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The best series for fast bowlers

Australia's fast bowlers averaged 18.35 in the home Ashes. Here's a look at other series where the quick men were utterly dominant

S Rajesh

January 10, 2014

Comments: 18 | Text size: A | A

Mitchell Johnson made inroads with the second new ball, Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 1st day, December 26, 2013
Mitchell Johnson inspired the Australian attack to one of the best performances by a fast-bowling unit in a series since 1970 © AFP
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In the recently concluded Ashes series, Australia's fast bowlers took 79 wickets at an average of 18.35. Mitchell Johnson led the way with 37 at a rate of 13.97 each, but the others played a huge role too: Ryan Harris' 22 wickets came at 19.31 each, while Peter Siddle took only 16, but was the most economical of the lot, and averaged 24.12 per wicket. (Click here for Australia's batting and bowling averages in the series.) Overall, it was the best average by a pace attack in an Ashes series since 1890.

These were clearly special numbers put up by the Australian pace attack, and this week's Numbers Game looks at other such great fast-bowling displays in a series of at least four Tests, since1970.

This Ashes performance by Australia is up there among the best ones, but it isn't on top. There are two series of four or more Tests during this period when fast bowlers from a side have done even better. The top performance in the list below remains an Australian one, but not in an Ashes series: against West Indies in the home series in 2000-01 - in what was another 5-0 whitewash - the Australian pace attack took 59 wickets at 17.57. Glenn McGrath led the way with 21 wickets at 17.09 (including a hat-trick in Perth), while Jason Gillespie took 20 at 18.40, and Brett Lee 11 at 16.09. These numbers exclude the contributions from Colin Miller, who took 20 wickets at 18.25, because he also bowled some offspin to go with his medium pace. Add his stats, and Australia's wickets tally goes up to 79, exactly as many as they took in the recent Ashes, at an average of 17.75, still the best by any team during this period.

However, Australia will obviously cherish the Ashes performance more. The West Indies batting line-up of 2000-01 was a feeble one: Brian Lara was the only one to score more than 300 in the series, but even with him, 182 of his 321 runs came in one innings, in Adelaide; in the other nine innings he aggregated 139. The rest of the line-up - Daren Ganga, Sherwin Campbell, Wavell Hinds, Marlon Samuels, Jimmy Adams, and a hopelessly out-of-form Ramnaresh Sarwan - were completely out of their depth against Australia's relentless attack.

The next entry in the list is a more unlikely one: in the 1976-77 tour by England to India, made famous for the Vaseline incident, England's pace attack took 56 wickets at 17.82. (Click here for England's batting and bowling averages in the series.) John Lever's 26 wickets came at 14.61, while Bob Willis took 20 at 16.75.

South Africa's fast bowlers make it twice to the top five, one of them in the last series before they were barred from Test cricket. In their 4-0 rout of Australia in 1969-70, their fast bowlers took 66 wickets at an average of 18.77. Their efforts were led by Mike Procter - 26 wickets at 13.57 - and Peter Pollock - 15 wickets at 17.20. And about 29 years later, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock were at the forefront of a 5-0 rout of West Indies, with the quick bowlers taking 84 wickets at 18.57. Pollock took 29 at 16.65, Donald 23 at 17.17, and Jacques Kallis 17 at 17.58.

The last two entries in the list below are from the same series - the 1978-79 Ashes in Australia, in which England beat a Packer-weakened Australia 5-1. England's pace attack was led by Willis, Ian Botham, Geoff Miller and Mike Hendrick, and together their fast bowlers took 71 wickets at 20.84. Australia's pace attack was led by Rodney Hogg - he took 41 wickets at 12.85 - with support from Alan Hurst, and their fast bowlers took 75 wickets at 20.89.

Most dominant fast-bowling displays by a team in a series (since 1970, at least 4 Tests)
Team Against Series Tests Wickets Average Strike rate
Australia West Indies in Aus, 2000-01 5 59 17.57 43.7
England India in Ind, 1976-77 5 56 17.82 41.7
Australia England in Aus, 2013-14 5 79 18.35 42.4
South Africa West Indies in SA, 1998-99 5 84 18.57 41.4
South Africa Australia in SA, 1969-70 4 66 18.77 49.6
England Pakistan in Eng, 2010 4 50 19.32 41.3
West Indies Pakistan in Pak, 1980-81 4 54 19.53 46.3
West Indies England in WI, 1985-86 5 94 19.54 37.0
Australia West Indies in WI, 1998-99 4 47 19.85 46.7
England India in Eng, 2011 4 66 20.07 42.9
England West Indies in Eng, 2000 5 68 20.13 44.9
Australia West Indies in WI, 1994-95 4 46 20.21 41.0
West Indies England in Eng, 1988 5 85 20.24 49.8
Australia India in Aus, 2011-12 4 71 20.45 41.2
England Australia in Aus, 1978-79 6 71 20.84 55.5
Australia England in Aus, 1978-79 6 75 20.89 66.0

In that 1978-79 Ashes, the fast bowlers from both teams combined to take 146 wickets at an average of 20.86, which is one of the best returns for pace attacks from both teams in a series. In a series of four or more Tests since 1970, only once has there been a better series for pace: in 2000, fast bowlers from England and West Indies took a combined total of 138 wickets at an average of 20.78. England's pace attack - led by Dominic Cork, Darren Gough and Andy Caddick - took 68 wickets at 20.13, while the West Indian fast bowlers - led by Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh - took 70 at 21.42. England had much the better of the series, though, winning 3-1.

England were similarly dominant against Pakistan at home in 2010, winning that series 3-1 as well. Their pace attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn averaged 19.32. Pakistan's pace attack wasn't quite as venomous, averaging only 26 runs per wicket, but the combined pace average for the series was still 22.40.

There's another Ashes series a little further down the list too - the famous 1981 one, in which the two pace attacks collectively took 194 wickets in six Tests at 23.72. England won that series 3-1, but there was little to choose between the pace attacks of the two teams: Australia's took 102 wickets at 23.86, while England's pace bowlers averaged 23.56 for their 92 wickets.

The entries in the table below are littered with series played in the late 1980s, 1990s, or 2000, which illustrates how strong fast bowling was worldwide during that period.

Best fast-bowling averages in a series (since 1970, at least 4 Tests, at least 80 wkts)
Series Tests Wickets Average Strike rate
West Indies in England, 2000 5 138 20.78 48.5
The Ashes, 1978-79 6 146 20.86 60.9
Pakistan in England, 2010 4 93 22.40 46.5
Australia in West Indies, 1994-95 4 98 23.15 46.1
India in West Indies, 1988-89 4 84 23.55 50.9
West Indies in South Africa, 1998-99 5 148 23.56 49.0
The Ashes, 1981 6 194 23.72 53.0
Australia in West Indies, 1998-99 4 104 24.00 54.9
New Zealand in England , 1999 4 92 24.21 54.6
England in West Indies, 1997-98 6 123 24.64 56.9

And finally, a look at the fast bowlers who've achieved the best averages in a series since 1970 (with a 30-wicket cut-off). Johnson is in sixth place, but less than two runs separate his average from that of Richard Hadlee, who leads the table with an average of 12.15 for his 33 wickets from just three Tests against Australia in 1985-86. The next two in the list are both by West Indian bowlers in England - by Marshall in 1988, when he took 35 wickets at 12.65, and Walsh in 2000, when his 34 wickets came at 12.82 each.

The other bowlers above Johnson are Hogg - in that 1978-79 Ashes - and Imran Khan - against India in 1982-83, when he took 40 wickets at 13.95. Despite that heroic effort by Imran, the overall average for Pakistan's pace attack in that series was only 27.02, because the rest of the fast bowlers struggled for wickets.

Ambrose and McGrath both feature twice in the top 12, which shows just how unstoppable they could be once they got on top of a batting line-up.

Best averages by a fast bowler in a series since 1970 (Qual: 30 wickets)
Bowler Series Tests Wickets Average Strike rate
Richard Hadlee v Aus, 1985-86 3 33 12.15 30.8
Malcolm Marshall v Eng, 1988 5 35 12.65 34.8
Courtney Walsh v Eng, 2000 5 34 12.82 38.8
Rodney Hogg v Eng, 1978-79 6 41 12.85 42.4
Imran Khan v Ind, 1982-83 6 40 13.95 33.4
Mitchell Johnson v Eng, 2012-13 5 37 13.97 30.5
Curtly Ambrose v Eng, 1997-98 6 30 14.26 41.1
Curtly Ambrose v Aus, 1992-93 5 33 16.42 47.3
Joel Garner v Aus, 1983-84 5 31 16.87 40.4
Glenn McGrath v WI, 1998-99 4 30 16.93 39.9
Glenn McGrath v Eng, 2001 5 32 16.93 36.4
Terry Alderman v Eng, 1989 6 41 17.36 39.4

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

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Posted by   on (January 15, 2014, 0:32 GMT)

"England were similarly dominant against Pakistan at home in 2010, winning that series 3-1 as well. Their pace attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn averaged 19.32. Pakistan's pace attack wasn't quite as venomous," Yeah uhhh.... Other than Anderson averaging 13, the other england bowlers averaged 20+... Then you had the "non-venomous" Mohammad Aamir who averaged 18.. Thats almost 4 runs better than the other 2 england pacers

Posted by   on (January 11, 2014, 8:35 GMT)

John Nicholson, Geoff Miller never actually span a ball in his career. But good point.

Posted by   on (January 11, 2014, 8:20 GMT)

thats why imran khan was a great fast bowler because his wickets are against India in India look at his figures matches Wickets Avg Str Imran Khan v Ind, 1982-83 6 40 13.95 33.4

Posted by PadMarley on (January 11, 2014, 7:35 GMT)

Two absolutely special fast bowling performances in a series in my opinions 1. Hadlee with Aussies in just 3 tests [This is unbelievable], 2. Imran against the Indians in India [This is also unbelievable in such flat wickets against Indian batsmen]

Posted by   on (January 10, 2014, 22:24 GMT)

Given the popular perception that the 2005 Ashes was won primarily by the quartet of fast bowlers, it's slightly surprising to find that they aren't even close to making this list - Harmison, Flintoff, Jones and Hoggard took 75 wickets at 27.40 between them, an average which goes up fractionally if you include a few overs of medium pace dobblies from Bell and Collingwood. Clearly not quite as good as we like to remember them!

Posted by   on (January 10, 2014, 16:33 GMT)

Rajesh, one issue with the 30 wicket cut-off - you have effectively disqualified Lloyd's fast bowling combos - Marshall, Garner, Holding, Roberts.... entirely. The moment one of them took a break, another would go & pick up the remaining wickets. In a 4 test series with 80 OR 5 test series with even 100 wickets, no 1 bowler would get 30 wickets. I think you should look at a career count of wickets OR relax your series qualifier to 20 wickets or so.

Posted by cricket-freak on (January 10, 2014, 14:38 GMT)

Wrong year written ahead of Johnson's stats....its 2013-14 and not 2012-13.....in the best averages table towards the end...Otherwise a really good collection of fast bowling stats.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (January 10, 2014, 11:22 GMT)

As an interesting post script (although well before the 1970 cut-off date for this article): in the infamous Bodyline Series (32-33), the England quicks & medium-quicks took 79/100 of the wickets (if my addition is correct!): Larwood 33 (in 4 Tests); Allen 21 (5); Voce 15 (4); Hammond 9 (5) & Bowes 1 (1). That would qualify for a most respectable position in the 'Most dominant fast-bowling displays by a team in a series' table. There is always a fear factor that contributes to the success & dominance of fast bowlers in any given series and the Bodyline Series is certainly one such - just as it has been in 2013-4 Ashes! Plus ca change...

Posted by B.C.G on (January 10, 2014, 9:21 GMT)

@azzaman333-Steyn last played a 5 test series in 2004 and even then he played only 3 of the 5 tests.His played two 4 test series but wasn't fit for all games.CL T20 was partly responsible for this.

Posted by   on (January 10, 2014, 9:14 GMT)

Geoff Miller was an off spinner, so you need to re-work the stats for the 1978-9 series.

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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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