Match winning Test bowlers
In a recent Numbers game piece, the focus was on the match winning ability of South African spearhead Dale Steyn. Steyn has proven to be by far the best fast bowler in the last few years which have been predominantly in favour of batsmen. The earlier decades were more balanced with sporting pitches and presence of top quality fast bowlers in most teams. This prompted me to take a statistical look at match winning Test bowlers since 1970. Quite a few interesting numbers and names pop up during the course of this exercise.
The first table lists the bowlers with the best bowling averages in Test victories. Of all the bowlers, who have a minimum of 100 wickets in wins; Richard Hadlee has the best numbers. A stunning average of just over 13, with a strike rate of 33 further emphasises how important he was for New Zealand throughout his career. New Zealand did not win a single game when Hadlee wasn't a part of the team. Imran Khan led Pakistan brilliantly throughout the 1980's when they were the only team to compete with the West Indies, drawing three series against them. The presence of Dale Steyn at the top shows what an incredible match winner he has been for South Africa over the last few years.
Muttiah Muralitharan, who announced his retirement from Test cricket recently has been the key to Sri Lanka's successes both home and away. His 16 wicket haul at the Oval enabled Sri Lanka to win their first series in England. Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding were crucial to the success of the West Indies through the 70's and 80's. When both played together, the West Indies lost only a single match and won 19. Marshall was the best of the West Indian bowlers with excellent performances home and away and in all conditions. He averaged 23.05 in the subcontinent and an astounding 11.72 in subcontinent wins. The presence of Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akthar and Curtly Ambrose at the top clearly shows how vital they were to their team's fortunes. Ambrose played quite a few matches in a team that was on its way down and together with Courtney Walsh, carried the hopes of success for the West Indies for much of the 90's.
|Bowler||Team||Total Matches||Total Wickets||Matches won||Wickets in wins||Average in wins||Strike rate in wins||5||10|
|Sir Richard Hadlee||NZ||86||431||22||173||13.06||33.5||17||8|
The next table lists the bowlers with the best averages in Test wins at home. The presence of Hadlee, Imran and Marshall is not surprising. Dennis Lillee was Australia's best fast bowlers throughout his career and this is vindicated by his presence. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh have been crucial to almost every Indian win at home over the last fifteen years. Muralitharan has been nothing short of exceptional in home conditions, enabling Sri Lanka to be a very potent force in home games. His average though does go up a notch when the matches against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are not considered. He averages close to 18 with a strike rate of about 47 in games not involving these two teams. Ian Botham bowled brilliantly in the 1981 Ashes and his remarkable performances kept England competitive, but his average of nearly 32 against West Indies, the best team of his era was rather poor.
|Bowler||Team||Home matches||Wickets||Home matches won||Wickets in wins||Average||Strike rate||5||10|
|Sir Richard Hadlee||NZ||43||201||15||109||13.95||34.9||9||3|
The list of bowlers with the best averages in away wins brings up some new names. Apart from the top bowlers like Marshall, Ambrose, Holding and McGrath, the presence of Zaheer Khan and Jason Gillespie is an excellent indicator of their superb away performances over the years. Gillespie, together with McGrath, formed the best opening bowling pair in the world for much of the first half of the 2000's. Zaheer Khan's bowling over the last few years has been instrumental in India's improved away performances.
|Bowler||Team||Away matches||Wickets||Matches won||Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5||10|
The tables below take a look at the bowlers with the highest percentage of their wickets in wins. The presence of bowlers from Australia and West Indies on top is a clear indicator that they were part of world class teams. Stuart MacGill and Jason Gillespie picked up more than 75% of their wickets in wins. Three more Australians McGrath, Lee and Warne make up the list at the top along with Dale Steyn. Marshall and Holding are also high on the list but the numbers are a little lower considering the higher number of draws then. Ambrose, Muralitharan and Akram despite being world class match winners were never part of a top team throughout and they have picked up only about half their wickets in wins.
Also listed in the table is the percentage contribution by a bowler to a team's wickets in wins. Muralitharan and Richard Hadlee contributed over 40 % of the team wickets in wins which undoubtedly is an indicator of the team's dependence on them. McGrath and Warne were part of a much more powerful bowling attack and the numbers are much more evenly distributed between them. Marshall, despite being a part of a quality attack, was easily the finest bowler and contributed over 30% of the team wickets in wins. Anil Kumble's bowling was the single biggest reason why India were among the best at home through the 90's and 2000's and his contribution of almost 35% of the team's wickets illustrates that.
|Bowler||Team||Matches||Wickets||Matches won||Wickets in wins||Average in wins||% of total wickets||Team Wickets||% of team wickets|
|Sir Richard Hadlee||NZ||86||431||22||173||13.06||40.13||424||40.80|
Australia did not lose a single series at home for over 15 years until the loss to South Africa in 2008-09. This dominance can be seen in Glenn McGrath's extraordinary figures of 87% of wickets in home wins. Steve Harmison is the surprise entry at the top, with 80% of his home wickets in wins. The other top bowlers in home wins include the Australians Warne and Lee and fast bowlers Malcolm Marshall and Allan Donald.
Muralitharan, as expected contributes 43% to the team wickets in home wins, while Anil Kumble and Hadlee are not far behind with about 38%. The Australian pairing of McGrath and Warne contributes a more even 25%.
|Bowler||Team||Home matches||Wickets at home||Matches won||Wickets||Average||% of wickets||Team Wickets||% of team wickets|
|Sir Richard Hadlee||NZ||43||201||15||109||13.95||54.22||286||38.11|
The final table looks at the percentage of wickets in away wins and the contribution to team wickets in away wins. Jason Gillespie is on top here with almost 77% of his away wickets coming in wins. Shane Warne and Brett Lee, who were also a part of the top class Australian team make up the top three. Marshall and McGrath were consistent performers for their respective teams in away conditions and their presence is justified. Pakistan's opening bowling pair of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis pick up about 50% of their wickets in away wins. Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble are the biggest contributors to Indian away wins in the last decade.
As expected, Muralitharan contributes 43% of the team's wickets in away wins, despite the Sri Lankan team not being as dominant away as in home conditions. Shane Warne and Malcolm Marshall, with more than 30% contribution to team wickets definitely prove their worth in away matches.
|Bowler||Team||Away matches||Wickets away||Matches won||Wickets||Average||% of wickets||Team Wickets||% of team wickets|
* Team wickets are in matches involving player.
Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo