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ESPNcricinfo's stats editor S Rajesh looks at the stories behind the stats

The new Harmison? Or is it the new Caddick?

Like the other two tall England fast bowlers, Stuart Broad has been destructive when at his best, but in between those spells his bowling average is unusually high

S Rajesh

May 24, 2013

Comments: 17 | Text size: A | A

Stuart Broad takes the applause after his career-best 7 for 44, England v New Zealand, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day, May 19, 2013
In the 20% of his Test performances when he has been at his best, Stuart Broad averages 12.48 runs per wicket; the rest of the time, though, his average is 47.79 © PA Photos

In the second innings of the Lord's Test, Stuart Broad shrugged off his poor bowling form quite spectacularly, taking seven wickets in 11 overs after his previous 82 overs had fetched him 3 for 244. Before that barren spell, there'd been a haul of 6 for 51 in Wellington, which had in turned followed a period when he took six wickets in 109 overs, conceding 429 runs, including a wicketless 36 overs in two Tests in India.

Lack of consistency has been a constant in Broad's bowling career so far, which has made it a frustrating experience for fans who've invested in him: when he's good, he can be outstanding; when he's ordinary, he can be quite poor. The home series against India in 2011 was another fine example of his extremes: he took 25 wickets at 13.84 in four Tests after having taken 10 for 551 in his previous five Tests.

Broad's haul at Lord's means he now has 191 Test wickets, 13th among England's fast bowlers. His average of 31.15 is one of the higher ones, but there are a few others in that group who are in the 30-plus category: Andrew Flintoff averages 33.34, Steve Harmison 31.94, and both Matthew Hoggard and James Anderson slightly over 30.

However, there's one stat in which Broad leads among these 13 bowlers: the ratio of averages between their top 20% performances and the rest. The table below lists all these 13 bowlers, and looks at their figures - broken up by each innings - in 20% of their best performances, and the remaining 80% (sorted by wickets taken in each innings). For example, in his best 20 bowling displays, in terms of wickets taken, Broad took 90 at an average of 12.48; in his remaining 80 innings, he took 101 wickets at an average touching 48. The ratio of those two averages is 3.83, which is the highest among the 13 leading fast bowlers for England. It's a stat that confirms what's been written over the last week about Broad's staggering inconsistency as a Test bowler.

There are a couple of other tall fast bowlers whose spread of wickets and ratio of averages resemble those of Broad. Steve Harmison's overall stats are similar to Broad's as well - an average of 31.82 and exactly as many five-fors and ten-fors as Broad - and his break-up along these parameters resemble Broad's as well. In his top 20% performances (23 innings out of 115), he has taken 101 wickets at 12.61, but in his remaining 92 performances, he averages 47.34, which means the ratio of those two averages is 3.75, remarkably close to Broad's 3.83.

The other bowler who squeezes between this is Andrew Caddick, another blow-hot, blow-cold performer. His overall career average was marginally less than 30, but he had his swings as well: on his best days, he averaged less than 12 runs per wicket, but in the remaining 80% of the time his average ballooned to almost 45. Apart from the ratios, the absolute averages of these bowlers in their remaining 80% of the innings are also the poorest among the lot, which also confirms why all these bowlers have had more than their fair share of detractors.

England's fast bowlers, in their top 20% innings, and the rest
  Top 20% innings* Rest of the innings    
  Innings Wickets Average Innings Wickets Average Ave. ratio Career ave.
Stuart Broad 20 90 12.48 80 101 47.79 3.83 31.15
Andrew Caddick 21 104 11.67 84 130 44.50 3.81 29.91
Steve Harmison 23 101 12.61 92 125 47.34 3.75 31.94
Ian Botham 34 178 12.32 134 205 42.37 3.44 28.40
Alec Bedser 18 99 10.92 74 137 35.00 3.20 24.89
Brian Statham 26 110 11.20 103 142 35.41 3.16 24.84
Bob Willis 33 150 11.83 132 175 36.66 3.10 25.20
 Fred Trueman 25 127 10.12 102 180 29.67 2.93 21.57
Matthew Hoggard 24 106 14.87 98 142 42.17 2.84 30.50
James Anderson 30 136 14.97 119 169 42.36 2.83 30.14
Andrew Flintoff 27 98 16.43 110 128 45.31 2.76 33.34
Darren Gough 19 87 14.32 76 142 37.02 2.58 28.39
John Snow 19 90 15.43 74 112 35.70 2.31 26.66
* In terms of wickets taken

Broad, Caddick and Harmison are the only ones whose ratio of averages is more than 3.70, and in fact they are well clear of the next-highest ratio, Ian Botham's 3.44.

At the other end of the table are the most consistent bowlers of this lot. John Snow's average in his best 20% was 15.43, among the higher ones in the group, but in the other 80% of the innings his average was 35.70, among the better ones in the table. His ratio of 2.31 is the lowest, followed by Darren Gough's 2.58. Just as England had Gough's consistency to complement Caddick, similarly in the current attack James Anderson has been performing Gough's role. In the last 12 series he's played, only twice has his average exceeded 35, while eight times it's been under 30, which is pretty good indication of his consistency. Anderson's best hasn't been as potent as Broad's - he averages 14.97 to Broad's 12.48 - but his poorer days haven't been as bad as Broad's either.

Alec Bedser and Brian Statham have superb numbers too, with averages of around 11 on their best days, but the best of the lot is clearly Fred Trueman. His overall average is the best, so it isn't surprising that in each of the two parameters he emerges on top too. In his top 20% performances, he averages 10.12; in the other 80% too, his average is less than 30, the only bowler among these 13 bowlers to achieve this.

And finally, the table below compares some of the best fast bowlers in the world along the same parameters: their numbers in their best 20% of the innings they've bowled in (in terms of wickets taken), and a comparison with the remaining 80% of their innings, with a ratio of their averages in these two segments.

Three of the ten bowlers in the list below have averaged less than ten runs per wickets in their best 20% - Dale Steyn, Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose. These three also have the highest ratios, but that's because of their abnormally low averages when they're at the top of their games. Dennis Lillee's average of 13.62 is the highest in the best 20%, and that also shows that Broad has been even more lethal than Lillee when the top 20% performances of both bowlers are compared. Lillee, though, has obviously been more consistent and impressive in the remaining 80%, as have all the bowlers in the list below.

In fact, all the bowlers in the list below have impressive averages even when the remaining 80% of their performances are taken into account: the averages are all in the late 20s or very early 30s. Which is a good illustration of the fact that the best of several bowlers is about the same; what separates the truly great ones from the rest is the way they perform when they aren't necessarily at the top of their games. That's one lesson Stuart Broad would do well to assimilate.

Some of the top fast bowlers in the world, in their top 20% innings and the rest
  Top 20% innings* Rest of the innings    
  Innings Wickets Average Innings Wickets Average Ave ratio Career ave
Dale Steyn 24 123 9.67 98 209 30.31 3.13 22.65
Malcolm Marshall 30 153 9.35 121 223 28.91 3.09 20.94
Curtly Ambrose 36 176 9.97 143 229 29.46 2.95 20.99
Glenn McGrath 49 241 10.62 194 322 29.89 2.81 21.64
Richard Hadlee 30 171 10.70 120 260 29.93 2.79 22.29
Allan Donald 26 132 11.27 103 198 29.58 2.63 22.25
Wasim Akram 36 177 12.42 145 237 31.99 2.58 23.62
Imran Khan 28 155 12.21 114 207 30.75 2.52 22.81
Waqar Younis 31 157 12.55 123 216 31.56 2.51 23.56
Dennis Lillee 26 138 13.62 106 217 30.47 2.24 23.92
* In terms of wickets taken

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Posted by YOUMEGOTHERE on (May 25, 2013, 19:39 GMT)

Add to the fact that wasim, waqar and Imran mostly bowled on flat subcontinent pitches and while other bowlers like steyn, marshall bowled on bowling tracks

Posted by siddhartha87 on (May 25, 2013, 16:40 GMT)

damn Truman was devastating

Posted by   on (May 25, 2013, 14:11 GMT)

Interesting to see that when Trueman was good he was very, very good, and when he was bad he was still fairly horrid to opposing batsmen. :)

Posted by mikey76 on (May 25, 2013, 0:21 GMT)

I think Broad deserves a full tilt this year in the B2B ashes to see where he's at. If he can nail the consistency needed over the two series then I think we can cut him some slack. A guy capable of scoring a hundred and taking a five wicket haul in the same game needs to be persisted with. The comparison with Mitchell Johnson is spurious, Johnson has clear technical issues with his action and wrist position, Broad is more a mental thing. I think Finn is the bigger problem, he needs more FC cricket to smooth out the rough edges, I'd like to see Tremlett or Onions given the third seamers slot for now.

Posted by MalcolmJE on (May 24, 2013, 16:22 GMT)

Another interesting way of looking at this is to ignore runs conceded and look at the percentage of their wickets which each of these bowlers took in their top 20%. The higher the percentage, the hotter the hot streaks; the lower the percentage, the more even their performance across their entire career. Interestingly, most of the English bowlers are above 43%; most of the others are below. Overall percentages (I haven't gone back and rechecked so apologies for any errors). Don't have enough characters to say more! Stuart Broad 47.12 Waqar Younis 47.09 Ian Botham 46.48 Bob Willis 46.15 Steve Harmison 44.69 James Anderson 44.59 John Snow 44.55 Andy Caddick 44.44 Brian Statham 43.65 Curtly Ambrose 43.46 Andrew Flintoff 43.36 Imran Khan 42.81 Glenn McGrath 42.80 Wasim Akram 42.75 Matthew Hoggard 42.74 Alec Bedser 41.95 Fred Trueman 41.37 Malcolm Marshall 40.69 Dennis Lillee 40.00 Allan Donald 40.00 Richard Hadlee 39.68 Darren Gough 37.99 Dale Steyn 34.93

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 15:29 GMT)

Comparing the best 20% to the rest is a interesting, but I don't think it can tell us that much when comparing players who have retired to players who are still early in their careers. In most cases, the best 20% of innings will be concentrated around the peak of a player's career. This creates a bias; the ratios will be higher for active players.

Consider Jimmy Anderson, for example. He is almost 31 now, has played in 81 tests, and bowled in 149 innings. If he's lucky, he might play another 40 tests, and bowl in 225 innings. So, across his whole career, the top 20% will be his best 45 innings. Presumably as he ages, he will become less effective, so perhaps just 7 or 8 of his remaining 76 innings will be in his best 45. This means that he has already bowled 37 or 38 of his best 45 innings. But the tables above compare his best 30 so far, with his worst 119; 7 or 8 of those 119 will ultimately be reclassified as being among his best 20%, thus driving the ratio closer to 1.

Posted by TallHawk on (May 24, 2013, 14:47 GMT)

Don't agree. It isn't about being good 20% of the time. Imagine I went to my boss and said I'm only going to perform to my capability one day a week! All this tells us is that sometimes, when the planets are all aligned, Broad bowls well. That's one Test in a five Test series. I've always found Broad to be something of an enigma. Not quite as good as the media will have you believe. The ECB spotted Broad very young (having a famous dad helped) and have trained, coached and developed him more than any other cricketer you could name. He's had every opportunity and yet..he disappoints more often than not. Finn, Onions and Tremlett have all missed opportunities because the ECB are nepotistic.

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 12:19 GMT)

Superb article. I ran the same numbers for Edward Jones' first class career. He averages 2.6 in his top 20% of innings and 2.7 in the rest. Batsmen hate that heavy heavy ball

Posted by Mitcher on (May 24, 2013, 11:09 GMT)

I absolutely agree averages don't always tell the entire story (Anderson being a good current example), but when you look at that top 10 it says it all. Low 20s avgs across a good stretch. Awesome bowlers. Every one of them!

Posted by CamS71 on (May 24, 2013, 9:14 GMT)

Thanks for the brilliant analysis Rajesh. Very illuminating. Broad is still fairly young, so still has significant potential imrovement within him, however he does need to improve his consistency quickly if he's to see 300 (& more) wkts off. Just as the Aussies have had the good sense to largely bin Mitchell Johnson (unless playing at the WACA), then so should England with Broad if that improvement is not soon forthcoming. On the other hand if he can make those steps, given his age, he could finish up with a very impressive haul of Test wickets. Fingers crossed.

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 8:59 GMT)

I think it's important to remember Broad's age, which remains only 26. Sure there are inconsistencies, but Jimmy only hit his red patch in his second coming to the England team, the comparison with Mitchell Johnson is a bit unfair too as he's an extra five years older.

Give the lad a chance, just because he's been in the England set up a long time doesn't mean he won't improve further, age is on his side. Indeed, I remember when Alastair Cook was supposedly a batsman riddled with faults and on the verge of being dropped before the 2010-11 Ashes at about 26 years of age, now he's our stalwart rock of a captain.

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 8:37 GMT)

Extremely bitter experience with another terrifyingly inconsistent bowler named Mitchell Johnson tells me that it's not worth persisting with Broad any longer. Someone like that will cost you more games than he wins for you as 80% of the time you start the match effectively a bowler short! Tremlett looks a lot better and a lot more consistent and his unavailability is a huge blow.

Posted by highveldhillbilly on (May 24, 2013, 7:47 GMT)

I know it's one of those impossible rhetorical questions but I'd love to know if Steyn's average would be better or worse if he played in the early 90s or the 80s. Put another way, have batting averages increased because batmen have gotten better, analysis of bowlers has gotten better, equipment is better, pitches are easier etc etc. Or are the current crop of bowlers worse than those that have come before? Or a combination of both? Many more batsmen average round 50 now than in the past - does that make Steyn's average even better?

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 7:29 GMT)

Very illuminating, Rajesh! I suppose what you would say in Broad's defence is that these players like Trueman who can take wickets at around a 30 average even on their bad days are very rare. If you can have one in a team you're lucky, and if you can have two or three (like the Windies back in the day) you're ecstatically lucky! Still, one would ike to see him bring that 'bad average' down to around the 40-mark, around where Anderson is.

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 7:11 GMT)

The whole of the current English bowling attack (mind you it's been like that for years actually), individually and as a unit, are struggling for consistency. That is why all their averages tend to be on the high side. The Aussie attack of late nineties never let up, just hours of unrelenting pressure from both ends. The same with the Windies of the eighties and also the current Saffas. I very much doubt that (and that's just my opinion), especially Mcgrath, Ambrose and Walsh's, figures would have been quite as impressive had they not featured within the kind of line ups in which they did. It was the machine that was the killer, and for that every part had to be reliable.

Posted by Romanticstud on (May 24, 2013, 6:18 GMT)

I have quite liked Stuart Broad as a bowler, but he has a way to go to become a great bowler ... If I had to make a squad of fast bowlers ... The 10 would be in my squad any day ... One interesting fact is the comparison of Dale Steyn and Alan Donald ... The fact that Alan Donald is slightly more consistent gives him a slightly better average although he is 1.5 runs per wicket short at his best ... Another comparison is between the two Pakistani bowlers Wasim and Waqar where both have 12+ best and 31+ other and an overall average of 23.5+. At their best with both firing they would get the opposition for around 125 but on their off day it would be 315 ... The other comparison I see is Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose, which shows how good the West Indies were in the 70s -mid 90s ...

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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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