talented individual who can contribute with both bat and ball.

The qualities this special player needs are to score as many runs as a specialist middle-order batsman and also to bowl as effectively as the other four members of the bowling unit. Anything short of this and you have not an all-rounder but an nearly-rounder. A squarer peg for the all-rounder hole.

Who are the players who have filled this role best in test match history? Names like Garry Sobers, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Keith Miller spring to mind. But how to determine their effectiveness in filling that pivotal role?

Cricinfo’s statistics can give us the raw data. I now have a spreadsheet with all 2574 test match players and their raw figures. How can I use this data to identify the best all-rounders?

Out of 2574 players, 82 never batted long enough to get dismissed and 1053 never took a wicket. This includes 26 players who did neither in their test match career. No wickets and no completed innings: no hopers? Well Stuart Law is one of them so you decide.  Nevertheless, I think we can rule them out as all-rounders straight away. That leaves us with 1466 players who have taken a test match wicket and have a test batting average. Who were the best?

Let’s look at batting averages and bowling averages. You’d expect a test match lower-middle-order batsman to be averaging over 30. You’d also expect them to be taking wickets at less than 35 runs apiece. This gives us 120 all-rounders by this very broad and somewhat arbitrary definition. However the list includes players like Mark Boucher who played as a wicketkeeper-batsman but once took a wicket as an eighth-change bowler against the West Indies as a dull test match petered out into a draw.

So we need some qualifying numbers of runs and wickets to weed out these statistical anomalies. Again I will introduce an arbitrary cut-off of 500 runs and 50 wickets. This leaves us with 29 players who might be selected on the basis of either their batting or bowling alone.

We need a way of ranking these players as all-rounders. We can assess their contribution with the bat and ball by seeing by how much they exceed the qualifying criteria. In other words, how much higher is their batting average than 30. How much lower is their bowling average than 35? But there’s another factor – catching. Catches, as we all know, win matches. As your all-rounder you want a proper batsman, a proper bowler and a fielder who can pluck swallows from the sky.

By the magic of arbitrariness I have assigned an x-factor to each all-rounder. It’s simply a multiplier of their batting average in excess of 30, their bowling average below 35 and their number of catches per 100 matches. And the result:

Player Matches Runs Bat Av Wkts Bowl Av Ct X-factor
GS Sobers (WI) 93 8032 57.78 235 34.03 109 3370
JH Kallis (ICC/SA) 134 10587 54.85 258 31.33 150 3193
AW Greig (Eng) 58 3599 40.43 141 32.2 87 1985
JM Gregory (Aus) 24 1146 36.96 85 31.15 37 1667
TL Goddard (SA) 41 2516 34.46 123 26.22 48 1550
GA Faulkner (SA) 25 1754 40.79 82 26.58 20 1537
BM McMillan (SA) 38 1968 39.36 75 33.82 49 1359
KR Miller (Aus) 55 2958 36.97 170 22.97 38 1313
IT Botham (Eng) 102 5200 33.54 383 28.4 120 1193
Mushtaq Mohammad (Pak) 57 3643 39.17 79 29.22 42 1102
Asif Iqbal (Pak) 58 3575 38.85 53 28.33 36 963
SM Pollock (SA) 108 3781 32.31 421 23.11 72 947
C Kelleway (Aus) 26 1422 37.42 52 32.36 24 929
WW Armstrong (Aus) 50 2863 38.68 87 33.59 44 888
W Rhodes (Eng) 58 2325 30.19 127 26.96 60 851
ER Dexter (Eng) 62 4502 47.89 66 34.93 29 840
ST Jayasuriya (SL) 110 6973 40.07 98 34.34 78 761
FE Woolley (Eng) 64 3283 36.07 83 33.91 64 716
MA Noble (Aus) 42 1997 30.25 121 25 26 635
Imran Khan (Pak) 88 3807 37.69 362 22.81 28 633
GE Gomez (WI) 29 1243 30.31 58 27.41 18 490
JDP Oram (NZ) 33 1780 36.32 60 33.05 15 376
JR Reid (NZ) 58 3428 33.28 85 33.35 43 374
N Kapil Dev (India) 131 5248 31.05 434 29.64 64 313
MH Mankad (India) 44 2109 31.47 162 32.32 33 311
A Flintoff (Eng/ICC) 79 3845 31.77 226 32.78 52 263
CL Cairns (NZ) 62 3320 33.53 218 29.4 14 206
DL Vettori (ICC/NZ) 97 3779 30.72 313 33.61 55 120
IK Pathan (India) 29 1105 31.57 100 32.26 8 119


Garry Sobers is top, as you might expect. But the evil Jacques Kallis joins him in a top two who are miles ahead of the pack. More than 1000 x-factor points separate them from their nearest rival.

But this list looks good. It’s got all the usual suspects. Andrew Flintoff sneaks in although history will probably be less kind to him than our memories suggest. History’s judgement on Flintoff: a bit better than Daniel Vettori (but not as good a captain).

Notable absences: Richard Hadlee and Trevor Bailey averaged under 30 with the bat. Steve Waugh and Lance Klusener over 35 with the ball. Ravi Shastri averaged over 40 with the ball.

Graeme Swann will join the list when he has another 37 test runs (batting average 35.61, bowling average 29.65). Stuart Broad needs to get his batting average of 28.71 up a bit.


11 Responses to “World’s best all-rounders”

  1. 1 Dominic Sayers February 10, 2010 at 09:36

    Shane Watson, by the way, only has 27 test wickets (which surprised me). I’m sure he will join the list if his body allows him to carry on bowling.

  2. 2 Juanyed Tahmid January 11, 2010 at 10:02

    Where is Shakib AL Hasan the worlds best allrounder???

    • 3 Dominic Sayers January 11, 2010 at 14:39

      Shakib Al Hasan of Bangladesh has taken 48 test match wickets at an impressive average of 28.27. He has scored 715 runs at 29.79 including a match-winning 96* against the West Indies in July, when he was also chosen as Man Of The Series for his 13 wickets.

      To qualify for my list he needs another 2 test wickets and he also needs to get his batting average up another 0.21 runs. He is clearly a very talented player so he may well achieve this in the test match against India starting on Sunday.

      I hope he makes it. If he does, his x-factor will be about 373 which puts him ahead of Kapil Dev. Not quite the world’s best all-rounder, but this is a pretty exclusive list he will join.

      If I was a county chief executive (or IPL franchisee come to that) I would be on the phone to his agent right now. If I was Geoff Miller I would be in Tower Hamlets trying to find a family with an eligible daughter with a UK passport.

      • 4 Dominic Sayers January 12, 2010 at 17:14

        Worcestershire have signed Shakib Al Hasan from July onwards.

      • 5 Dominic Sayers January 19, 2010 at 13:53

        Shakib Al Hasan took the remaining wickets he needed to qualify in his outstanding 5/62 in India’s first innings.

        Unfortunately he only scored 17 in Bangladesh’s reply so his batting average has dropped to 29.28.

        He needs 48 or 18* in the second innings to qualify for my all-rounders list.

  3. 6 Lawrence January 9, 2010 at 23:12

    You could add a column of ‘most test matches drawn instead of won due to unfeasibly selfish batting for own average’.

  4. 8 Dominic Sayers January 7, 2010 at 16:28

    For the record, the only all-rounders on my list who never took a 5-wicket haul in a test match are Brian McMillan, Ted Dexter and Jacob Oram.

    Graeme Swann has done it 4 times already.

  5. 9 Dominic Sayers January 7, 2010 at 16:23

    You can’t see it from my table, but when Graeme Swann joins the list he will be the only one without a test match hundred to his name. But he will be only 16 matches into his career by then so he has plenty of time.

    I don’t think anything would be achieved by adding a century as yet another arbitrary criterion :-)

  1. 1 Graeme Swann « Dominic Sayers Trackback on February 19, 2010 at 16:07
  2. 2 Shakib Al Hasan « Dominic Sayers Trackback on February 17, 2010 at 13:32

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