Muttiah Muralitharan: stats analysis

An unparallelled match-winner

Muttiah Muralitharan turned the fortunes of Sri Lanka around with his sheer genius and consistency

S Rajesh

July 17, 2010

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Muttiah Muralitharan gets a pat from Kumar Sangakkara after dismissing Tim McIntosh, Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day, August 20, 2009
Muttiah Muralitharan finished with 430 wickets in wins from just 53 Tests, a staggering average of eight wickets per match © AFP
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His unconventional action was at the centre of plenty of controversy, but no-one can argue with the numbers that Muttiah Muralitharan has racked up over his 18-year international career. His skills would have been special to any team, but they were even more valued in a side which was still a newcomer in the Test arena when he arrived: in the pre-Murali days, Sri Lanka had only won two Tests out of 38. Murali's advent completely transformed the team and their results - from pushovers, they became a true force in international cricket, especially when playing at home.

Murali's Test debut came in the second Test of the home series against Australia in August 1992, after a rather distressing first Test, which they lost by 16 runs despite taking a 291-run first-innings lead. That was Sri Lanka's 20th Test defeat. Murali was included for the next game, and the team's fortunes changed almost immediately: in only his third Test, he took seven wickets as Sri Lanka beat New Zealand for the first time. The next match he played fetched him five wickets and brought Sri Lanka their maiden Test win against England; after struggling 38 matches for two wins, Sri Lanka had two more in five after Murali's entry. That ratio was to be maintained throughout Murali's 18-year Test career.

Murali was among the wickets almost from the very beginning of his career, but in the early period those wickets took much longer coming. In his first three years, he had respectable numbers - 81 wickets in 23 Tests, at an average touching 34 and a strike rate of around 75. Those were reasonable stats, but the transformation from good to superb was just around the corner. Over the next four years, the strike rate and average improved considerably, as he nabbed almost six wickets per Test.

Even that, though, was a prelude to a truly exceptional nine-year period which began in 2000: in 76 Tests, Murali averaged a phenomenal seven wickets per match at a sub-20 average. Sixteen out of his 19 Man-of-the-Match awards came during this period, and it isn't difficult to see why.

Muttiah Muralitharan's Test career
Period Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Till Dec 1995 23 81 33.88 75.2 5/ 0
Jan 1996 to Dec 1999 25 146 23.25 60.1 12/ 2
Jan 2000 to Dec 2008 76 539 19.76 49.2 49/ 20
Since Jan 2009 8 26 45.96 86.5 0/ 0
Career 132 792 22.71 55.1 66/ 22

During this nine-year phase, Murali averaged less than 24 against teams except Australia, against whom he conceded 32.59 runs per wicket. Even the Indians struggled against him during this period: in nine Tests against them, Murali took 60 wickets and averaged 23.45.

Among bowlers who took at least 150 wickets between 2000 and 2008, Murali's average was the best - in fact, he was the only one with a sub-20 average.

Best bowlers  between Jan 2000 and Dec 2008 (Qual: 150 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Muttiah Muralitharan 76 539 19.76 49.2 49/ 20
Glenn McGrath 66 297 20.53 51.4 14/ 2
Dale Steyn 29 150 22.66 37.6 11/ 3
Shaun Pollock 70 260 24.76 61.0 6/ 1
Shane Warne 65 357 25.17 50.7 21/ 6
Jason Gillespie 57 209 27.09 57.4 5/ 0
Makhaya Ntini 91 367 27.63 51.1 18/ 4
Chaminda Vaas 74 243 29.39 63.9 8/ 1

Clearly, Murali was successful against all opposition, but his career summary also shows he was exceptionally successful against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the two weakest teams of his era. In 15 Tests against them he took 130 wickets at an average of just over 12. (Overall in his career, he took 176 wickets against them, more than twice as many as the next-best - Waqar Younis with 80.)

However, while it's true that his success against them improved his overall numbers, it's also true that his figures are exceptional even after excluding those performances. This comparison with Warne shows Murali's overall numbers are slightly better even after excluding matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. In the 2000-2008 period, Murali's average falls slightly behind Glenn McGrath's, but it's still better than everyone else who took 150 wickets.

Best bowlers between 2000 and 2008, excluding Tests v Zim and B'desh (Qual: 150 wkts)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10M
Glenn McGrath 64 292 20.46 51.2 14/ 2
Muttiah Muralitharan 61 409 22.11 54.4 35/ 15
Shane Warne 63 346 25.10 50.8 20/ 6
Shaun Pollock 64 242 25.20 61.7 6/ 1
Makhaya Ntini 80 326 28.50 51.7 17/ 4
Jason Gillespie 52 185 28.88 60.5 5/ 0
Chaminda Vaas 63 213 29.32 63.8 8/ 1

In the 132 Tests he played, 53 ended in wins for Sri Lanka, and Murali had a big role to play in most of them. He took 430 wickets in those matches - an average of 8.11 per Tests - and won the Man-of-the-Match award 17 times in those 53 games. His overall tally in wins is second only to Warne, who had 510 wickets in 92 wins. Among bowlers who've taken at least 150 wickets in wins, only three bowlers have a better average than Murali's 16.03, but none of them have breached even the 200-wicket mark.

Best bowlers in Test wins (Qual: 150 wickets)
Bowler All wins - Tests Wkts Average Excl Zim & B'desh - Tests Wkts Wins
Richard Hadlee 22 173 13.06 22 173 13.06
Imran Khan 26 155 14.50 26 155 14.50
Dale Steyn 22 155 15.85 18 133 15.63
Muttiah Muralitharan 53 430 16.03 32 261 17.70
Malcolm Marshall 43 254 16.78 43 254 16.78
Allan Donald 33 187 16.79 30 173 16.82
Curtly Ambrose 44 229 16.86 42 221 17.02

One of the key features that made Murali unique was his ability to be in the hunt for wickets at any stage of the match. Most spinners usually become a force in the third or fourth innings of a match, but Murali was different: he averaged 26 in the first innings and 22 in the second - his second-innings average is well clear of any other spinner.

The most important aspect of Murali's career, though, was the manner in which he single-handedly shouldered the burden of the attack for Sri Lanka for so many years. In the 131 Tests he played for Sri Lanka (he also played one Test for World XI in the Super Series), Murali took 40% of the team's wickets in the matches he played, and 42.2% in the wins that he was a part of.

His absence will obviously mean a huge hole in the Sri Lankan bowling attack, especially in the spin department. The extent to which he has dominated Sri Lanka's slow bowling is gleaned from the following stat: since 2000, Murali has taken 560 wickets; the next-highest specialist spinner is Rangana Herath with 64, while Ajantha Mendis has 44.

Sri Lanka's reliance on Murali
  Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Muttiah Muralitharan 131 787 22.65 55.0 66/ 22
The rest 131 1163 36.44 74.7 28/ 3
In wins - Muralitharan 53 430 16.03 42.6 40/ 18
The rest 53 588 26.93 58.6 15/ 2

And finally a list of some of the key records that are in Murali's name, and the percentage by which he is ahead of the next-best bowler. This offers a pretty good indication of just how far ahead of the pack Murali has been.

Various Test match bowling records held by Muttiah Muralitharan
Bowling record Murali's record Next best Record for second best bowler Percentage difference
Most wickets 792 Shane Warne 708 11.8
Five-wicket hauls 66 Shane Warne 37 78.3
Most ten-wicket hauls in a match 22 Shane Warne 10 120.0
Most consecutive ten-wicket hauls 4 Clarrie Grimmett 3 33.3
Most wickets at home 485 Anil Kumble 350 38.5
Most wickets in home wins 297 Shane Warne 250 18.8
Most balls bowled in career 43669 Anil Kumble 40850 6.9
Most wickets at a single ground* 166 Heath Streak 83 100
Most wickets against B'desh and Zim 176 Waqar Younis 80 120
% of team wickets in wins (min 100 wickets in wins) 42.2 Richard Hadlee 40.8 3.4
Most wickets in Test defeats 210 Courtney Walsh 186 12.9
Most wickets taken bowled 165 Shane Warne 116 42.2
Bowler-fielder combination (non wicket-keeper) 73 (Mahela Jayawardene) Anil Kumble 55 (Rahul Dravid) 32.7
Most wickets taken caught 431 Shane Warne 418 3.1
Most wickets caught and bowled 35 Shane Warne 21 66.7
Most wickets taken stumped 47 Shane Warne 36 30.5
Number of Tests to reach 400 wickets** 72 Richard Hadlee 80 10

* The top three hauls at a ground stand in Murali's name. Heath Streak is in fourth place.
** Murali is the fastest to all 50-wicket landmarks from 350 onwards.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. With inputs from Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan.

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Posted by raghu86 on (July 17, 2010, 15:27 GMT)

I am an indian and a die-hard fan of indian team, but i also love murali and am too emotional that i won't see him bowl again in tests. I hope he picks 20 wickets in his last test and sl wins. And off course i hope india wins the next two and the series. And to those who think he chucks, well those science-defying illiterates can go to hell. I am sure they still think the earth is flat, coz thats how it looks to naked eye.

Posted by   on (July 17, 2010, 12:30 GMT)

Murali u r the best. Hats off for u r career

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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