Some things make sense. Casting Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who made sense. Orlando Bloom getting together with Miranda Kerr to have beautiful children made perfect sense. Us spending our days downloading grownup pictures of Jennifer Lawrence makes complete sense to everyone except Editor Steve. Conversely, some things don’t make any sense at all, such as the continuing selection of Shane Watson to bat at number three for Australia in Test cricket.
Watson’s Test career actually started all the way back in 2005 when he played three Tests against Pakistan, the ICC World XI (and don’t get us started on that nonsense again) and the West Indies. But after that came injury problems galore and it wasn’t until 2008 that he reappeared, batting in the middle order throughout Australia’s unsuccessful tour of India (where they lost 2-0). Hence for analysis purposes, we’ve only looked at the period from that India tour onwards (October 9th 2008, if you want to get very specific). We don’t want people to think that we’re deliberately being mean to Watto.
In the six and bit years since then, there are 80 players with 1,000 or more Test runs to their name. For those 80, we’ve calculated a simple measure of the number of matches per hundred. This allows us to take out the fact that there are some large discrepancies in the number of games played while still giving us a good feel for the best batsmen around. As you might expect there are some of the very best names of the modern era in the top 20. Plus Marcus North:
Player Matches Runs Hundreds Matches per Hundred
KC Sangakkara (SL) 54 5,847 21 2.57
JH Kallis (SA) 43 3,528 15 2.87
Younis Khan (Pak) 38 3,511 13 2.92
HM Amla (SA) 53 4,886 18 2.94
DA Warner (Aus) 36 3,133 12 3.00
Mominul Haque (Ban) 12 1,198 4 3.00
SPD Smith (Aus) 26 2,304 8 3.25
BRM Taylor (Zim) 13 1,071 4 3.25
V Kohli (India) 33 2,547 10 3.30
MJ Clarke (Aus) 73 6,220 21 3.48
R Dravid (India) 39 3,042 11 3.55
TM Dilshan (SL) 39 2,959 11 3.55
AB de Villiers (SA) 54 4,651 15 3.60
CH Gayle (WI) 30 2,410 8 3.75
AN Cook (Eng) 75 5,850 18 4.17
SR Tendulkar (India) 50 4,044 12 4.17
MJ North (Aus) 21 1,171 5 4.20
GC Smith (SA) 47 3,504 11 4.27
KS Williamson (NZ) 39 3,034 9 4.33
JE Root (Eng) 22 1,732 5 4.40
Sangakkara is actually miles clear at the top, 0.3 matches per hundred (or 11%) better off than even Jacques Kallis. Mominul Haque and Brendan Taylor are both slight surprises, although that’s probably because we often forget that Bangladesh and Zimbabwe exist, let alone play Test cricket. And obviously Devereux was going to be in there. God he’s ace.
Of course, the real story isn’t at the top table, where the decent batsmen all sit around congratulating one another on their efforts. No, our story sits at the other end of proceedings, where we can mock the hell out of those losers stinking up Test cricket:
Player Matches Runs Hundreds Matches per Hundred
BP Nash (WI) 21 1,103 2 10.50
MJ Prior (Eng) 69 3,537 6 11.50
AD Mathews (SL) 46 3,193 4 11.50
Mushfiqur Rahim (Ban) 35 2,337 3 11.67
R Ashwin (India) 24 1,007 2 12.00
MS Dhoni (India) 61 3,458 5 12.20
HAPW Jayawardene (SL) 37 1,508 3 12.33
SR Watson (Aus) 53 3,565 4 13.25
BJ Haddin (Aus) 60 3,056 4 15.00
MJ Guptill (NZ) 31 1,718 2 15.50
NT Paranavitana (SL) 32 1,792 2 16.00
JK Silva (SL) 16 1,046 1 16.00
Umar Akmal (Pak) 16 1,003 1 16.00
EJM Cowan (Aus) 18 1,001 1 18.00
Mahmudullah (Ban) 23 1,285 1 23.00
MV Boucher (SA) 29 1,143 1 29.00
DJG Sammy (WI) 33 1,176 1 33.00
MG Johnson (Aus) 55 1,701 1 55.00
SCJ Broad (Eng) 65 1,821 1 65.00
GP Swann (Eng) 60 1,370 0 n/a
Of course, as you might expect, we find here a number of players for whom batting isn’t a major part of their armoury, the sort that chip in with cameos every now and then, such as Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Mitchell Johnson. And it would be churlish of us to criticise them for not making enough hundreds, no matter how tempting that is. But the sheer presence of Shane Watson amongst these sorts of players is very telling. Hundreds (particularly big hundreds) win Test matches. When it comes to this key measures of a top batsmen, Watson is among the very worst in the game, on a par with the likes of Umar Akmal. Four hundreds in 53 Tests (not even including the three from 2005) is a genuinely appalling record.
Which leads to the obvious question: why is Watson batting at number three for Australia, a position previously occupied by the likes of Ricky Ponting, David Boon and orator extraordinaire Don Bradman? It’s a question with no obvious answer, but our guess is that there a number of factors that have led to this situation. Firstly, there are a real lack of decent opening batsmen in Australian cricket, hence the move towards octogenarian Chris Rogers (note that Ed Cowan is one of those few that actually appeared below Watson in the table above, meaning that he was even worse). It was this gap that Watson first filled in the 2009 Ashes and this hole basically extends down to number three, where a player needs to basically have the technique of an opener.
Secondly, the idea of Shane Watson is great. There isn’t a team in the world that couldn’t be improved by a genuine allrounder, one who could justify a place in the side with bat or ball alone. In theory, Shane Watson is that player, the closest thing to Jacques Kallis. Of course, in practice, his bowling has gone to shit – just 18 wickets at 49 since the beginning of 2012 – and his batting has already proved to be short of the mark, as we’ve already shown in our excessively large tables. But with a lack of credible options in the top order – Alex Doolan, Usman Khawaja et al having failed just as badly – Watson has stuck around.
For a long time, Watson’s mediocre batting didn’t particularly stick out in a mediocre side: for several years it was basically Michael Clarke scoring all the runs. Now that David Warner, Rogers, Clarke and Devereux are ripping shit up on a regular basis, Watson clearly stands out as the weakest link.
After the remarkable series against India, there seems to be a real divide in the Australian media between the pro-Watto and anti-Watto camps. Ten years into his career and still no-one is quite sure what he is supposed to be doing and whether someone else could do it better. There have been a few tentative steps towards a post-Watto era in the selection of Mitchell Marsh, who seemed ideally placed to step up into the ‘too few wickets, not enough runs’ role before managing to get himself injured as well, the silly goose. And when he does return, he certainly won’t be batting at number three. Not even Australia are that stupid.
Our money for that position in the medium term – Australia have just two Test matches before the next Ashes start – is Joe Burns, who looked rather promising in Sydney. He seems unlikely to be bumped up to number three straight away though, meaning that Watto can carry on not making hundreds for a few Tests yet and doing stuff like this, still our favourite non-chair on David Gower’s foot moment of the 2010/11 Ashes: