Understanding Cricket Statistics

Like baseball (and gridiron), cricket is a game that is obsessed with statistics. It is also a game with a long history, and much time is spent talking about great players of the past. But, just as not everyone who follows baseball knows how to read a box score, the numbers pumped out by cricket commentators have a jargon of their own and need a little explanation at times. Hopefully the following will help.

The Score

The most important thing is, of course, the overall score in the game. A cricket score is generally expressed in the form of 236-5, meaning that the team batting has 236 runs and has lost 5 wickets. (Australians, because they live upside down, will write the same score as 5-236).

Note immediately that this is different from just about any other sport in the world, because it does not tell you who is winning. With a baseball score of 5-2 it is very clear which team is on top, but if you follow cricket you have to work things out for yourself. So one team has 236 runs and has lost 5 wickets. Is that good or bad? Well, it depends on the state of the game. Has the other side batted yet? If so, how many runs did they get? Is it a one-innings match or two? Is the game limited as to the number of overs that can be bowled? In a 5-day test match 236-5 in your first innings is an OK performance; not great, but it will do. On the other hand, if you are in the fifth day, are 236-5 in your second innings, and need only another 17 runs for victory, you are doing very well thank you. In a 50-over match, 236-5 is a promising position if you have 10 overs left to bat, but not so good if that is your final score.

As a final complication, this type of scoring reporting is not used in explaining who won a game. As I explained in the first article in this series, victories are reported either as by a number of runs (if you win by bowling your opponents out), or by a number of wickets (if you win by exceeding their score while batting). If you then want to know what went on in the game, you need to read the scorecard.

The Scorecard

Cricket coverage in newspapers and on web sites will generally include a scorecard that is made up of three elements: batting figures, bowling figures, and fall of wickets.

The batting figures tell you what happened to each batsman during the innings. They will say if and how he was out, which bowler and/or fielder was responsible for getting him out, and how many runs he scored. They may also list how many balls he faced, how long he batted for, how many fours and sixes he hit, and his strike rate (runs per 100 balls). In addition there will be a line for extras (i.e. penalty runs accruing to the team but not to any individual batsman), which may be broken down into byes, leg byes, no balls and wides. Finally there will be the team’s total score.

The bowling figures are given for each player who bowled during the innings. A minimum of four columns will be given. These are the number of overs he bowled, how many of those were maiden overs (i.e. had no runs scored off them), how many wickets he took, and how many runs he conceded. Other columns that may be included are the number of wides and no balls he conceded, and his economy rate (runs per over).

It may be that one or more bowlers did not bowl an integral number of complete overs, either because he took the final wicket of the innings or because of injury. Partial overs are always indicated by a point followed by the number of legitimate balls bowled. So 3.5 means three overs and five balls, not three-and-a-half overs.

Note also that wides and no balls, as they are not legitimate balls, are not counted either as balls faced by the batsman or as balls bowled in a partial over.

The final part of the scorecard is the fall of wickets. This tells you the score when each wicket fell, and which batsman was out at the time. From this you can calculate the number of runs made by each partnership (i.e. two batsman batting together). This gives you some idea of the ebb and flow of the game. A big partnership is clearly a time during which the batting team had the upper hand, whereas several wickets falling in quick succession shows a time when the bowlers were dominant.

Useful Charts

Now that cricket statisticians have computers available, all sorts of useful charts can be produced during play. The most common of these is the wagon wheel, which is a chart of where each scoring shot was played. It is called a wagon wheel because it looks like an array of spokes radiating out from the stumps. Generally colors are used to indicate the number of runs scored by the shot. When I used to do cricket scoring regularly I sometimes produced this chart by hand, but it is quite difficult to do from the scorers’ box without TV cameras because you don’t have an aerial perspective of the field.

The wagon wheel is used to plot fielding tactics. If you can see that a batsman favors shots in a particular area then it is easier to set fields to contain him. With a computer-based system you can even call up the wagon wheel for a particular batsman against a particular bowler.

In one-day and Twenty20 cricket, where pacing of the innings is more important, two other charts are used. The Manhattan is simply a bar chart of runs per over. Dots are used to mark the fall of wickets. This gives you an idea of the ebb a flow of the game.

A more useful chart is the worm, a line chart of cumulative runs through the innings. You can see very clearly from this how the batting teams scoring rate rises and falls. When the second team bats you add their line to the chart, and get an instant comparison of the progress against that of the opposition.

Averages and Rankings

Traditionally cricketers have been rated by their averages. For batsmen this is the average number of runs per completed innings (completed meaning that you were out, so this is total runs divided by total times out). For bowlers it is the average number of runs conceded per wicket taken. Those are nice, simple numbers and were easily calculated in the days before computers.

With the rise of limited-over cricket, two other averages have become important. For batsmen the strike rate has become an important measure of performance, and for bowlers the economy rate is important.

As well as keeping averages, cricket statisticians love to keep records. All sorts of numbers can be recorded: most runs in an innings or a career, most wickets in a career, number of times a batsman scored 100 runs (known as a century), or a bowler took 5 wickets in an innings, highest partnerships, and so on. A veritable goldmine of cricket statistics is available on CricInfo’s StatsGuru web site.

Averages are very useful in comparing the careers of players, but they are less good at telling you who is currently in good form. Consequently the International Cricket Council has developed a system of rankings for teams, batsmen and bowlers. The algorithms used are not published, but they are entirely without subjective input, and they take into account factors such as the quality of the opposition and how recent a given performance was. You can view the current rankings here.

Key Records

No discussion of cricket statistics would be complete without mention of some of the most significant records, so here is a selection taken from test cricket, the highest form of the game.

The records for most runs in an innings and most runs in a career are both held by Brian Lara of the West Indies. Lara is still playing, and while he is unlikely to beat his record of 400 not out in a single innings, he will keep adding to his career total. He’ll need to work at it: Sachin Tendulkar and Raul Dravid of India are chasing him hard.

The record for the best career batting average is held by the late Sir Donald Bradman of Australia with 99.94. This record is unlikely ever to be broken. A measure of how good Bradman was can be gained from the fact that no other batsman has averaged over 61. The active player with the best average at the time of writing is Dravid, though Ricky Ponting of Australia is close behind.

The record for most wickets in a career has been swapping back and fore between two great spin bowlers: Shane Warne of Australia and Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka. Both men are still playing.

The record for the most wickets in a match is held by Jim Laker of England who took 19 of the 20 wickets in two innings against Australia in a match in 1956. That’s another record that is unlikely to be beaten.

Keeping Score

As I mentioned earlier, I suspect that most cricket scorers these days use a computer to keep score. This makes life a lot easier as you only have to enter details of each delivery once and the computer can work everything out for you. But there must still be people who have to use pencil and paper.

The traditional cricket scorebook looks very much like a scorecard, but with a few minor additions. In particular against each bowler is a series of boxes in which all of the action in a particular over is recorded. A dot is used to denote a ball off which no runs are scored, and the term dot ball is regularly used by commentators. Scoring shots are denoted by the number of runs scored, and special symbols indicate wides and no balls. In addition, against each batsman there is a line where his activity is recorded: again a dot for each non-scoring ball faced and a number for scoring shots.

Although this system is easy to use and understand, it doesn’t give you a complete picture of the game in progress. In particular you cannot easily work out when things happened. A more sophisticated scoring system used by top class scorers uses two columns, one for overs bowled from each end of the ground. Overs are entered sequentially as they are bowled, and from this it is easy to work out which batsman is on strike at any given moment. This system was popularized by Bill Frindall, the god of cricket scorers, but was never generally adopted and has now doubtless been superseded by computers.

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10 thoughts on “Understanding Cricket Statistics

  1. I think this is relatively new. It would be nice to include the definition of strike rate for batsmen and bowlers to complete the neat work. Not to harp on Hussey too much, but he is the leader in ODI and Test batting averages, although he has played only 13 tests.

  2. In order to understand this article one must already have a sound knowledge of cricket.

    Therefore the article’s promise is “explaining and understanding
    cricket scores and statistics” is an empty one. Once one has a sound knowledge of cricket, understanding scoring is a given.
    Therefore this article contributes nothing.

    What is really needed is an article explaining what happens on the cricket pitch and how it affects scoring.

    Rating for this article: 3/10

  3. Toone: Oh, please! I understand the rules of Cricket — how to score runs, basic play, etc. — but I certainly didn’t understand what all the various statistics were until Cheryl explained them to me. May I suggest that you know the game sufficiently well that you don’t realize how obvious it is to you?

  4. Toone = Tool

    Thanks for the indepth explanation, Cheryl 🙂

    We Americans are completely under-exposed to the sport, however with the live streaming now available, some of us are exploring this sport.

    It doesn’t take much to understand what the players are doing out on the field (for the most part) but to put the stats into clear language so us beginners can grasp, greatly helps out bunches !!

    Cheryl’s effort made a HUGE difference to me !! I am much smarter for visiting her article 🙂

    Rating 10/10

  5. Hi there,
    Iam from newzealand. Could you please explain the procedure of calculating average runs per match by a batsmen and average wickets taken by a bowler per a match. If you dont mind could you please send your email to dayakar_98@yahoo.co.uk. I’ll be waiting for your reply eagerly.
    Thank you
    Best regards
    Dayakar bachu.

  6. G’day Cheryl,

    I’m trying to find out the formula to calculate (add up) a numbers of Cricket overs.

    Eg 1.2 + 1.5 = 3.1 overs not 2.7 as a real calcuator would tell you.

  7. Hi ratcat – your problem is that the way cricket statisticians express numbers of overs is not very sensible, mathematically speaking. (From a math point of view, the number before the point is in base 10 and the number after the point is in base 6).

    The easiest thing to do is convert everything to balls, sum, and then divide back.

    So for your example (1.2 + 1.5)
    – 1.2 overs = 8 balls
    – 1.5 overs = 11 balls
    – total balls: 8 + 11 = 19
    – divide 19 balls by 6 = 3 whole overs and 1 ball left over
    – final answer in cricket terms: 3.1

    If you are doing this in software, you’ll probably find that you have functions called something like DIV and MOD that allow you to do the division (9 DIV 6 = 1, 9 MOD 6 = 3).

    Does that help?

  8. Absolutely adore the game of cricket and all its foibles (did I spell that correctly?). Can anyone think of a sport that’s interrtupted for meals (lunch/tea)? Also a team can be really on top and the bad weather forces a draw!!!!!!! don’t you love us English???? And don’t get me started on bad light!!!!

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