Trivia - bowling February 8, 2008

The most consistent bowlers in Tests

How does one measure a Test bowler's consistency

The batsmen tend to get analysed lot more and it is now the turn of Test bowlers. Two not-so-normal measures will be discussed in the next two posts.

Bowler consistency

How does one measure a Test bowler's consistency. Complex statistical measures will neither indicate the real consistency nor be understood by all. If I pepper this article with words such as Sigma, Skew, Mean deviation or Variance, I would have lost more than half the readers. What is needed is a cricketing definition of consistency and a simple easy-to-understand methodology which will be understood by all readers.

What makes a consistent bowler? The answer is easy: one who bowls good spells most of the time. How does one define a good spell? There are many definitions, most of which would be too subjective. The only objective measure we have is the "wickets captured" information. The importance of taking wickets in Test matches is also incorporated in this computation.

Taking the 1860-plus Tests which have been played so far, on an average a pace bowler takes a wicket every 66 balls, while the strike-rate for a spinner is 80 balls. At the two extremes are George Lohmann, with a strike-rate of 34, and Carl Hooper with a strike-rate (if you can define it thus) of 120. Taking all these factors into consideration, I have taken 66 balls in an innings for the pace bowlers and 78 balls for spinners as base figures to determine whether a bowler has bowled a relevant spell or not.

First we determine the number of relevant spells, which is defined as an innings in which a bowler has - depending on whether he is a spinner or a fast bowler - bowled at least 78 or 66 balls, or an innings in which the bowler has captured a wicket or more. Then we determine the number of successful spells - the bowling stints in which the bowler has taken at least one wicket. We then derive the Bowler Consistency Index. In ODIs, a wicketless spell, such as Kapil Dev's 7.0-4-4-0 against West Indies could be an outstanding one because of the economy factor, but not in Tests. A bowler such as Bapu Nadkarni in 1964 in Chennai with a spell of 32-27-5-0 would today be booed off, as also Ken Barrington and Brian Bolus, the immobile batsmen.

Let us see the table. These are current upto the fourth test between Australia and India in Adelaide.

Bowler Consistency Analysis - Min 30 spells
No Bowler           Bow Team  Mat  <------Spells-----> Consistency
Relevant Successful    Index
1. Bond S.E        RFM  Nzl   17      30      30         100.00
2. Jones S.P       RFM  Eng   18      30      30         100.00
3. Reid B.A        LFM  Aus   27      39      38          97.44
4. Muralitharan M  ROB  Slk  118     201     195          97.01
5. Miller C.R      ROB  Aus   18      30      29          96.67
6. Dillon M        RFM  Win   38      55      53          96.36
7. Bedi B.S        LSP  Ind   67     107     103          96.26
8. Barnes S.F      RFM  Eng   27      48      46          95.83
9. Grimmett C.V    RLB  Aus   37      66      63          95.45
10. Briggs J        LSP  Eng   33      42      40          95.24
11. Adcock N.A.T    RF   Saf   26      41      39          95.12
12. Donald A.A      RF   Saf   72     124     117          94.35
13. Blythe C        LSP  Eng   19      35      33          94.29
14. Giffen G        ROB  Aus   31      35      33          94.29
15. Vincent C.L     LSP  Saf   25      35      33          94.29
16. Flintoff A      RFM  Eng   67     101      95          94.06
17. Croft C.E.H     RF   Win   27      50      47          94.00
18. Kumble A        RLB  Ind  125     215     202          93.95
19. Lever J.K       LFM  Eng   21      33      31          93.94
20. Trueman F.S     RF   Eng   67     115     108          93.91
21. Wasim Akram     LFM  Pak  104     161     151          93.79
22. Steyn D.W       RFM  Saf   18      32      30          93.75
23. Tauseef Ahmed   ROB  Pak   34      47      44          93.62
24. Robins R.W.V    RLB  Eng   19      31      29          93.55
25. MacGill S.C.G   RLB  Aus   42      76      71          93.42
(Click here for the full table.)

The two injury-prone speedsters Shane Bond and Simon Jones have bowled 30 successful spells in their career, a 100% record. In fact Bond has the unique distinction of never having gone wicketless in an innings in his entire career: his three sub-11-over spells have also been fruitful. Muralitharan has bowled over 200 spells and has gone wicketless in only six of these, which is the very definition of consistency. Then we have a few vintage greats. Bishan Bedi Allan Donald are in the top 15. Andrew Flintoff, Anil Kumble, Wasim Akram and Stuart MacGill are in the top 25.

Note the very high degree of consistency of otherwise pedestrian bowlers like Mervyn Dillon, Colin Miller and Tauseef Ahmed.

Just as a matter of interest, the last five bowlers in this group are listed below. The last two places are filled, as expected, by one part-timer from West Indies, known more for his batting prowess, and an Australian spinner of limited skills.

Julien B.D         LSP  Win   24    40     27      67.50
Mackay K.D         RFM  Aus   37    39     26      66.67
Whittall G.J       RFM  Zim   46    38     25      65.79
Hooper             ROB  Win  102    99     64      64.65
Bright             SLA  Aus   25    31     20      64.52
The six unsuccessful spells of Muralitharan are given below. Note the long gap between such rare instances, especially between 1999 and 2006, when he went 55 Tests without missing out even once.
1306  1995  Pak    17.0  3  53 0
1358  1997  Nzl    33.0  6 136 0
1387  1997  Ind    46.0  9 137 0
1416  1998  Nzl    23.0  9  33 0
1474  1999  Zim    24.0  6  51 0
and after 7 years
1796  2006  Pak    13.0  3  46 0
In view of the number of comments made, I have tried to answer these in the blog itself.

1. This is only an "invented" common-sense based analysis. Do not read more into this than that.

2. If we do a list of triple-centurions, we will have Lawrence Rowe, Bob Cowper and John Edrich in that list. We will not have Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting and Richards there. Does it make them any less greater batsmen. Take this list like that.

3. Maybe 30 spells is too low. It shoud be increased to 50 spells. However I could not resist the temptation to include Bond (for his pure career).

4.What I have written here is a simple definition of consistency which is totally different to strike rate or bowling average or bowling accuracy. If a batsman scores 100 and 0, and another batsman scores 40 and 40, the later would be considered more consistent while the former's average would be higher. Similarly a bowler who has captured 20 wickets in 5 tests at the rate of 4 wickets per test would be considered more consistent than one who captures 8, 0, 8, 0, and 8 wickets even though the later might have captured more wickets at possibly better strike rate.

5. I have used "spell" to denote the bowling effort during an innings for want of a suitable word. A more apt word might be "Innings analysis".

6. The next blog will answer some of the questions raised.

7. A full list of qualifying bowlers will be made available shortly so that readers can check all the bowlers themselves. The list has been mailed individually to readers whose comments indicated a need to look at such a list.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on March 19, 2008, 9:32 GMT

    hi, i realy appreciate you for the hard work you have done, but to me its not acceptable because we cannt left out the greats like Glenn McGrath, Waqar Younis, Shane Warne Shaun Pollock, Imran Khan, so all i would like to say is may be you need to redefine your definition of consistant bowlers, or if it is possible then separate the terms " Consistant " and " Successful " bowlers and publish your stats again. i would love to read any such article by you as it seems tou are pretty much in to it. Good work though. Thanks & Regards Faisal Ch Mehmood. but

  • testli5504537 on March 9, 2008, 23:17 GMT

    Chris Smith mentions that bowling is about partnerships. I've always thought it would be interesting to see an analysis of whoever is bowling at the other end - ie Nathan Astle is never going to rip through a batting line up but does the pressure he creates mean that wickets fall at the other end?

    A similar analysis could be conducted on batsmen to look at who brings out the best in their batting partners.

  • testli5504537 on March 8, 2008, 7:12 GMT

    Without doubt Bond when fit was the best fast bowler of this era before he went to ICL.In the 16 tests he has played he has been amazing and for those skeptical of his ability should have a look at his S/R.It is a shame he didn't play more than 16 tests.

  • testli5504537 on March 6, 2008, 21:10 GMT

    I have not read through all the posts and at the risk of repeating what someone else might have mentioned already, here goes:

    I like the analysis. I suggest embellishing it with a suitable weightage for certain variables like quality of opposition, home vs away, comparing the results with the overall average of all pace/spin bowlers as the case may be and skimming off the low perfs, total team score of the opposition in that innings (to show how effective the bowler was in batsman-friendly conditions), etc.

    Thanks and best regards.

  • testli5504537 on February 17, 2008, 0:54 GMT

    What is interesting is that none of the bowlers that Bradman faced do well for consistency, putting the lie to the idea that Bradman was a great batsman. Fact is, the bowlers he faced were amateurs and inconsistent. Where is Larwood, Bradman's great nemesis? If Larwood doesn't rank so good, then Bradman would have been destroyed by the other bowlers on this list. Again Ananth, you need to be careful or else your statistical analyses could get you into trouble with all those ignorant Bradman fans.

  • testli5504537 on February 14, 2008, 20:01 GMT

    ananth, i had posted a comment earlier, but it doesnt appear here.maybe i didnt express clearly what i was trying to say, which i will do now. i disagree with ur analysis bcoz i disagree totally with ur definition of consistency - it is too simplistic and does not sit well with established notions of consistency - accuracy of bowling, keeping the pressure on the batsmen, landing the ball in the right spot most times, creating opportunities for wickets whether for oneself or others, not giving the batsmen breathing space etc. where is all this taken into account. by this definition ajit agarkar wud have been a consistent bowler during the intial phase of his one-day career - but would anyone classify him as consistent? would any team have devoted a lot of time to analyzing his bowling? did his bowling ever create pressure for the batsmen regularly (which incidentally shud be one of the mandatory things a consistent bowler should do)?

  • testli5504537 on February 14, 2008, 18:55 GMT

    Hey this is not strictly relevant to this post, but would you guys be able to do an analysis of who had the most 'Golden' arm amongst part-time bowlers - most wickets@best strike rate for players who've bowled in <60% of the games they played in, perhaps, split between ODIs and Tests? I'd like to see how Sachin, Sehwag, Michael Clarke, Mark Waugh, Aravinda De Silva et al stack up. Thanks!

  • testli5504537 on February 12, 2008, 13:06 GMT

    Any definition of consistency is going to be subjective. You have defined consistency one way and the analysis is based solely on that definition, so criticism on that point is baseless.As a West Indian very interesting, as the main criticism of Mervyn Dillion and the reason for his downfall has been a lack of consistency in effort.

    I agree with one or two of the previous writers that you should apply weights based on the number of wickets taken. Eg. (Success Spells x No. of wickets taken by bowler in spell/Total no. of wickes taken by all bowlers in Spell)/No. of relevant spells. This along with a higher cut off level as you have agreed with will improve the analysis.

  • testli5504537 on February 12, 2008, 13:05 GMT

    Ckt is all bot flow of runs. Fall of wkts is a event in the process of controlling runs. No statistics will be accepted if it doesn't include the runs conceded as a variable in analysis. Im happy to see such a simple commons sense statistics to analyse bowlers. I appreciate it. But it should include the variable "R-U-N-S". Moreover, the "cut-off" margin is also a big concern for many readers, even i agree. Perhaps, the author should succumb the temptation to add "License-to-Kill" man!

  • testli5504537 on February 12, 2008, 9:40 GMT

    Interseting way of looking at it, Sir.

    Having seen this brilliant wave of analysing a bowler, maybe next time you can take cue form what a guy was suggesting above that bowlers hunt in packs, meaning pressure from both ends.

    Can there be made a statistic where it can be known that a bowler got more wickets because the pressure on the batsmen was created from both ends simulatneoulsy. For eg; A Shane Warne would have more chances of capturing wickets because Mc Grath or Gillespie would be on the other end with a tight leash, whereas Murali would have a Santha Jayasuriya on the other end bowling that is.

    So can an index be made for that??

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