Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Harvey vs Hayden

Neil Harvey has never been anything but forthright, and his opinions have often rankled. Following his call for Matthew Hayden to leave international cricket during the Third Test, a minor frenzy has broken out among cricket fans. Hayden has now retired, but his place in cricket history will remain debated for a while yet, as will Harvey’s, as the latter is unlikely to remain quiet and thereby fade from the recentist attention of modern fans.

Hayden’s supporters, or possibly Harvey’s detractors, have robustly pointed to the raw statistics to support to defend the Queensland opener. Hayden has a superior average, more centuries and more runs, they point out, to defend Hayden’s position in the team, or to decry Harvey’s record and position to criticise Hayden’s service for Australia.

For the record, Harvey scored 6149 runs with 21 centuries at an average of 48.41 in 79 Tests. Hayden has scored 8645 runs at 50.73, with 30 centuries from 103 matches. The easiest argument to debunk is simply the accumulation record. It is unbelievable how many people compare players in such a way, when by such reasoning, Bradman would be inferior to Sourav Ganguly. Harvey played Tests for Australia for 15 years, such was the scheduling of Tests in those days, with tours of England typically including more than 30 first-class matches. If Harvey had played in the modern era, he would have ended with at least twice as many Tests and statistics.

But averages and accumulation records are not a definitive guide to performance. In the past fifty years, the pitch conditions have changed, as has the equipment, and the standard of the bowling has ebbed and flowed.

On raw averages, and based on their form in 2008, it would not be surprising if both Gautam Gambhir or Virender Sehwag will pass Sunil Gavaskar’s average in the near future. No cricket scholar would rate either of the Delhi pair ahead of Gavaskar, but on cricket forums across the world, many have already declared Hayden and Sehwag to be all-time great openers, unable to comprehend the past eras of cricket, or simply reading the averages.

Hayden’s teammates have been quick to trumpet him as one of Australia’s best openers, and Ricky Ponting even went as far as to suggest that he was the greatest opener the world has ever seen. Such gushes of praise from teammates are nothing but expected, but the opinions of outsiders have nevertheless been surprising.

In Harvey’s time, Australia only played against five other nations: England, South Africa, the West Indies, India and Pakistan. Aside from his first two Tests against India, Harvey only played the Asian teams on the subcontinent, as the Australian Board of Control would not invite them to tour. Thus Harvey was unable to capitalise on the typically weak performances of Asian teams outside the subcontinent in the way that contemporary players have been able to. Harvey was also denied the opportunity to plunder New Zealand.

After an innings win over New Zealand in the inaugural Test in early 1946, Australia refused to play a trans-Tasman Test for three decades, on grounds of Kiwi ineptitude. Australia toured several times, often sending a second XI, while the Test team were overseas, such as in 1949-50 and 1959-60.

Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka were not Test playing nations at the time. Hayden plundered 380 against Zimbabwe, but Harvey had no chance to do so. Excluding his performances against the two minnows, Hayden’s average drops to 48.8.

Secondly, one has to compare players against his contemporaries, as they were the ones who had to compete under equal conditions, with the no ball, lbw laws and pitches all having changed markedly. Aside from Bradman, Harvey’s figures are superior to all Australian in the 30 years after the Second World War. In the 1950s, batting averages fell markedly as England discovered the likes of Tyson and Trueman to target opposition batsmen in the vein of Lindwall and Miller with hostile fast bowling. The West Indies soon followed suit with Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. On some English grounds in 1948, the home batsmen had to face Miller and Lindwall with no sightscreen, something that is unimaginable today.

In the last decade, batting averages have inexorably risen with the advent of roped boundaries, more powerful bats and a decline in the potency of fast bowling. A higher proportion of batsmen average over 50 than ever before, with many teams having two or three such players, whereas in the 1950s, the equivalent average would be around 40. Compared to their contemporaries, the averages indicate that Harvey was far more effective. Of those who predominantly played from 1945-60, only nine averaged beyond 45, and Harvey was the sixth of these. Of those players who were mainly active from 1995 onwards, Hayden has the 12th highest average from approximately 25 men who averaged in excess of 45.

Another facet in which cricketers of yesteryear were challenged on the wider variety of surfaces. The vast amount of modern pitches are flat and placid for batting. Hayden did not have to deal with rain-affected wickets, nor matting pitches as Harvey had to.

In Dacca in 1959-60, Harvey (pictured) made 96 while seven partners fell for 48 against Pakistan. The surface was a mat laid out on a bumpy surface on rough ground with pebbles on it. Three years earlier he made 69 on an uncovered Calcutta pitch against India’s spinners after it had been flooded by monsoons. In 1956, confronted by doctored dry pitches, where a breeze would blow up a plume of dust, Harvey made 69 in 270 minutes of defiance at Headingley, as Australia were rolled for 140 in five hours by Jim Laker and Tony Lock. On a rain-affected surface in Durban in 1949-50, Harvey made an unbeaten 151 in a run-chase, holding off Hugh Tayfield to secure a Test victory. In Sydney in 1954-55, he made an unbeaten 92 on a spiteful green pitch as Frank Tyson and Brian Statham shot Australia out for 184.

Modern batsmen have not had to contend with such surfaces. The much-maligned Mumbai surface of 2004 was nothing like the matting of Dacca or the dustbowls of England in 1956. Yet the batsmen, accustomed to flat pitches, were unable to last half the match and roundly condemned the surface. But such surfaces and worse occurred regularly in Harvey’s time.

When pressured by quality bowling, Hayden has often not batted in a sensible manner. Accustomed to walking down the pitch against mediocre pacemen with the security blanket of a helmet, he tried the same against Ishant Sharma in the ODIs in Australia, and again in the Mohali Test, attempting to blindly batter the bowlers out of the attack. And those surfaces were largely flat. What would he have done if he had not helmet and had to face Tyson, Trueman, Statham or Hall at their peak? In his earlier stint in 1996-97, Hayden struggled against Allan Donald and Curtly Ambrose, even with a helmet on covered pitches. He made hay in the 21st century once the West Indies quicks, Donald, Akram and Waqar had all departed, and then struggled against England in 2005. Yet nobody would place Flintoff and Jones anywhere but below Tyson and Trueman, regarded as some of the greatest English pacemen of all time. Harvey faced them, with no helmet, on uncovered pitches. The English teams of the 1950s are widely regarded as their strongest since the Second World War, far more formidable than in the last 20 years. Harvey was one of the most cavalier batsmen of his time, yet he was also able to grind away on minefields when Australia collapsed around him, something that Hayden has not done.

Only the first third of Harvey’s Test career was played when Australia dominant, whereas Hayden had the benefit of being in a dominant squad for the vast majority of his career, apart from his stints in the 1990s. Harvey found himself at the crease when the opposition were on a roll much more often. As we all know, momentum is extremely important in cricket and the importance of batting or bowling well in pairs.

Neither player bowled to any meaningful extent, so on to their fielding. Harvey was acclaimed as the "finest outfielder in the world" by Wisden. Harvey honed his skills by playing baseball, and he was named in the [honorary] Australian team. On the cricket field, he patrolled the covers and ran out many players with an accurate and fast throw. At the time of his retirement, he also held the Australian record for the most Test catches by a non-wicket-keeper. Formerly a gully and bat pad fielder, Hayden now fields in the slips. Although a fine fielder, Hayden is nowhere near the proficiency and reliability of other leading contemporary Australian slippers, such as Mark Waugh or Mark Taylor, who not only took difficult catches with ease, but rarely missed. Nor does he possess the agility and throwing accuracy of someone like AB de Villiers.

To say that Hayden was a greater player, let alone vastly superior to Harvey, as many modern cricket followers would assert, is a rather dubious call. Harvey was much more effective and versatile with both bat and ball.

YellowMonkey is not Neil Harvey. He is actually less than a third of Harvey's age.


straight point said...

i have never come to terms with this fixation of comparing players of different eras...

any player can/will bat and bowl on the pitches provided to him against the quality of opposition on given day...so why this self indulgent fixation with comparing players across different era is beyond me...

David Barry said...

Re your comment on my blog: on my adjusted averages Harvey is at 48.8 and Hayden 43.6, so Harvey is clearly ahead statistically.

Jrod said...

I don't think you'll find too many sensible people who think Hayden is a better player than Harvey.

I think in 20 years time batsmen of this era will be properly bookmarked.

Qurioux said...

Comparing players of two different eras is quite dubious. It can only be a harmless drawing room diversion!

btw, i came to learn a lot about Neil Harvey from this post. tnx.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting post. I like it because of the information you gave about the 50's and 60's test cricket. That information is amazing. I never knew all that.

As for the comparison, yeah you just can't compare players from two different eras and like you mentioned, no one in their right mind can rate Hayden / Sehwag ahead of the greats from previous years.

Anonymous said...

thanks for making the record straight

Anonymous said...

It's pretty random (and frankly, puzzling) to compare Hayden with Harvey. The point about Hayden is the way he went about getting his runs, he was as consistently aggressive as any opener has been. Comparing him to Hutton and Gavaskar? Denis Compton was asked whether he was a better player than Hutton, and Compton replied that Hutton was an infinitely better batsman, but he (Compton) could never understand why Hutton allowed so many mediocre attacks to dominate him. As for Gavaskar, well ... a man who bats through the innings in an ODI (and 60 overs at that) and scores 36 not out truly demonstrates that actions speak louder than words (and with dear old Sunny, it's all about words these days). I remember a time when opening batsmen batted in a grinding manner, not seeking to score and handing the initiative to the bowlers; Hayden's strength was his ability to impose himself and give the crowd entertainment, in both forms of the game. Cricket is a team game: how many times did Hayden score a century and Australia went on to win the game? He showed great character to bounce back from his early forays in international cricket. Don't forget Hayden had to bide his time in the shadow of Slater and was written off as suspect against pace. Most of his Test career was played after the age of 30, and his coversion rate of 50s:100s is exceptional. Any player who averages 50+ as an opener must rate highly. It is common to eulogise a cricketer at the time of his retirement. This article seems to be motivated by a personal dislike for Hayden, which is understandable as he wasn't the most likeable player of the modern era. But it's a huge leap to say that it so much easier (in terms of pitches, rules etc.) today than in Harvey's time.

Anonymous said...

To answer my above question, 22 times Hayden scored a ton & Australia went on to win (this includes a century in each innings v Eng at Brisbane 02-03 when the attack consisted of Caddick, Hoggard and S Jones). In 01-02, he hit a hundred in four successive Tests v RSA, who fielded a fast attack including Donald, Ntini, Pollock & Nel, then he followed up with 119 v Pak in Sharjah (opening bowlers Waqar and Shoaib). They all must of been bowling spin, or not trying to get him out, or something. By comparison, only six times (out of his 34!!) did India win a Test when Gavaskar scored 100+. Harvey's stat is 12 wins out of his 21 centuries. While Harvey was no doubt a great player, he reigns as the bitter old man of Australian cricket; I reckon this stems from a number of factors (1) that he resents the amount of money modern players earn (2) that he wasn't made captain of Australia (3) the WSC players didn't trust him so he got the arse as a selector (in which capacity he was partly responsible for the weak-kneed way Bill Lawry got sacked; if they'd treated Harvey like that, we wouldn't have heard the end of it yet). He spent years taking potshots at Allan Border, who thought Harvey was wheeled out as rent-a-quote by journos writing Border off. Contrast Harvey to Benaud, who gives balanced appraisal, and its apparent why old Richie is the more respected figure today.

Anonymous said...

Harvey didn't get the chance to plunder New Zealand - Hayden got the chance but didn't do a hell of a lot of plundering. By his standards, his Test record against NZ was shithouse.

YellowMonkey said...

David Barry's formula must be correct then.

Making centuries and whether they occur in winning teams isn't necessarily a indicator that the batting was instrumental, as generally the bowling holds things back.

Anonymous said...

Nice... It is incorrect to compare across eras on statistics. Due to the conditions, obviously their batsmen are better and modern bowlers are way better than the ones from those times.

We had a similar discussion on Soulberry's blog and we were hoping that David Barry could come up with some formula that can roughly discount these conditions to present a virtual average.

Jagadish said...

As noted in a post I wrote after South Africa won the series, Hayden's average outside Australia is just 42.7, the 3rd lowest among the top run getters of the last 2 decades. I'd say thats a fair indication that he's a home bully.

Anonymous said...

"Home bully" ... lol ... WTF does that mean? I think any player would be happy with a Test ave of 42 batting at the top of the order. Very selective sample you've chosen there (only 11 players ranked by runs scored), but lets go with it (nb. Hayden is the ONLY full-time opener on the list). To win a Test match, the goals are simple: batsmen to score as quickly as possible, bowlers to get wickets as quickly possible, and the fielders/keeper to take all of the opportunities that come their way. Your chosen 11 batsmen's S/Rs (with % of innings converted to 100s): Tendulkar n/a (16.4% of inns were 100s); Lara 60.5 (14.6%); Ponting 59.08 (17.3%); Dravid 41.9 (11.4%); Kallis 44.04 (14%); S Waugh 48.64 (14%); Inzamam 54.02 (12.5%); Hayden 60.1 (16.4%); Stewart 48.66 (6.3%); Chanderpaul 43.23 (10.2%); M Waugh 52.27 (9.5%). Bearing in mind I couldn't find Tendulkar's S/R, Hayden comes fractionally second to Lara on S/R, and is equal 2nd with Tendulkar behind Ponting as the highest % of centuries per inns played. Interesting perspective article on Hayden's stats here [http://content-aus.cricinfo.com/statsguru/content/story/386325.htm]

From the earlier post: "Making centuries and whether they occur in winning teams isn't necessarily a indicator that the batting was instrumental, as generally the bowling holds things back." Bowling holds what back??? All I know is that specialist batsmen set themselves to score 100+ (as quick as they can) to give the bowlers enough runs AND time to bowl the opposition out. That's what wins Test matches and that's how batsmen should be judged in the first instance: how they apply themselves to the task of winning a Test.

YellowMonkey said...

Well, Sehwag scores quicker than anyone except Gilchrist but a lot of the time (excluding the last 18 months) the Indian pace attack lacks teeth

Anonymous said...

It was time somebody called Hayden's bluff. And Sehwag's. And Dhoni's. And the whole lot of punks who've come to rule cricket today.

In my opinion, the anomaly you speak of has less to do with the quality of pitches as with the quality of bowling. Tendulkar, Lara, Ponting, Haq, De Silva, Kallis et al., earned their stripes batting against the likes of Wasim, Waqar (who'd bowl swinging yorkers and depended more on the weather conditions and less on pitch conditions), Ambrose, 'Grath, Donald... Even Pollock who was always second fiddle to Donald was miles ahead of the current crop in that, he could trouble a Tendulkar and a DeSilva even when they were on top of their game.

A serious contest between bat and ball is what used to make cricket an engrossing affair. Lopsided rules and mediocre bowling have reduced it to a farce now. If cricket fans bemoaned the decline of West Indian cricket in the 90s, now it is time to mourn the decline and rot of cricket itself. Frenzied fans don't see it coming. Call me cynical, but cricket is in serious danger of meeting with a fate similar to what baseball has endured in recent decades in the US. The fact that there isn't a second sport in India like basketball in America is reassuring. But Indian interest in cricket will not be able to keep cricket afloat forever.

- S

மணிகண்டன் said...

In hayden's time, srilanka is not a minnow. And hayden is a classic player against spin bowling. And so to me, he is a fantastic player.

And to the anonymous who quoted the winning percentage of hayden's hundred :-

Rajesh chauhan has played 21 tests for india as an off spinner and has not experienced a loss in his international test playing career.

There is no point in ranking and comparing players using stats.

Anonymous said...


Hayden is head and shoulders above Harvey. It's not even funny. How can you discredit an Opening batsman based on performance? Why do you think that only 3 batsman in the history of the game have scored more then 20 Test centuries as an Opening Batsman? Opening the batting in the modern era is a million times harder then batting in the middle-order in any era - You can't possibly argue against it.

Harvey certainly wouldn't average anywhere close to 50 if he opened the batting in any era. Nowadays players do not get "days-off" during Tests to recuperate. Hayden's excelled in the subcontient against quality spin-bowling after spending days in the field in over 40 degree heat and still managed to finish with an average of over 50 in the subcontient. That is a fantastic effort for a non-continent player to acchieve.

Hayden did not struggle against the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Allan Donald and Courtney Walsh. I've followed Hayden's entire career and the only bowler who truley had it over Hayden was Curtly Ambrose. Hayden made 3 Test centuries against Allan Donald and 5 against Shaun Pollock. He absolutely destroyed Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar in a ODI in 2002 where he made 146 off 128 balls aswell. Hayden even managed 3 Test 100's against Matthew Hoggard, the man who has troubled him most in recent times.

Hayden is one of, if not the greatest Opening Batsman of all-time while Harvey probably isn't even in the top 10 Australian batsman of all-time. Hayden is though.

Anonymous said...

If in the old days, they played 12-15 Tests per year, Woodfull, Ponsford, Morris, Simpson and Lawry would have 20+ as well. And for tons of other players

Simpson and Lawry had to play against Trueman, Statham, Hall and Charlie Griffith with no helmet. In the WI tour of 1964-65 they had no sightscreens.

Akram, Waqar and Donald were way past it in 2002 like Gillespie in 2005.

In the old days, like in 1948, the Australians played six days a week, with consecutive matches with no rest day. Keep in mind they bowled about 120 overs per day in that era. Tour matches started the day after Tests on that tour.

These days they have one ODI every three days....and they complain about workload, and then run off to IPL.....

Nobody except a fanboy like Ben would think that Hayden is anywhere near Gavaskar, Hutton or Hobbs.

Anonymous said...

The likes of Bill Lawry, Geoffrey Boycott and Sunil Gavaskar and the other Opening batsman you mentioned used to bat all day and make 30 not out. How on earth can batsman like this can be considered great? Batsman that take the game away from bowlers are considered great. Hayden played a pivotal role as an Opening Batsman, not just to block and see off the new ball.

The intensity and expectation of International cricket and sport in general is allot higher nowadays. I bet players prior to 1970 didn't have the advantage of technology and opposition bowlers and coaches, plotting tactics against their technique. Then again, when it comes to comparing the modern day players to those of past generations; everyone seems to forget that countries like India and Pakistan were more-then-less minnows before 1970 aswell.

Sure Wasim, Waqar and Donald were past it by 2002 but Pollock's peak average didn't come until 2003 and Hayden had already belted numerous Test centuries against him. They say that Shoaib Akhtar's peak came in 2002 aswell against Australia and yet Hayden grinded out a 7 hour century in 50 degree heat in the subcontient. During this time, Shoaib was able to launch down swinging 155kph rockets. Don't believe me? Go look at some of the delieveries on youtube he produced against the Waugh brothers and Gilchrist. Hayden was better. Even Zimbabwe's Heath Streak had a Test bowling average of 23-24 after about 40 Tests and Hayden belted a triple-ton against him. What about the leading wicket-taker in the history of Test Cricket, Muttiah Muralitharan? When he gutsed it out in Sri Lanka on a spin-friendly track in the second innings and made a match-winning 130? Hilarious how moments such as these are forgotten when it comes to calling Hayden a flat-track bully, eh?

It's funny how no one that has played in the same era; with or against Hayden has tried to discredit his success and that all of the criticism is coming from grievers from past generations who are ulimately jealous. Only a moron like Jono would think otherwise and whether he likes it or not - Hayden will always be considered right up there.

Anonymous said...

Hayden is simply better player in my opinion.
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Cricket is a team game: how many times did Hayden score a century and Australia went on to win the game?

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