The greatest ever sports achievement

Donald “The Don” Bradman, (1908 – 2001), an Australian cricketer, the greatest batsman of all time, and some have called him “the greatest phenomenon in the history of cricket, indeed in the history of all ball games”.

His 20-year career Test batting average is a peerless 99.94. His level was such that the Australian team captain quipped that he’s worth 3 batsmen. To try to stop him, the England team created dubious tactics known as the Bodyline. After a 6-year break due to World War II, he made a stirring comeback, captaining his country on a triumphant tour of England, undefeated.

Bradman in 1928

The number 99.94 has become not just cricket, but sports in general’s, iconic statistic. No other cricketer, ever or since, who’s played more than 20 Test match innings has done better than 61.

A rare occasion where Bradman scored zero, sometime 1932

Statistician Charles Davis has analysed the stats for some athletes widely acknowledged to be the best in their chosen sport, to see “the number of standard deviations that they stand above the mean for their sport.” In other words, to see how much better they are, represented in numbers, compared to their rivals:

- Bradman, cricketer, with his batting average as input, has a standard deviation of 4.4
- Pele, soccer, with goals per game average as input, has a standard deviation of 3.7
- Ty Cobb, baseball, with his batting average as input, has a standard deviation of 3.6
- Jack Nicklaus, golf, with number of major titles won as input, has a standard deviation of 3.5
- Michael Jordan, basketball, with average points per game as input, has a standard deviation of 3.4

The stats show that “no other athlete dominates an international sport to the extent that Bradman does cricket”.

To be as dominant as Bradman:

- a baseball batter would need a career batting average of .392; Ty Cobb’s record is .366.
- a basketball player to score an average of 43.0 points per game; Michael Jordan’s record is 30.1.

I wonder how many endorsements he signed up with during his career, perhaps even included weight loss products.

It was reported that Nelson Mandela, finally released from prison after 27 years, on meeting an Australian visitor, the first question he asked was: “Is Sir Donald Bradman still alive?”

In 2000, when the Wisden Cricketers of the Century list was compiled, 100 members of the panel of cricket experts had to select their top 5 favourite cricketers: all 100 voted for Bradman.

In 2001, more than 50 years after he retired, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard called him the “greatest living Australian”.

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