Stats analysis: Shane Warne

A magician and a match-winner

His bag of tricks was immense, but Shane Warne often saved his best for the biggest occasions

S Rajesh

December 20, 2010

Comments: 17 | Text size: A | A

Shane Warne bowls at the end of the third day at the end of the third day, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, January 4, 2007
No one has taken as many wickets in Test wins, or in Ashes contests, as Shane Warne © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Shane Warne
Teams: Australia

Quite simply he made legspin bowling sexy again. Admittedly, some of his legend revolves around his other exploits, but first and foremost Shane Warne became the superstar he did because of the manner in which he spun the cricket ball and the way he rose to the big occasions almost every time - be it in Ashes series or in World Cups. In an era when spin bowling was dwindling, Warne, more than any other bowler, revived the art.

The way he started his international career, though, not many would have anticipated such a glittering future. On his Test debut, against India in Sydney in 1992, Warne returned figures of 1 for 150, his only victim being double-centurion Ravi Shastri, who himself returned figures of 4 for 45 in Australia's second innings. Warne finished that series with an average of 228, and in his next Test, in Sri Lanka, he had figures of none for 107 in the first innings.

In the second innings Warne, with Test match stats of 1 for 335 till that point, showed the world the first glimpses of his special talent. Sri Lanka, requiring just 181 for victory in the fourth innings, were 150 for 7 when Warne came in and wrapped up the tail for the addition of only 14 more runs. The win gave Australia the series, and Warne was on his way. Later that year, in his first Boxing Day Test at his home ground, Melbourne, West Indies got their first taste of Warne magic, when his 7 for 52 fetched him the first of 17 Man-of-the-Match awards. (Incidentally, his last such award was at the same venue, exactly 14 years later.)

Warne didn't do a whole lot more in that series, but from 1993 onwards he was a factor in pretty much every series he played for the next five years. That ball to Mike Gatting in the 1993 Ashes started his legend, and it grew with almost every over he bowled. Apart from the sheer number of wickets he took, the other key of his bowling during this period was the stranglehold he maintained over opposition batsmen. Legspin is supposed to be difficult to control, but Warne gave nothing away: in five series between 1993 and 1995, his economy rate was less than two runs per over; in three of those series he averaged less than 20 as well.

He averaged nearly five wickets per Test for about five years beginning 1993, but then came a slump between 1998 and 2001, as a combination of a shoulder injury and plenty of matches against India led to a drastic fall in returns. Nine of the 14 Tests he played against India in his entire career came during this period, and in each of those three series he averaged more than 40. Overall, India was the one team he could never conquer - he averaged 47.18 against them, and under 30 against all other teams.

He got his mojo back in 2001 against England - who else? - and did very well in his last five and a half years, averaging almost six wickets per Test and winning nine Man-of-the-Match awards. In fact, Warne's 2005 remains the best year any bowler has had in terms of wickets taken: he nailed 96 victims in 15 matches at an average of 22.02. No other bowler has taken more than 90 in a calendar year.

Shane Warne's Test career
Period Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
1992 5 12 41.91 76.7 1/ 0
Jan 1993 to Feb 1998 59 291 23.06 61.4 13/ 4
March 1998 to June 2001 23 73 38.27 77.0 2/ 0
Jul 2001 onwards 58 332 24.05 49.0 21/ 6
Career 145 708 25.41 57.4 37/ 10

As mentioned earlier, Warne loved the big stage, and it hardly got bigger than when Australia were playing England for the Ashes. In 36 Tests against the old enemy, Warne took 195 wickets at an outstanding average of 23.25. He played in seven series against them (excluding the home one in 1998-99, when he played one Test), and averaged less than 21 in three of them. The only instance it touched 30 was in his last series, at home in 2006-07, when he took 23 wickets at 30.34. His 195 wickets is comfortably the highest by any bowler in Ashes contests, well clear of Dennis Lillee's 167.

In the 2005 Ashes in England, Warne took 40 wickets, which is one of only eight instances of a bowler taking 40 or more wickets in a series. Not surprisingly, six of the eight batsmen he dismissed most often were from England.

Leading Ashes wicket-takers
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Shane Warne 36 195 23.25 55.1 11/ 4
Dennis Lillee 29 167 21.00 50.9 11/ 4
Glenn McGrath 30 157 20.92 46.3 10/ 0
Ian Botham 36 148 27.65 57.2 9/ 2
Hugh Trumble 31 141 20.88 55.9 9/ 3
Bob Willis 35 128 26.14 56.9 7/ 0
Monty Noble 39 115 24.86 59.9 9/ 2
Ray Lindwall 29 114 22.44 59.0 6/ 0

Apart from the period between 1998 and 2001, when Warne struggled a bit, he was amazingly consistent through the rest of his career. In the 38 series he played of three or more Tests, he averaged less than 30 in 27 of them. His best in terms of series average was against Pakistan at home in 1995-96, when he took 19 wickets in three Tests despite not bowling at all in a match. His average for the series was 10.42. In fact, Pakistan's batsmen were the most clueless against him - though they would've played more spin bowling than batsmen from South Africa and England. In the series against Pakistan in 2002-03, Warne averaged 12.66, taking 27 wickets in three matches. Overall he took 90 wickets from 15 Tests against Pakistan at an average of 20.17. Only Kapil Dev took more wickets against Pakistan than him, but Kapil needed many more matches, and his average was much higher.

Warne in series of three or more Tests
  Ave < 25 Ave between 25 and 30 Ave between 30 and 35 Ave > 35
No. of series 17 10 5 6

Unlike most other spinners, who usually come into play as attacking options in the third and fourth innings of Tests, Warne's bag of tricks was so vast that he was a force even in the first innings, when pitches are generally at their least conducive to turn. In the first innings of a match, Warne took 156 wickets at an average of less than 28. He averaged only about 2.5 wickets per innings, but that was because the Australian fast bowlers were generally so effective at getting wickets on a fresh pitch. Muttiah Muralitharan took more first-innings wickets but averaged almost the same, while Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh have conceded far more runs per wicket.

Warne took six five-fors in the first innings, the best of which was 7 for 56 in Sydney against South Africa in a match Australia ended up losing by five runs.

Spinners with most wickets in first innings of Tests
Bowler Innings Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI
Muttiah Muralitharan 69 230 26.47 60.0 18
Anil Kumble 69 168 34.50 76.2 10
Shane Warne 64 156 27.63 58.3 6
Harbhajan Singh 52 116 40.25 80.5 9
Abdul Qadir 40 95 29.13 62.3 6

In the third and fourth innings of Tests, Warne turned lethal, conceding less than 23 runs per wicket. Nineteen of his 37 five-fors came in these innings, including his best figures in Test cricket: against England at the Gabba in 1994, where his 8 for 71 in the fourth innings consigned the visitors to a 184-run defeat.

Thanks to Australia's powerful line-ups during the period in which Warne played, most of his great efforts were in match-winning causes: he is the only bowler to take more than 500 wickets in wins, and is likely to remain the only one for quite a bit longer.

Spinners with most wickets in third and fourth innings of Tests
Bowler Innings Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI
Shane Warne 129 359 22.85 53.7 19
Muttiah Muralitharan 100 342 21.08 51.2 28
Anil Kumble 108 280 26.60 58.0 17
Harbhajan Singh 75 165 25.22 57.7 10
Lance Gibbs 69 149 24.36 75.9 11
Derek Underwood 70 145 22.04 66.9 10

Warne didn't play as many ODIs as many others of his era - he finished with only 194, compared to 352 for Ricky Ponting, 325 for Steve Waugh and 287 for Adam Gilchrist. In fact, Warne is only tenth on the list of Australians who've played most ODIs, but in the 194 games he played he was more than a handful for batsmen. Even in a format that places a premium on economy, Warne was fantastic with his ability to take wickets - he grabbed 293 of them, and at a more-than-acceptable economy rate of 4.25 runs per over.

His accuracy and his ability to hunt down wickets was especially crucial for Australia in the big games. He played only two World Cups - missing out on the 2003 edition in unfortunate circumstances - but made a huge impact in both, winning Man-of-the-Match awards in two semi-finals and a final.

His semi-final performances were especially memorable: on both occasions Australia were defending below-par scores, and both times Warne's four-fors made the difference. In 1996, Australia had scored only 207 and West Indies seemed to be coasting towards victory when Glenn McGrath started the slide, and Warne completed it by wrapping up the tail. He finished with 4 for 36 as Australia squeezed out a five-run win.

Three years later he was arguably even more immense. With Australia defending only 213, Warne dismissed four of South Africa's best batsmen - Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, Hansie Cronje and Jacques Kallis - as Australia ended up tying the game and making it to the final on the basis of a higher finish in the Super Sixes. Warne took 4 for 29 off 10 overs in a match in which both McGrath (1 for 51 off 10) and Damien Fleming (1 for 40 off 8.4) weren't at their best. In the final, Warne took four more as Pakistan were bundled out for a meagre 132 in the most one-sided of all title contests. Overall, his average in World Cup games was 19.50, at an excellent economy rate of 3.83, numbers that are remarkably similar to those of Muralitharan.

Best bowling averages in World Cups (Qual: 25 wickets)
Bowler Matches Wickets Average Econ rate Strike rate
Shane Bond 16 30 17.26 3.50 29.5
Glenn McGrath 39 71 18.19 3.96 27.5
Brad Hogg 21 34 19.23 4.12 27.9
Imran Khan 28 34 19.26 3.86 29.9
Shane Warne 17 32 19.50 3.83 30.5
Muttiah Muralitharan 31 53 19.69 3.83 30.8

Warne ticked most boxes in his 15-year international career, but the one mark that eluded him was a Test century. He was always a handy batsman, but the nearest he came to a hundred was against New Zealand in Perth in 2001, when he fell to Daniel Vettori for 99. That, perhaps, only adds to his legend.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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Posted by Balumekka on (December 23, 2010, 8:29 GMT)

Warne, All time greatest spin bowler????? bad luck Murali! you have played for a lesser country. had you play for Australia or England, You could have been ahead of Warne. Stats are used to praise players from "selected" countries, not for guys like you. They say "Stats won't tell everything you know.....?". They also say "if you removed his stats against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.....". Their media, their comments, their awards and their players..... This is all about cricket!!!!!!

Posted by Mark00 on (December 23, 2010, 7:32 GMT)

Going by statistics, if Murali and Warne never played ZImbabwe and Bangladesh, and Murali and Warne played exactly as much as each other against all the other countries, Murali still has a much better average. What's more, despite both taking wickets in about the same number of deliveries, a much larger percentage of Warne's are cheap lower order wickets. Warne had a great personality and was good for generating excitement about the game but Murali was the more dangerous bowler. Lara rated Warne higher due to his Australian never-give-up attitude (suggesting that Murali lost confidence more readily) but in the next sentence said that if he found Murali much more difficult to face and, if given a choice, would much rather face Warne.

Posted by OneshPerera on (December 22, 2010, 17:58 GMT)

Is Warne an all time great?Of course he is!Should he be in this list?Of course he should!But remember these points:- -Are some people really that nuts to think that SL is powerful enough to influence the ICC on the 15 degrees issue???It's the rule so Murali's action is 100% legal-GET USED TO IT! -It's not Murali's fault that Warne & Aussie didn't play Bangladesh & Zimbabwe much!(I'm sure Murali would have loved to play the poms more often, just like Warnie)he did take 16 (yes 16!) wickets in a single match against them you know! -Murali's stats are better than Warne's in almost every department (poor record in Aussie for Murali?set it off against Warne's pathetic record in India) -Murali's 100 wickets @ a 30 average vs India is so much greater that 195 wickets vs England, as India are the best at playing spin! -Warne is a grear CONJURER- a lot of smoke,mirrors, hype & mystery which keeps everyone spellbound!While Murali is an old style WIZARD,silent & simple; but deadly effective!

Posted by craigNY on (December 22, 2010, 1:23 GMT)

The best way to compare contemporaries is to look at how they played against each other. This shows that Warne was clearly better than Murali. Warne and Murali have both played 13 matches between Sri Lanka and Australia. Warne avg. 26 (strike rate 54), Murali avg. 36 (strike rate 70). In Sri Lanka Warne averages 20 (strike rate 40). In Australia, Murali averages 71 (strike rate over 100).

Posted by mrs.ples on (December 22, 2010, 0:51 GMT)

Warne v Murali (Test matches only) - Can we look at this a bit more realistically. There are two test teams that do not have a great record so lets exclude Zimbabwe and Bangladesh from both Warne 's and Murali's figures. Lets have a look at the numbers. Warne 708 wicket overall Murali 800 overall, remove the 3 matches and 16 wickets Warne took against them and the 25 matches and 176 wickets Murali took. then we get to a more balanced view. Warne 692 wickets - Murali 624 wickets. No doubt Murali took his wickets quicker than Warne and was a good bowler but he did play a lot against lesser nations which does inflate his figures .

Posted by inswing on (December 21, 2010, 20:18 GMT)

Warne -- avg. 23.25 against England, 26.40 against all other countries. Lillee -- avg. 21.0 against England, 26.23 against all other countries. Both are excellent, but not quite in the "all time greatest" category against other countries. They are rated so highly primarily based on their performances against England, which is irrational. They are not the best even considering only England (Lillee is the 4th best bowler against England, Warne is way down).

Posted by Mannix16 on (December 21, 2010, 6:51 GMT)

hahahaha Shane Warne Stats Analysis... This is a joke if you compared to Murali's Stats. Warne just did good against England and that is what won him fame. Murali has double the amounts of 10 wck and 5 wck hauls in about 15 fewer matches. Isn't Murali's fault that he never participated in the Ashes. If Murali was born an Australian or English we would be talking of him in the same manner as we talk of Bradman

Posted by Benkl on (December 21, 2010, 2:19 GMT)

Murali is a chucker...enough said they changed the rules to allow him

Posted by Charindra on (December 20, 2010, 19:47 GMT)

Murali is the greatest bowler of all time. The stats show it. Warne was the bigger personality, but Murali the better bowler. And Warne wasn't that great anyway. Terribly overrated. Sucked against India, Feasted on England, and Thrived thanks to the fantastic supporting cast lead by McGrath.

Posted by   on (December 20, 2010, 18:50 GMT)

As because you have the rights or freedom to write, do not criticize the best. Murali is the far ahead when comparing the all time stats on Test & One day. The only thing he got wrong is DARK skin... He is a Legend in Gentleman's game, you can criticize him as Beddi did, Harper did, any more... As Sri lankans we love Murali, and we hate all the others who criticize our legends... & Sri Lankans do respect all the legends in the game of cricket...

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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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