Having come up with a formula for baseball that I was happy with, cricket was my first attempt to see if the concept could be applied to other sports. Like baseball, it has a detailed statistical record that goes back to the 19th Century, and it tracks individual numbers for all players, allowing me to put off the problem of team defense for another day.

Cricket fans will no doubt wonder what business an American has passing judgement on the greats of this game, and there will some results that will be blamed on my ignorance (Graham Gooch over Viv Richards?), but I hope a glance at my methods will alleviate any doubts.

Two decisions will stand out in particular. One was to use first-class statistics rather than Test numbers, which are the usual gold standard. This was mostly to get a big enough sample size. Don Bradman, for example, played 234 first-class matches, which is already pretty low. Judging him on just 52 Tests would border on the absurd.

Second, I used runs per match to determine the offensive rating, not runs per wicket, which is the practice for batting average. I find that some high-profile middle-order batsmen (e.g. Steve Waugh) have a very high number of not-out scores, which drives up the batting average. Using runs per match put openers and middle-order batsmen on even footing.

Offense was thankfully straightforward, since everything a batsman does goes right on the scoreboard. In this one instance, I use only a single rating for offense, simply dividing a batsman’s runs by the average for the season.

The first defensive number is wickets taken: catches, stumpings and, for bowlers, wickets bowled and batsmen trapped LBW. Defense 2 is for bowling; runs given up per wicket lower than 1½ times the season’s average.

The complication came when figuring out limited-overs matches. Because the actual number of overs in “List-A” matches has varied over the years, I use runs per 50 overs rather than runs per match. The bigger problem is that each bowler is limited to no more than one-fifth of the overs, which means that star bowlers are not able to dominate as they do in the longer format. Modern bowlers, who generally play twice as many limited-overs matches as first-class, end up with fairly low 160-game averages as a result.

To limit the effect, Apples & Oranges weighs first-class matches 4 times more valuable than limited-overs matches (or Twenty20, which becomes a third category) when figuring out the 160-game average. But it’s still a problem. There’s also a slight change to figuring out the defensive numbers. Defense 2 is based on runs given up per over rather than per wicket, and all wickets taken by a bowler count in figuring out Defense 1.

Lastly, I include the unofficial World Series Cricket as its own separate “season.”

BatsmenMatchesTotalPer 160Sqr
Don Bradman23435.0323.955.9229.8745.282.62
Graham Gooch1195134.5517.9911.6029.5929.746.25
Geoff Boycott922100.0918.2910.0028.2934.332.25
Barry Richards59869.9419.848.3628.2135.134.56
Jack Hobbs83494.7218.179.7327.9034.212.13
Viv Richards1057114.1017.1210.6827.8028.895.34
Denis Compton51562.6419.467.9127.3832.026.90
Gordon Greenidge1008104.2316.9510.2127.1629.963.93
Greg Chappell50160.3819.347.7727.1130.068.62
Sachin Tendulkar956101.8616.6910.0926.7829.953.43
Patsy Hendren83389.8717.269.4826.7431.023.50
CB Fry39448.5819.736.9726.7036.133.32
Mahela Jayawardene100590.0316.509.4925.9828.024.97
Martin Crowe50856.8218.297.5425.8230.765.81
Javed Miandad85182.1616.599.0625.6628.854.34
Herbert Sutcliffe75478.2316.608.8425.4530.652.55
Brian Lara69668.9317.138.3025.4329.934.34
Rahul Dravid85481.9416.389.0525.4328.284.48
Darren Lehmann66868.9016.838.3025.1329.104.57
Graeme Pollock38144.1918.396.6525.0433.133.66
Len Hutton51356.1317.517.4925.0030.684.33
Mark Waugh80380.1915.988.9524.9425.406.57
Sunil Gavaskar49951.8317.687.2024.8832.223.13
Sanath Jayasuriya93389.5915.299.4724.7623.886.61
Matthew Hayden65366.3116.408.1424.5528.604.21
Hanif Mohammad23628.3319.215.3224.5334.513.90
Ricky Ponting79874.0815.698.6124.3027.334.06
Colin Cowdrey78074.2315.598.6224.2127.653.53
Peter May38842.6317.586.5324.1132.282.88
Ian Chappell33937.0917.936.0924.0229.336.52
Clive Lloyd91481.8814.899.0523.9425.893.90
Rohan Kanhai57556.4916.257.5223.7729.522.98
Ken Barrington54755.5316.257.4523.7127.455.06
Steve Waugh79272.3714.818.5123.3223.036.59
Sourav Ganguly76873.6114.688.5823.2623.785.58
Shivnarine Chanderpaul88976.5514.438.7523.1826.472.40
Allan Border76766.9414.878.1823.0524.924.81
Younis Khan66357.7015.147.6022.7425.774.51
Kevin Pietersen67061.5714.777.8522.6126.123.41
Clyde Walcott14616.7918.404.1022.5030.126.69
Justin Langer64057.1614.797.5622.3525.943.65
Gary Kirsten51546.8615.366.8522.2027.543.18
Mohammad Azharuddin66255.2914.277.4321.7124.534.01
Neil Harvey30630.5215.965.5221.4828.713.21
Michael Clarke54747.8414.506.9221.4223.845.16
Lindsay Hassett21622.3216.534.7221.2629.743.32
David Boon66356.3413.557.5121.0524.033.07
Everton Weekes15216.0016.844.0020.8430.233.45
Bill Lawry25624.9315.504.9920.4929.011.99
Victor Trumper25523.7914.934.8819.8026.313.55
Bill Ponsford16315.9115.623.9919.6129.541.70
Doug Walters31827.3914.295.2319.5324.134.47

Bradman’s offensive average of 45.28 is up there with NFL quarterbacks — no other batsman is over 40. I’d say that without World War II, he’d have gotten his overall rating past 30, but by all accounts he was breaking down physically when the fighting broke out, and it was the enforced rest from the hostilities that allowed him to get back in shape in the late ’40s. He may be the only star of that era, in any sport, who’s career was actually prolonged by the war.

Gooch, as I said, will probably raise a few eyebrows. He played for a long time and scored a lot of runs … I make no claims about his artistry.

When he retired, Brian Lara was fractionally ahead of Sachin Tendulkar, essentially tied. Some 300 games later, Tendulkar ended up 1.35 points clear.

Because of apartheid, Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock played very few Tests, another reason for going with first-class numbers. Their limited international record, including World Series Cricket, would indicate they belong with any of their peers.

All-RoundersMatchesTotalPer 160Sqr RootSumOffDef
WG Grace870140.5025.8411.8537.6934.9116.77
Frank Tarrant32955.4126.957.4434.3924.6029.29
Mike Procter69597.5724.139.8834.0023.4224.94
Frank Woolley978129.0321.1111.3632.4727.5614.66
Garry Sobers47870.0023.868.3732.2330.8816.84
Wilfred Rhodes1110140.8820.3111.8732.1816.1724.44
Richard Hadlee66084.9722.739.2231.9414.4131.04
Wally Hammond63488.6922.389.4231.8035.209.57
Maurice Tate67992.7421.859.6331.4814.9428.77
Aubrey Faulkner11819.0425.814.3630.1825.3426.29
Young Jack Hearne64784.0620.799.1729.9626.5215.05
Imran Khan83197.7220.029.8929.9119.2620.79
Jacques Kallis85798.4718.829.9228.7427.2610.38
Ian Botham87299.1118.779.9628.7219.2318.45
Trevor Goddard18025.9523.145.0928.2326.3819.88
Learie Constantine11916.6622.404.0826.4815.6629.15
Bob Simpson26333.6020.485.8026.2832.108.87
Richie Benaud25931.8719.695.6525.3318.0221.36
Kapil Dev58460.3217.397.7725.1516.0918.69
Keith Miller22627.8119.695.2724.9624.5014.88
Shaun Pollock66763.2316.627.9524.5812.2521.00
Frank Worrell20825.2519.425.0224.4528.5510.30
Chris Cairns67665.8816.178.1224.2920.1616.07
Alan Davidson19322.9819.054.7923.8414.2423.87
Monty Noble24828.6118.465.3523.8121.7715.14
Fazal Mahmood11213.2918.993.6522.6310.8227.17
Andrew Flintoff50447.6314.916.9021.8217.5612.27

Just defining what an “all-rounder” is can get tricky. Some are brilliant at batting and bowling; some are great at one skill and merely good in the other; and some aren’t world-beaters in either, but the combination makes them great in aggregate. For my purposes, I picked players that bowled between 1 and 10 balls for every run they scored in first-class cricket, and bowled between 10 and 40 overs per match.

As a group, they are the most valuable athletes in any sport, and W.G. Grace comes out as the top athlete by my method, just edging out Pelé. This is mostly because he dominated a still-developing sport in its infancy, but his numbers are absolutely jaw-dropping when put in context. No one exceeded his peers quite like Grace.

Wally Hammond is never really listed as an all-rounder. He wasn’t one at Test level, but he was in county cricket. If I had listed him as a batsman, he’d be No. 1 there, and he would have edged out Bradman on the strength of his bowling. That didn’t seem right. He did bowl 51,000 balls in first-class cricket, or about 22,000 more than Jacques Kallis.

BowlersMatchesTotalPer 160Sqr RootSumOffDef
George Lohmann29350.0527.337.0734.4113.6241.05
Tich Freeman59282.0522.189.0631.233.8040.55
Hedley Verity37850.8121.517.1328.636.5336.49
Bill O’Reilly13519.8823.564.4628.024.5542.58
Malcolm Marshall84884.3118.419.1827.599.8726.94
Wasim Akram85183.5717.599.1426.7310.0725.11
Charlie Parker63572.2918.228.5026.725.8630.57
Clarrie Grimmett24832.3220.855.6926.546.5335.18
Jack Hearne63970.8417.748.4226.155.3130.17
Harold Larwood36143.9919.506.6326.139.1029.89
Brian Statham57462.9417.627.9325.564.4430.80
Muttiah Muralitharan85070.0916.828.3725.193.0130.63
Johnny Wardle41647.2718.236.8825.118.0628.41
Fred Trueman62165.6616.998.1025.097.1726.80
Jim Laker45049.9317.757.0724.827.2528.26
Fred Spofforth15519.3319.954.4024.357.1432.78
Joel Garner50747.8017.026.9123.945.0628.98
Sydney Barnes13316.1919.484.0223.504.8634.09
Shane Warne68558.9515.657.6823.337.1524.15
Anil Kumble67255.0915.807.4223.236.7724.84
Courtney Walsh86966.6714.068.1722.233.7124.41
Waqar Younis64749.9714.717.0721.784.3125.13
Derek Underwood110981.2012.459.0121.463.1821.72
Curtly Ambrose56845.4214.336.7421.074.9423.73
Alec Bedser48543.7914.456.6221.065.1523.74
Michael Holding49942.2414.486.5020.986.0922.88
Bishan Bedi44236.7013.786.0619.834.3623.19
Allan Donald77653.2712.437.3019.732.6722.18
Dennis Lillee34028.6314.295.3519.644.5224.05
Glenn McGrath51336.0112.936.0018.931.3924.48
B.S. Chandrasekhar25319.5912.504.4316.931.1423.94
Jeff Thomson28618.8111.124.3415.464.0118.22

A few of the bowlers could be all-rounders by the standard I outlined above. I felt, though, that their production didn’t merit that sort of classification. Offense among bowlers varies a lot more than defense among batsmen, so their ability to hit plays a bigger role in their final rating.

Muralitharan gets hit the hardest by the one-day format. His first-class defensive average is 38.29; in List A matches, it’s 19.69 … half. And that is entirely due to not being able to bowl more than 20 percent of his team’s overs. But he only played 233 first-class matches, compared to 453 one-day matches, and another 164 in Twenty20. He was still a star, but the conditions in which he played prevented him from really dominating like he could have.

Glenn McGrath comes in really low. Partly, this is due to his abysmally low offensive average; just as a bowler, he outranks several of the people above him. He also played very little outside Tests and ODIs; he was essentially a full-time Australia cricketer. This meant two things: He had the best defense in the world behind him, and he never had to face Australian batsmen.

WicketkeepersMatchesTotalPer 160Sqr RootSumOffDef
Kumar Sangakkara1043118.5819.0810.8929.9730.797.37
Adam Gilchrist64771.9017.748.4826.2220.3115.18
Andy Flower62460.3816.087.7723.8525.496.67
Alec Stewart95485.2014.479.2323.7022.076.88
Jim Parks87179.1914.768.9023.6623.106.42
Rod Marsh44638.1514.576.1820.7516.0013.13
Alan Knott85661.6312.607.8520.4514.7310.46
Jeff Dujon41130.7513.435.5518.9817.509.36
Ian Healy44331.7312.515.6318.1512.1312.90

Pity the wicketkeepers. Even more than baseball catchers, their own job destroys them. The top three are anomalies; Flower was the only world-class player on an emerging Zimbabwe team, Gilchrist a one-day basher and Sangakkara a quantum leap forward. Behind them, though, it’s pretty sparse.

To do list:

Chris Cairns
Lance Gibbs
Virender Sehwag
Jason Gillespie
Hashim Amla
Mohammad Yousuf
Alex Kennedy