The Big Man
Is Colin de Grandhomme the greatest cricketer of all-time?
Odds are that you love Colin de Grandhomme more for the mullet than for his batting or bowling averages. You may even love him more for the mullet than for his scoring rate metrics. He is the Man With The Mace, or one of the Men With The Mace. What’s not to love? Is there a case that he is the greatest cricketer ever? While you are cleaning up the granola that you spluttered on to the dining room table while reading that last sentence and contemplating whether I have lost what’s left of my mind, let me be quite clear: For the avoidance of doubt, Colin de Grandhomme is not the greatest cricketer ever.
CDG is, however, a thoroughly modern cricketer. He gives the ball a proper biff when he is batting. He bowls. He fields. He has collected a respectable number of T20 franchise teams, as you do. He represented his country (the country his father and grand-father played for) in the in the Under-19 World Cup, and went on to represent his country successfully in Test cricket (The Mace!) and also in the white-ball formats. They were different countries, of course, but as I said he is a thoroughly modern cricketer. And there’s the mullet, and the ‘CDG’. There is an argument to be made that he is the greatest cricketer ever. The argument contains elements of emotion, logic and (wait for it ……) facts. As any good argument should.
Let’s start with the emotion. It is fairly clear that us humans value entertainment more than anything else. A cursory comparison of the earnings of, say, the person in the world most skilled at kicking a ball to, say, the person in the world most skilled at operating a covid test swab gets you into ‘days’ versus ‘lifetime’ territory. Cricket fans love entertainment as much as anyone. While it is true that some fans respond to a match in which one team scores 138 and then bowls their opponents out for 134 with “I love a low-scoring game”, the excitement this generates pales into insignificance compared to a team successfully chasing down 238 in a T20 game or 438 in a 50 over affair. Those are the ones where a disproportionate number of the 280 characters in the tweets are exclamation marks. So, we love entertainment, and the faster runs are bashed the more entertaining cricket is. I don’t think there are any focus group results to confirm this observation, but then what is a good argument without some anecdotal points? It can’t all be scientific. If it is Entertainment Über Alles, and in cricket that entertainment is defined by run-bashing (who really wants to watch a dot ball?), then logic dictates that the cricketer who provides the greatest entertainment must be the greatest cricketer ever. Surely? Which brings us to the facts.
Colin de Grandhomme has scored 3 419 runs in T20 matches at a strike-rate of 161.73. Of those with 2 000 or more T20 runs, Andre Russell (169.55) is the only one with a higher strike-rate. Put another way, CDG has the second most entertaining strike-rate in history. And his strike-rate is clearly higher than anyone has in Test or first-class cricket, or any other major white-ball format. So, that’s a tick, even though he remains behind Russell in that department. De Grandhomme has bowled 277.4 overs in T20s and conceded 2 602 runs. Of bowlers who have bowled 250 or more T20 overs, De Grandhomme’s economy rate of 9.37 is the highest ever. Let’s be honest, nobody watches T20 to see bowlers bowl 4 overs for 15. For batsmen to score at 8,9 or 10 runs per over we can’t have bowlers going at 4,5 or even 6 runs per over. Thus, it is reasonable to say the CDG is the most entertaining bowler ever. By comparison, Andre Russell concedes a pretty ordinary 8.36 runs for each T20 over he has bowled. Let’s put together a table of the greatest T20 entertainers (and therefore, according the emotional bit of the argument, the greatest cricketers). We can do the calculation as follows: From their batting strike-rate we can work out how many runs a player would score if they faced all 20 overs of a T20, i.e. runs scored per 120 balls, and similarly we can calculate the runs a player would concede if he bowled all the balls in a T20 innings. Adding these two together gives the number of runs a player could produce in a full T20 match, or the Entertainment Value Factor (EVF). And here is the table with CDG (mullet, mace and all) proudly on top:
As at 29 June 2021.
Where “Bat/20” is runs they would score in 20 overs, “Bowl/20” is runs they would concede in 20 overs with a minimum of 2 000 career runs and 250 overs. So, 20 overs of CDG’s batting and 20 overs of his bowling would produce on average 381 runs. What’s not to love?
The main fallacy of the argument that De Grandhomme is the greatest of all cricketers is, of course, the idea that there is no higher value than entertainment. Sporting ability, achievement and merit rank higher, or at least should rank higher if you want to swat away the notion of CDG being the best. But, De Grandhomme does fascinate me as a cricketer. He has conceded just 2.40 runs per over in his Test career, which is the lowest among all current bowlers who have bowled more than 500 overs. Only Mohammad Abbas (2.42) and Ravi Jadeja (2.44) challenge him in this department. That’s right, the Most Bashed bowler in T20s in the Least Bashed bowler in Test cricket. An economy rate of 2.40 per over should strike all those who don’t despise the dot ball as being particularly meritorious. In the batting department, CDG is, similarly to T20s, an Elite Basher in Tests. At 80.73, he is one of only six players who have scored 1 000 or more Test runs at a strike-rate over 80. Shahid Afridi (86.97), Tim Southee (84.74), Virender Sehwag (82.23), AC Gilchrist (81.97) and (probably) Kapil Dev are the others. We have balls faced for only 94.55% of Kapil Dev’s innings, hence the ‘probably’. Which leads us to this table of Strike-rate to Runs Per Over differential in Test cricket (players with 1 000 runs and 500 overs):
Apologies for the third decimal point but it is needed in this case as the tie-breaker for the top two (a statistical version of the super over, I suppose). Note that I have shown strike-rate as ‘RP6’, i.e. runs per six balls so that we can compare batting and bowling with the same denominator. RP6 is calculated on the 88.98% of Tate’s runs and 94.55% of Kapil’s where we have balls faced. So, our hero heads another table, albeit by 0.003 and a less than perfect estimate of his nearest challenger’s scoring rate. Which is probably how all tables should be.
And now for a look at what the Cricket Fact Randomizer has gurgled out today:
Peter Siddle, the birthday hat-trick hero and taker of 221 Test wickets, holds a fielding world record. Admittedly it is not an especially desirable record. He went 26 consecutive Test matches without taking a catch between February 2013 and October 2018 to break Peter Richardson’s long-standing record of 23 (1956 to 1961). I don’t recall there being a ticker-tape parade in Melbourne to celebrate that achievement. Oddly, but perhaps not coincidentally, Steve Smith had run of 26 consecutive Tests with at least one catch during the period of Siddle’s run. Smith fell one short of Bobby Simpson’s Test record of 27 consecutive matches with a catch.
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