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Perhaps numbers never do reveal the full story, but they tell a large part of it
March 11, 2005
Perhaps numbers never do reveal the full story, but they tell a large part of it. Every Friday, The Numbers Game will take a look at statistics from the present and the past, busting myths and revealing hidden truths:
All international bowlers will swear by the need for skill and perseverance for long-term success, but they'll probably also mention that one needs a slice of luck. There are some bowlers who have the happy knack of finding the edge, or forcing batsmen to hit rank long-hops to the lone man stationed at deep fine leg, while others toil away, keep beating the bat or finding the edge, but at the end of the day, have figures of none for 100 to show for it.
It's commonly assumed that it all evens out in the end - a bowler might take a five-for despite bowling poorly, and might go wicketless after a great spell - but does it really? Cricinfo's ball-by-ball data suggests that there are some bowlers who are more adept than others at converting potential wicket-taking deliveries into actual wickets. Since September 2001, each and every ball bowled in Test cricket has been mapped along several parameters, including line and length, and how the batsman tackled it. Every time a batsman played and missed, edged, or was rapped on the pads, it went down as a potential wicket-taking delivery. Based on those numbers, there are some interesting revelations which come up.
Among bowlers who have taken at least 25 Test wickets since that period, Ashley Giles comes out as the unluckiest of the lot - he has bowled plenty of potentially wicket-taking deliveries, with minimum reward. Next in line in Stuart MacGill, while the much-maligned Ajit Agarkar figures high in the list as well. In a stop-start Test career, Agarkar has taken just 53 wickets from 22 Tests at an average of 46.66, but, as the table below indicates, he has bowled 452 potentially wicket-taking (PWT) deliveries, but only has 29 scalps to show for it, that's a ratio of more than 15 PWT deliveries per wicket. His record is very similar to another bowler who, so far in his career, has been a huge underachiever: Mohammad Sami has 48 wickets from 18 Tests (average 46.52), but here's something he can present to Bob Woolmer as a partial explanation of those awful numbers - he has needed to bowl more than 13 potentially wicket-taking deliveries to actually come up with a wicket under his name.
|Pot. Wkt-taking balls||Wickets||Ratio|
At the other end of the spectrum is South Africa's Nanty Hayward, for whom the ratio is an astonishing 0.97. A couple of New Zealanders - Chris Cairns and Shane Bond - figure very high in the list as well, while Shoaib Akhtar's ratio of 7.15 puts him in the top ten too.
|Pot. Wkt-taking balls||Wickets||Ratio|
While potential wicket-taking deliveries is one way of looking at lucky/ unlucky bowlers, the other way - and one that bowlers will remember more vividly - is the number of catches that went down. In that count, Kumble leads the way with 24 spills off him, but the bowler who will probably feel most let down by his fielders is Andy Flintoff: he has taken 103 wickets, and has had 22 catches dropped off him - in percentage terms, that's easily the highest among all bowlers in the top ten. Move a little further down the list, though, and you notice the name of Javagal Srinath. He took 39 Test wickets during this period, and had an incredible 11 catches dropped - a percentage of 28.20. No wonder he couldn't get that perennially pained look off his visage.
|Wickets||Catches dropped||Drop/ wkt %|
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo. For some of the data, he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan, the operations manager in Cricinfo's Chennai office.
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