Historically it’s been the accepted way of measuring greatness. A batsman with an average over 50 is seen as having had a great Test career, and similarly with bowling - a bowler with an average below 25 is seen as a great. Obviously there is the volume of runs and wickets too. Sachin Tendulkar’s run record is a case in point. People are looking to see if Alastair Cook can match and beat that before he retires.
In this day and age an average shouldn’t be taken in isolation. There are other factors to look at and it’s something we debate in the commentary boxes. There’s a school of thought that you could take a player’s average over the best phase of their career to be able to compare them more accurately with other players at the peak of their careers.
There is another school of thought that says in limited overs cricket we should combine average with strike rate, so multiply a batsman’s average by the number of runs he scored per ball (strike rate divided by 100) and use that more as an indication.
"A batsman’s average is not the first thing I would look at when it comes to Twenty20 cricket"
It’s difficult of course to compare averages and stats for players across different eras. The game has evolved. And it’s different for the newer formats of the game. A batsman’s average is not the first thing I would look at when it comes to Twenty20 cricket. Strike rate is much more important in a Twenty20 match than an average.
What isn’t factored in though is some kind of index as to the importance or significance of the runs, or the quality of the opposition. Is a double hundred scored against Bangladesh when they first came into Test cricket the same as a century scored at the WACA in the face of quick, hostile bowling by Australia’s best. Context of the runs scored isn’t something that is recorded. So you could say that all the stats are flawed in a way because there is no way of measuring the worth of those numbers.
"For a sport that is so stat-heavy some of the stats we use to measure greatness have just stayed the same over time"
For a sport that is so stat-heavy - and we relish those stats in cricket - some of the stats we use to measure greatness have just stayed the same over time. So many aspects of the game have developed and yet the official stats we use and what is recorded in matches hasn’t really changed. Should fielding stats be commonly recorded and published for example? I believe yes. Dropped catches… how damaging was that drop to the team? And how good was the hundred if he offered 6 chances along the way? A batsman’s innings could an index factor, like a weighting that somehow determines the value of the innings.
For bowling figures, there’s an app called CricViz which brought in a thing called ‘weighted wicket probability’, whereby through ball tracking, they come up with a value for each delivery based on how much the ball is moving, the line, length, pace and so on. Then they compare each delivery with the runs and wickets that resulted from similar deliveries in their database and give the ball a value to measure how threatening a delivery it was.
So people are beavering away behind the scenes and coming up with ideas but nothing has been adopted by the mainstream yet. So that is an area of the game where it could still advance more - giving a more accurate reading, an index, to the value of the runs scored and wickets taken. That would be an exciting way for the game to move forward.