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