Trivia - bowling March 14, 2008

The bowlers who took the most high-quality wickets

In the wickets column of scorecards there is the bland pronouncement that a bowler has captured x number of wickets

About a month back, I had done a post on the most consistent bowlers in Tests, as part of an analysis on bowlers. I had mentioned then that there would be two measures for bowlers - the second one is on the quality of wickets taken by bowlers.

In view of the very high number of comments received, we will close the comments by evening of Friday, 21 March so that a comprehensive follow-up can be posted.

Consider three recent innings summaries:

West Indies 215 all out (Sehwag 3-33, Patel 3-51, Kumble 3-57) These numbers suggest Virender Sehwag was the best of the lot and Anil Kumble the worst. In reality, it was the other way around. Kumble took the wickets of Chris Gayle, Brian Lara and Dwayne Bravo. Munaf Patel took the wickets of Daren Ganga, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Denesh Ramdin, while Sehwag collected the tailenders - Ian Bradshaw, Jerome Taylor and Pedro Collins. Another example:

India 240 all out (Ntini 3-41, M Morkel 3-86) Makhaya Ntini captured the wickets of Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly while Morne Morkel captured the wickets of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kumble and Zaheer Khan. For that matter, the spell of Andre Nel, who captured only two wickets - those of Sehwag and Dravid - is better than that of Morkel.

Bangladesh 259 all out (Ntini 4-35, Steyn 4-66) Here both bowlers took the same number of wickets, but Dale Steyn took the top four while Ntini mopped up the tail.

In the wickets column of scorecards there is the bland pronouncement that a bowler has captured x number of wickets. There is no information on whose wickets he captured. This analysis seeks to secure such information.

The computation is simple. Every wicket captured by a bowler in the 1865 Test matches played so far is analysed, and the sum of career batting averages of the batsmen dismissed is calculated. It is then divided by the number of wickets captured by each bowler and a Batting Quality Index (BQI) arrived at. It's a simple but exhaustive calculation, which is impossible manually.

The top ten bowlers in this list - criterion being at least 100 Test wickets - ordered by BQI is startling. (I would appreciate it if readers do not immediately write in saying "Wasim Akram is the greatest", "Who are these clowns", "Boje and Dillon could not find a regular place in their teams" etc.)

Table 1: Ordered by BQI

SNo Bowler            Bow Cty Mat Wkt  Sum of   BQI

1.Boje N LSP Saf 43 100 3453.0 34.53 2.Flintoff A RFM Eng 67 197 6652.0 33.77 3.Connolly A.N RFM Aus 29 102 3444.0 33.76 4.Giles A.F LSP Eng 54 143 4812.0 33.65 5.Dillon M RFM Win 38 131 4366.0 33.33 6.Collinge R.O LFM Nzl 35 116 3825.0 32.97 7.Zaheer Khan LFM Ind 53 170 5599.0 32.94 8.Caddick A.R RFM Eng 62 234 7706.0 32.93 9.Hoggard M.J RFM Eng 66 247 8118.0 32.87 10.Martin C.S RFM Nzl 37 125 4086.0 32.69

The list is headed by virtually unknown bowlers. Why does this happen?

Possibly because they do not bowl at the end, picking up tail-end wickets. The other more established bowlers get the opportunity. These bowlers tend to bowl during the middle of the innings.

The other peculiarity is the presence of the three current England bowlers. Here the possible reason is that England has played Australia and India recently and the average of batting averages for these two teams is quite high.

I would be interested in reading comments from interested readers on possible reasons for this peculiar situation.

136.Steyn D.W         RFM Saf  20 105  2655.0  25.29
137.Barnes S.F        RFM Eng  27 189  4646.0  24.58
138.Blythe C          LSP Eng  19 100  2449.0  24.49
139.Wardle J.H        LSP Eng  28 102  2416.0  23.69
140.Noble M.A         ROB Aus  42 121  2859.0  23.63
141.Turner C.T.B      RFM Aus  17 101  2291.0  22.68
142.Giffen G          ROB Aus  31 103  2229.0  21.64
143.Peel R            LSP Eng  20 102  1960.0  19.22
144.Briggs J          LSP Eng  33 118  2025.0  17.16
145.Lohmann G.A       RFM Eng  18 112  1755.0  15.67

At the other end of the table we have the pre-World War-I players, indicating very low batting averages for batsmen playing at that time. Dale Steyn is a surprise inclusion, possibly because his last 54 wickets (over 50%) have been against the weaker batting teams of New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh, who have lower batting averages.

For a full list, please click here.

However let us seek to address this situation by looking at two other measures. The first is the difference between BQI and the career bowling average for the bowler. While it is true that having a high BQI means that the bowler has picked up better quality wickets, it might be more than offset by a high bowling average, which means the bowler has conceded a lot of runs for each wicket captured. The difference between these two figures will give a clear indication of the bowler's quality. The higher the difference, the better the bowler.

Table 1: Ordered by Difference between BQI and Bowling Average

SNo Bowler            Bow Cty   BowAvg  BQI    Diff

1.Marshall M.D RF Win 20.95 30.06 9.11 2.Davidson A.K LFM Aus 20.53 29.51 8.97 3.Ambrose C.E.L RF Win 20.99 29.85 8.86 4.McGrath G.D RFM Aus 21.64 30.43 8.79 5.O'Reilly W.J RLB Aus 22.60 31.12 8.53 6.Barnes S.F RFM Eng 16.43 24.58 8.15 7.Laker J.C ROB Eng 21.25 29.30 8.05 8.Croft C.E.H RF Win 23.30 31.22 7.91 9.Miller K.R RF Aus 22.98 30.65 7.68 10.Adcock N.A.T RF Saf 21.11 28.17 7.07

Ha! The list looks a lot more 'normal'. This is certainly a list of the outstanding bowlers of all time. Again, no mails bringing up other bowlers' names please. These are great bowlers who will stand comparison with anyone outside the list.

136.Giles A.F         LSP Eng   40.60  33.65  -6.95
137.Yadav N.S         ROB Ind   35.10  28.14  -6.96
138.Wright D.V.P      RLB Eng   39.11  31.06  -8.06
139.Boje N            LSP Saf   42.65  34.53  -8.12
140.Venkataraghavan S ROB Ind   36.12  27.56  -8.56
141.Emburey J.E       ROB Eng   38.41  29.69  -8.71
142.Abdul Razzaq      RFM Pak   36.93  27.66  -9.27
143.Shastri R.J       LSP Ind   40.96  31.69  -9.27
144.Mohammad Rafique  LSP Bng   40.76  31.35  -9.41
145.Hooper C.L        ROB Win   49.43  31.52 -17.91

Again, one feels vindicated. Boje is at the end with a huge negative difference. There is no denying that these are bowlers of average skills and in case of Mohammad Rafique, playing for a weak team. The last in this list is Carl Hooper, a very ordinary bowler indeed.

For a full list, please click here.

Another analysis I have done is to consider the number of lower-order wickets taken by a bowler and determine a % of lower-order wickets taken.

Who is a lower-order batsman? For the purpose of this exercise, I have defined it as a batsman batting at positions 8 to 11, and averaging less than 25 [to take care of situations when a Adam Gilchrist or Kapil Dev or Ian Botham might have batted at No. 8 or lower]. Only Daniel Vettori, with a batting average of 26.39, goes out of this classification. But then who can say that Vettori, with two Test centuries, is not an allrounder.

Initially I did this analysis based on batting average. However, that distorted the complete picture since the batting averages of batsmen during pre-WW-I and recently those from Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have been quite low. Hence I have gone back to the batting position.

In addition, any nightwatchman, determined through a proprietary algorithm, is considered as a lower-order batsmen.

Table 3: Ordered by % of lower-order wickets

SNo Bowler            Bow Cty Mat Wkts LowOrder Wkts
& %age

1.Zaheer Khan LFM Ind 53 170 23 (13.5) 2.Collinge R.O LFM Nzl 35 116 18 (15.5) 3.Boje N LSP Saf 43 100 16 (16.0) 4.Martin C.S RFM Nzl 37 125 22 (17.6) 5.Edmonds P.H LSP Eng 51 125 22 (17.6) 6.Flintoff A RFM Eng 67 197 36 (18.3) 7.Reid B.A LFM Aus 27 113 21 (18.6) 8.Pathan I.K LFM Ind 28 100 19 (19.0) 9.Intikhab Alam RLB Pak 47 125 24 (19.2) 10.Ghavri K.D LFM Ind 39 109 21 (19.3) 11.Hall W.W RF Win 48 192 37 (19.3) 12.Mushtaq Ahmed RLB Pak 52 185 36 (19.5) 13.Allen D.A ROB Eng 39 122 24 (19.7) 14.Srinath J RFM Ind 67 236 47 (19.9) 15.Thomson J.R RF Aus 51 200 40 (20.0)

This is a very good table, showing bowlers whose tally of lower-order wickets is less than 20% of the career wickets. It shows the value of Zaheer Khan to the Indian attack, as also Flintoff, Martin and Pathan to their respective teams.

134.Vettori D.L       LSP Nzl  77  238    81 (34.0)
135.Gupte S.P         RLB Ind  36  149    51 (34.2)
136.Rhodes W          LSP Eng  58  127    44 (34.6)
137.Mallett A.A       ROB Aus  38  132    46 (34.8)
138.Johnson I.W       ROB Aus  45  109    39 (35.8)
139.Adams P.R         LSP Saf  45  134    48 (35.8)
140.Giffen G          ROB Aus  31  103    37 (35.9)
141.MacGill S.C.G     RLB Aus  42  203    74 (36.5)
142.Wardle J.H        LSP Eng  28  102    38 (37.3)
143.Noble M.A         ROB Aus  42  121    47 (38.8)
144.Briggs J          LSP Eng  33  118    50 (42.4)
145.Lohmann G.A       RFM Eng  18  112    52 (46.4)

At the end of the table, these are bowlers whose tally of lower-order wickets is greater than a third of their total. It looks as if these bowlers have often been brought in to clean up the tail. There are quite a few pre-WW-I bowlers. A surprise is the presence of Vettori and MacGill, especially, who seems to have been brought in to bamboozle the tail despite the presence of other fast bowlers.

For a full list, please click here.

Some possible reader queries are anticipated and answered below.

1. At what individual score does the bowler dismiss the batsman. It is true that, for the fielding team, it is better for a batsman to be dismissed at 10 rather than 100. However, that is a more complex computation and has been done in a different context.

2. Whatever happens, capturing Tendulkar's wicket, even when he is on 100, is invaluable since he is capable of scoring a lot more runs than, say, when Dinesh Kartik has scored 25. It has been assumed that Tendulkar's wicket is Tendulkar's wicket, whatever be his individual score. Also, it might be true, in certain cases, that capturing Brad Haddin's wicket at 10 might be more valuable than capturing Matthew Hayden's wicket when he is at 100.

3. What about current form? While it may be true a few matches back Sehwag's wicket was going quite cheaply, his potential, as shown in the Adelaide Test, can never be underestimated. It is also true that even when Rahul Dravid or Ricky Ponting are going through indifferent form, their wickets are extremely valuable, because of their potential to score big.

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