July 9, 2010

Murali v Warne

Murali's wickets against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are often held against him, so here's how his stats stack up against Warne's after excluding those performances

Muttiah Muralitharan or Shane Warne? That's perhaps one of the most fascinating debates going around in cricket (even if one of the protagonists has retired), and it's only likely to gather further steam with the other's decision to quit Test cricket in a couple of weeks. Both bowlers will undoubtedly go down as legends, and yet each camp has its staunch set of supporters, who not only lift their own hero, but also, unfortunately, enjoy tearing the achievements of the other. This column attempts to do away with all the other aspects, and compares them only on the basis of their stats, looking at their numbers along certain meaningful parameters.

One of the pet peeves of the Murali baiters is his record against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. It's not his fault that he has played so many matches against them, but it's also a fact that those games have significantly improved his overall stats: in 25 Tests against those two teams, Murali has taken 176 wickets at an average of 15.09 and a strike rate of 42 - both those stats are much better than his overall career numbers. By contrast, Warne has only played three Tests against those two sides. Taking this disparity into account, all Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have been excluded for the purpose of this analytical exercise.

What's immediately obvious is that Murali's tally of 792 wickets shrinks to 616 when his haul against those two teams is excluded; Warne's aggregate, meanwhile, drops only by 17, to 691. However, while Murali's average rises by about two runs, it's still marginally better than Warne's 25.40. The difference, though, becomes miniscule.

Both bowlers have found Indian batsmen difficult to bowl to, and that's indicated in their numbers, though Warne's average is much poorer, and he only has one five-for against India in 14 Tests. Murali has also been far more influential in wins, taking, on average, more than eight wickets in these 32 Tests. (That, though, is also a telling commentary on Sri Lanka's dependence on him; Australia, on the other hand, had several bowling match-winners.)

Comparing Murali and Warne
  Murali - Tests Wkts Average 5WI/ 10WM Warne - Tests Wkts Average 5WI/ 10WM
v all teams 132 792 22.71 66/ 22 145 708 25.41 37/ 10
v all excl Zim and B'desh 107 616 24.88 49/ 16 142 691 25.40 36/ 10
v India 21 97 33.34 6/ 2 14 43 47.18 1/ 0
in wins (excl Zim and B'desh) 32 261 17.70 23/ 12 89 493 22.36 26/ 7
outside subcontinent (excl Zim) 29 162 25.85 14/ 5 119 575 25.13 26/ 7
4th innings (excl Zim and B'desh) 34 98 20.74 7/ 7 60 138 23.14 7/ 4

If Murali's advantage was the number of matches he played in spin-friendly conditions, then Warne's plus was the support he got from the rest of the Australian bowlers. Murali's stats at home are much better than Warne's, but overseas his average goes up to almost 29. Both bowlers struggled in India, with their averages sailing well into the 40s. Murali supporters often claim Warne had the advantage of playing against England repeatedly, and the stats below suggest that's an opportunity Murali would have relished as well: in the six Tests Murali played in England, he averaged eight wickets per match, and nailed his victims at less than 20 apiece. A few more Tests there during his peak years surely wouldn't have hurt his career stats.

Murali and Warne in different regions (excl Zimbabwe and Bangladesh)
  Murali - Tests Wkts Average 5WI/ 10WM Warne - Tests Wkts Average 5WI/ 10WM
Home 58 364 22.19 31/ 10 69 319 26.39 15/ 4
Away 49 252 28.78 18/ 6 70 345 25.49 19/ 5
In India 11 40 45.45 2/ 0 9 34 43.11 1/ 0
in Asia 78 454 24.54 35/ 11 23 116 26.77 10/ 3
in England 6 48 19.20 5/ 3 22 129 21.94 8/ 3

Arguably the biggest difference for the two spinners has been the kind of support they've received throughout their careers. Whereas Warne had the likes of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie to soften the batsmen (and also eat into his share of wickets), Murali only had Chaminda Vaas as a regular high-class bowler in the line-up. The table below compares the performances of the support acts to Warne and Murali. In the 106 Tests he played against the top teams, the other bowlers in the Sri Lankan team took only 889 wickets to Murali's 611, and conceded almost 40 runs per wicket. There were only three ten-wicket hauls by other bowlers to Murali's 16, with Vaas getting two and Ajantha Mendis one. That meant Murali had to do most of the work himself, and he did, bowling 33% of the team's overs and taking 41% of the wickets.

Warne, on the other hand, had all the support he needed (and perhaps some he didn't). The Australian bowlers took almost twice as many wickets as the Sri Lankans did, and three times as many five-fors (69 to 23). All that meant Warne only took 28% of all wickets taken by Australia in the matches he played.

Support for Murali and Warne (excl Zim and B'desh)
  Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Muttiah Muralitharan 106 611 24.83 58.7 49/ 16
Other Sri Lankan bowlers 106 889 39.88 80.48 23/ 3
Shane Warne 142 691 25.40 57.6 36/ 10
Other Australian bowlers 142 1754 27.97 58.38 69/ 5

With McGrath and Gillespie often accounting for the top-order wickets, Warne usually didn't have the opportunity to have a go at them, which is reflected in his percentage of top-order victims - lower compared to Murali, who often came on to bowl when the opposition hadn't lost too many wickets. Warne winkled out the tail more often, with the last three batsmen accounting for almost 27% of his victims, compared with less than 23% for Murali.

Break-up of wickets for Murali and Warne (excl Zim and B'desh)
  Murali - wkts Percentage Warne - wkts Percentage
Right-handers 471 76.46 521 75.40
Left-handers 145 23.54 170 24.60
Batsmen in top 6 351 56.98 373 53.98
Batsmen in bottom 3 139 22.56 184 26.63
Bowled 127 20.62 114 16.50
Lbw 114 18.51 134 19.39
Caught 337 54.71 407 58.90
Stumped 37 6.01 36 5.21

It's hardly surprising that Murali's list of batsmen dismissed most often is dominated by players from the subcontinent (and a Zimbabwean; though Mark Boucher heads the list), while Warne's list is dominated by Englishmen. But to check the averages of individual batsmen against them, we need ball-by-ball data, which Cricinfo has for all international games from May 2001. The next two tables look at the performances of some of the top batsmen against Murali and Warne over these years. Interestingly, both played almost exactly the same number of matches during this period, and had very similar averages: Murali averaged 23.86 in 54 Tests (against the top teams only), while Warne averaged 23.94 from 56 matches.

During this period, Brian Lara clearly had the better of Murali, but Sachin Tendulkar's record is pretty ordinary, as is Kevin Pietersen's. Most of the other Indian batsmen have done well against him, though.

Murali v top batsmen since May 17, 2001
Batsman Balls Runs Dismissals Average
Sachin Tendulkar 295 148 5 29.60
Brian Lara 710 373 3 124.33
Ricky Ponting 243 172 2 86.00
Rahul Dravid 660 316 5 63.20
VVS Laxman 431 207 2 103.50
Virender Sehwag 238 217 3 72.33
Jacques Kallis 205 88 1 88.00
Kevin Pietersen 236 168 6 28.00
Inzamam-ul-Haq 148 80 1 80.00
Matthew Hayden 218 142 5 28.40

Warne's stats are a mixed bag too: he has superb numbers against Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick, but Pietersen and Jacques Kallis have handled him much better. He didn't bowl much against the Indians during this period, and not at all to Tendulkar.

Warne v top batsmen since May 17, 2001
Batsman Balls Runs Dismissals Average
Kevin Pietersen 522 308 5 61.60
Jacques Kallis 550 280 5 56.00
Kumar Sangakkara 207 127 4 31.75
Brian Lara 168 105 3 35.00
Virender Sehwag 95 78 3 26.00
Mahela Jayawardene 196 92 2 46.00
Michael Vaughan 285 131 3 43.67
Marcus Trescothick 219 147 8 18.37
Andrew Strauss 245 140 8 17.50

Most of the numbers above suggest there's little to choose between the two bowlers, which is exactly as it should be when comparing two legends of the game.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2010, 22:40 GMT

    i think warne is the better bowler as it comes to terms of getting a batsman out, he as plan to work with and lures them into his trap whereas murali does not have this setup ready and just relies on the batman making a mistake ( which they often do against his highclass bowling but that aside)

  • Shaz on July 16, 2010, 15:48 GMT

    Yes, comparing both these spin legends is not fair but I'd say, Warne had a major role to play in winning matches for Aus. Although, Aus' front line bowlers did most of the damage but Warne still had figured in many of match turning spells. I barely can remember Murali turning the match on it's head baring the Old Trafford Test where he dominated England from the word go but still can't figure out a spell or bowling performance where he had changed the game for Sri Lanka!

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2010, 11:17 GMT

    Both are great bowlers! no question about that! but if you do exclude Murali's records against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe then you should also go ahead and exclude the records Warne obtained when he played against the English in the 90s. The Zimbabweans were miles better than some of the English sides in the 90s who were easy picking during Warne's ashes campaign. Saying all that a wicket is a wicket and let the record speak without altering them just because the opposition was weak!

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2010, 4:09 GMT

    I do not imagine Murali would have sat down to feast on tandoori paranthas early in the morning and then snored away to glory , had he not played those Bangaldesh and Zimbabwe matches.He would have taken at least a 100 if not 176 wickets playing against some other opposition and still have nosed ahead of Warne.Time is at a premium in an international career, so dont just take those wickets out of the equation.

  • Pradeep on July 15, 2010, 17:19 GMT

    i think it's fair to say that the quality of AUS bowling during Warne's time cut into his share of wickets, and Murali only has Vaas as a regular quality bowler hence accounting for more 5-for and ten-fors for Murali and more wickets per match.. that being said Warne had to deal less with top-order batsman and always had someone to add pressure on the other side, if not for the McGraths, Lees etc he would have had to contend more often with Tendulkar, Lara, Inzimam, Arvinda de Silva and Dravid...and many more quality batsman...and his average would have been much higher. Of course there are other factors as well...as the strength of your teams batting that puts pressure on the opposition, enforcing follow-ons or follow-ons being enforced on your team etc.. Overall both of them were legends and so it should be.

  • Mohamed on July 15, 2010, 15:40 GMT

    Murali is way ahead than warne....End of the day only the final stats should be compared...he has a better average than warne..has bowled really well against indians who play spin well...5 wicket and 10 wicket hauls are double than warne eventhough he played lesser amounts of matches than warne...its true that he bowled in spinner friendly wickets but he is a finger spinner..but in case of warne he is a leg spinner..Leg spinners can purchase more turn out of most tracks..and he has been helped by the bounce factor in aussie wickets which murali doesnt enjoy in sub continent..and another major factor to consider is that Murali didnt have support bowler in the caliber like Glen Mcgrath for shane warne...

  • Atul Patil on July 15, 2010, 10:26 GMT

    Murli is better than Warne and more good thing is that he remained away from any type of contraventions and on the other hand Warn lost his reputation many time due to the activities outside the ground. I personally thinks that we should ask this questions to top 10 test batsmen of the world and see whom they find more difficult to face.

  • kieran on July 15, 2010, 0:39 GMT

    Well I don't really care how the stats stack up, they are both magnificent bowlers and both have strong cases to put forward as to why one is better than the other. If I was picking a Best XI for the last 20 years I would be sorely tempted to pick both in a tandem spin attack with Wasim & McGrath. But then if I could only take one of them or was asked to pick the better "cricketer" I would have to go with Warne: he is without doubt a much better fielder & batsman than Murali. And though he didn't capatin in tests Warnie improved his performance in ODIs as captain and excelled as captain for Rajasthan. Irrespective of whether people think he was a chucker, Murali should be lauded for his longevity and the spirit in which he played the game.

  • Billy on July 14, 2010, 23:56 GMT

    A lot of people are quoting the studies performed over the past ten years, which ultimately resulted in 99% of bowlers being deemed chuckers at some point in a game of cricket. The significance of such a large percentage should actually raise suspicions of whether the testing and the science behind it is actually right. Note that the tests don't actually prove Murali was clean. All it does is show that under those testing conditions, all bowlers are not clean in their delivery. So maybe we need a new definition of chucking that's not dependent on the straightening of the arm/elbow or whatever. Personally, I think science and technology cannot prove whether someone is chucking or not. It should be left up to the umpires and a naked eye assessment.

  • Bala on July 14, 2010, 13:08 GMT

    I did a similar analysis in rec.sport.cricket a while ago.

    1. I think it would be useful to do the top level wickets (1-2-3 4-5-6-7 and 8-9-10-11). 2. During Murali's early days, Sri Lanka had to bat twice, and Murali had to bowl only one innings. 3. Murli bowled to some quality Zimbabweans.

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