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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 26, 2010, 17:04 GMT

    The off spinners Murali and Lance Gibbs, the legspinners Shane warne and Anil Kumble and the leftarm spinner Bishen Bedi are all masters in their style of spin bowling and feels really happy to find the top three highest wicket takers in test being spinners. However the best spinner that i have seen is B.S. Chandrashekhar who played 58 tests for India and took 242 wickets. His right arm was withered by polio and he used to bowl leg spin with that hand and also bat against the west indian pace attack and fielded with his left hand. He was one of the cricketers who eliminated the gap between ability and physical disability as far as cricket is concerned. So looking at Chandra, i am not surprised that each of warne, murali and anil who are perfectly abled were able to play more than 100 tests and take more than 600 wickets. Chandra u are the best and a source of inspiration

  • testli5504537 on August 10, 2010, 5:48 GMT

    Ananth, I realise this is a bit off the main topic. But since there is no new blog- what the heck!

    Alex, Looking further Dravids recent run in the last few years is eerily similar to Tendulkars foll. Run 2003- avg. 17, 04-91,05-44, 06-24 I spike in a horrendous 4 yr period- with a spike of one yr in between. However, watching Tendulkar in that period it was evident that his batting was in severe distress. Dravid doesn’t seem to be quite that bad- but he is struggling. May we hope for a Tendulkar like revival? I don’t know. The main point is that in that stretch by the end ’06 Tendulkar was 33/34 yrs old. Dravid is 37/38. This may prove to be the crucial differentiator.

  • testli5504537 on August 10, 2010, 2:19 GMT

    Alex That is pure data mining. I was looking at the Longer "trend".. last few yrs for Dravid- yearly averages read : 2007- 36,08-31,09-83,10-33.....09 was a great year...but overall it doesn't look too rosy. The SL tour, if just an aberration, may have been ignored. Dravid hasn't been seriously injured,had surgeries. He was captain for a bit tho...Thing is when younger you can easily expect a reversal since you would hope that the basic reflexes etc remain intact...however at age 38 it is tricky. However I hope Dravid gets some consistency back coz as Ramesh Kumar says we need a solid Dravid for SA. Not that his record in SA is too great either -but he is among the best bets.

    Ramesh Kumar- very ,very good observation. Hope you could pass that on to Tendulkar!! I think that is one of the few times he allows his ego to get the better of him.

    BTW- I was looking at yearly averages when looking at Dravids,SRTs etc...and SRT has avg. 50+ in 12 yrs, 40 + in 4 yrs....must be another record!

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2010, 5:22 GMT

    I think Rahul Dravid needs to relax a bit more. He was very fluent in the first innings. I think he is trying too much. We need in-form Dravid from SA tour onwards into 2011 when we are having many away tours. I also wish Sachin starts playing spinners in front of wicket as his sweep shot has more risks though he gets many runs doing that.

  • testli5504537 on August 8, 2010, 22:12 GMT

    Abhi - Dravid has never played well in SL anyway. This year, entering this series, his numbers read 2 tests, 139 runs, ave=69.5, 1 century. In year 2009, those read 6 tests, 647 runs, ave=83, 2 100's, 5 50's. His 177 vs SL was a masterpiece. Where is the decline?

    Dravid and VVS have been robbed of their fair share in limelight and recognition. So, the fans better refrain from painting them in undue negative light. (Even the comments on a Murali article found a way to to do that.)

    In the 36-40 year phase, Lloyd scored nearly 2900 in 32 tests at ave=60. I believe Dravid, SRT, and VVS have the ability to match it, and should be phased out accordingly. It would have been good if SL has phased Murali out likewise. [[ Comment edited slightly. Ananth: ]]

  • testli5504537 on August 8, 2010, 13:28 GMT

    Ananth Im not so sure that Dravid's "sporadic excursions into the Indian dressing room" are the problem. It is the same with Lax and it doesn't seem to be bothering him at all. This is similar to Alex searching around for a reason for Ponting's decline. A bad patch before around age 35 or so is understandable for various reasons- simply a down period, captaincy woes, injuries etc etc. But after age 35 /36, the equation changes.

  • testli5504537 on August 7, 2010, 14:12 GMT

    Alex VVS was gorgeous today. Like Symmo said about watching Tendulkar and VVS "One is a Rolex the other a Piatek Phillepe"...But today VVS just purred...Tendulkar was more construction worker like. Alas,India has probably the best batting lineup and the worst bowling lineup. If only we had a couple of world class bowlers- India would then really be No.1 And Dravid definitely seems to be on the wane (similar to Ponting). [[ Abhi It was indeed a miracle, aided by Sangakkara's inept captaincy which paved the way for an excellent win. That this bowling attack could capture 20 Sri Lankan wickets is indeed a miracle. And Raina adds an attacking consistency which was not visible with Yuvraj. As far as Dravid is concerned, he looks out of sorts, with rhese sporadic excursions into the Indian dressing room. In fact there does not seem to be a single dominant team in the world now. The English attack is possibly the best, but in English conditions. Sri Lanka would go through a phase of inconsistency as also would India from around 2011-12. Ananth: ]]

  • testli5504537 on August 7, 2010, 9:54 GMT

    Ananth - BTW, a thrilling fifth day of the final test of Murali's final series was a great on-field tribute to Murali by Ind & SL. I had hoped 230 needed on the 5th day would elicit an SRT performance to rival what 226 needed on the 5th once elicited from Lara. The gem came from the blade of VVS instead. India should award him a Padmashri at least now. What a magnificent batsman! [[ Alex I am a great fan of Sri Lankan cricket. However I feel Sangakkara has not exactly set anything on fire in this series. Last night he could have got Ishant Sharma on 0 if he had 4 fielders around the bat in the penultimate over. In previous matches Sehwag could have been caught twice in the short leg position. Today he had no slip for Randiv almost throughout the first session, forgetting that Sehwag was caught at slip. Many times today it looked as if India was chasing 350+ and Sangakkara was defending the scoring rate. Not that Dhoni showed any imagination. The off side field of 3 boundary catchers to Mendis was one of the most bizarre sights I have ever seen on the cricket field. Ishant Sharma was intent on bowling at Mendis' body, possibly hoping to hurt him, rather than taking his wicket. 90% short balls ??? Laxman was wonderful. He stayed on to finish the job on hand. The 3 hour vigil of Tendulkar was also invaluable. Ananth: ]]

  • testli5504537 on August 6, 2010, 9:53 GMT


    belated reading from my side. Great one on Murali. Murali has taken those wickets and won matches for SL not due to any questionable action, but due to his bowling strengths-big breaks, bounce, accuracy, doosra & other variations. His strike rate across so many years is astounding.

    I am curious on one issue-How come we had so many record breaking bowlers-Mcgrath, Kumble, Warne & Murali taking so many wickets during a period presumably dominated by batsmen? I suppose aggressive instincts of batsmen(ODI influence) is one reason and no. of tests another. Since bowlers' wear & tear is more, it is a pleasant surprise to have seen record wicket hauls. Is it a normal evolution of bowling?(I am trying to gently move the topic back to Murali)

    Ramesh Kumar [[ Ramesh Within the next few days I am coming out with the article on the 12 top bowlers. Ananth: ]]

  • testli5504537 on August 6, 2010, 4:42 GMT

    Ananth - Lara recd the used tampon treatment the WI board dishes out to its aging greats. I think Lloyd was one of the few exceptions. Viv begged for opportunity to play till WC '92 and was shown the door. Likewise for Greenidge, Haynes, and Marshall.

    Lara probably lacked the qualities needed to be a good WI skipper. WI captaincy is a serious 24/7 job since players come from vastly different islands. Lloyd was spot on he said Worrell taught him that winning was the glue to keep the WI team together. I do not think Lara was available for the team cause 24/7. It is good to go when you still have something to give. But a couple more years of Lara and 2-3 more years of a relaxed Ponting are always that much better.

    For all his saintliness, SRT is shrewd enough to know what is good for him and stick to it. Good on him! I hope this purple patch extends to 3-4 more years.

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