April 8, 2011

Eight genial giants: a pictorial view across 28 years

A graphical analysis of the career of top West Indian fast bowlers

I am glad to resume my articles after a break of a month during which I was immersed in World Cup related work. I had done so much of WC related work that I decided that I would go back to Tests. My next article will be the comprehensive analysis of World Cup performances that I had promised before the beginning of the World Cup.

I have also selected a very unusual area for this article. Pure analysis can be done by anyone with access to a Database, a set of tools and an analytical flair. What I have selected is a programming specialty. This is a graphical look at the 8 West Indian pace bowling giants who played across 28 years and 226 Tests. This required a lot of specialized programming work and the results have come out very nicely and pleasing to the eye. The layouts and formatting work itself took a few days. The readers can download the graphs, study these at leisure and come out with their conclusions.

First, a graphic time-line of the careers of the 8 bowlers.

West Indies fast bowlers career summary
© Anantha Narayanan

The following facts are clear through a perusal of the time-line graph above. This is only for the purpose of gathering overall intelligence. The detailed by-Test graphs come later.

1. West Indian pace bowling saga of 28 years is comprised of two clear periods. The first one between 1974 and 1987 during which Roberts, Holding, Garner and Croft held sway. Then the second period between 1988 and 2001 during which Walsh, Ambrose and Bishop held forte.
2. Ha!!! I can hear knives being sharpened. I can clearly see a mail saying that I have gone senile and missed, arguably, the greatest of all these bowlers, Marshall. No I have not forgotten the genial "giant". He is the connecting player across the two eras. Note the following.
- He is the only one to have straddled both periods almost completely.
- He has played with all the other 7 bowlers, at their peak. That is truly amazing. 14 years at the top, 376 wickets at 20.95, arguably, Marshall is the greatest amongst this collection of greats.
- He is the one bowler who defines clearly the West Indian pace supremacy. No wonder he is held in such high esteem.

3. Croft's career was a sub-set of Garner's career. Marshall's arrival hastened Croft's departure.
4. Roberts handed over the baton to Walsh.
5. Holding and Garner retired almost simultaneously and Ambrose took over from them.
6. Bishop had to retire quite early. Severe back injuries meant he had long breaks in his career twice. Just extend his career by another 5 years, at least until 2001, when Walsh retired. Think of the impact this would have had on West Indian cricket.

The detailed graphs have been split into three individual ones since it would be impossible to show all 226 tests in one graph. While these graphs have been split in such a manner that these cover approximately the same number of tests, some career date-lines have been followed.

The first graph covers the career of Andy Roberts and incorporates 74 tests. Roberts made his debut in Test# 734 (1974) and made his last appearance in Test# 972 (1983), 74 tests later. During this period, Holding, Garner and Marshall made their debuts and Croft completed his career.

West Indies fast bowlers period 1
© Anantha Narayanan

Roberts was alone for over 10 tests before Holding made his debut. Lance Gibbs and Holder were the two bowlers with whom he shared these 10 tests. Holding and Roberts, along with Gibbs and Holder, played for another 15 tests before Garner and Croft made their debut in the same Test. For some reason, Holding went off when these two made their debuts. It is possible that he was even dropped ??? The huge gap between Test$ 822 and 845 was the Packer period during which none of these four played. Marshall made his debut during the middle of these Packer tests.

In the post-WSC era, West Indies started by playing four top pace bowlers for the first time. This was the golden period for these four greats, although it meant that Marshall lost his place. Despite losing their hold over the World Cup, they were lethal and very potent as a Test team. They played in different combinations in a number of tests. Marshall took over from Croft. What is surprising is that even Holding has missed quite a number of tests during these years, even before the WSC absence. The level of competition for 3/4 places amongst these 5 top-quality bowlers must have been intense.

I have made another analysis of this period in terms of bowler combinations, results etc. These are shown at the end.

Now the second period during which six bowlers are present. This comprises of the later part of the Holding/Garner careers, the bulk of the Marshall career and the start of the Ambrose/Bishop careers. This was the most successful period for West Indies as the summary of results is shown at the end. Barring one series in the middle, they had an embarrassment of riches, the problem being who to leave out. Ambrose took over from Holding/Garner seamlessly and Bishop was potent. Marshall had retired well before the end of this period.

West Indies fast bowlers period 2
© Anantha Narayanan

The third period had the three bowlers, Walsh, Ambrose and Bishop. Walsh played in all but two of the tests during this period. Ambrose played in most of these tests. Unfortunately Bishop had to retire because of injuries. That was a blow to the West Indies from which they never recovered. Walsh and Ambrose struggled for a few Tests together, then Walsh alone for a few more and he also retired. The results, as expected, were quite mixed. Mervyn Dillon was the major support player to Ambrose and Walsh during these last few Tests.

West Indies fast bowlers period 3
© Anantha Narayanan

After Test# 1544, came the fall, and what a fall it was. It was left to the unfortunate Brian Lara to preside, more unsuccessfully than successfully, over this crumbling edifice. 10 years have passed and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, barring a lone completely unexpected success in the Champions' Trophy during 2004.

An analysis of the results is given below.

Period Matches Wins Draws Losses %-success

1974 (0734)-1984 (0983) 76 26 36 14 57.8% (No real dominating run) 1983 (0986)-1994 (1257) 79 47 20 12 72.1% (11/7/7 consecutive wins) 1994 (1258)-2001 (1544) 71 20 19 32 41.5% (7/6 consecutive losses)

Total 226 93 75 58 57.7%

As already indicated the golden period were the 10 years between 1984 and 1994, with a %-success of 72.1. Only 12 losses during a decade. The earlier decade was also quite good with a %-success of 57.8. The last 8 years were quite average with a success % of only 41.5. However let us not forget that unlike today, these were not the results-seeking years. A draw, especially by the opposing team was considered very good.

Out of the 226 Tests, there were a maximum of 100 tests in which 4 of the pace bowlers could have been played. This number could be lower since information on injuries is not known. Details on various combinations are given below. Incidentally such instances are identified on the graphs with the sign '!'.

Bowler combination Matches Wins

Roberts/Holding/Garner/Croft 11 5 Roberts/Holding/Garner/Marshall 6 3 Holding/Garner/Croft/Marshall 3 0 Holding/Garner/Marshall/Walsh 4 2 Marshall/Walsh/Ambrose/Bishop 6 4

Total 30 14

There are two surprises. The first is that West Indies played 4 pace bowlers, out of these 8, in only 30 of these during these 27 years. Of course they played other pace bowlers to come to four. The second surprise is that in tests in which West Indies had fielded 4 pace bowlers, out of the selected 8, their win percentage is below 50. This indicates that the best combination was three top pace bowlers and one bowler of different type, a spinner or even a medium pace swing bowler, to maintain balance. One would have again expected the win % to be higher. Maybe 3 pace bowlers + Gibbs/Holder/Richards/Gomes/Harper/Patterson was the more effective combination. Amongst this lot, Gibbs was a world-class spinner on his own rights. Patterson and Holder were good support bowlers.

The career summaries of the 8 bowlers is given below.

Bowler Wkts Mats Career details

Roberts: 202 47 ( 74) : 0734 (1974) - 0972 (1983) Holding: 249 60 ( 92) : 0764 (1975) - 1068 (1987) Garner: 259 58 ( 79) : 0797 (1977) - 1072 (1987) Croft: 125 27 ( 38) : 0797 (1977) - 0919 (1982)

Marshall: 376 81 (106) : 0837 (1978) - 1175 (1991)

Walsh : 519 132 (142) : 0997 (1984) - 1544 (2001) Ambrose: 405 98 (108) : 1095 (1988) - 1509 (2000) Bishop: 161 43 ( 73) : 1117 (1989) - 1407 (1998)

Walsh and Ambrose have missed only 10 tests each in their long careers. Walsh, mainly at the beginning because of non-selection. The others have missed quite a few tests, because of various reasons, WSC Tests, non-selection, injuries et al.

Finally a tribute to these 8 great bowlers. I cannot remember any instance of their engaging in any verbal duel with any batsman. One penetrating glare was all what was on view. They let the ball do all the talking and what conversation the 121282 deliveries engaged in. Capturing their haul of 2296 wickets at a rate of 52.8 balls and at an average of 22.8 runs per wicket. Did they bowl like millionaires. No, they conceded only 2.59 runs per over. Any of these 8 could have found a place in 90% of Test teams across the years. They graced the Test scene for nearly 3 decades. We can only stand back and admire them at this point in time.

Coming to the other dominating team over the past 10 years, I would like to hear from the readers whether such an analysis would be possible or worthwhile at all. There were only two great bowlers, McGrath and Warne and a host of good supporting bowlers. Such a graph as done above may not make sense.

To view/down-load the .zip file containing the graphs, please click/right-click here.
This will let you view the graphs at leisure and draw your own conclusions.

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 June 11, 2011, 14:27 GMT

    In an otherwise excellent article :

    will recommend the following - there is an excellent and only book on this topic - Real Quick published in the UK in 1995 which deals with all the WI quartet with tons of Stats and fascinating analysis

    2 errors in Ananth's article : 1.For some reason, Holding went off when these two made their debuts. It is possible that he was even dropped - NO HE WAS INJURED AS WAS WAYNE DANIEL DUE TO HEAVY WORKLOAD IN THE SEASONS AND THAT'S WHY GARNER AND CROFT GOT THEIR TEST DEBUT.


  • testli5504537 on May 28, 2011, 10:42 GMT

    I personally rate Marshall,Holding, and Roberts as the best of all Carribean paceman.

    Marshall was arguably the most lethal of all with his innovative biomechanics .He posessed a weaponry of deliveries that other great quickies could not deliverlike the skidding bouncer and the ball that doubled it's speed on impact.Holding is consistently the quickest of all paceman with the best ever bowling action.He bowled the best ever spell by any paceman in 1976 at the Oval and the best ever over against England at Kingston in 1981.Andy Roberts bowled more like Lillee than any other paceman and is rated by Lillee,Gavaskar and the Chappell brothers as the most complete and best paceman they have faced.He posessed a greater repertoire of deliveries than any West Indian paceman and in the mid 1970's solely carried the brunt of the attack in Australai in 1975-76 and in India in 1975-75.Sadly he declined after Packer Cricket where again he was outstanding capturing 50 wickets.

  • testli5504537 on May 5, 2011, 8:02 GMT


    You did not get it. Read my comment again. Slowly. Twice if necessary.

    We are not talking about bowler reputation. We are talking about the visceral fear the primate hindbrain feels when a creature vastly larger than you is moving towards you aggressively. Marshall, even if the best bowler, was a small man.

    I suspect you still won't get it.

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2011, 19:15 GMT

    Of the 8 fast bowlers, honorable mention must be given to two. 1. Andy Roberts started the juggernaut trend from a sparse, bare bunch of pacers (Holder, Julien, Boyce). He combined raw pace with brain power to devastating effect. HE was the leader of the pack.

    2. Courtney Walsh brought up the rear, in a time when WI cricket was declining. Saddled with the captaincy and a prima donna player, he gave of his very best to the bitter end.

    The most cloistered of the lot ? Malcolm Marshall who found himself nicely placed between the pioneers of these powerful pacers and those fighting an uphill battle for a declining team. He was the luckiest of the lot.


  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2011, 15:26 GMT

    They beat a strong India side in 1974 which contained the bowlers of Bedi, Chandresekar and Prassana, debunking the myth that the West Indies were poor players of spin

    That wasn't a great Indian side! The spinners were brilliant as they invariably were. But overall, the side was hardly special. Weren't they just back from a thorough drubbing in the hands of England earlier in '74? Gavaskar even missed a couple of tests and he wasn't in great nick even otherwise.

    Also, it was a narrow win for WI (3-2). That's the equivalent of say Border's side narrowly defeating the Sri Lanka of the early nineties! Hardly a great achievement.

    Interesting analogy that. Given that both Aus in '92 and WI in '74 were great sides-in-the making emerging from a dark phase.

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2011, 12:11 GMT

    @zzzzz, the difference being of course that the Indian team of the 80s was comparatively extremely poor - 3 or 4 test series wins in a decade. The Australian team didn`t win all over the world? um, name a country for me. [[ Less successful against certain countries, I agree, but unsuccessful, no. Australia won everywhere. Ananth: ]]

  • testli5504537 on April 27, 2011, 13:12 GMT

    I believe what sets the west indian unit apart from the noughties Australia was their success all over the world, in particular India, despite India's fine host of batsmen. Indeed, all of Croft, Roberts,Garner, Holding and Marshall had sub 25 averages on the subcontinent. They beat a strong India side in 1974 which contained the bowlers of Bedi, Chandresekar and Prassana, debunking the myth that the West Indies were poor players of spin. Furthermore. We must also remember that the West Indies were less likely to get beaten than the Noughties Australia, as evidenced against Pakistan in 1988 when, with their backs against the wall they clung on for a draw. Also, whilst Sunil Gavaskar was successful against the West Indies,10 of his 13 centuries came against either spin heavy or Packer affected attacks. Whilst he still played well against the Prime fast bowlers in the eighties, he did not dominate them

  • testli5504537 on April 27, 2011, 3:56 GMT

    I remember Ambrose getting into Steve Waugh's skin.. I don't know whose mistake it was or who prompted who to go at each other. But then I think Ambrose destroyed Australia with a 7-for or something???

    This is the only instance I know of a West Indian fast bowler getting into a verbal battle.

  • testli5504537 on April 26, 2011, 17:06 GMT

    "the visceral fear one may feel from seeing a monster the size of Garner or Ambrose might have caused complacency that Marshall exploited"

    Karthik - this is as wrong, as wrong can be. EVERYONE feared Marshall as the fastest, scariest and best of the lot from 83 to about 89.

    Garner didn't have that effect (though i think him one of the best and most underrated paceman EVER), perhaps because he didn't seem to put much effort into the ball - he was probably fast-medium most of the time, perhaps because of perceptions of him being a containment bowler (absurd - his strike rate is better than Roberts or Holding, but thats how it was often seen).

    Ambrose didn't play much with Marshall, but was a nasty piece of work in those early days (much more so than he became later, in his put-the-ball-on-the spot days - though he was accurate before, too).

    Marshall was something else. In my opinion, the best fast bowler the game has ever seen. And probably the bloody scariest, too.

  • testli5504537 on April 25, 2011, 9:22 GMT

    Marshall was not just the best bowler in this group, but he was also the most competent batsman as well.

    The funny thing is, he was at least 6 inches shorter than anyone else on this list. Marshall was 5'9" while no one else was under 6'3" (Roberts being the next shortest).

    So the best among these 'genial giants' was the one who was not even a giant at all. Perhaps this made batsmen underestimate him? The visceral fear one may feel from seeing a monster the size of Garner or Ambrose might have caused complacency that Marshall exploited.

  • No featured comments at the moment.