x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Who carries most weight among the big hitters?

Too many variables have to be factored in when comparing Test cricket's top century-makers, which makes it impossible to choose the greatest batsman from that list.

Jacques Kallis scored his 34th Test century against India this week, and it moved him level with Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara.
Jacques Kallis scored his 34th Test century against India this week, and it moved him level with Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara.

While I was walking my dog Max on Monday morning it was a bit chilly so I donned an anorak. An anorak is a name given to those people who wait many hours outside a place of sporting deeds in the hope of having a player sign a coveted piece of paraphernalia. Some sell it, some keep it and others pin it on a wall or have it taped to the inside of their underwear. Each to their own.

However, wearing an outer layer of warmth is something I did not sign up for in the UAE. With this anorak on, not by choice but because it was all I had in my old cricket bag, I set out accompanied by man's best friend. I believe it inspired me to look into the depths of statistics and wonder, not in a creepy Silence of the Lambs type of way, just who, among the scorers of Test hundreds, was indeed "the man".

Jacques Kallis scored his 34th Test century against India this week, and it moved him level with Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara. Ricky Ponting has second place to himself with 39 and Sachin Tendulkar, the little Indian master, stands out like the Burj Khalifa on opening night with 46 Test tons. So who is better? Where do you start? I'm not really sure to be honest. In the game of cricket there are so many variables. Do you bat in the middle order or do you open? Which country do you play in?

England and New Zealand offer considerably more for bowlers, so, are batsmen from these countries at a disadvantage? Australia and South Africa have the best wickets to bat on and the subcontinent can be kind to those who like a more front-foot approach rather than the ball fizzing past your nose. The subcontinent, however, poses other problems from a heat perspective which can be very energy-sapping.

The Caribbean is great for batting because it has small grounds and short boundaries but decidedly dangerous off the field with so many nocturnal festivities that lure you in. Touring the Caribbean and saying you are going to focus fully on the cricket is like saying you flick through Hugh Hefner's publications to read the great articles. So I am no where near deciding who is the better batter but I have created more questions than my six-year-old throws at me.

Statistics are what the game is governed by and using this as a yardstick Kallis has played 228 innings for his swag of Test hundreds. Larahas 232 innings and Gavaskar 214. The reason I have quoted innings here is that matches are totally irrelevant to me to work out how many hundreds have been scored. Some teams are weak so you get more opportunity to bat as you get bowled out a lot. Teams with strong bowling line-ups tend not to allow their batsmen two innings to score their runs, hence when you digest facts about the runs batsmen have scored then always look at the amount of innings they have played.

This is where averages are quite subjective as well. While a good indicator, they actually say more about the mentality of the batter. Again let's take Kallis, Gavaskar and Lara. Kallis has an average of 54.56 with 33 not outs. Gavaskar averages 51.12 and 16 not outs and Lara, 52.88 average but only six not outs. That is 27 fewer not outs than Kallis. In fact if you put those extra not outs on Lara's Test average it would take him to over 60 runs per innings. Mind blowing.

But, here is where the mindset of each batter comes in. Lara was never one to preserve his wicket. His flair would always dictate the style of player he was. With Lara you always felt there was a chance you could get him out. It was not that he was out of control but you just knew he would not allow you to control the game thus providing you an opportunity. He had an amazing capacity to play the ball late which opened up his scoring arc. His foot movement was exquisite but he would premeditate where he thought you would bowl. He would either jump into position predicting a fuller delivery and have that amazing backlift hovering above his head like a python ready to strike you smack between the eyes. If he thought a shorter delivery was on the cards then he would still jump into position, but his back foot would move over to off and create the option to pull, cut or hook.

Where Lara was clever was that when the ball was not on the length that he wanted to play he would have a bail-out shot. Kallis on the other hand is a more conservative player. He is considerably taller than Lara and so has reach on his side. He too moves early, a trigger movement they call it, and this sets him in the position where he is comfortable to receive the ball. You will find most batters have this trigger movement. It is done in a variety of ways but what is constant is that all players are still at the point the ball is delivered. Where players suffer is when they are moving when the ball is released which means the head position is not aligned correctly.

Kallis's technique is based on defence and he is happy to wear the bowler down, waiting on a mistake while limiting his. Gavaskar is an interesting one because when you talk about variables of the "34 Test hundreds club" I think he possesses the most. Firstly he is an opener. The new ball is the toughest to get through for sure. He had no helmet which is a bit like deciding to use a newly-painted zebra crossing that goes from one side of Sheikh Zayed road to the other.

And he played against a West Indian attack compromising Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. He also smacked them to all parts of the ground. Consistently. Gavaskar was a tough, forthright character as displayed by his willingness to take his batting partner off the field when he was adjudged lbw in Aust-ralia having hit the ball on to his pad. In today's game he would be sitting out a few matches for that one but I do admire his tenacity.