Bradman’s average hits 100 – Shock!

bradman_wideweb__430222.jpgLast weekend Bruce Chapman sent me another of his little bits of econometrics about Don Bradman. Bruce calcualted how much the Don increased gate takings and concluded that the ACB got a pretty good deal when he batted!

In any event, with due acknowledgement, here is Bruce’s latest insight into the state of the world more than half a century or so ago.

The Centre for Economic Policy Research, in the ANUs Research School of Social Sciences, has been involved in research related to the economics of Australian Test cricket for over 13 years. In 1987, for example, we estimated the extent to which the Australian Cricket Board (then known as the Board of Control) benefited in revenue terms from the presence of Don Bradman at the batting crease.

When Bradman batted we found that the crowd was around 20 per cent higher. Our technique controlled for a host of other variables that affected crowd size, such as the price of the ticket, the venue, the unemployment rate, the state of the series, the state of the game, rain and the opposition. This increase in the size of the crowd had considerable implications for gate takings: just for Tests played against England in Australia, for example, we found that as a result of Bradman ACB revenue was about $X million higher (in 2000 dollars).

Recently we have turned our attention to a series of counter-factual questions, such as how much did World War II affect the ACBs revenue, given that the war meant that no Test cricket was played from 1939 to 1945?. Yvonne Dunlop, a part-time research assistant and PhD student in the Economics Program at RSSS has calculated that with the three additional series that would have been played in Australia in the absence of the war, the ACB would have raised around $12 million (in 2000 terms).

Hearing of our research, Frank Castles, a Professor of Politics at RSSS, suggested that there would be great interest in asking the related counter-factual question: What would Don Bradmans batting average have been if there had been no war? After all, we all know that his actual average of 99.94 is the most quoted, extraordinary, and exasperating statistic in Australian sport, given that it is so agonisingly close to the magic figure of a century.

It turns out to be very straightforward to address the issue. The idea we came up with was recognising that over time, as batsmen become both older and more experienced, it is likely that their performance changes. Thus if there is a relationship between Bradmans scores and when he batted, we can use this information to recalculate his hypothetical, war-less, new average.

There were four steps in the process:

(i) work out the extent to which his performances changed over the period of his career, 1928 to 1948;

(ii) impose some assumptions concerning when Test cricket would have been played if the war hadnt happened, and when Bradman would have batted;

(iii) estimate Bradmans hypothetical scores in each of these new innings, given the results of step (i); and

(iv) recalculate his Test average given these additional scores.

For step (i) we used regression analysis in which the association between each actual Bradman score and the month and year in which he made it was estimated. We did find a relationship but, to put it bluntly, as far as regression analysis is concerned the results were poor. Yvonne and I arent holding our breath for next years Nobel Prize in Economics for the power of this econometric exercise.

Nevertheless, the best approximation of the extent to which Bradmans scores changed over the period is that they increased by about 0.04 each month, or about half a run a year. That is, the statistics suggested that his 1948 average would be about 10 runs higher than his 1928 average (it was in fact about 7 runs higher).

For step (ii) we imposed the pre and post-war Test cricket experience, which suggested that if there hadnt been a war, there would have been four additional Test series, three in Australia (in 1939/40, 1941/42 and 1944/45) and one in England (in 1943). On the basis of Bradmans actual experience, we then worked out that the most likely scenario would have been that over 1939-45 he would have completed 28 additional innings from the extra Tests.

From our regression analysis we then estimated his likely score for each of these innings. In total this would have given him an additional 2,877 runs.

The exercise is completed by adding these scores to his actual total of 6,996, which gives him a war-free total over 1928 to 1948of 9,873 runs. Since he would now have been dismissed a total of 98 times, we divide 9,873 by 98. This gives us his new average of 100.74.

We repeated the analysis for a range of other regression models, and in all cases the hypothetical average exceeded a century, although never by much. Thus the conclusion: without WWII our best approximation of what Bradmans batting average would have been is just over 100.

This should be put in some perspective. It is apposite to note that the Bodyline series, designed by Douglas Jardine to curb Bradmans extraordinary prowess, had a bigger effect. Don Bradmans batting average not including the 1932/33 series was just over101.

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Andrew Leigh
15 years ago

I’ve always thought there’s something quintessentially Australian about our greatest cricketer missing out on a 100 average. And Americans love it when you tell them that we’ve encapsulated 99.94 in the ABC’s GPO box number.

15 years ago

Yes, he just needed for more runs! Of course a great many sports players had their careers ruined by the war that lasted about the time that they could have maintained elite performance. Not to mention the ones who were killed or maimed.

It is interesting to compare the first class figures of people like W G Grace with Bradman and Trumper. Grace played at the top level until he was well into his forties (and he bowled as well) and with the number of county games (two per week thought the summer) he played, he racked up over 50,000 runs.

For comparison, when Bradman played there were only four states in the Shield competition. He still managed 28,000 runs from a quarter of the games that Grace played, admittedly on much better wickets.

Grace was a fine athlete, and people who know his portly frame may be surprised to know that early on he was a champion in the 440 hurdles!

He took up bowls in retirement, made the English team and organised a contest with Scotland that was the start of international competition in that sport.

He toured Australia a time or two, as did two of his brothers, the older EM and the younger (name forgotten). They all played for England (the Three Graces) and the younger took one of the great outfield catches as Lords when he ran some impossible distance around the boundary to catch a ball that was going for six.

Don’t think sledging is a modern inovation, for Gloucester with WG in the slips and EM at point they maintained a running commentary to disconcert the batsman.

15 years ago

One thing to remember about Bradman is that he effectively got what I like to call the “Brian Lara Treatment” in every test he played. When Lara was captain of the WI, there was never a declaration while he was batting. So once he got in he could choose to go and make 400+ if he wanted to, and usually did, rarely choosing to hit out in an attempt to get some quick runs and a declaration. He valued his own records over the success of his team.

Bradman played in the era of timeless test matches, so there was never any reason for him to “go the tonk” so to speak. He could bat as long as he wanted every time, which is why he (And many other batsman of that era) had so many scores in excess of 200 or even 300. He only ever hit 6 6s in his 54 test career.

54 matches also probably isn’t enough to experience a prolonged form slump that would bring his average in line with modern players. The 2nd best batsman to ever live, Ricky Ponting, HAS had that form slump and still averages close to 60. Over 110 tests rather than Bradman’s 54. That is a pretty rare achievement in itself.

15 years ago

Yobbo, in fairness to Bradman, he had 10 not outs in 80 test knocks to Ricky Ponting 25 NO in 180.

Some of the time Australia was being outplayed or at least matched by England and Bradman oten carried heavy responsibility as the mainstay of the batting in a way that Ponting was not (usually).

I don’t think you can knock Bradman’s run rate, nobody ever accused him of playing safe to get big scores, he believed that attack was the best defence.

He made a ton in one of three digs and bodyline was invented especially for him. That season was probably his slump.

He played a limited number of tests but they were spread over 20 years. Lets see how Ricky is travelling as he approaches 40 years of age. Or 50 to match W G Grace:)

Tom N.
Tom N.
15 years ago


Well, since we’re talking past Australian captains with a top score of 334, here’s my chance to record that I once dismissed one such Australian captain three times in four balls.

Well, okay then, he was only a future Australian captain at the time, and the dismissals were a tad unusual: two sixes-and-out, and one that hit the sprinkler outside leg stump and took off stump (in fact, it turned almost twice as far as the Gatting ball!) – but the grandkids don’t really need to know all the details, do they?

15 years ago

I’m not knocking him Rafe, obviously Bradman had a higher scoring rate than any other batsman until the late 90’s, but that was because of his sublime skill rather than any “need” to play that way.

Since Steve Waugh made the Australian team “invincible”, test cricket has changed a lot. Many teams now play them similarly to one dayers, because it is much easier to win a test match that way rather than draw it.

Remember the huge outcry when Ponting let Brad Hodge go on to score 200 vs South Africa and we drew? That would never have happened 20 years ago, because draws were the expected norm.

Hitting out is a good way to get out. All I’m saying is that Bradman never needed to “throw caution to the wind” because of the timeless nature of the tests he played.

“Lets see how Ricky is travelling as he approaches 40 years of age.”

If Bradman had played 280 one-day matches to go along with his 52 test matches you might have a point, but the fact is that Ponting has played over 800 days as opposed to Bradman who played more like 300, spread over 20 years.

And modern-day cricket is much more rigorous than it was 80 years ago. People are expected to have aerobic abilities comparable to track athletes, mostly because of the increased importance of fielding and running between wickets.

Compare this to Doug Walters who worked as a sales rep for Rothman’s Tobacco while playing cricket for Australia.

And I’m sure Ponting would still be good enough to get a game for Australia at age 40, whether or not he actually wanted to play at that age. He may prefer to simply lay back and bask in his multi-million dollar nest egg – an Option Bradman didn’t have.

Peter Fuller
15 years ago

What was the basis for assuming three visits by England during the war years? Prior to WSC, tours were at four year intervals, which in sequence would mean 1940-41 and 1944-45 (instead of 1946-47). There presumably would have been an Australian tour of the UK in 1942.
Had the war not interrupted, the following tours to the UK would have been 1946, 1950 …, with series in Australia in 1948-49, 1952-53 ……
If my reckoning is correct, Bradman would have played one extra home series (two if he played the summer of 1948-49) plus one extra tour of England.
A second objection is that you appear to have assumed a constant improvement. At what point do declining reflexes – even of the greatest of all-time – over-ride the benefits of experience?
Is it also worth making the point that England may have been more depleted in the immediate aftermath of the war, because iirc they suffered higher casualty rates in WWII?
It has been suggested in the past that the English county sides of 1948 were seriously weakened, which prompts the heretical suggestion that some of the scores by Australians in Bradman’s last two series (home 1946-47, and England 1948) might have involved some “cheap” runs.