Bowling July 23, 2010

Muralitharan in Tests: a great career in perspective

A statistical analysis of Muttiah Muralitharan's outstanding Test career

Muttiah Muralitharan: one of a kind © AFP

This article is dedicated to Muralitharan, arguably the greatest but certainly one of the greatest of all Test bowlers. I will not be doing any comparisons with other bowlers, that will be done in a later article. I will probably select all the other top bowlers to do a comparison. In this article, as a mark of appreciation and admiration for this wonderful bowler and person, I will do comparisons only within his own career. I would appreciate if readers remember this view and no negative comments are made on one of the greatest ever. Let us leave that task to Mr Bedi and umpires whose sole claim to fame will be to act as nothing more than mere historical footnotes in his legendary career. I hope the reader will pardon this moment of strong feeling on my part. But it comes in disgust at the horrendous treatment to a great bowler, who took it in the most gentlemanly way and came through a stronger man. My own personal feelings apart, I hope to highlight Murali's achievements through numbers.

Muralitharan's career is analysed from many points of view. Some of these tables might be available elsewhere but a few are quite new and are being done for the first time. The Wikipedia entry on Muralitharan incidentally is full of very useful and nice-to-know facts. The summary file containing all these tables is available at the end for viewing/downloading. I have stayed away from tables on country performances since that is often shown on television screens and I have to keep this article to reasonable size. Anyhow Murali is the only bowler to have captured 50+ wickets against all Test-playing countries and three of these are 100+ wickets. Also this article covers only Murali's Test performances.

1. Career summary

Tests played:     133
Wickets captured: 800
Wickets/Test:     6.02
Runs conceded:    18180
Overs bowled:     7340.0
Bowling average:  22.73
Strike rate:      55.0
Runs/over:        2.48
10 wkts in match: 22 (4 in consecutive tests, that too twice, and against all 9 
countries). 5 wkts in Inns: 67 Maidens bowled: 1792 Maidens %: 24.4 Best bowling: 40.0-19-51-9 (the first 9 wickets !!!). There is another
9-wkt haul. Fielder combination: 77 (Murali/Jayawardene - highest for non wicket-keeper).

This has been given just to provide a starting point. And what a starting point !!! What does one say.

- Let us not forget the 508 ODI wickets, again the leading ODI bowler of all time. He and Tendulkar lead both forms of cricket in terms of wickets and runs respectively.
- 800 wkts for Sri Lanka is followed by Vaas with 355 and Jayasuriya/Malinga with 98.
- 92 wickets ahead of the next bowler, Warne, and 181 wickets ahead of the third placed bowler, Kumble.
- A wickets/Test figure comparable to the best pre-war bowlers who bowled on uncovered wickets.
- A spinner with a bowling average that is normally expected of a fast bowler.
- A spinner with a fast bowler's strike rate.
- A tally of 10 wickets per match which is more than double that of the next placed bowler.
- A 5 wickets per innings count nearly double of the next.
- A quarter of overs bowled have been score-less.

Muralitharan is the nearest a bowler has come to Bradman, the batsman. It is safe to conclude that Bradman's batting average and Murali's tally of Test wickets are the two landmarks which are never likely to be broken. In terms of the overall impact Muralitharan has had on Sri Lankan cricket, I place him no less than Bradman as a cricketer.

2. Dismissals analysis

Batsmen early dismissals: 145 - 18.1% of Career wkts

Batsmen 50+ average : 60 - 7.5% of Career wkts Batsmen 40+ average : 152 - 19.0% of Career wkts Batsmen 30+ average : 157 - 19.6% of Career wkts Batsmen 20+ average : 184 - 23.0% of Career wkts Batsmen 20- average : 247 - 30.9% of Career wkts

Top order batsmen : 280 - 35.0% of Career wkts Middle order batsmen : 260 - 32.5% of Career wkts Late order batsmen : 260 - 32.5% of Career wkts

Unassisted dismissals : 352 - 44.0% of Career wkts Assisted dismissals : 448 - 56.0% of Career wkts.

This is an analysis of the individual dismissals.

The first entry refers to the number of dismissals of batsmen well before they are set. This is a variable analysis in that I have selected only dismissals of batsmen at scores 25 or more runs below their batting average. Tendulkar at scores of below 31, Ponting at scores below 30, Lara at scores below 27, Langer at scores below 21, McCullum at scores below 10 and so on.

Next is an analysis of all dismissals from the point of view of dismissed batsman's batting average. Over a quarter of Muralitharan's dismissals have been of genuine batsmen with 40+ averages. Just over 30% of his dismissals have been of less talented batsmen, understandable in view of the inability of these batsmen to read Murali.

The third grouping refers to the batting position rather than batting average. This is especially relevant against the minnows many of whose top order batsmen would have batting averages of around 20-30.

The last grouping is a split by type of dismissal. Bowled, Lbw and Return catch fall into the first entry and the other dismissals, the next entry. For 44% of the dismissals, Murali did not depend on others, barring the umpires for Lbws. It was appropriate that the last and 800th wicket was a Muralitharan-Jayawardene combination.

3. Innspells analysis

Career :       133 800 6.02 18180 44040 22.73        2.48

Home : 73 493 6.75 9646 25062 19.57 116.1% 2.31 107.3% Away : 60 307 5.12 8534 18978 27.80 81.8% 2.70 107.3%

First inns : 133 458 3.44 10968 26527 23.95 94.9% 2.48 99.8% Second inns : 129 342 2.65 7212 17513 21.09 107.8% 2.47 100.2%

Top teams : 108 624 5.78 15523 36606 24.88 91.4% 2.54 97.3% Minnows : 25 176 7.04 2657 7434 15.10 150.5% 2.14 115.5%

Career 1 half: 67 356 5.31 8804 21955 24.73 91.9% 2.41 102.9% Career 2 half: 66 444 6.73 9376 22085 21.12 107.6% 2.55 97.2%

Team wins : 54 438 8.11 7088 18726 16.18 140.4% 2.27 109.1% Team draws : 30 112 3.73 3500 9099 31.25 72.7% 2.31 107.3% Team losses : 49 250 5.10 7592 16215 30.37 74.8% 2.81 88.2%

Innspells: 227 Productive innspells: 218 (96.0%)

This analysis has as the base, the complete innspell.

As with most bowlers, Murali's home performance is about 40% better than his away performance. However let us not forget that Murali's away performances fall short only by the high standards he himself has set. He has captured 5.1 wickets per Test, away, and has averaged 27.12, both higher than any other contemporary bowler.

Murali's second innings performances are about 16% better than his first innings. However his bowling accuracy has been almost the same in both innings.

Now we come to an important split. Against the minnows, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, Murali has averaged 7+ wickets per Test (higher than the highest ever), averaged 15 (150% of his career average) and captured nearly 25% of his total tally of wickets. His performances against the minnows is over 60% better than the performance against the top teams.

Murali had two halves of his career as different as chalk and cheese. In almost every measure the second half was around 15-25% better than his first half. The only measure where he has performed better in the first half is in his accuracy.

Murali's contributions in Sri Lanka's wins are out of the world, nearly twice as good as the ones in drawn and losing matches. His wickets per winning Test was an amazing 8+ at an average of 16.

A single fact is sufficient to put Muralitharan's contribution in Sri Lankan wins in perspective. In the 38 Tests Sri Lanka played before Muralitharan's debut, they won 2 Tests. Subsequently in 133 Tests Muralitharan played in, Sri Lanka won 54 Tests. There has never been a more widely varying statistic. 5.3% before compared to 40.6% afterwards. Of course Ranatunga, Vaas, Aravinda De Silva, Jayawardene, Sangakkara et al have played their part. However the leading person in this revival is Muralitharan.

I have used my definition of consistent bowling to do a simple calculation. Any innspell in which Murali bowled more than 10 overs is considered as a considered innspell. Out of these I have considered any spell in which he has gone at least one wicket as relevant ones. His effectivity index was an astounding 96%. In only 9 spells, out of 227, has he gone wicketless.

4. Best & Worst periods

Best year :             90 (2006)

Worst year : 14 (1996)

Best 10-match streak : 89 (1802-1839)

Worst 10-match streak: 29 (1265-1319)

These figures are self-explanatory. 2006 was the golden year for Murali and a decade back, during 1996, he had the worst year, no doubt caused by the Australian accusations. Two ways of looking at what happened in 1996 and afterwards. He might have captured well over 800 wickets. Or, more likely, he steeled within because of the blatantly unfair accusations and performed much better.

5. Share of team wickets

Overall:       800  Team - 2065  Share - 38.7%

Home : 493 Career % - 61.6 Team - 1240 Share - 39.8% Away : 307 Career % - 38.4 Team - 825 Share - 37.2%

First inns : 458 Career % - 57.2 Team - 1239 Share - 37.0% Second inns : 342 Career % - 42.8 Team - 826 Share - 41.4%

Top teams : 624 Career % - 78.0 Team - 1598 Share - 39.0% Minnows : 176 Career % - 22.0 Team - 467 Share - 37.7%

Career 1 half: 356 Career % - 44.5 Team - 967 Share - 36.8% Career 2 half: 444 Career % - 55.5 Team - 1098 Share - 40.4%

Team Wins : 438 Team - 1070 Share - 40.9% Team draws : 112 Team - 354 Share - 31.6% Team losses : 250 Team - 641 Share - 39.0%

Muralitharan's overall share of team wickets is 38.7. This figure is exceeded slightly at home and below away. In the second innings his share moves up considerably to 41.5%. Against the minnows the others have also reaped the rewards. His career jump during the second half of his career is reflected in the share of team wickets also. Finally he has captured over 41% of the team wickets in won matches for Sri Lanka. A peculiar feature has emerged here. Muralitharan's share in drawn matches is way below his share in won or lost matches.

To view/down-load the complete table, please click/right-click here.

6. Into the crystal ball

Finally a note on whether Murali's tally of wickets would ever be surpassed. It was only Murali's innate goodness and hospitable nature which prompted him to say that Harbhajan is the only bowler capable of overhauling him. The truth is that there is probably less than 1% chance that Murali's record would be broken. I think Warne is right in saying that his record will stand forever. The relevant numbers, based on career performances and extrapolations on continuing their performances forever, are given below.

Harbhajan (12y/84t/355w) would take another 15 years and 105 Tests to go past Murali. He would be 45 by that time and would probably be enjoying a settled family life, not bowling doosras and teesras. 600 seems to be Harbhajan's limit.

Steyn (6y/41t/211w) would take another 16 years and 114 Tests to overtake Murali. Steyn, despite (or because of) his awesome strike rate, would have hung up his boots well before that time. For Steyn, 500 seems to be the pinnacle.

A new bowler making his debut next month would have to play 160 Tests over 20 years, in view of the ODIs, T20s and IPL-type jamborees, and maintain 5 wickets per Test. That is the 1% I have talked about earlier.

Other bowlers like Kallis and Vettori would probably require another 20 years and 200 Tests to reach 800. By that time, a son Vettori might very well be playing for New Zealand.

If there are any other analyses which could be done on Muralitharan's career, I invite readers to mail their suggestions. Let me also mention here that I have done this program as a general purpose one and could easily do that for all bowlers. That is what I would do in my follow-up analysis comparing the key measures of the top bowlers.

My only regret is that I wish Murali had chosen to play more Tests and cut down on ODIs and IPL. However the lure of IPL was probably too much of an attraction.

7. Muralitharan as a batsman

Muralitharan as a batsman was a very effective, entertaining and unorthodox no.11. His overall batting figures (1261 at 11.68) might not be very impressive. However he has played many a good potentially match-winning and match-saving innings, both in Tests and ODIS, as chronicled below. This is not necessarily a complete list.


- 26 against New Zealand in 1998. - 22 against Pakistan in 2000. - 43 against Australia in 2004. - 36 against West Indies in 2005. - 33 against England in 2006.

ODIs (both innings during 2009)

- 33 in 16 vs Bangladesh, who scored 152 and Sri Lanka were 114 for 8. Murali took them to 153 for 8. - 32 in 15 vs Pakistan.

A final salute to the wonderful bowler and human being that Muralitharan is. There will never be a bowler like him. And the people of Sinigama, where he has helped build 1000 houses for the tsunami victims, will say that there has never been a human being like him.

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