Using CricViz Match Impact we replicated ESPNcricinfo’s Poll to determine ‘Who is T20’s Greatest Player?’
There was quite a fuss made over the recent ESPNCricinfo Poll regarding the question ‘Who Is The Greatest T20 Player Ever?’ The relative dominance of social media by Indian cricket fans – many of them young, very passionate, and keen to demonstrate their support – meant that the results were rather skewed in the favour of several high profile Indian players. A notable incident, when Chris Gayle narrowly beat Virat Kohli, caused a huge controversy and the poll had to be run again, amidst accusations of fixing.
However, the question and idea itself – a World Cup knockout to decide the best player in T20 history – is fun. But what if, rather than making it a popularity contest, we could try and find some kernel of truth, some essential ‘value’ for every player, and work with that? An attempt to objectively decide who is the best, not who is the best loved?
We have used our extensive database to rank all the players by four categories, all related to our Match Impact model. This model calculates the contribution of every player, in every game, and compares it to how we would expect the average player to perform in that situation. This allows every player to be ranked, by something close to their value, or, How Good They Are.
Our first ranking is purely Total Career Impact – if we’re talking ‘greatness’, longevity is key, and sustained brilliance across a decade or more should be rewarded. Our second ranking is Average Impact Per Match, which naturally brings things back in favour of the younger crop of players who have dominated, but not amassed the same longevity as older players. The third is designed to reward players for having a very high ‘peak’. We’ve taken the Total Impact from their whole career, then taken the Total Impact from their seven best seasons, and averaged them out. In essence – how much better was your best, than other people’s best. We have borrowed the concept from Jay Jaffe of Fan Graphs, his own figure ‘JAWS’ measuring a similar aspect of a player’s greatness. Our fourth and final metric is an average of the second and third.
We will, for ease of comparison, use Cricinfo’s own 32-man list as our starting point. The only tweak we will make is that as Babar Azam was voted in by their readers as the 32nd member of the competition, we’ll use that final place as an opportunity to include the highest ranked player (by our metrics) not to be included in their original list. That player, Wahab Riaz, will replace Babar.
Let battle commence.
The two biggest shocks of the first round concerned those Indian legends being turned over. Chennai Super Kings star MS Dhoni was swatted aside by Pakistan veteran Wahab. Dhoni’s ability as a captain is not taken into account here, and were that measurable it would no doubt have made a difference, but Wahab makes it through to the next round. It’s very hard to argue with 300 wickets, at an economy of just over 7 runs per over, no matter who you are.
The other major surprise came with Shakib al Hasan beating Kohli, with the RCB skipper unable to cope with Shakib’s triple threat of controlled batting and elite bowling across a very long career. Kohli’s clearly a sensational anchor batsman – one of the best there’s ever been in the role – but Shakib’s all round excellence is hard to challenge. We consider Kohli to be a better batsman than Shakib is a bowler (by average and total impact) but Shakib is also a solid batsman as well which gives him the edge on a per match basis. Having played fractionally more matches the Bangladeshi also wins on longevity. It was close but Shakib takes this one in a giant killing.
Some may argue that Jasprit Bumrah defeating Rohit Sharma – the overall winner on Cricinfo’s public poll – was a shock, but in reality there’s a gulf between them. Rohit’s clearly a very successful captain and leader at Mumbai, but much like Dhoni at CSK, this isn’t taken into account for the greatest player. As a cricketer, Bumrah beats almost everyone on the planet, and Rohit’s no exception. Bowling in the toughest periods of IPL matches, Bumrah goes at less than 7 runs per over in the Powerplay, and less than 8.50 runs per over at the death; he’s a phenomenon.
Elsewhere, the best players breezed through their first match. Michael Hussey, Samuel Badree, Mohammed Nabi and Shahid Afridi (in a close battle with Shane Watson) all fell at the first hurdle against top class opponents, but there were some close games elsewhere. Glenn Maxwell just about wrestled the tie from Suresh Raina, the Indian’s longevity the better of the two but Maxwell’s per game strength hard to compete with. DJ Bravo and Sohail Tanvir were locked in a very close contest, but Tanvir’s per game contribution was also too good to ignore; Bravo’s considerable claim on the title was always going to be based on longevity, but in this particular contest it wasn’t to be.
CRICVIZ PROFESSIONAL ANALYSIS
This is where the men were really separated from the boys. The glamour tie of the round took place between Andre Russell and Rashid Khan, both absolute superstars of the format, and real contenders for the crown. However, it was the leg-spinner who came through here; Russell’s a heavyweight, but Rashid’s numbers really are something special. His per-game Impact is the best of anyone in the competition, which will take some beating, and while Russell ranked very highly for JAWS, Rashid still ranked higher. A loss to the competition, but a gauntlet thrown down by the Afghan.
Sunil Narine taking out Bumrah stands out. Narine’s ability as a runsaving bowler is effectively second to none – he has more Total Career Impact than anyone else – and whilst Bumrah’s career has been outstanding so far, he drew the short straw by coming up against Narine so early in the competition. The Indian’s per-game Impact is the third best in the list, and would beaten almost anyone else. The luck of the draw was not with Bumrah.
Watson v Lasith Malinga saw a distilled version of the classic CSK v Mumbai rivalry, and a similar result to what we’d normally see as Malinga came through to make the quarter finals. Jos Buttler was squeezed out by AB de Villiers in a master v apprentice encounter, the South African’s class in all areas coming through. The experienced Kieron Pollard knocked out Maxwell, while Chris Gayle fought off strong competition from Imran Tahir.
Malinga showed his class against David Warner, easing the Australian out the door after a quiet tournament. One of only two specialist batsmen to make it this far into the competition, Warner’s status as a near-lock in a Greatest T20 XI is secure, but he’s let down by his Total Impact; this has more to do with his nationality and presence in the Test side meaning he rarely plays his own domestic league, limiting his chance to stack up runs in familiar conditions.
Elsewhere we saw another very close heavyweight encounter for Rashid, up against Pollard. The Trinidadian is a remarkable player with the second highest Total Impact of any player, his longevity at the top level not in question. However, his faltering bowling has dragged down his overall effectiveness on a per-game basis, and to beat Rashid you need to be right up there, right across the board.
Wahab had forced his way through to the quarters having come in on a wildcard, but Gayle brushed him aside. A man with Gayle’s longevity is always going to be tough to beat on this sort of list, but he also does extremely well on the JAWS metric – Gayle’s very best, was as good as anyone has ever been. He managed to hit remarkably high-highs when at his best, and that’s tough to overcome, as Wahab found out.
Narine v De Villiers was a real clash of IPL greats. De Villiers’ record is superb, ranking in the top five for every metric, but Narine’s class came through again. His career Impact matched with his very high JAWS ranking – when he was at his best, he was the best – meant that whilst de Villiers was close in every category, Narine was always going to come through.
Arriving at the business end of the competition now. Our final four of Narine, Rashid, Gayle and Malinga are all worthy winners in their own way, and stand at the top of the rankings for their own particular role: mystery spin, leg spin, top order batting, and death bowling.
In the first semi, Rashid took on Malinga, in a battle of T20’s oldest superstar against its youngest. The Sri Lankan couldn’t compete with Rashid’s per game record, and whilst Malinga’s considerable tenure in the game means he comes through with greater Total Impact, Rashid took the other three categories. Rashid’s win.
The second semi was closer. The two Caribbean stars, who form the backbone of T20’s first international dynasty, are evenly matched – but Narine just takes it. Gayle ranks in the top three for each of our categories, except per game Impact; Gayle is as destructive as they come and has been for a decade, but his slow starts do mean that, on occasion, he causes issues for his team. That’s not true for Narine, who swept the board here to take all four categories, and see himself progress to the final.
CRICVIZ PROFESSIONAL ANALYSIS
The grand finale to the whole shebang, and what a finale it was. A man from Trinidad, a man from Afghanistan; a man from one of the most celebrated, established cricketing nations, against one of the newest, freshest entrants to the elite game. Narine takes the Total Impact round, no question – he’s the best there is. Then Rashid comes back with the average per game round, his young but remarkable career too much for the Caribbean veteran. But Narine fights back to take both JAWS rounds. Once again, his peak – primarily between 2012 and 2014 – is just too much to live with. He takes the tie 3-1 and the title with it.
It’s not a surprise. Narine is a player who’s all but perfected the art of run-saving and, at its core, that’s what T20 is about. The fact that his batting – explosive, destructive, and brief – reflects this is satisfying, the mark of a player just delightfully well suited to the specifics of the format. The variations, the changes of pace and sleight of hand, the maiden Super Overs – Narine is the best there’s been. The Greatest T20 Player.