Who Is the Best Batsman in the World Right Now?

Chris Teale@@chris_tealeFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2013

Who Is the Best Batsman in the World Right Now?

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    Everyone has their own opinion on who the best batsman in cricket is, but what if we were to look beyond subjective factors and examine statistics? 

    Would that throw up a reasonable answer to the question? Would we be able to say for sure who the best batsman in the world is currently? 

    That’s what we’re going to test here—to see if we can determine which cricketer is the best in the world at wielding the willow simply by examining the figures available to us. 

    First, though, let’s examine the method we’ll be using and how those figures will be applied and manipulated.

    All stats courtesy of ICC Player Rankings, correct as of 22 October 2013.

Methodology

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    For a task such as this, we must first consider how to go about trying to establish who the best batsman in the world currently is, and for this we will be relying on cold, hard statistics. 


    These statistics will be the ICC Player Rankings, which will now be explained by the world’s governing body:

    The Reliance ICC Player Rankings are a sophisticated moving average. Players are rated on a scale of 0 to 1000 points. If a player’s performance is improving on his past record, his points increase; if his performance is declining his points will go down. 

    The value of each player’s performance within a match is calculated using an algorithm, a series of calculations (all pre-programmed) based on various circumstances in the match. 

    All of the calculations are carried out using pre-programmed formulae, using the information published in a Test match scorecard. There is no human intervention in this calculation process, and no subjective assessment is made.

    To further establish how good a batsman is in certain forms of the game, the ICC rankings take into account factors like the level of run-scoring in a match and the strike-rate of their innings. 

    Therefore, each player has a specific rating in each form of the game, based on this complex computer model, which changes after every match they play. 

    For the purposes of our exercise, we will look at all three forms of the game and take the mean average rating for a player. 

    Then, the player with the highest mean rating across all three forms can be said to be the best batsman in the world. 

    This system rewards excellence, consistency and also takes into account the old adage that your best players are your best players, regardless of the form of cricket they play. 

    As such, players who have never played in a certain form of the game (like England’s Alex Hales in Tests or ODIs), or have not played in that form of the game for a while (like Shivnarine Chanderpaul of the West Indies in ODIs or Twenty20s) will not have a ranking.

Limitations

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    Of course, with such a methodology there are bound to be flaws, so we must at least look at these while examining our final results. 

    One major flaw is that this system excludes batsmen who are very good players in one form of the game but have not been able to showcase their abilities properly in other forms. 

    Take the example of Matt Prior, England’s wicket-keeper. 

    Ranked at No. 17 in the Test rankings, Prior is clearly a very good batsman, as his average of 42.36 and seven Test centuries would testify. 

    However, he always struggled to translate this form into limited-overs cricket, and as such hasn’t played a Twenty20 International since 2010 and an ODI since 2011

    England fans would suggest that he is a very good batsman though, and while he may not be a high-ranker in this list, his very low position is deeply unflattering given his considerable talent. 

    This system also places equal emphasis on all three forms of the game, and does not take into account the fact that Test cricket is much harder to play than the others. 

    Succeeding in Test cricket is seen as the pinnacle of a player’s career, but this system places it on an equal footing with Twenty20, which is somewhat unfair. 

    Unfortunately, there is no way around this, and the ICC rankings remain the best objective method for determining the world's best batsman.

Notable Omissions

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    Into the bulk of the list we go, starting with players who weren’t able to make the Top 20 due to their poor ranking in one or more form of the game. 

    This accounts for players of the calibre of Alastair Cook, Michael Clarke, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kevin Pietersen and Cheteshwar Pujara. 

    Unfortunately, all the players mentioned above have seen their average rating dragged down due to not having a rating in one form of the game, mostly Twenty20. 

    Clarke, who is ranked as the fifth-best Test batsman and 11th-best in ODIs, therefore finds himself at No. 22 in our list as he does not have a rating in Twenty20 Internationals. 

    Things are even worse for England’s captain Cook, ranked at No. 10 in Tests and No. 13 in ODIs, who finds himself at No. 28 in this overall list due to his not playing a Twenty20 International since 2009

    Perhaps the one to suffer most is Chanderpaul, whose No. 3 ranking in Tests means nothing as he is not ranked in either ODIs or Twenty20 Internationals. 

    He is clearly a class act and has been for a number of years, but according to our list he is not among the best in the world across all formats. 

    Who is, then? Let’s start with Nos. 20-11.

Players Ranked 20-11

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    CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 02: Jacques Kallis of the Proteas bats on his way to becoming only the fourth batsman in history to score 13,000 runs in Test cricket during day 1 of the 1st Test between South Africa and New Zealand at Sahara Park Newlan
    NameTest RatingODI RatingTwenty20 RatingAverage RatingOverall Rank
    Jacques Kallis719606542622.33311
    Misbah-ul-Haq783722357620.66612
    Ross Taylor724669468620.33313
    Marlon Samuels66352466761814
    David Warner567537728610.66615
    Shakib Al Hasan590637524583.66616
    Gautam Gambhir55560258958217
    Brendan Taylor60661748456918
    Tamim Iqbal55260953756619
    Francois de Plessis51353553352720

    Some very good names in this section of the list—and some surprises as well.

    David Warner finds himself at No. 15 due to being one of the best Twenty20 batsmen on the planet, despite a difficult time in the other formats of the game. 

    Meanwhile, Misbah-ul-Haq, the seventh-best Test batsman and eighth-best ODI batsman, finds himself only at No. 12 overall due to his rank of No. 60 in Twenty20 Internationals. 

    The lesser Test nations are well-represented however, with Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal of Bangladesh accompanied by Brendan Taylor of Zimbabwe in this section of the list. 

    Taylor’s position at No. 18 will be particularly encouraging for the Zimbabweans, who continue to make positive strides in international cricket after a difficult period in their recent history. 

    At No. 11 is a very famous name, as South Africa’s Jacques Kallis misses the Top 10 by just 8.3334 rating points. 

    That leads us to the upper echelons of our table, to see who is the best batsman in the world right now.

Players Ranked 10-4

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    JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 17:  Hashim Amla of South Africa celebrates his 100 during the 3rd Momentum ODI match between South Africa and Pakistan at Bidvest Wanderers Stadium on March 17, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Duif du Toit
    PlayerTest RatingODI RatingTwenty20 RatingAverage RatingOverall Rank
    Hashim Amla9078532956854
    Brendon McCullum580655818684.3335
    Shane Watson583699729670.3336
    Tillakaratne Dilshan5987466636697
    Mahela Jayawardene639630731666.6668
    Chris Gayle637570702636.3339
    Mahendra Singh Dhoni637741514630.66610

    There are few surprises in this upper section of the list, with the hard-hitters like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Chris Gayle sitting behind Sri Lanka’s talented duo of Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan

    A somewhat surprising name crops up at No. 6, as Australia’s Shane Watson finds himself propelled into the upper echelons thanks to high ratings in both ODIs and Twenty20s despite his low score in Tests. 

    Brendon McCullum sits above him at No. 5, suffering somewhat from poor form in Test matches having been one of the most feared limited-overs players in recent times. 

    Then, arguably the biggest surprise of all comes at No. 4, as the world’s best batsman in Tests and ODIs finds himself in this position: Hashim Amla

    Despite a plethora of centuries in the aforementioned forms of the game, his relatively poor record in Twenty20s counts against him, so Amla is ranked at just No. 77 in the world. 

    He has not played the shortest form of international cricket since the World Twenty20 in 2012, and this non-selection is counting against him. 

    However, to see Amla so far down despite clearly being an elite batsman is a surprise, and means that the top three must be something incredibly special.

The Top Three

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 26: Kumar Sangakkara Sri Lanka bats during day one of the Second Test match between Australia and Sri Lanka at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 26, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
    PlayerTest RatingODI RatingTwenty20 RatingAverage RatingOverall Rank
    Kumar Sangakkara866829658784.3331
    AB de Villiers882845489738.6662
    Virat Kohli6348197497343

    At No. 3 is rising Indian star Virat Kohli, whose form in the shorter forms of the game has been very impressive. 

    He would have been even higher had his rating in Tests not been so low, but his ranking in this chart shows that the right-hander is still on track for a very impressive international career. 

    South Africa’s AB de Villiers is rewarded for his consistency in the game with a position at No. 2. 

    His Twenty20 mark may be dragging him down, but it is clear from this statistical analysis that de Villiers presents quite a challenge to opposing bowlers in all forms. 

    Then, at No. 1 is one of the most fearsome batsmen to bowl at: Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka, who has been plying his trade in international cricket since the turn of the century. 

    He continues to score runs heavily for his country, and despite the responsibility of keeping wicket in ODIs he manages to contribute with the bat too. 

    Sangakkara is rewarded for his consistency at the highest level across all forms of cricket, hence he finds himself at No. 1.

Conclusions

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    Firstly, Sangakkara is a deserving No. 1 in our attempt to find the best batsman in the world right now. 

    The Sri Lankan remains at the top of his game even at the age of 35, and is still a terrifying prospect for bowlers to face. 

    However, these findings must of course be taken with a considerable pinch of salt. 

    Hashim Amla is clearly one of the best in the world, and his final rank of No. 4 is deeply unflattering, especially given that it is Twenty20s that drag him down. 

    This method does place far too much emphasis on Twenty20 Internationals, meaning that very good players like Alastair Cook, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Michael Clarke are excluded from the top sections of the list. 

    It is by no means a perfect system, but there are very few who would disagree with the finding that Kumar Sangakkara is the best batsman in the world right now. 

    It is a prize he richly deserves, and it is reward for his good recent work for Sri Lanka as they look to climb the ICC world rankings.