This is a chart showing the batting careers of all Test match batsmen who have played at least 20 Test Matches, and average 50 in Test Cricket. The brown lines below denote the number of Test teams. The 20 Test Matches cut off is arbitrary, but i think most a reasonable common one for such a long and diverse period.
Just to give you an idea, if you applied the 20 test limit to the pre-World War II era in Test cricket (1877 - 1939), only 6 batsmen make it to the list - Hammond, Hobbs, Bradman, Paynter, Sutcliffe and Jack Ryder. 4 Englishmen and 2 Australians. Hammond played 77 Tests between 1927-1939. By contrast, Bradman played only 37 by 1928-1938. Even within this short 12 year period, it is hard to compare records. Indeed, had Bradman's not been superior by such orders of magnitude, we might have had endless debates about whether Hammond or Bradman was better, just as we have a few debates today. But, if you reduce to cut off to say 10 Test Matches, then 14 batsmen make this list. These batsmen, with the exception of George Headley and Charles Dempster all represented England and Australia. Whats more, with the exception of Jack Hobbs, who began his Test career in 1908, the other 13 batsmen all played in the 1920's and 30's. Even Hobbs played for most of the 1920's, and built his legendary association with the great Herbert Sutcliffe in the late 1920's. This is noteworthy given the fact that wickets in Tests were uncovered in those days, and ridiculously low totals were more common than they are today. The 10 Test match cut off still means that the shortest career span in that list is 2 years for Duleepsinghji and Alan Fairfax - 1929 - 1931. Just for comparison, Kevin Pietersen, who is yet to complete 5 years of his Test career has already played 52 Test Matches.
The list of 38 players who have played at least 20 Tests and average over 50 with the bat is a fairly elite list. In all 660 Test players have played at least 20 Tests. It is worth focussing on the glut of batsmen in the current decade who have made their way into this list. This is magnified in the chart above, but i want to argue against the premise that there has been a batting glut. The data support the idea that there has been a batting glut in the 2000s at first sight. The table below includes runs made in each decade (for example Tendulkar is one of the 7 batsmen in the 90's to average over 50, while he isn't in the non-minnow record for the 2000s).
|Decade||Total Tests held||Number of teams||Minimum Tests played||Batsmen averaging over 50|
This, i would suggest is not simply a batting glut. It is the result of quality batsmanship being spread out more evenly among the top 8 Test teams. The 20 batsmen in the 2000s who averaged over 50 (not counting minnow Tests, the number is reduced from 23 to 20) include 4 Australians (Ponting, Langer, Hayden, Hussey), 2 Englishmen (Pietersen, Thorpe), 3 Pakistanis (Inzamam, Younis Khan, Yousuf), 3 Sri Lankans (Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Tillekarattne), 2 South Africans (Cullinan, Kallis), 2 West Indians (Chanderpaul, Lara) and 4 Indians (Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Gambhir).
50, one might say is an arbitrary cut off for batting average. Any Test batsman averaging 40 or better may be considered a successful Test batsman. The table below considers 40 to be the cut off.
|Decade||Total Tests held||Number of teams||Minimum Tests played||Batsmen averaging over 40|
|Decade||Number of Tests||Number of Centuries||Average Century Score||Centuries per Test|
In fact, the average century score has remained remarkably stable over the last 60 years. The number of centuries per Test has increased. This has to do not just with the quality of bowling and the quality of wickets in this decade, but also with the rate of scoring (influenced by limited overs cricket) and reduction in lost time thanks to improving ground management technology. The advent of neutral umpires has also probably had an impact.
While more runs are being scored in Tests nowadays than at almost any time in the past (with the possible exception of the 1930's), the number of results in Test cricket has not reduced.
The picture with respect to the batting glut seems to me to be a complicated one. The threshold for being a successful Test batsman appears not to have shifted. However, it would be reasonable to assume that the traditional threshold for being of the highest quality, may have to be moved upwards from 50 to say 52. The reason for this (this would also be one of the reasons for the general increase in bowling averages), is most likely the advent of ODI cricket (and the increased risk taking it has brought into the culture of Test batting), the improvement in the quality of bats and to a lesser extent the size of the boundaries. These factors must be offset to some extent by the quality of fielding. We should also take into consideration the fact that when we look at the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s today, we only see completed careers. If you looked at this records in say 1980, you would have seen Viv Richards with a Test batting average of 59.3, 6 years after his Test debut. He ended his career with a batting average of 50.23. In the early 2000's, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid both averaged about 58 in Tests. Today Tendulkar averaged 54.5, while Dravid averages 52.8. It is unlikely that either of them will end up above where they are today. Ricky Ponting, who's batting average hovered at the cusp of 60 for a large part of this decade is down to 56 today.
The notion of the batting glut is thus complicated by multiple factors. The most significant (and pleasantly so) of these is the fact that today every one of the top 8 Test teams has at least one (if not two) players who either average 50, and have done so over a significant period of time, or have the potential to do so (in the case of NZ). So finely balanced is the contest between bat and ball, that as a contest, Test Cricket has remained remarkably resilient to the myriad changes in cricket around it. On its own accord, there is little doubt that it can survive. Keeping in mind all this data, instinctively, im of the view that the recent batting glut is mainly a result of an overall increase in Test match run rates of about 0.3 to 0.5 runs per over (or about 30-45 runs per day).