Good things come to the crease in small packages

James Taylor’s demolition of Ryan Sidebottom in the Yorkshire vs. Nottinghamshire T20 provided an opportunity to savour one of the most delectable sights in cricket: that of a diminutive batsman dominating a big fast bowler. 1.68m (5′7″) took down 1.91m (6′4″).

Well-built batsmen such as Andrew Flintoff (1.93m) or Alex Hales (1.96m), of course, always raise the excitement levels, and thrill audiences as they dominate attacks. Yet somehow there is an inverse correlation between stature and impressiveness: the smaller the figure, the greater the delight.

Why are pint-sized players so pleasing to watch? One reason could be that due to the lack of inherent momentum provided by weight, smaller players are forced to develop traditional, classical skills, relying on pure timing rather than brute strength. It has been observed that this currently holds true to an extent in the women’s game; the suggestion is that while the men’s game can cut corners due to higher strength levels, the women’s game remains a superior showcase of traditional cricketing technique. As fitness and strength levels increase in the women’s game, it will be interesting to see how long this holds true.

Going back to the man’s game, it’s striking how short players often not only have style, but also substance. Looking at the 11 batsmen that have over 10000 Test runs as of 2014, height seems to be a rarity. (Heights are sourced from the Internet, and are presented with a low degree of confidence.)

Player Test runs Height (m)
SR Tendulkar 15921 1.65
RT Ponting 13378 1.78
JH Kallis 13289 1.88
R Dravid 13288 1.80
KC Sangakkara 11983 1.78
BC Lara 11953 1.73
DPMD Jayawardene 11814 1.73
S Chanderpaul 11414 1.73
AR Border 11174 1.75
SR Waugh 10927 1.78
SM Gavaskar 10122 1.65
Don Bradman 6996 1.70

Kallis, at 1.88m, the outlier, or perhaps the high flier, is the only one of the XI to breach the 6-foot barrier. Dravid, Ponting, and Sangakkara, at 1.80, 1.78, and 1.78 respectively, would be perceived, at least by a British eye, to be of average height. Lara and Tendulkar, arguably the most consistently stylish batsmen in modern cricket history (how that is defined is another story; Chris Smith at Declaration Game debates this in some detail), clock in at just 1.73m and 1.65m. As twelfth man, Don Bradman slots in between Lara and Tendulkar at 1.70m.

What does this mean? Not much. There is a danger, of course, in selectively choosing examples to support a hypothesis, and this is by no means a scientific analysis. We’re looking, after all, at what makes a small batsman so appealing from our subjective viewpoint. All this does is suggest that small stature might increase the chances of piling up over 10000 career Test runs. Perhaps smaller frames, possibly being lighter, place less strain on the limbs, and thus reduce the likelihood of major injuries, allowing longer careers. Ideally we could do with a Style Index to authoritatively rank players on the attractiveness of their play. There’s an idea for Statsguru.

It may be that our delight in watching small players perform is down to a simpler reason. Perhaps it is because it seems so unexpected, so contrary to the course of nature. When an obviously muscular player comes out to bat, we expect the ball to go flying out of the park. By contrast, when a small figure appears, we subconsciously doubt his ability to do the deed. Our fears and expectations are confounded. We relish David slaying his Goliath.

2 thoughts on “Good things come to the crease in small packages

  1. Liam, in the book ‘The Sports Gene’, David Epstein shows how the increasing professionalism of sport has led to a reduction in the physical diversity of its top performers. Basketball is his principal example, but I think athletics and swimming are also used. I wondered whether fast bowlers are more likely now to be in the top decile for height than they were 50 years ago. With batsmen, haven’t there always been a lot of shorter players amongst the very best? Is there an advantage to being below average height?
    But your question is about style. Could it be that taller players tend to look angular, and bits of them protrude (thinking of Chris Broad’s backside) as they fold themselves to take strike. There may appear to be more effort in the bat-swing of a taller player as bat, hands and arms all move much further (but has anyone had a more expansive bat-swing than Lara?). I look forward to studying Moeen Ali to see if I can distill the essence of stylish batting. Chris

    1. Interesting points Chris. Height is traditionally thought of as an asset for bowlers, but the lack of it is not so frequently mentioned as an advantage for batsmen. There could be something in it, though.

      Regarding style, the angularity aspect you suggest is certainly plausible. Talking of Moeen Ali reminds me, though, of the anecdote regarding Paul Collingwood that Simon Hughes relates in Cricket’s Greatest Rivalry. Apparently he saw, in a mirror, a TV showing what appeared to be a stylish left-handed batsman. Turning round, he realised it was himself. Perhaps we do, then, subconsciously consider left-handers to posses greater innate style.

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