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July 21, 2009

Tests - bowling

An in-depth analysis of Test bowlers

Anantha Narayanan
Muttiah Muralitharan appeals, Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Dhaka, 5th day, December 31, 2008
 © AFP
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At last I have been able to finish the second part of the analytical review on great Test players. The three-part analysis on Test Batsmen generated well over 1000 comments and was, in general, well received and accepted. No analysis would satisfy all and this may also be true in the on-going analysis of Test bowlers.

I have learnt a lot through the Test Batsmen analysis. First and foremost is that doing a single comparison table over 134 years is not the correct method. Test cricket has changed probably 1080 degrees over the years and there cannot be a single yardstick for all the players. Hence I have separated the analysis into multiple periods.

Period Separation:

These periods have been identified with lot of thought and deliberation with inputs from a few interested readers. Many related factors have gone into this process. Separate tables will be prepared for different periods. In addition, I will show, in the follow-up article, two tables separating the bowlers by type of bowling. This will be only for information.

- The bowling era: 1877-1914 (134 Tests and 370 players)
- The batting era: 1920-1969 (535 Tests and 980 players)
- The balanced era: 1970-2009 (1251 Tests and 1220 players).

The first era is so different from the rest of the years that it is essential to separate it into a single one despite the paucity of Tests. Uncovered pitches, 3-day Test matches, 110+ overs bowled in a day, compulsory follow-ons, low average scores et al are some of the features.

The second era was where batting was king. However, the in-between wars period was lit up by the wonderful batting of Bradman, Hammond. Headley, McCabe et al and was the golden era of batting. Still the results were plentiful. What followed the WW-2 was unfortunate. These years were batting dominated. However the batting was defensive and the matches were driven by the desire not to lose, rather than to win. The new teams, India and Pakistan, the weaker New Zealand and the defensive strong teams contributed a lot to this situation. These 50 years form a separate era. There are lot of similarities within the two sub-periods in terms of numbers.

The third era is the most balanced era of all. This era saw great bowlers such as Lillee, Holding, Marshall, Hadlee, Imran, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Kapil Dev, Muralitharan, Warne, Kumble et al. It also saw the presence of great batsmen such as Richards, Greg Chappell, Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Lara, Ponting, Miandad, Dravid, Gooch, Jayawardene et al. Thus there were great contests. As such this was a great balanced era and even though the number of Tests is quite high, this is a logical grouping.

As done for the Batting analysis, the analysis is done in two parts. The first is based on Match Performances and the second part is based on the Career achievements. Many people are under the misapprehension that Match Performance is based on team achievements. This is completely wrong. The Match Performance refers to the concerned bowlers' performances during the specific match and what happened in the match. The only team achievement considered is the result which, at the end of the day, is the most important aspect of any match.

A. Match Performances (Maximum 40 points)

The following factors are used to analyze the match performances of bowlers. The total points secured is divided by the number of innspells (my own term indicating a qualifying bowling stint, taking care to exclude bowling efforts such as 5-0-17-0 et al).

Base points
- Wickets captured
- Balls bowled - to recognize long spells
- Batsmen dismissed - based on his score at time of dismissal
Multiplicative factors
- Overall quality of batting team (primarily top-7 batsmen)
- Bowling accuracy (relative to the innings scoring rate)
- Match-related pitch characteristics
- An adjustment for pace bowlers bowling in the Asian subcontinent and spinners bowling outside
- Match situation
- Home/Away (incorporating relative team strengths)
- Result (incorporating relative team strengths)
- Series situation

B. Career Achievements (Maximum 40 points)

This is an equally important aspect of any such analysis. It also encompasses aspects of bowling which do not require consideration of the match conditions or situation. The only longevity measure is the "Career wickets captured" measure, carrying 5 points (6.2%). This will incorporate the following factors.

- Career wickets captured (5 points)
- Career wickets per innspell (5 points)
- Bowling Strike rate-BpW (10 points)
- Bowling accuracy-RpO (5 points)
- Average Quality of batsmen dismissed - based on CtD bat avge (5 points)
- Type of wickets captured - Top/Middle order/Late order (5 points)
- Performance ratio - % of wickets captured to % of balls bowled (5 points).

C. Match Performances(Maximum 40 points)

1.1. Wickets captured: Straightforward linear weight for wickets captured.
1.2. Balls bowled: This is to recognize the fact that a bowler might have bowled an innspell of 43-12-69-2 and provided great support to the main strike bowler(s). Around 25-over spell is considered as approximately equivalent to a wicket.
1.3. Batsmen dismissed: This is to take care of situations such as the Cardiff/Lord's Tests. The idea is to reward Anderson who dismissed Ponting at 0 as against Panesar who dismissed him at 150. Anderson gets almost complete credit while Panesar none. The importance of dismissing a top batsman at a low score cannot be over-emphasized. However it must be noted that in the Career Batsman quality measure, both Anderson and Panesar would get credit for 56.18.
2.1. Overall quality of batting team: This is based on the Career-todate batting averages of the first 7 batsmen and minimal weight to the late order batsmen.
2.2. Bowling accuracy: This is in relation to the bowling team's overall innings performance. three recent examples shown.
- Saf: 651 in 154.3 (Siddle 35-15-67-1)
- Nzl: 619 in 154 (Harbhajan 41-7-120-2)
- Ind: 379 in 92 (Franklin 14-4-38-1)
In each of these cases the bowler concerned has done very well as compared to his team mates and will be credited with the appropriate multiplicative factor, Siddle and Harbhajan more than Franklin because of the higher proportion of overs delivered.
2.3. Match-related pitch characteristics: Based on Arjun's suggestion of the 10 best scores. I have done an analysis of many matches of different periods and this measure has come out very well. The highest value is 1319 in the (in)famous Slk-Ind test in which 6 centuries, including Jayasuriya's 340, were scored. The lowest was in an Ashes test during 1888 with a figure of 181, the four innings scores being 116, 53, 60 and 62 (???). The higher this value is, the more difficult the bowlers' task is and vice versa.
2.4. Location based adjustment: All pace bowlers bowling in the sub-continent get a lift up and all spinners bowling outside get a lift up. There is no negative valuation. These are based on actual summary calculations.
2.5. Match situation: The innings type. In the second innings, what score was being defended, in the third innings, what is the deficit/advantage and what was the attempted target score and in the fourth innings, what was the score being defended and what was the margin of win, if there was one.
2.6. Home/Away: No blind computation. This takes into account the relative strengths of the two teams. Weaker teams, whether playing home or away will get additional weight and vice versa.
2.7. Result: Here also the relative strengths are taken into account.
2.8. Series situation: Is it a dead rubber, is the series still in the balance, what is the series score at mid points et al.

D. Career Achievements (Maximum 40 points)

1. Career wickets captured (5 points): Only longevity based measure. 5 points for 1000 wickets.
2. Career wickets per innspell (5 points): Performance based measure.
3. Bowling Strike rate-BpW (10 points): This generally favours the fast bowlers. And that is the way it should be.
4. Bowling accuracy-RpO (5 points): This generally favours the spinners.
5. Average Quality of batsmen dismissed - based on CtD bat avge (5 points): Averaged over all the wickets captured.
6. Type of wickets captured - Top/Middle order/Late order (5 points): The Top/Middle order gets clubbed together and gets much higher weight than the low order and then the average determined.
7. Performance ratio - % of wickets captured to % of balls bowled (5 points). This is to reward the bowlers who have delivered maximum while bowling less. Generally favours the fast bowlers although readers would be surprised to see Stuart Macgill in the top-10.

Let us now look at the tables. The same criteria is used for all periods so the tables are comparable, while exercising a degree of caution. The bowler should have reached the mark of 100 career wickets. The tables are current upto and inclusive of match no. 1924 (Second Sri Lnka - Pakistan Test completed recently).

Before readers rush off with comments let me outline below in a simple manner all factors which have been taken care of. Please do not make redundant comments on these factors.

1. Bowler perf points in stronger bowling teams have been increased.
2. Bowler perf points in weaker bowling teams have been decreased.
3. Bowler perf points against stronger batting lineups have been increased.
4. Bowler perf points weaker batting lineups have been decreased.
5. Pace bowler perf points in subcontinent matches have been increased.
6. Spin bowler perf points in outside-sc matches have been increased.
7. Batsman quality is career-to-date and adjusted based on period.
8. Longevity gets a weight of 6.25% and performance measures 93.75%.
9. Effort put in by bowlers, even supportive, has been recognized.

1. Current era (1970-2000): Table of top bowlers

SNo. Cty Bowler          BT Ratio Total Match  Wkt  Bow  Bow  Wkt  Wkt Perf
Pts  Perf   Pts StRt  Acc  Bat  Qty  Idx
Max Wt-> 80.0  40.0  10.0 10.0  5.0  5.0  5.0  5.0

1. Slk Muralitharan M ROB 1.28 51.30 23.85 6.49 6.74 3.89 4.02 3.81 2.51 2. Aus Lillee D.K RF 1.20 48.05 21.48 3.87 7.62 3.20 4.92 3.98 2.98 3. Aus Warne S.K RLB 1.20 48.00 22.52 5.57 6.47 3.64 3.69 3.61 2.52 4. Nzl Hadlee R.J RFM 1.20 47.97 21.16 4.37 7.69 3.38 4.73 3.88 2.76 5. Pak Imran Khan RF 1.20 47.90 21.41 3.87 7.37 3.46 5.15 3.92 2.72 6. Saf Steyn D.W RF 1.14 45.55 20.34 2.94 8.01 2.72 4.31 3.68 3.55 7. Win Marshall M.D RF 1.14 45.44 18.89 3.77 7.94 3.38 4.59 4.01 2.85 8. Aus McGrath G.D RFM 1.12 44.86 18.77 4.57 7.03 3.81 3.84 4.05 2.79 9. Ind Kumble A RLB 1.11 44.58 20.13 5.08 5.62 3.58 4.13 3.78 2.26 10. Pak Waqar Younis RFM 1.10 44.18 18.67 3.74 7.89 2.91 4.07 3.90 3.00

11. Saf Donald A.A RF 1.10 44.13 18.52 3.61 7.49 3.35 4.01 4.02 3.12 12. Win Ambrose C.E.L RF 1.09 43.55 18.76 3.81 6.90 3.83 4.01 3.96 2.27 13. Win Holding M.A RF 1.08 43.40 17.80 2.94 7.70 3.22 5.06 3.96 2.71 14. Pak Wasim Akram LFM 1.08 43.22 18.90 3.84 6.90 3.57 3.91 3.69 2.41 15. Pak Shoaib Akhtar RF 1.08 43.21 19.12 2.60 7.53 2.93 4.19 3.93 2.91 16. Aus Lawson G.F RF 1.08 43.20 19.26 2.70 6.40 3.12 5.18 4.17 2.37 17. Aus Reid B.A LFM 1.08 43.03 18.55 2.68 6.92 3.42 4.35 4.10 3.00 18. Win Croft C.E.H RF 1.07 42.97 18.20 2.43 7.86 3.15 4.61 4.10 2.61 19. Aus Thomson J.R RF 1.07 42.82 17.32 2.72 7.57 2.79 5.43 4.19 2.78 20. Ind Harbhajan Singh ROB 1.06 42.51 20.26 3.46 5.63 3.59 3.81 3.61 2.14

This is a galaxy of the best bowlers who have graced the grounds over the past 40 years. Not one of them does not deserve his place in this exclusive list. One might like minor moves amongst the top-10, but no one can say with any degree of conviction that there is even one undeserving candidate, including Dale Steyn.

Muralitharan is deservedly on top, that too by a margin of around 6%. The fact that he has played for Sri Lanka has only aided him slightly. His top-drawer performances, day in and day out, have given him the highest Match Performance points. His collection of wickets, wickets per innspell, good accuracy, quality of batsmen dismissed are all in the top 10%. Only in the last two measures does he lag behind others since he has taken a lion's share of his team's bowling efforts and has captured significant number of late order batsmen.

Lillee, who is in second place just ahead of Warne, was the first of the modern great fast bowlers. He formed a great team with Thomson and would have comfortably crossed 450 wickets barring the mid-career switch to Packer and injuries, because of which he missed 30 Tests. A sub-24 average and a 52+ strike rate tell the story.

Warne, in third position, is much more than the "ball of the century" and similar mind-blowing efforts. He had great variations and, barring against and in India, he was devastating everywhere. On dead pitches he had the ability to think out set batsmen. He gains slightly because he was in a strong bowling attack.

What does one say of Richard Hadlee, who is in fourth place. He might have played for a weak team but this works against him in the Match Performance analysis. However he has maintained 5 wickets per Test throughout his career. He was the single bowling star for his team for many years and deserves his second spot.

What Imran Khan would have done if he had bowled in those 8 batting-only Tests is anybody's guess. His 40-wickets performance against India in the 1982-83 series is one of the best series efforts ever and without any doubt the best performance by a pace bowler in the Asian sub-continent. A great captain and one of the greatest pace bowlers ever, as shown by this placement.

Before readers start sending torrents of mails asking why xyz is not ahead of pqr or something similar, please look at what separates the second to fifth placed bowlers, just 0.15 point. Kindly see them together as a band of equals.

Steyn comes in next. Do I see eyebrows raised at Steyn. If so, do not forget that his strike rate is 39.2, bettered only by the pre-WW1 figure of 34.1 by Lohmann (should be ignored for all purposes). He has captured 170 wickets in 33 Tests at an outstanding average of 23+. His Performance ratio (% of balls to % of wickets) is the highest for any bowler, standing at 1.78. His placement is also a vindication of the algorithms used in that a bowler with 170 wickets could be placed above bowlers who have captured in excess of 550 wickets.

Marshall, McGrath, Kumble and Waqar Younis complete this table of great bowlers. Each of these is a giant and could easily have graced the top-5. Alan Donald, the greatest South African pace bowler ever, just misses out.

Australia has three bowlers and Pakistan, as a tribute to their fast bowling skills, two bowlers. There are 3 spinners in this elite group, probably par for the period. Let me also add that only one more spinner, Harbhajan, that too just about, makes it to the top-20, making this a pace bowlers' era. Anyhow, other than, to a lesser extent, Saqlain Mushtaq and Abdul Qadir, there have not been very good spinners during these times.

As I am readying this for despatch, I get to view all-time best Australian XI. The three Australian bowlers in the Top-10 from this table and the no.2 from the Middle-era table have all found their place.

To view the complete list, please click here.

2.Current era (1970-2000): Table with support data

SNo. Cty Bowler          B/T Inn Rating Wkts Bow   Bow   Wkt  Wkt  B/W
Spls  Pts       StRt  RpO  Avge Qual Ratio

1. Slk Muralitharan M ROB 219 51.30 770 54.6 2.44 20.09 0.76 1.26 2. Aus Lillee D.K RF 127 48.05 355 52.0 2.76 24.58 0.80 1.49 3. Aus Warne S.K RLB 262 48.00 708 57.5 2.65 18.47 0.72 1.26 4. Nzl Hadlee R.J RFM 146 47.97 431 50.9 2.63 23.63 0.78 1.38 5. Pak Imran Khan RF 132 47.90 362 53.8 2.55 25.75 0.78 1.36 6. Saf Steyn D.W RF 61 45.55 170 39.3 3.62 21.55 0.74 1.78 7. Win Marshall M.D RF 149 45.44 376 46.8 2.69 22.97 0.80 1.42 8. Aus McGrath G.D RFM 241 44.86 563 52.0 2.50 19.22 0.81 1.40 9. Ind Kumble A RLB 234 44.58 619 66.0 2.70 20.66 0.76 1.13 10. Pak Waqar Younis RFM 149 44.18 373 43.5 3.25 20.33 0.78 1.50

11. Saf Donald A.A RF 126 44.13 330 47.0 2.84 20.06 0.80 1.56 12. Win Ambrose C.E.L RF 170 43.55 405 54.6 2.31 20.04 0.79 1.14 13. Win Holding M.A RF 110 43.40 249 50.9 2.79 25.28 0.79 1.36 14. Pak Wasim Akram LFM 175 43.22 414 54.7 2.59 19.56 0.74 1.21 15. Pak Shoaib Akhtar RF 78 43.21 178 45.7 3.37 20.94 0.79 1.46 16. Aus Lawson G.F RF 75 43.20 180 61.8 2.97 25.90 0.83 1.19 17. Aus Reid B.A LFM 40 43.03 113 55.3 2.68 21.75 0.82 1.50 18. Win Croft C.E.H RF 52 42.97 125 49.3 2.84 23.06 0.82 1.31 19. Aus Thomson J.R RF 87 42.82 200 52.7 3.19 27.17 0.84 1.39 20. Ind Harbhajan Singh ROB 137 42.51 330 65.1 2.81 19.07 0.72 1.07

To view the complete list, please click here.

3. Middle era (1920-1969): Table of top bowlers

SNo. Cty Bowler          BT Ratio Total Match  Wkt  Bow  Bow  Wkt  Wkt Perf
Pts  Perf   Pts StRt  Acc  Bat  Qty  Idx
Max Wt-> 80.0  40.0  10.0 10.0  5.0  5.0  5.0  5.0

1. Aus Grimmett C.V RLB 1.25 49.87 25.94 3.53 6.19 3.71 4.22 3.70 2.58 2. Aus O'Reilly W.J RLB 1.23 49.24 25.98 2.97 5.99 3.89 4.62 3.72 2.06 3. Saf Tayfield H.J ROB 1.13 45.20 23.10 2.94 5.12 3.46 4.93 3.76 1.87 4. Eng Trueman F.S RF 1.11 44.29 18.72 3.42 8.53 2.94 3.56 3.82 3.30 5. Pak Fazal Mahmood RFM 1.10 44.08 21.16 2.78 6.15 3.37 4.32 4.11 2.20 6. Eng Laker J.C ROB 1.09 43.46 19.32 2.75 7.00 3.36 4.33 3.99 2.70 7. Aus McKenzie G.D RF 1.07 42.84 19.91 2.97 6.07 3.19 4.39 4.07 2.24 8. Eng Bedser A.V RFM 1.07 42.68 19.51 3.13 6.45 3.22 3.85 3.94 2.60 9. Ind Chandrasekhar B RLB 1.06 42.23 18.86 3.12 6.57 3.09 4.50 3.90 2.20 10. Win Hall W.W RF 1.04 41.51 17.42 2.60 8.04 2.74 3.44 4.16 3.11

11. Aus Davidson A.K LFM 1.04 41.43 17.88 2.67 7.06 3.49 3.98 3.91 2.44 12. Eng Tate M.W RFM 1.03 41.19 19.80 2.51 4.80 3.93 4.09 3.89 2.18 13. Eng Snow J.A RFM 1.03 41.17 17.71 2.69 7.24 3.10 3.69 3.96 2.78 14. Ind Bedi B.S LSP 1.02 40.79 18.88 3.10 4.88 3.66 4.50 4.00 1.77 15. Saf Pollock P.M RF 1.02 40.75 16.81 2.32 7.80 3.09 3.68 3.97 3.09 16. Eng Underwood D.L LSP 1.02 40.74 17.52 3.02 5.58 3.74 4.62 4.12 2.15 17. Ind Gupte S.P RLB 1.01 40.57 19.36 2.74 5.58 3.14 3.59 3.84 2.32 18. Win Gibbs L.R ROB 1.01 40.54 20.00 3.19 4.21 3.67 4.01 3.65 1.79 19. Aus Lindwall R.R RF 1.00 40.17 15.75 2.67 7.35 3.15 4.67 3.90 2.69 20. Aus Johnston W.A LSP 1.00 40.06 17.54 2.40 6.22 3.33 4.10 4.09 2.38

The table is headed by two great leg-spinners from Australia, Grimmett and O'Reilly, two very different bowlers but were devastating wherever they played. They might have had the good fortune of having Bradman at slip rather than at the crease, but the England batting line-up was a pretty good one.

Tayfield, the South African off spinner is in third position, in a list where spin is king. His 9 for 113 off 37 consecutive overs against England remains the best bowling performance ever in this analysis.

Trueman, the fiery fast bowler and the first to reach 300 test wickets is in fourth position. He is also the best fast bowler in this middle era.

The fifth position is held by that master of seam, Fazal Mahmood, who troubled the batsmen on the matting wickets of Pakistan but outside also and allowed Pakistan to have a reasonable start to their test initiation. Unfortunately there was a lot of defensive thinking which meant that Fazal also had to act as the stock bowler.

The top-10 is completed by Laker, McKenzie, Alec Bedser, Chandrasekhar and Hall, an outstanding quintet. There are 5 spinners in this top-10 group indicating that this was an era which had a very strong spin presence.

To view the complete list, please click here.

4. Middle era (1920-1969): Table of support data

SNo. Cty Bowler          B/T Inn Rating Wkts Bow   Bow   Wkt  Wkt  B/W
Spls  Pts       StRt  RpO  Avge Qual Ratio

1. Aus Grimmett C.V RLB 66 49.87 216 67.2 2.16 21.10 0.74 1.29 2. Aus O'Reilly W.J RLB 48 49.24 144 69.6 1.95 23.08 0.74 1.03 3. Saf Tayfield H.J ROB 61 45.20 170 79.8 1.95 24.67 0.75 0.94 4. Eng Trueman F.S RF 122 44.29 307 49.4 2.62 17.80 0.76 1.65 5. Pak Fazal Mahmood RFM 50 44.08 139 70.7 2.10 21.58 0.82 1.10 6. Eng Laker J.C ROB 81 43.46 193 62.3 2.05 21.67 0.80 1.35 7. Aus McKenzie G.D RF 106 42.84 246 71.9 2.49 21.94 0.81 1.12 8. Eng Bedser A.V RFM 91 42.68 236 67.4 2.21 19.24 0.79 1.30 9. Ind Chandrasekhar B RLB 95 42.23 242 66.0 2.71 22.48 0.78 1.10 10. Win Hall W.W RF 88 41.51 192 54.3 2.92 17.20 0.83 1.55

11. Aus Davidson A.K LFM 80 41.43 186 62.3 1.98 19.92 0.78 1.22 12. Eng Tate M.W RFM 67 41.19 155 80.8 1.94 20.45 0.78 1.09 13. Eng Snow J.A RFM 90 41.17 202 59.5 2.69 18.44 0.79 1.39 14. Ind Bedi B.S LSP 113 40.79 266 80.3 2.14 22.50 0.80 0.89 15. Saf Pollock P.M RF 50 40.75 116 56.2 2.58 18.39 0.79 1.55 16. Eng Underwood D.L LSP 145 40.74 297 73.6 2.11 23.10 0.82 1.07 17. Ind Gupte S.P RLB 56 40.57 149 75.7 2.34 17.94 0.77 1.16 18. Win Gibbs L.R ROB 141 40.54 309 87.8 1.99 20.07 0.73 0.89 19. Aus Lindwall R.R RF 112 40.17 228 59.9 2.31 23.36 0.78 1.34 20. Aus Johnston W.A LSP 75 40.06 160 69.0 2.08 20.49 0.82 1.19

To view the complete list, please click here.

5. Pre-WW1 era (1877-1914): Table of top bowlers

SNo. Cty Bowler          BT Ratio Total Match  Wkt  Bow  Bow  Wkt  Wkt Perf
Pts  Perf   Pts StRt  Acc  Bat  Qty  Idx
Max Wt-> 80.0  40.0  10.0 10.0  5.0  5.0  5.0  5.0

SNo. Cty Bowler BT Ratio Total Match Wkt Bow Bow Wkt Wkt Perf Pts Perf Pts StRt Acc Bat Qty Idx Max Wt-> 80.0 40.0 10.0 10.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0

1. Eng Barnes S.F RFM 1.27 50.71 26.15 3.90 6.72 3.53 3.37 3.97 3.08 2. Aus Turner C.T.B RFM 1.06 42.41 19.35 3.12 5.92 3.95 3.97 4.15 1.96 3. Eng Richardson T RF 1.05 41.87 19.84 3.44 5.92 2.95 3.26 3.93 2.52 4. Aus Spofforth F.R RFM 1.02 40.96 17.58 2.90 6.48 3.42 4.10 3.92 2.55 5. Aus Saunders J.V LSP 1.01 40.52 18.80 2.59 6.40 2.89 3.40 3.86 2.58 6. Eng Blythe C LSP 1.01 40.50 18.10 2.58 6.40 3.44 3.30 4.29 2.39 7. Aus Trumble H ROB 1.00 40.06 17.75 2.56 5.44 3.62 4.79 3.91 2.00 8. Eng Peel R LSP 1.00 39.85 18.77 2.70 5.92 3.91 2.46 3.90 2.20 9. Eng Lohmann G.A RFM 0.98 39.27 15.71 3.03 7.28 3.99 2.32 3.76 3.18 10. Aus Cotter A RFM 0.98 39.25 17.74 2.41 5.84 2.62 4.30 4.12 2.23

11. Aus Giffen G ROB 0.94 37.43 17.18 2.50 5.04 3.28 3.53 3.91 1.98 12. Aus Palmer G.E ROB 0.93 37.28 16.03 2.41 5.44 3.66 3.75 3.80 2.19 13. Eng Briggs J LSP 0.91 36.43 14.69 2.56 6.40 3.54 2.68 3.76 2.79 14. Aus Jones E RF 0.90 36.10 14.69 1.98 5.36 2.94 4.76 4.06 2.30 15. Aus Whitty W.J LFM 0.90 36.10 14.46 2.28 5.92 3.44 3.68 3.96 2.36 16. Saf Vogler A.E.E RLB 0.89 35.43 14.20 2.10 6.56 2.76 3.28 4.18 2.36 17. Nzl Cameron F.J RFM 0.88 35.04 13.45 1.63 5.76 4.33 4.24 3.79 1.84 18. Saf Faulkner G.A RLB 0.87 34.79 14.37 2.03 6.44 2.82 3.47 3.67 1.98 19. Aus Noble M.A ROB 0.87 34.67 13.51 2.05 5.28 3.37 4.85 3.70 1.92 20. Eng Ferris J.J LM 0.83 33.14 9.94 3.16 7.04 3.87 3.22 3.95 1.95 21. Eng Rhodes W LSP 0.81 32.24 12.47 1.90 5.44 3.40 3.54 3.49 2.00 22. Saf Sinclair J.H RLB 0.72 28.83 10.73 1.63 5.44 2.59 2.88 3.99 1.56 23. Aus Armstrong W.W RLB 0.69 27.57 10.47 1.37 2.73 3.70 4.00 3.97 1.34 24. Eng Woolley F.E LSP 0.69 27.52 8.79 1.28 4.49 3.30 4.10 3.83 1.75

Exactly 10 bowlers fulfill the criteria (Since changed cut-off to 60 wkts). The list is, as expected, headed by Sid Barnes, by the reckoning of many, the best fast-medium bowler ever. He is ahead of the next bowler by over 20%. Then come those deadly exponents of pace and spin who revelled on those uncovered deadly pitches.

Surprising thing is that Lohmann, despite his devastating strike rate and average, comes as low as fifth. His match performances have been below-par. The opposition has also been quite average. This list is dominated by spinners, 7 in all, but led by two great fast medium bowlers. Quite surprising that there is no leg spinner. Grimmett and O'Reilly started the tradition of great leg spinners, after the war.

6. Pre-WW1 era (1877-1914): Table with support data

SNo. Cty Bowler          B/T Inn Rating Wkts Bow   Bow   Wkt  Wkt  B/W
Spls  Pts       StRt  RpO  Avge Qual Ratio

SNo. Cty Bowler B/T Inn Rating Wkts Bow Bow Wkt Wkt B/W Spls Pts StRt RpO Avge Qual Ratio

1. Eng Barnes S.F RFM 48 50.71 189 41.7 2.37 16.83 0.79 1.54 2. Aus Turner C.T.B RFM 29 42.41 101 51.3 1.93 19.85 0.83 0.98 3. Eng Richardson T RF 22 41.87 88 51.1 2.96 16.31 0.79 1.26 4. Aus Spofforth F.R RFM 29 40.96 94 44.5 2.48 20.51 0.78 1.28 5. Aus Saunders J.V LSP 27 40.52 79 45.1 3.02 17.01 0.77 1.29 6. Eng Blythe C LSP 36 40.50 100 45.5 2.46 16.51 0.86 1.20 7. Aus Trumble H ROB 57 40.06 141 57.4 2.28 23.93 0.78 1.00 8. Eng Peel R LSP 35 39.85 102 51.1 1.97 12.30 0.78 1.10 9. Eng Lohmann G.A RFM 34 39.27 112 34.1 1.89 11.60 0.75 1.59 10. Aus Cotter A RFM 34 39.25 89 52.1 3.30 21.49 0.82 1.12

11. Aus Giffen G ROB 39 37.43 103 62.0 2.62 17.67 0.78 0.99 12. Aus Palmer G.E ROB 29 37.28 78 57.9 2.23 18.75 0.76 1.09 13. Eng Briggs J LSP 45 36.43 118 45.2 2.36 13.42 0.75 1.40 14. Aus Jones E RF 29 36.10 64 58.6 2.97 23.81 0.81 1.15 15. Aus Whitty W.J LFM 25 36.10 65 51.6 2.45 18.41 0.79 1.18 16. Saf Vogler A.E.E RLB 27 35.43 64 43.2 3.16 16.40 0.84 1.18 17. Nzl Cameron F.J RFM 36 35.04 63 77.7 2.39 21.21 0.76 0.92 18. Saf Faulkner G.A RLB 38 34.79 82 51.5 3.09 17.36 0.73 0.99 19. Aus Noble M.A ROB 63 34.67 121 59.2 2.54 24.24 0.74 0.96 20. Eng Ferris J.J LM 16 33.14 61 37.7 2.02 16.10 0.79 0.97 21. Eng Rhodes W LSP 75 32.24 127 64.8 2.50 17.68 0.70 1.00 22. Saf Sinclair J.H RLB 36 28.83 63 57.1 3.33 14.42 0.80 0.78 23. Aus Armstrong W.W RLB 70 27.57 87 92.2 2.19 20.00 0.79 0.67 24. Eng Woolley F.E LSP 72 27.52 83 78.3 2.60 20.50 0.77 0.87

I do not expect the readers to agree with all the placings. They have every right to disagree in a nice, positive, contributory manner. I have no problems if you express your disagreement supported by subjective, objective or figures-based arguments. Kindly stay away from rude, offensive or abusive comments. Also resist making mundane bare comments such as "abc is better than xyz.". Also all comments on batsmen have to be relevant to the topic under discussion. Otherwise, they are unlikely to see the light of the day.

One final note. Muralitharan's action has been analyzed and deemed to be perfectly acceptable by ICC. That is enough for me. That may not be enough for some readers, I have no problem with that. However please do not raise that issue in response to this article. One such comment I will ignore. If readers persist with such comments, I will have no other option but to ignore all their comments, however valid those might be. This is not the forum for such comments.

A reminder that the bowler-type tables will be brought out in the follow-up article.

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Cabe on (July 31, 2012, 14:56 GMT)

I bowl every once in awhile. I used to bowl a fair amonut in college. I use a two finger spin technique. I think this is where my problem is. I am fairly consistent but I never seem to improve. I want my average to go up. Do you have tips on improving my two finger spin technique? Also a couple of my buddies have changed over to a three finger (two fingers and a thumb) technique which has really helped them improve and be more consistent. I have tried it but do not know how to spin the ball using this technique. Can you help me out?

Posted by Zeeshan Ahmed on (July 29, 2009, 11:26 GMT)

No doubt your another nice article. Almost same expected results are there. I think this one is better one to judge bowlers. Here one thing come in my knowledge that in All - Time XI of Australia, O Reilly selected instead of Grimmett as according to them he is perfect with Shane Warne. At one ocassion Don Bradman said that the best bowler of his era is O Reilly. Grimmett bowling average is 24.21 but against England his average is 32.44. O Reilly bowling average is 25.36 against England. I think both are two greatest bowlers among their contemporaries.

Posted by Mohsin Khan on (July 28, 2009, 19:06 GMT)

Great effort,

I think the analysis is really detailed and a lot of effort has gone into it but in the end this just shows how statistics are never a substitute for watching the game.

Some very off rankings in there, Waqar>>Wasim, Waqar >> Holding, Garner....etc Kumble >> Wasim, Ambrose, Holding...etc

Harbhajan in the top 20s (DOES NOT DESERVE IT AT ALL) no way is he better then Garner, Saqlain, Walsh and Kapil Dev and many others.

Another thing which may require further thought is that instead of having the subcontinent vs outside distinction we need to introduce a bowlers adaptability to different conditions, best way I would think to do that would be to have some sort a standard deviation in a bowlers averages in different countries.

I would suspect Warne and Muralitharan would drop a few points due to their ineffectiveness in India and Australia respectively.

Posted by Shankar Krishnan on (July 27, 2009, 6:50 GMT)

I did not see the innings strike rate being used anywhere in the rating. Instead the career strike rate is used.I feel the innings strike rate is a key measure that is worth considering. A bowler,though not consistent, may produce devastating innings / match performances on and off. Harmison & Harbhajan, for example.In the current methodology these will get rolled up into a career number that may not reflect accurately his value / contribution to the teams' success.May be a good idea to see how the numbers fall by considering the innings strike rate. [[ Shankar It is an excellent idea but will not make sense if it is applied in an absolute manner. At the innings level it has to be relative to the team strike rate. Also it cannot be relative to the match strike rate in which case the poor bowling of the weak team (say, B'Desh) will over-value a stronger team's bowling. My idea is to do this as an additional base measure itself in view of the difficulty in getting the multiplicative measure correct. Let me look at it carefully. Overall a veru good idea. Ananth: ]]

Posted by Alex on (July 27, 2009, 5:20 GMT)

Ananth - Thanks for the clarification. I am in investment business, and do something similar to the company and market data compared to what you have done with cricket database, which is my hobby. We still call it statistical analysis. The experience is that it is useful to create categories (alongwith variance or confidence intervals) which act as good filters. Beyond that, it is mostly seasoned intuition.

I do not have a problem with BCL being No. 1. His peaks were spectacular, and he actually was quite consistent at a high level in his last 4 yrs. Likewise, barring Bradman, no one had a 5-6 year long purple patch that Ponting had over years 2000-06. I still prefer SRT over them but have no complaints about your metric. It's not like getting ranked #1 on such lists will help him pay for his kids' education, after all :)

Posted by Ananth on (July 26, 2009, 16:07 GMT)

Alex/Yash First let me say that what I do is not a statistical analysis. It is Cricket Analysis. I rarely use the statistical methodology nor do I use statistical techniques. Once in a while I do some statistical derivations such as Mean, SD et al. What I do is to use my database, apply analytical techniques, cricketing knowledge, computer skills, logic and a bit of lateral thinking and finally go by consensus of the readers to derive common sense based tables. Most important, almost all my work is post-mortem, so what-if questions do not arise. There is no way I am going to be able to indicate what "variance" which is expected in my analysis since my analysis is not statistical. This is the main reason why a completely way-out, unbelievable, totally theoretical example does not excite me since I conclude that such an example will never happen and ignore it. What Yash should do is to pick up 2/3/4 real life bowlers of similar bowling averages, find out the assigned points in this analysis and point out discrepancies (as Arjun had done earlier re Bowling averages). Then I will look at that carefully and apply corrections, if warranted. If I start taking the "5-sixes-1-wicket-in-an-over" during a player's entire career seriously then someone will send me another extreme example of a Nadkarni type analysis of 32-27-5-0 repeated in 50 matches and raise hell that something is wrong. Or, as some readers did in the Batting analysis, talk about 7 0's and 1 x 400 with 8 x 50s, again repeated through a player's career. At the end of the analysis my tables must pass the test of reasonableness and be acceptable to most readers. Even in the batting analysis, all the fans of Tendulkar were fighting a bitter battle for one point and one place. If Lara and Tendulkar had exchanged places, all these would have been happy. My point is that all the questioning of my analysis was only to achieve this simple exchange. To summarize, use only real life examples to make your point. And do not think that this is a purely statistical analysis and start looking at statistical variations and discrepancies. And I suggest do not ignore the importance of including proper and valid cricketing ideas.

Posted by Anurag on (July 26, 2009, 13:47 GMT)

have changed vastly over the years. While an economy rate of 2.5 is fantastic for a post-2000 bowler, it is average for the early bowling era or even the era of stonewalling batsmen like gavaskar. However, a 6-2 6-2 6-2 win with 25 aces is great for a laver as well as a federer.

Finally inspite of everything said and done, a genuine legend like bradman or laver will stand at the helm of any list, whether statistical or one handwritten in gold by god.

Take this analysis as a mere comparison of players' statistics and understand that a mere percentage point is no way to say imran khan was inferior to hadlee

Posted by Anurag on (July 26, 2009, 13:37 GMT)

A lot of comments on this blog have expressed outrage at the wideness of the eras. While it is an undeniable fact that cricket, or any other sport for that matter, has been turned on its head in the 130-odd years of its existence, is it not interesting to see greats of different eras being pitted against each other in such an analysis? While acknowledging the greatness of a barnes or an o'reilly or a marshall or a murali, why not use the tool of statistics with different yardsticks for different eras to bring them onto a level playing field? It cerainly will not be unfair to do that since the standout bowlers of each era have about 50 rating points.

I understand comparisons with tennis or golf where the debates to ascertain the greatest player ever are even more intense since those are individual sports and not team sports. This makes it much easier in those sports rather than in cricket, where more than equipments or playing fields, the mindsets and statistics

to be continued

Posted by Alex on (July 26, 2009, 12:39 GMT)

Ananth - Martin Crowe has made some nice suggestions so far, and hopefully he will give you the exact details of how those should be implemented. If he has the bandwidth, perhaps he could give us his Top 10 batsmen and Top 10 bowlers (as per his choice of eras), alongwith his reasons.

Such statistical excercize make it possible to categorize but can never tell who is the best or second best etc ... which are more subjective matters. But with input from knowlegeable players and former players, this method could be improved by ICC etc. to award performances every year.

Posted by Alex on (July 26, 2009, 12:07 GMT)

Ananth - I think Yash made a good point. Yours is a statistical interpretation of data, and he has concocted a hypothetical (but valid) scenario. Part of the problem will go away if you add a column of "variance" associated with your final score of a bowler ... I had requested this earlier. Most captains (and selection committees) would prefer a strike bowler who has slightly lower final score than someone else, provided he has a lower variance ... we are looking at an "investment" over 10-12 years in this exercize.

To come back to Yash's example: the answer depends on the variance of this bowler. If he keeps producing such performances under all circumstances, sure he is better than Murali "except when the conditions really favor the bowlers". Because even on a featherbed wicket, this guy will ensure that the other side is bowled out twice in a match within 40 overs for a net total of approx. 600. His team can score those runs in 400 overs and win the match!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anantha Narayanan
Anantha spent the first half of his four-decade working career with corporates like IBM, Shaw Wallace, NCR, Sime Darby and the Spinneys group in IT-related positions. In the second half, he has worked on cricket simulation, ratings, data mining, analysis and writing, amongst other things. He was the creator of the Wisden 100 lists, released in 2001. He has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket, and worked extensively with Maruti Motors, Idea Cellular and Castrol on their performance ratings-related systems. He is an armchair connoisseur of most sports. His other passion is tennis, and he thinks Roger Federer is the greatest sportsman to have walked on earth.

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