Stats analysis: Malcolm Marshall

First among equals

In a team of several fast-bowling stars, Malcolm Marshall stood out for his sheer versatility and genius

S Rajesh

July 18, 2010

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Malcolm Marshall bowls, England v West Indies, fifth Test, The Oval, 14 August 1984
Marshall's stats were outstanding against every opponent, and in all conditions © Getty Images
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There have been several bright stars in the fast-bowling pantheon - and indeed, many from the West Indies - but the luminosity of Malcolm Marshall stands out even in such exalted company. He was relatively short-statured for a fast bowler, but in all aspects of his craft he stood taller than almost anyone else. He could swing and seam the ball both ways from an open-chested and quick-arm action that gave batsmen little indication of what was coming their way, and the skiddy bounce he obtained further added to the batsmen's woes. Whatever the conditions or the quality of the opposition team, Marshall had a way - and sometimes several - to breach their defences. Little wonder, then, that in the eyes of many pundits, Marshall ranks on top of the list of modern-day fast bowlers.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Marshall's bowling stats is the sheer consistency of his numbers across various parameters. For example, he played against five opponents, and the difference between his best and worst averages against them was slightly more than three runs: his lowest average was against England (19.58) and his highest against Australia (22.51). Of the six countries he played in (including the West Indies), the only place where he averaged more than 25 was in New Zealand (and he only played three Tests there). The difference between his home and away averages was 1.51, and it didn't matter much to him whether his captain won or lost the toss, and whether he had to bowl in the first innings or the last.

His introduction to Test cricket wasn't an auspicious one, though: in his first series, in India in 1978-79, Marshall managed only three wickets in as many Tests, and leaked more than 88 runs per wicket. He didn't play Test cricket again till the summer of 1980, and till the end of 1982 he played only nine further Tests.

Thereafter, though, the transformation was stunning. When India toured West Indies in 1983, Marshall took 21 wickets at an average of less than 24, but the series that announced his class and talent came later that year in India, with West Indies seeking revenge for that utterly shocking World Cup final defeat. Marshall was simply unstoppable, claiming 33 wickets in six Tests, including that of Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar five times each. That period started an amazing run that continued almost uninterrupted for the next eight years, during which period Marshall took 342 wickets from 69 Tests at an average of less than 20.

Malcolm Marshall's Test career
Period Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Before 1983 12 34 31.88 65.2 0/ 0
1983 onwards 69 342 19.85 44.9 22/ 4
Career 81 376 20.94 46.7 22/ 4

During the nine years from 1983 to 1991, he was one of only two bowlers who took 125 or more wickets at a sub-20 average - Richard Hadlee was the other. Marshall was the only one, though, with a strike rate of less than 45 balls per wicket.

Best Test bowlers between 1983 and 1991 (Qual: 125 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Richard Hadlee 48 262 19.64 47.4 23/ 6
Malcolm Marshall 69 342 19.85 44.9 22/ 4
Joel Garner 30 135 21.28 48.3 5/ 0
Imran Khan 42 156 21.49 50.5 10/ 3
Curtly Ambrose 33 140 23.14 56.1 5/ 1
Wasim Akram 39 143 24.51 58.7 9/ 2
Courtney Wash 50 174 24.95 56.4 5/ 1

As a match-winner, Marshall was among the very best again, with 254 wickets at less than 17. Again, only one bowler, Muttiah Muralitharan, has a better average, and one, Waqar Younis, has a better strike rate. Marshall's performances didn't drop much in defeats either: in the nine Tests in which he played in a losing cause, he still managed an average of less than 28.

Best Test bowlers in wins (Qual: 200 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Muttiah Muralitharan 53 430 16.03 42.6 40/ 18
Malcolm Marshall 43 254 16.78 38.1 17/ 4
Curtly Ambrose 44 229 16.86 44.4 13/ 3
Waqar Younis 39 222 18.20 35.0 14/ 4
Dennis Lillee 31 203 18.27 39.0 17/ 6
Shaun Pollock 49 223 18.30 47.5 9/ 1
Wasim Akram 41 211 18.48 42.3 13/ 2
Anil Kumble 43 288 18.75 44.4 20/ 5
Glenn McGrath 84 414 19.19 47.7 18/ 3
Courtney Walsh 52 239 19.72 46.2 10/ 2

Perhaps the biggest compliment to Marshall is the fact that he stood out even when he played with other great fast bowlers. The 1980s were an exceptional period for West Indian fast bowling, and yet in the Tests that Marshall played, he took almost a third of the wickets taken by their fast bowlers (31.37%). Marshall was clearly the leader of the pack - the next-highest wicket-taker in matches Marshall figured in was Courtney Walsh, with only 137 wickets from 42 Tests, while Curtly Ambrose had 128 from 29. (Click here for the full list.) Marshall's average and strike rate were significantly better than his other fast-bowling mates, and he took as many five-fors as all the other West Indian fast bowlers put together.

Marshall's contribution to the attack in the matches he played between 1983 and 1991
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
  69 342 19.85 44.9 22/ 4
Other WI fast bowlers 69 748 24.70 53.5 22/ 2

Not only did Marshall get many wickets, he also generally dismissed the top batsmen from the opposition line-ups. Among the batsmen he dismissed most often were Graham Gooch (16 times), Allan Lamb (13 times), Allan Border (11), Vengsarkar (10) and Gavaskar (8).

On the other hand, he didn't get rid of the tail that often; he usually left that job to the others. Of the 376 Test wickets he took, 238 were of batsmen in the top six, which is a fairly impressive percentage of 63.30. Only 17.55% of his wickets were of batsmen in the bottom three, which is the lowest among the bowlers listed below. Allan Donald and Glenn McGrath had a higher top-order percentage, but Marshall's numbers are quite a contrast to those of Wasim Akram, for whom almost 28% of wickets were of batsmen in the bottom three.

Percentage of top-order and lower-order wickets
Bowler Positions 1-6 Percentage Positions 9-11 Percentage
Malcolm Marshall 238 63.30 66 17.55
Glenn McGrath 377 66.96 99 17.58
Allan Donald 222 67.27 62 18.79
Curtly Ambrose 258 63.70 78 19.26
Richard Hadlee 262 60.79 86 19.95
Waqar Younis 234 62.73 79 21.18
Imran Khan 229 63.26 77 21.27
Wasim Akram 233 56.28 115 27.78

Another factor that puts Marshall above many other high-class fast bowlers is his stats in the subcontinent. The relatively slow pitches in the region have thwarted many a fast bowler, but not Marshall, whose varied skills helped him take 71 wickets in 19 Tests at an average of 23.05. Those numbers look even better if his first series in India is excluded: in the 16 remaining Tests he averaged 20.17. His overall average here, though, remains one of the best among overseas fast bowlers who've taken at least 50 wickets in the subcontinent.

Best overseas fast bowlers in Tests in Asia since 1970 (Qual: 50 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Courtney Walsh 17 77 20.53 45.2 5/ 0
Dale Steyn 11 57 21.33 34.7 4/ 1
Richard Hadlee 13 68 21.58 42.7 5/ 2
Glenn McGrath 19 72 23.02 54.8 1/ 0
Malcolm Marshall 19 71 23.05 48.7 3/ 0
Shaun Pollock 17 60 23.18 56.8 2/ 0
Jason Gillespie 14 54 23.75 51.0 1/ 0

The team he tormented more than any other, though, was England, against whom he took 127 wickets at 19.18 - both numbers were his best against any side.

Some of Marshall's most memorable performances came against England: on the tour of 1984, he took three five-fors in five Tests, the most memorable of which was at Headingley. Having sustained a double fracture to his left thumb, Marshall came out to bat with his hand in plaster to help Larry Gomes to his hundred; then he destroyed England in the second innings with a fantastic haul of 7 for 53. Four years later, Marshall's 7 for 22 at Old Trafford destroyed England on a pitch that was supposed to aid spin. Among bowlers with at least 75 wickets against England, Marshall's average is one of the best. (And is it a surprise that the list is dominated by West Indians?)

Best Test bowling averages against England since 1950 (Qual: 75 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Joel Garner 19 92 17.93 48.1 1/ 0
Curtly Ambrose 34 164 18.79 50.5 8/ 2
Malcolm Marshall 26 127 19.18 45.5 6/ 1
Muttiah Muralitharan 16 112 20.06 59.0 8/ 4
Glenn McGrath 30 157 20.92 46.3 10/ 0
Dennis Lillee 29 167 21.00 50.9 11/ 4
Michael Holding 21 96 21.15 46.7 6/ 1
Terry Alderman 17 100 21.17 47.1 11/ 1

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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Posted by eddy501 on (July 22, 2010, 12:35 GMT)

@HusseyFan ...........sure Garner was great but i'll think you'll find that if you match big bird against maco it would be very one-sided (stats wise).

Posted by GHemrajani on (July 20, 2010, 18:13 GMT)

Marshall was no doubt great but I always felt Joel Garner was the greatest. It would be nice if you could analyze Garner vs. Marshall in some way.

Posted by Vilander on (July 20, 2010, 14:52 GMT)

what a crazy mighty team WI was then..wonder if Garner bowled with Walsh/Ambrose

Posted by 10dulkaRulezz on (July 20, 2010, 0:20 GMT)

Awesome Stats. Good to see McGrath and Murali in the list. No Warne though..I wonder. Any special reason!!

Posted by Rajesh. on (July 19, 2010, 20:17 GMT)

Malcolm Marshall the greatest !!

Posted by PrinceofPortofSpain on (July 19, 2010, 17:28 GMT)

If batsmen from 1-6 in the batting order were worried about their physical well being when facing Marshall, then how did nos. 7-11 feel if he came back to mop up the tail? I saw him bowling in tandem with Joel Garnerand Michael Holding in Trinidad in 1984 and he was truly amazing. Only Allan Border with 98* and 100 stood in their way. WI beat Aus. 3-0 in the Caribbean, then England 5-0 in England and then Aus. 3-1 in Australia at the end of 1984/5. Wii this ever happen again?

Posted by eddy501 on (July 19, 2010, 12:32 GMT)

A Lion on the pitch, ready to remove your stumps and head if needed, but a pussycat off the pitch, full of fun and jokes and warmth.....never bettered, sadly missed.

Posted by Nuxxy on (July 19, 2010, 11:15 GMT)

For fast bowlers who can't keep going all day, strike rate counts for a lot. And Marshall's stands out remarkably!

Posted by   on (July 19, 2010, 6:15 GMT)

unarguably the greatest and most consistent fast bowler of all time...may his soul RIP

Posted by   on (July 19, 2010, 5:14 GMT)

Greatest fast bowler that ever lived. Period!

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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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