The God of Batting

Posted by sepoy on April 26, 2005 · 3 mins read

A few days ago, I hit a perfect drive over mid-on. It was a gorgeous shot, really. The bat moving as an extension of myself. I saw the very moment that the ball hit the pitch and, seemingly, slowed down for me. I have hit that shot hundreds of time, in real matches even. During my cricketing days, I was very strong off my legs. Anything pitched short or over got its very just rewards. I was obssessed with hitting. Each and every waking moment was dedicated to playing and re-playing shots, grips, stance, footwork. I never got really good; I was too impatient. I went for my shots early and, often, didn't follow through enough. But, once in a while, I would hit a patch of good innings. Three or four glorious innings of aggressive hitting. I was thinking about those good times this morning because I was walking to work with a cricket bat in hand. We have decided to start a local cricket club this summer and have some fun.

Serendipitously, this morning was an overly-Zen piece on Ichiro Suzuki & the Art of Hitting a Ball in the NYT. It describes how he has been on a hitting spree after making adjustments: "he experimented by moving his right foot - the front foot in his batting stance - a couple of inches away from the plate, opening his stance and spreading his legs four more inches apart." All that gave Suzuki a lower bat-angle and a more comfortable swing and he now has a genuine shot at .400 for the season. Suzuki is amazing and the article compares him to Joe Dimaggio and, then, to Tetsuharu Kawakami aka "The God of Batting". Now, I was with all of that but this made me stop. Because, as any cricket fan knows there is only one God of Batting and that is Don Bradman. The guy had a lifetime average of 99.94 [in 80 innings]. That is 0.04 shy of a century - the hallmark of any inning. A helluva lot more than even a lifetime batting average over .400, if you ask me.

I think that hitting the ball may be slightly easier, in technical terms, in cricket [and yes, we have been around that mulberry bush before]. But, the length of the inning and the overall concentration that is required for an at-bat at cricket is un-rivalled by baseball. Suzuki does Rule. But does he rule more than Tendulkar? Hardly. And he def. ain't Ruling anywhere near the God of Batting. Let the hate begin.


rob | April 26, 2005

Right on. It feels condescending to even call him "man". Wwrr... the Tendulkar site is giving me motion sickness...

sepoy | April 26, 2005

Rob: you are right. That link is insane. I replaced it with the much saner Wiki. For completists: this was the original link.

tsk | April 26, 2005

hater. is the .9994 avg for hits that earned a run? if not, you're just hating on ichiro. and baseball. and, uh, freedom.

wanderer | April 28, 2005

sachin is really that awesome. we watched him tear apart wickets like no other in the asia cup this summer. tendulkar ended the tournament with 281 runs at 56.20 and 12 wickets at 12.25. sri lanka did win in the final, but jayasuriya (while no tendulkar) was really amazing as well. being at a cricket match is by far more exciting than being at a baseball game.

dacoit | April 28, 2005

S: Cricket is a beautiful thing, I will give you that. This is something I did not realize until quite recently, I am embarassed to admit (World Cup 2003) - and this despite there being a major cricket league capitalizing on labor and migration flows from South Asia and the West Indies thriving in my beloved homeland. Similar to baseball's life as a venue for expressing urban patriotism (Sox-Yankees sporting competition and Boston-New York city rivalries are inextricibly intertwined since who knows when), cricket provides a space for articulating national identities in South Asia - sometimes in quite virulent ways (if India wins a World Cup match, I am quite happy to holler 'Hindustan zindabad', but feel differently indeed when it comes to the inevitable 'Pakistan murdabad', and I suspect the script is flipped on the other side). Politics notwithstanding, I am entirely unconvinced that the achievements of the best batsmen in baseball's archaic ancestor equal those of America's 'national pastime'. My first impulse, in time honored baseball fan fashion, is to insist on exhaustive statistical analysis by Elias Sports Bureau (and perhaps also get physicists from across the world prominently involved) to determine the relative difficulty of batting in either sport, and compile data on how difficult it is to, say, bat a century in an ODI versus a hundred RBI season in the MLB. Obviously, this method would require an extensive calculus to determine a basis of comparison. Ultimately, the true baseball fan will be constrained to argue that the comparison is absurd to begin with, since cricket batsmen are allowed to use those gigantic caber-like bats, the bowler cannot go through a full throwing motion, for some reason they insist on slowing the ball down by bouncing it off the 'pitch', and the batsman gets to stand there and get into a rhythm for an inordinate amount of time. Cricket fans, of course, would have analogous arguments regarding why many of these things (and others) actually make batting more difficult. I suppose we will all have to agree to disagree. Brian Lara is amazing, Tendulkar is magnificent, and I never saw Kawakami or Bradman in person or on tape. Ichiro is incredible as well - definitely the best contact hitter of my time, but for my money, Ted Williams is the God of Batting. (During his era, by the way, Babe Ruth was known as the Sultan of Swat. Bacha Khan and Olaf Caroe might have had objections, but they were probably too busy playing buzkashi to worry about batting.)

sepoy | April 28, 2005

dacoit: We could take Ted Williams and Don Bradman through the statistical mixer. One way to do it so tabulate the total balls faced by Bradman and divide it by his total runs - which should give a rough BA. Trouble is, that a cricketer gets a tons of legal hits without actually scoring. On further thought, we are going about this in entirely the wrong, monotheistic way. Why not have a pantheon of Batting Gods and Goddesses? I pray to Ted's frozen head, if you pray to Don's suspenders.

Torgo | July 28, 2005

Just turned up here at random to find this discussion - the statisticians have actually looked in to Bradman vs the world: Charles Davis says Babe Ruth's batting average would have had to have been 50% better to compare with the Don.