IPL Batting Goat

Jordan vs Lebron, Messi vs Ronaldo, Hamilton vs Schumacher, Federer vs Nadal vs Djokovic. These are the sporting discussions that have fuelled countless online debates over the past decade. Comparisons are the bread and butter of internet fandom on social media because it is not about how good player x is, it is about whether he is better than player y. 

Sticking with this theme, we will be attempting to add to this completely meaningless debate by looking at it from an IPL perspective and figure out who is the greatest batter of all time in the Indian Premier League.

So, this is how we will do it. 

There are three clear candidates for this title – Abraham Benjamin de Villiers, Christopher Henry Gayle and David Warner. The three batters will be judged on four categories (peak, longevity, weaknesses, and flexibility) and will be ranked 1, 2, and 3 accordingly. Three points will be awarded for the player ranked first, two for second and one for third. The player with the most points at the end of this exercise is undoubtedly the greatest.

Peak

To judge who had the highest peak in the IPL, I have taken the best two-year sample for each of the three players. For Gayle, that was his two-orange cap winning seasons in 2011 and 2012, for Warner, it was 2016 and 2017, while for de Villiers, it was 2015-16.

Here are how the numbers shake out:

PlayerInningsRunsAvgSR50s100sDot%
Chris Gayle (2011-12)26134163.9170.210337.7
AB de Villiers (2015-16)30120050171.48228
David Warner (2016-17)29138357.6149.512134.3
Table 1: Peak

In terms of their peak, there are two clear standouts here – Gayle and de Villiers – with Warner lagging. While Warner had that monster 848-run campaign in 2016, he has never been able to match the explosiveness of Gayle and de Villiers throughout an entire season and bats at a slower tempo than those two.

To clarify, this is not a bug but a feature of Warner’s batting. The left-hander focused more on wicket-preservation and ‘anchoring’ throughout his SRH days due to their paper-thin middle order, but that costs him some points. Warner has also only managed a season strike rate of over 160 once in his IPL career (164 in 2012), which is another red mark.

In terms of the RCB boys, there is almost nothing to separate the two. Gayle took the IPL by storm after replacing Dirk Nannes in 2011 and destroyed everything in its path, and de Villiers’ numbers are identical when he batted at number three for RCB in 2015 and 16.

I am splitting hairs here, but the only reason I will put Gayle ahead of de Villiers in this category is that if we reduce the sample size, Gayle’s best season (2011: 608 runs @183) was better than de Villiers (2016: 687 runs @168), and hence he had the better peak.

Points – Gayle: 3 | AB: 2 | Warner: 1

Longevity

When discussing the greatest of all time, longevity is one of the most vital factors. It is the yardstick that defines greats such as Lebron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal and Tom Brady because they have maintained their ridiculous elite level across decades.

With the IPL being only 15 seasons old, it’s tough to reach that extreme for our three candidates, but it is still important to see how consistent they have been across careers.

Gayle has the weakest argument in this category. Although the Jamaican lit up the league between 2011-2013, he hasn’t managed to pass 500 runs in a season since and has averaged below 23 in a campaign on four separate occasions (2014, 2016, 2017, 2021). 

De Villiers had four middling seasons in the first four years of the IPL before bursting into life in 2012. The South African arguably only had one poor season in his last ten years in the IPL – 2017: 216 runs @132 – and has maintained ridiculous levels of consistency despite moving up and down the order.

Warner has followed a similar trajectory, starting with a mediocre record at Delhi before bossing the IPL post-2013. Barring his freak campaign in 2021, Warner has managed at least 500 runs in each of his last six seasons. Although the left-hander’s prime started a little after de Villiers, the Australian is still on top of his game in 2022, and unlike the South African, his ink isn’t dry yet.

Points – Warner: 3 | AB: 2 | Gayle: 1

Weaknesses

In this section, we try and find out if there are any chinks in the three batters’ armour which reduced their effectiveness. Even Superman had his Kryptonite, so which bowling type troubled the best in the business in the IPL.

As the numbers show, even the best of the best could be stopped, or at least slowed down, by one particular bowling type. The common denominator amongst all the three GOATs is that they struggled against away spin. While the sample size is massive and includes periods when each of their powers had waned, the trends remain throughout their career. 

De Villiers can be slowed down by leg-spin/left-arm spin, while Warner is the same against off-spin. Gayle also had troubles with off-spin, but the Universe Boss also struggled against right-arm fast bowling (SR: 119), with the hard lengths becoming a frequent tactic used by bowlers to prise his wicket.

Between Warner and de Villiers, the only differentiating factor here is the average, with the Australian slightly better at preserving his wicket against off-spinners than de Villiers against leg-spinners/left-arm spinners. However, this is a result of function rather than ability, as de Villiers took more risks as a batter since he batted further down the order.

Hence, I couldn’t pick between the two and gave them 2.5 points each. 

Points – AB: 2.5 | Warner: 2.5 | Gayle: 1

Flexibility

Flexibility is the ability to bat in different situations and conditions and perform different roles for the team. The two major parameters in focus are performances in different batting positions and both innings (batting first versus second).

In terms of different batting positions, there is only one clear winner. Although de Villiers is the only one who has regularly batted up and down the order throughout his IPL career, he has also been as destructive and effective in every position. Warner had spells at number three and four early in his SRH career, while Gayle almost exclusively opened the innings until his final stint with the Kings XI Punjab at number three, which produced mediocre results at best.

In terms of their records, while batting first versus chasing, there are some interesting observations. De Villiers has by far and away the best numbers of the three while batting first, but curiously, the worst while chasing. Only 15 of de Villiers’ 43 50+ scores in the IPL have come while batting second, but although there is a significant dip in his numbers, his record while chasing isn’t dissimilar to Warner or Gayle.

Barring a better strike rate, Gayle’s numbers are consistent when batting first or second, while Warner performs slightly better when chasing, presumably due to his other-worldly ability to control an innings and lead a thin SRH batting unit to victory.

Points – AB: 3 | Gayle: 2 | Warner: 1

Total Points – AB: 9.5| Warner: 7.5 | Gayle: 7

Hence, following this fool-proof examination, AB de Villiers is crowned the GOAT with 9.5 points, with Warner coming in second at 7.5 and the Universe Boss in third with 7. Although Warner – and maybe even Gayle – still has time to re-write his script in the IPL, looking at the numbers, it is clear that there hasn’t been a player more destructive or complete in this tournament than Abraham Benjamin de Villiers.

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