Tests - bowling December 11, 2010

Barnes and Muralitharan at par

This is a follow-up to the article on the best aggregate of runs scored by batsmen in 1 to 10 Tests

Muttiah Muralitharan: an amazing run of seven wickets per Test for 90 matches © Getty Images

This is a follow-up to the article on the best aggregate of runs scored by batsmen in 1 to 10 Tests. The article was very well received with well over 100 comments. Couple of readers wanted the idea extended to bowlers. This seemed like a good idea especially since the gap between the top bowlers is less pronounced than the difference for the batsmen.

For the bowlers I have aggregated wickets which are the most important acquisitions which any bowler can have. The averages really do not matter too much since wickets are the means to win in Test cricket. I have also made sure that the few-Test wonders like Sivaramakrishnan and Massie find their deserved place in these tables.

This also turned out to be a tough task since I had to create a player-performance database. This is essential since I needed to get the best 1-10 Test performances for each bowler and then get the all-time best performances. I also wanted to provide the information on the top bowlers' 1-10 Tests best performances so that the readers could do their own comparisons. And I was sure that there would be queries on the best performances by specific bowlers after the article was published. I have also provided the table of key bowlers for downloading.

First let me emphasize that this is only a wicket aggregate and will clarify that this aggregating of wickets in specific sequences of 1-10 Tests is irrespective of opposing team, home or away, match conditions, period lapsed between matches, quality of batsmen dismissed et al. That is not the purpose of this article. Readers should appreciate this and not come in with a comment such as "opposition batting quality is not considered". But that is wishful thinking! Also readers who worry about bowling average should understand that when someone captures over 50 wickets in 5-6 Tests, it does not matter about averages. It is going to be quite low. This is consistent with my stand on the comparable Batsmen analysis.

Let us now look at the tables.

Maximum wickets captured in a single Test

Bowler           Cty Wkts  StTest/Year

Laker J.C Eng 19 (0428-1956) (9+10) Barnes S.F Eng 17 (0131-1913) (8+9) Muralitharan M Slk 16 (1423-1998) (7+9) Hirwani N.D Ind 16 (1089-1988) (8+8) Massie R.A.L Aus 16 (0699-1972) (8+8)

Laker's 19 wickets in a Test, a performance, which I am certain, will not be bettered in 100 more years of Test cricket, leads the pack of one Test wicket aggregates. Nine wickets in the second innings, followed, a day later with 10 wickets, is a la Harry Potter. Barnes's 17 wickets, a unique single-time performance, follows next. Now comes, arguably the best spin bowling performance, away from home; Muralitharan's Oval compilation of 16 wickets.

The significance is the absence of 18-wicket hauls, indicating how difficult it is to do these. Then come two debut performances, by Hirwani and Massie. Unfortunately both faded away afterwards. Hirwani at least played 16 more matches, capturing 50 wickets. Massie played a mere 5 Tests more, capturing 15 wickets, one less than what he captured in his first test. Why? An intriguing question for which there seems to be no answer other than the debut of Jeff Thomson and Max Walker a few months after Massie's debut.

It is of interest to note that 3 out of these 5 have occurred in England.

Maximum wickets captured in 2 consecutive Tests

Bowler           Cty Wkts  StTest/Year

Laker J.C Eng 30 (0427-1956) (5+6, 9+10) Harbhajan Singh Ind 28 (1535-2001) (7+6, 7+8) Barnes S.F Eng 27 (0130-1913) (5+5, 8+9) Lohmann G.A Eng 27 (0047-1896) (7+8, 9+3)

Laker had preceded his 19-wicket monster Test with 11 wickets in the previous Tests. Harbhajan's first Test in this sequence was the famous Calcutta Test against Australia. Then at Chennai he single-handedly won the Test for India. Two platinum oldies come in next, with 27 wickets in two Tests.

Maximum wickets captured in 3 consecutive Tests

Bowler        Cty Wkts StTest/Year

Barnes S.F Eng 39 (0131-1913) (8+9, 3+5, 7+7) Laker J.C Eng 37 (0427-1956) (5+6, 9+10, 4+3) Lohmann G.A Eng 35 (0047-1896) (7+8, 9+3, 7+1)

These were the last three Tests of Barnes's career. He finished with 39 in 3 and preceded by similar successes. Laker followed with a 7-wicket haul to accumulate 37 wickets. Lohmann clocks in next with 35 wickets.

Maximum wickets captured in 4 consecutive Tests

Bowler         Wkts StTest/Year

Barnes S.F 49 (0130-1913) (5+5, 8+9, 3+5, 7+7) Muralitharan M 43 (1803-2006) (6+4, 3+8, 4+6, 5+7) Lohmann G.A 41 (0036-1892) (8+2, 3+1, 7+8, 9+3)

This was a single series in which Barnes captured 49 wickets and still remains a record for all series, including 5/6 Test series. For the first time Muralitharan comes in, with 43 wickets and then Lohmann, with 41 wickets.

Maximum wickets captured in 5 consecutive Tests

Bowler         Wkts StTest/Year

Barnes S.F 54 (0129-1912) (5+0, 5+5, 8+9, 3+5, 7+7) Muralitharan M 50 (1803-2006) (6+4, 3+8, 4+6, 5+7, 4+3) Lohmann G.A 49 (0036-1892) (8+2, 3+1, 7+8, 9+3, 7+1)

The same three players, in the same sequence, with a few more wickets added.

Maximum wickets captured in 6 consecutive Tests

Bowler         Wkts StTest/Year

Barnes S.F 67 (0128-1912) (5+8, 5+0, 5+5, 8+9, 3+5, 7+7) Muralitharan M 60 (1803-2006) (6+4, 3+8, 4+6, 5+7, 4+3, 4+6) Laker J.C 53 (0412-1955) (2+5, 4+2, 3+0, 5+6, 9+10, 4+3)

Barnes and Muralitharan are in top positions. Now there is a change with Laker chipping in with 53 wickets in 6 Tests.

Maximum wickets captured in 7 consecutive Tests

Bowler         Wkts StTest/Year

Muralitharan M 69 (1803-2006) (6+4, 3+8, 4+6, 5+7, 4+3, 4+6, 5+4) Barnes S.F 67 (0126-1912) (dnb, 5+8, 5+0, 5+5, 8+9, 3+5, 7+7) Grimmett C.V 59 (0236-1934) (4+3, 3+5, 2+3, 3+3, 5+5, 3+7, 7+6)

Muralitharan moves to top place with 69 wickets. Barnes is second with 67 wickets. Then Grimmett comes in with 59 wickets, these 7 Tests being the last seven of his illustrious career. From this point no bowler averages more than 10 wickets/Test.

Maximum wickets captured in 8 consecutive Tests

Bowler         Wkts StTest/Year

Barnes S.F 77 (0124-1912) (6+4,dnb, 5+8, 5+0, 5+5, 8+9, 3+5, 7+7) Muralitharan M 76 (1804-2006) (3+8, 4+6, 5+7, 4+3, 4+6, 5+4, 4+1, 6+6) Richardson T 66 (0041-1893) (5+5, 5+1, 5+2, 5+3, 2, 3+6, 6+5, 7+6) Hadlee R.J 66 (1029-1985) (9+6, 5+2, 5+6, 3, 7+2, 3+1, 6+1, 6+4)

Barnes now moves to the top and pushes Muralitharan into second place. Then we have Tom Richardson and Richard Hadlee tied for third place. This was Hadlee's golden period, starting with the 15 wickets against Australia.

Maximum wickets captured in 9 consecutive Tests

Bowler         Wkts StTest/Year

Muralitharan M 86 (1803-2006) (6+4,3+8,4+6,5+7,4+3,4+6,5+4,4+1,6+6) Barnes S.F 77 (0123-1912) (0,6+4,dnb,5+8,5+0,5+5,8+9,3+5,7+7) Hadlee R.J 70 (1016-1985) (4+0,9+6,5+2,5+6,3,7+2,3+1,6+1,6+4)

Same three players, in the same sequence. with a Test added at the start. The amazing fact behind Barnes's figures is that these are actually off 7 Tests, he not having bowled in one Test and not captured a single wicket in another.

fact Maximum wickets captured in 10 consecutive Tests

Bowler      Wkts StTest/Year

Muralitharan 89 (1802-2006) (3,6+4,3+8,4+6,5+7,4+3,4+6,5+4,4+1,6+6) Barnes S.F 88 (0122-1912) (5+6,0,6+4,dnb,5+8,5+0,5+5,8+9,3+5,7+7) Waqar Younis 75 (1222-1993) (5+4,7+6,5+4,5,4+2,3+2,6+1,1+2,6+5,3+4) Warne S.K 75 (1593-2002) (2+6,4+2,7+4,4+4,5+3,1+3,4+3,1+2,5+5,5+5)

Muralitharan and Barnes are in the top two positions with 89 and 88 wickets respectively. The amazing fact behind Barnes's figures is that these are actually off 8 Tests, for reasons already mentioned. Now we have two modern greats tied for the third place. Waqar Younis and Shane Warne have compiled 75 wickets in 10 Tests at the peak of their wonderful bowling careers.

I anticipated that the readers would ask for information on long successful streaks. I started with the wonderful aggregate of 189 wickets captured over 27 Tests (his entire career), at an average of 16.43, by the incomparable SF Barnes. For a long time during the 1970s-80s, I thought this sort of aggregate and wickets-per-Test measure of 7.00 would never ever be beaten. Consider that Lillee retired with a tally of 5.07 w/t and Hadlee retired with 5.01. Then a gentleman with an infectious smile, going by the name of Muralitharan made his debut. He had a fairly ordinary start to his career and captured his 100th wicket only in his 27th Test, a journeyman-like performance. Then he moved into a zone way above what he or anyone else had done henceforth.

So I decided to keep 27 Tests as the base and started work, looking at long successful streaks. First I found that there were only two bowlers who had crossed a w/t average of 7, Barnes and Muralitharan. Not surprising. However I found that Murali had captured 16 wickets more than Barnes. I started looking at Murali's successful streaks, expecting it to fall below 7.00 at 40 Tests. No, at 50 tests, still no, at 60 tests, still no. What was happening. I went past 70, 80 and finally at 90, it was still over 7.00. Finally at 91 Tests, the average dropped to below 7.00. Amazing and unbelievable. Imagine a bowler capturing 631 wickets in 90 Tests over 10 years.

And those sceptics who talk about his capturing quite a few wickets against minnows should not forget that he himself was playing, for a few years, in a minnow team and transformed that team into a world-class one working with Jayasuriya, Ranatunga, Vaas and De Silva and later Sangakkara and Jayawardene.

Given below is information related to a few longest-streaks.

Streaks exceeding 7.00 wickets per Test

Muralitharan: 1394(2008) 90 Tests 631 wickets 7.00 Barnes S.F. : 65(2001) 27 Tests 189 wickets 7.00 Lohmann G.A : 24(1886) 15 Tests 108 wickets 7.20 W Younis : 1192(1992) 15 Tests 107 wickets 7.13

Streaks exceeding 8.00 wickets per Test

Muralitharan: 1776(2008) 16 Tests 130 wickets 8.13 Barnes SF : 122(1912) 15 Tests 122 wickets 8.17

It is possible that Barnes might have been helped by the conditions, although he played 25 years after the advent of Test cricket. However his strike rate of 7 wickets per Test at an average of 16+ average set the lofty standard which, I think with certainty, that Muralitharan has crossed.

Muralitharan's 90-Test run exceeding 7 wickets per Test and at a sub-20 average is comparable to Bradman's career. Even at a conservative estimate, the 7 wickets can be equated to upwards of 140 runs and this compares favourably with Bradman's 135 runs per Test. No other player, batsmen included, has achieved such figures in anything more than 25-30 Tests. Granted that Muralitharan played in a weak team, but then he had to bowl to batsmen of stronger team, these are still figures which make one stand up and take notice.

Muralitharan's career had three distinct parts, as outlined below.

34 Tests 135 wickets 3.97 @ 31.16
90 Tests 631 wickets 7.00 @ 19.94
10 Tests  34 wickets 3.40 @ 40.88

He started in an ordinary manner, went into a 10-year zone and then struggled at the end, a la Kapil Dev.

To view/down-load the complete 1-10 Tests table, please click/right-click here.

To view/down-load the complete player table, please click/right-click here. The bowlers who have captured 100 wkts or more are included. I have also ordered the table by career wickets captured.

To view/down-load the table of average quality of bowling faced by batsmen, as requested by some readers, please click/right-click here. The batsmen who have scored 4000 runs or more are included. An interesting column, which is the difference between the Batting average of the batsman and the Average Bowling quality value, is shown. This is a loose indication of the batsman's over-achievement.

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