Statistics in Cricket, a Cautionary Tale

To anyone with more than a casual interest in cricket, the statistics of the game are part of the “bread and butter” of the game’s appeal – not something that takes away from the spectacle of watching the sport, but something that value-adds to the interest of following it. But as cricket aficionados are all too aware, the pure statistics as they lie in the record books and on, don’t necessarily convey the full story, or even an accurate one sometimes, in terms of the significance of what happened.

Back in 2006, as we all know, ‘nightwatchman’ Jason Gillespie, almost beyond belief, top-scored with 201 not out against a very ordinary Bangladesh attack in the final test (left foot forward defence, prod, prod … 425 balls later). Gillespie’s most unlikely double hundred at Chittagong (he hadn’t even got close to a single century in first-class cricket until then) got me curious as to how many genuine, established and in many cases exceptional batsmen in the annals of cricket never managed in the course of their test careers to emulate his miraculous achievement … an awful lot I was to discover! These test cricketers listed below (including some of the classiest names in the history of bat wielding) are presented in order of how close they got to the magical, but for them ultimately elusive, double ton:

{name, international team & highest score}

M. Azharuddin (Ind) 199
MTG Elliott (Aust) 199
AL Hassett (Aust) 198*
MP Vaughan (Eng) 197

IM Chappell (Aust) 196
MEK Hussey (Aust) 195
H Sutcliffe (Eng) 194
RB Richardson (WI) 194
W Bardsley (Aust) 193*
C Hill (Aust) 191
AJ Stewart (Eng) 190
M Ashraful (Bang) 190
B Mitchell (SA) 189*
A Melville (SA) 189
Saeed Anwar (Pak) 188*
M Leyland (Eng) 187
AI Kallicharran (WI) 187
S Dhawan (Ind) 187
(still active)
FDM Karunaratne (SL) 186 (still active)
MA Atherton (Eng) 185*
AG Wright (NZ) 185
DL Haynes (WI) 184
MC Cowdrey (Eng) 182
NC O’Neill (Aust) 181
PJP Burge (Aust) 181
Mominul Haque (Bang) 182
(still active)
JFK Reid (NZ) 180
GA Hick (Eng) 178
DS Lehmann (Aust) 177
AJ Strauss (Eng) 177
HW Taylor (SA) 176
Asif Iqbal (Pak) 175
RA Smith (Eng) 175
JV Coney (NZ) 174*
SM Patil (Ind) 174
MA Butcher (Eng) 173*
CJL Rogers (Aust) 173
GM Wood (Aust) 172
IR Redpath (Aust) 171
BRM Taylor (Zim) 171
(still active)
WG Grace (Eng) 170 (clearly the great Dr Grace was at the disadvantage of playing during an era of bad pitches and low scores – there was only the one solitary test ‘200’ hit in the 19th century – by an Australian)
GCM MacCartney (Aust) 170
CC McDonald (Aust) 170
BC Booth (Aust) 169
RC Fredericks (WI) 169
V Kohli (Ind) 169
(still active & should, if he plays to his level of ability, attain the milestone at some point before his career finishes)
Majid Khan (Pak) 167
M Vijay (Ind) 167
(still active)
MW Goodwin (Zim) 166*
KB Ibadulla (Pak) 166
VB Vengsarkar (Ind) 166
VS Hazare (Ind) 164*
N Kapil Dev (Ind) 163
LD Chandimal (SL) 162*
(still active)
Misbah-ul-Haq (Pak) 161* (still active)
WM Woodfull (Aust) 161
AD Mathews (SL) 160
(still active)
WW Armstrong (Aust) 159*
CL Cairns (NZ) 158
SM Katich (Aust) 157
VM Merchant (Ind) 154
ME Waugh (Aust) 153*
Imrul Kayes (Bang) 150
(still active)
AW Greig (Eng) 148
AM Rahane (Ind) 147
(still active)
GP Howarth (NZ) 147
MJ Greatbatch (NZ) 146*
KC Bland (SA) 144*
AJ Lamb (Eng) 142
CD McMillan (NZ) 142
DL Vettori (NZ) 140
BA Richards (SA) 140
(the prime example of the absurdity of how very misleading cricket statistics can be, and why they shouldn’t always be taken at face value – BAR played 4 tests only!)
CS Dempster (NZ) 136 (like Richards suffered from lack of opportunities. NZ’s first great batsman, played only 10 tests (mostly against England, including 1932-33 series) but averaged 65 plus. Was nearly 27 when NZ first gained test status & from age of 29 played remainder of career in English county cricket & unavailable for NZ)
MG Burgess (NZ) 119*

Chappelli, Mike Hussey, Barry Richards, Lindsay Hassett, Norm O’Neill, Colin Cowdrey, Richie Richardson, Kallicharran, Azharruddin, Kohli, etc., stellar names … none of them have achieved in a single test innings what ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie did in his last test. Clearly, luck and the opportunity or lack of it played a part for many who were certainly good enough skill-wise. Mohammad Azharruddin came as close as anyone could, one obstacle was that his career was truncated by a life ban, however he should have converted at least one of his 22 centuries into a double before then. Matthew Elliott who got as close as ‘Azhari’ did, obviously had less chances to get there. Politics, war, (bad)luck, the need/choice by some to put livelihood ahead of national representation, the faith or fickleness of selectors, some of these things (leaving aside the individual’s quality of batsmanship) would have intervened in contributing to many of the above batsman never reaching a test double ton.

One last, unrelated, curious stat that makes a nonsense of reliance on pure numbers as being indicative of anything … from that great family of ‘French’ cricketers – John Benaud in test matches, only 3 of them (there’s the point again!), finished with a better batting and bowling average than his much more illustrious, older brother Richie … 44.60 to 24.45 with the bat, and 6 against 27.03 with the ball – all of which means absolutely nothing as comparisons go!

About Pagan Maven

Outside left for Gorky Park Cadres U12s; Kremlin Gremlins U14s - Stalinovskiy Vodka Juvenile League. Ricky Lenin B & F medal winner 1966-67. Mascot for Felchester Rovers senior side in the Q-League. Bolshevikskaya Primary School cadet sports journalist covering the USSR V Australia international amateur boxing tournament "From Russia With Glove" (Melbourne 1963). Emeritus Left Winger, Trotskiy Collectivisation Colts.


  1. Many recent players have bloated stars due to the ordinary opposition. Eg matt Hayden’s triple century, Voges and marsh’s career saving partnership

  2. Yes, using stats to compare players very much fraught with danger if done for any other reason than fun. Double centuries interesting of themselves because batsmen have differing opportunities to score one. For example opening batsmen effectively have an opportunity to score a double century every time they go out to bat whereas a number six batsman will have fewer opportunities. In the case of Gillespie, usually batting at 9 or 10 had comparatively few opportunities. As a result his conversion rate would be most impressive.

    Another interesting (for me anyway) one I came across the other day was someone comparing the first class records of Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe – essentially arguing that O’Keefe, by virtue of a much stronger first class record (29 with the bat and 25 with the ball compared to Lyon’s 14 and 37), should be chosen in the Australian team ahead of Lyon. This ignores the fact that O’Keefe has played the majority of his first class cricket in spin friendly Sydney whereas the majority of Lyon’s first class cricket has been tests and before that at the Adelaide Oval. Lyon actually averages 22 with the ball in shield games in NSW. Stats are fine on their own – it’s the comparison that’s the issue.

  3. SR Watson. 168ish.

    O’Keefe is the lovechild of Lehmann and Invers. I say bah humbug to his selection.

  4. Yes, you’re right, how could I have forgotten of all people Shane ‘Watto’ Watson, Ipswitch’s finest

    SR Watson (Aust) 176

    So soon forgotten? … it seems like just yesterday we were taking bets before he came to the crease as to which pace bowler would be the first to bowl him a straight one on his pads.

  5. Marvellous work, Demonymic, I thoroughly enjoyed your research. Your compilation of sub-200 top scores showed a patience and diligence lacking in recent Aussie teams when batting for a draw on a Day 5 pitch. I’m happy to be corrected, but would Dizzy Gillespie be the only player to score a Test century yet average less than 20?

  6. Thanks FitzroyPete,
    No, there’s actually been quite a few instances of players scoring >100 in a test whilst averaging <20 overall in their careers. In colonial era cricket 19th century, when there were fewer tests, scores generally lower & bowlers had the upper hand, batsmen such as Tom Horan & George Bonner scored 100s whilst averaging sub-20. A bit later, underachieving batsmen Jack Badcock (Aus), Maitland Hathorn (SA) & Ivanhoe Barrow (WI) despite 100s averaged 14, 17 & 15 respectively in their short careers. Mostly though they have been bowlers who made the one exceptional knock – Johnny Briggs (Eng), Xen Balaskas (SA), Anil Kumble (Ind), Ajit Agarkar (Ind). One other, Nasim-ul-Ghani (Pak) scored a ton as nightwatchman, his only contribution of note with the bat.

    But what I would say is that Jason Gillespie's double century combined with a <20 average IS UNIQUE in test cricket.

  7. Off on a tangent, but still speaking statistically if it’s worth remembering some statistics that remain intrinsically linked to this date, December 20.

    Way back in 1917 the federal government asked Australians to vote in a plebiscite ,” Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the Commonwealth forces oversees?” This was the second time the government tried to introduce conscription. However like the previous plebiscite the majority of Australians voted NO !

    On December 20 1917, the government proposal was voted down by Australian voters. There was 1.015,159 in favour, 1,181,247 against.

    In both cricket and politics, statistics are bread and butter. Lest we forget.


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