July 19, 2010

Match winning Test bowlers

Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan
Curtly Ambrose: one of the best match winners  © Getty Images
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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.

Bowlers with the best averages in Test wins (minimum of 100 wickets in wins)
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
Imran Khan Pak 88 362 26 155 14.5 38.3 11 6
Dale Steyn SA 40 205 21 149 16 28.2 13 4
Muttiah Muralitharan SL 132 792 53 430 16.03 42.6 40 18
Malcolm Marshall WI 81 376 43 254 16.78 38.1 17 4
Allan Donald SA 72 330 33 187 16.79 35.5 14 3
Curtly Ambrose WI 98 405 44 229 16.86 44.4 13 3
Shoaib Akthar Pak 46 178 20 104 17.36 33.4 7 2
Waqar Younis Pak 87 373 39 222 18.2 35 14 4
Dennis Lillee Aus 70 355 31 203 18.27 39 17 6
Shaun Pollock SA 108 421 49 223 18.3 47.5 9 1
Michael Holding WI 60 249 31 152 18.36 40.1 6 1
Wasim Akram Pak 104 414 41 211 18.48 42.3 13 2
Anil Kumble Ind 132 619 43 288 18.75 44.4 20 5
Glenn McGrath Aus 124 563 84 414 19.19 47.7 18 3

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.

Bowlers with the best averages in home Test wins (minimum of 100 wickets in home wins)
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
Imran Khan Pak 38 163 17 100 14 37 7 3
Waqar Younis Pak 33 162 15 101 15.1 30.1 8 3
Muttiah Muralitharan SL 72 485 36 297 15.21 41.9 29 13
Allan Donald SA 38 177 21 127 16.36 33.5 11 2
Anil Kumble Ind 63 350 28 208 17.38 44.8 16 5
Malcolm Marshall WI 31 157 19 114 17.44 37.2 7 2
Curtly Ambrose WI 52 203 26 131 17.5 46.2 7 2
Shaun Pollock SA 59 235 35 155 18.5 47.1 7 1
Dennis Lillee Aus 44 231 24 157 19.14 40.6 11 4
Harbhajan Singh Ind 47 237 23 147 20.06 48.8 11 3
Ian Botham Eng 59 226 22 120 20.13 43.6 11 1
Courtney Walsh WI 58 229 27 127 20.4 49.3 3 1
Craig McDermott Aus 43 193 20 107 20.53 44.2 7 2
Glenn McGrath Aus 66 289 53 249 20.54 50.3 9 2

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.

Bowlers with the best averages in away Test wins (minimum of 75 wickets in away wins)
Bowler Team Away matches Wickets Matches won Wickets Average Strike rate 5 10
Curtly Ambrose WI 46 202 18 98 16.02 41.9 6 1
Malcolm Marshall WI 50 219 24 140 16.25 38.8 10 2
Glenn McGrath Aus 58 274 31 165 17.15 43.8 9 1
Michael Holding WI 37 163 17 95 17.27 38.3 6 1
Muttiah Muralitharan SL 60 307 17 133 17.88 44.3 11 5
Wasim Akram Pak 63 260 25 128 18.9 43.8 8 1
Courtney Walsh WI 74 290 25 112 18.95 42.7 7 1
Waqar Younis Pak 54 211 24 121 20.79 9 6 1
Shane Warne Aus 76 389 43 260 21.25 47.8 15 4
Jason Gillespie Aus 42 149 27 115 22.1 45.7 5 0
Anil Kumble Ind 69 269 15 80 22.28 43.5 4 0
Zaheer Khan Ind 43 164 17 77 24 42.9 3 1
Brett Lee Aus 35 124 23 80 30.38 52.4 2 0

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.

Percentage contribution in wins(minimum 150 wickets in wins)
Bowler Team Matches Wickets Matches won Wickets in wins Average in wins % of total wickets Team Wickets % of team wickets
Stuart MacGill Aus 44 208 31 165 24.4 79.32 598 27.59
Jason Gillespie Aus 71 259 47 197 21.68 76.06 909 21.67
Glenn McGrath Aus 124 563 84 414 19.19 73.53 1607 25.76
Dale Steyn SA 41 211 22 155 15.85 73.46 426 36.38
Brett Lee Aus 76 310 54 225 27.52 72.58 1034 21.76
Shane Warne Aus 145 708 92 510 22.47 72.03 1765 28.89
Malcolm Marshall WI 81 376 43 254 16.78 67.55 828 30.67
Jacques Kallis SA 140 266 68 167 23.41 62.78 1312 12.72
Michael Holding WI 60 249 31 152 18.36 61.04 601 25.29
Makhaya Ntini SA 101 390 50 233 22.21 59.74 966 24.12
Waqar Younis Pak 87 373 39 222 18.2 59.51 761 29.17
Dennis Lillee Aus 70 355 31 203 18.27 57.18 600 33.83
Allan Donald SA 72 330 33 187 16.79 56.67 627 29.82
Curtly Ambrose WI 98 405 44 229 16.86 56.54 839 27.29
Muttiah Muralitharan SL 132 792 53 430 16.03 54.29 1018 42.23
Harbhajan Singh Ind 83 355 35 192 21.67 54.08 675 28.44
Shaun Pollock SA 108 421 49 223 18.3 52.96 940 23.72
Wasim Akram Pak 104 414 41 211 18.48 50.96 804 26.24
Chaminda Vaas SL 111 355 43 166 22.63 46.76 822 20.19
Anil Kumble Ind 132 619 43 288 18.75 46.52 838 34.36
Courtney Walsh WI 132 519 52 239 19.72 46.05 992 24.09
Ian Botham Eng 102 383 33 172 20.09 44.90 631 27.25
Imran Khan Pak 88 362 26 155 14.5 42.81 506 30.63
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%.

Percentage contribution in home wins(minimum 100 wickets in wins)
Bowler Team Home matches Wickets at home Matches won Wickets Average % of wickets Team Wickets % of team wickets
Glenn McGrath Aus 66 289 53 249 20.54 86.15 1013 24.58
Steve Harmison Eng 32 133 23 107 25.74 80.45 428 25
Shane Warne Aus 69 319 49 250 23.73 78.37 934 26.76
Brett Lee Aus 41 186 31 145 25.93 77.95 585 24.78
Stuart MacGill Aus 27 135 20 105 24.20 77.77 386 27.20
Malcolm Marshall WI 31 157 19 114 17.44 72.61 368 30.97
Allan Donald SA 38 177 21 127 16.36 71.75 401 31.67
Jacques Kallis SA 74 148 44 105 24.92 70.94 849 12.36
Dennis Lillee Aus 44 231 24 157 19.14 67.96 463 33.91
Shaun Pollock SA 59 235 35 155 18.50 65.95 675 22.96
Makhaya Ntini SA 53 249 32 162 20.66 65.06 617 26.25
Curtly Ambrose WI 52 203 26 131 17.50 64.53 496 26.41
Waqar Younis Pak 33 162 15 101 15.10 62.34 290 34.82
Harbhajan Singh Ind 47 237 23 147 20.06 62.02 446 32.95
Imran Khan Pak 38 163 17 100 14.00 61.34 333 30.03
Muttiah Muralitharan SL 72 485 36 297 15.21 61.23 692 42.91
Anil Kumble Ind 63 350 28 208 17.38 59.42 545 38.16
Chaminda Vaas SL 56 180 28 103 22.22 57.22 538 19.14
Courtney Walsh WI 58 229 27 127 20.40 55.45 513 24.75
Craig McDermott Aus 43 193 20 107 20.53 55.44 395 27.08
Sir Richard Hadlee NZ 43 201 15 109 13.95 54.22 286 38.11
Ian Botham Eng 59 226 22 120 20.13 53.09 422 28.43

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.

Percentage contribution in away wins(minimum 75 wickets in wins)
Bowler Team Away matches Wickets away Matches won Wickets Average % of wickets Team Wickets % of team wickets
Jason Gillespie Aus 42 149 27 115 22.10 77.18 527 21.82
Shane Warne Aus 76 389 43 260 21.25 66.83 831 31.28
Brett Lee Aus 35 124 23 80 30.38 64.51 449 17.81
Malcolm Marshall WI 50 219 24 140 16.25 63.92 460 30.43
Glenn McGrath Aus 58 274 31 165 17.15 60.21 594 27.77
Michael Holding WI 37 163 17 95 17.27 58.28 334 28.44
Waqar Younis Pak 54 211 24 121 20.79 57.34 471 25.69
Wasim Akram Pak 63 260 25 128 18.90 49.23 490 26.12
Curtly Ambrose WI 46 202 18 98 16.02 48.51 343 28.57
Zaheer Khan Ind 43 164 17 77 24.00 46.95 328 23.47
Muttiah Muralitharan SL 60 307 17 133 17.88 43.32 326 40.79
Courtney Walsh WI 74 290 25 112 18.95 38.62 479 23.38
Anil Kumble Ind 69 269 15 80 22.28 29.73 293 27.30

* Team wickets are in matches involving player.

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Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Anand on (September 8, 2010, 10:10 GMT)

Great analysis. Now a very pedantic question - but why is it that the total numbe rof team wickets is not 20 X no. of tests won. I understand that this could be because (a) you exclude run outs OR (b) teams that lose despite declarations. But often the difference is too large. Look at McGrath : 84 test wins means his team should have taken 1680 wickets, and not 1607. 73 wickets ...

What am I missing here ?

Posted by brnd on (September 2, 2010, 8:17 GMT)

I was wondering why no South Africans made the AWAY lists. Statsguru showed that no South African has captured 75 wickets in away wins. Closest is Steyn with 74 @ average 15.7 / strike rate 28.2.

Posted by wb on (August 26, 2010, 16:48 GMT)

Before harbhajan singh of today and yesteryear's anil kumble or kapil dev- long time back india had the legspinner B.S. Chandrashekhar(58 tests, 1964-1979, 242 wickets at 29.74 average). Cricnifo profile on him reads as- For a nation starved of wins abroad, Chandra was a rare jewel: he was for long India's biggest match-winner overseas, with 42 wickets in five Tests.No one among India's famed spin quartet was more likely to deliver an unplayable ball than Chandra. His 6 for 38 at The Oval in 1971 gave India their first series victory in England and he was instrumental in India's first win in Australia in 1978, taking 12 for 104 at Melbourne. How does Chandra fare compared to the bowlers that u have mentioned in ur tables?

Posted by david on (August 24, 2010, 9:10 GMT)

very good list .. some real cricketing legends ...........

Posted by Kamran Wasti on (August 24, 2010, 6:43 GMT)

Imran, as far as I can recall, did not bowl a single ball in the following games:

Australia @ Sydney and Melbourne 1983-84 2 games England @ Birmingham 1987 1 game West Indies @ Lahore and Karachi 1990-92 2 games Sri Lanka @ Sialkot and Gujranwala 1991-92 2 games

7 matches in all

Posted by Taimur Khan on (August 10, 2010, 10:42 GMT)

Some stats are skewed where players did not bowl at all or little in a test, eg. Imran Khan. In his first Indian Tour, Imran was injured and played I think two tests where he hardly bowled. Then against Austrailia he batted only. Then in India in 1985, he played 5 tests where he hardly bowled due to the nature of the wickets. If you look at his away record apart from these 12-13 tests, its phenominal. Wickets per Balls bowled in a test is a better indicator. Second, we should mine more data. No fast bowler has fared well in India and same with Pak before discovery of reverse swing. English & Aussie bowlers have been taking many cheap wickets against technically weak teams in seaming & swinging conditions at home. Structure a pitch difficulty factor, a team difficulty factor (read Bangladesh & Zim, NZ, India & SL starting out) and a differenciation between fast & spinning surfaces. Eg. spinners should be discounted & fast bowlers given extra points in India. Reverse for England.

Posted by Philip Gnana on (July 26, 2010, 23:25 GMT)

Whilst I read these analyses with facination. I find it offensive the Bangladesh and Zimbabwe seem to be regular taunted as minnows when Murali stats are compared. If this is the case, surely Sri Lanka were the whipping boys during their formative years and wicket taken against SL should be taken out too from the bowlers who managed to get those cheapie wicket? Philip Gnana, New Malden, Surrey

Posted by Bilal on (July 25, 2010, 20:05 GMT)

Some great numbers there. The amazing thing is, you see a lot of names common in almost all the lists. Truly some real fast bowling legends.

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