January 10, 2014

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
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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • 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

  • on January 11, 2014, 8:35 GMT

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

  • 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

  • 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]

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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...

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • on January 11, 2014, 8:35 GMT

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

  • 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

  • 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]

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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...

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • on January 10, 2014, 8:42 GMT

    You should rework the last table with a relaxed cutoff of about 20 or 25 wickets. All entries in the table are from 5 or 6 match series (apart from the freakish Hadlee performance at the top) which is natural considering the time needed to pick up 30 wickets. But this inadvertently excludes recent test cricket, since you simply do not see 5 match series nowadays outside of the Ashes. Relax the cutoff a bit and we might see the likes of Dale Steyn in there.

  • on January 10, 2014, 8:25 GMT

    azzaman333, South Africa only plays 2 and 3 Test series. Look at the qualifying criteria for these lists: at least 4 Tests for the first two lists, at least 30 wickets for the last one. That means that one of our bowlers would have to take a ten-fer in every match of a series in order to even qualify. If you want standout individual performances in shorter series, I'll give you a couple from the last few years: 2 Jan 2013: Vernon Philander 5 for 7 v NZ 1 Feb 2013: Dale Steyn 6 for 8 v Pak 10 Nov 2011: Vernon Philander 5 for 15 v Aus

    The SA attack has bowled out three different teams for under 50 in the past three seasons. Which other attack can say the same? If the retort is "yes but SA play on the liveliest wickets in the world", let me mention that Jacques Kallis averaged 56 on SA pitches during his career.

  • domeroo on January 10, 2014, 8:21 GMT

    @azzaman333: they are but rarely do they get to play a 4/5 test series so they would not make the cut for this analysis...

  • azzaman333 on January 10, 2014, 7:41 GMT

    So, where are the standout performances from the current South African attack of Steyn, Philander and Morkel? Aren't they supposed to be the best fast bowling line up in the world?

  • Romanticstud on January 10, 2014, 6:33 GMT

    Interesting stats ... I would like to see a similar analysis including spinners with such series stats ... but with who the top batsmen were against the bowlers who achieved these averages ... The batsmen that could handle the bowlers the best ...

  • Cool_Jeeves on January 10, 2014, 6:31 GMT

    Lovely article. Great to see an article on fast bowling. I wish the author had created a table in which neither packer depleted teams, nor the post 1997 West Indies featured, as there were not really genuine batting line ups. Amazing that Ambrose and Walsh each had an entry in the top 10 post 1970 when aged 37. I distinctly remember Walsh bowling almost as fast as he had ever done, right through to the end of his career, including his last series in England, but Ambrose had slowed down quite a bit, and was a containment bowler. Despite this he did very well in that one home series against England in 2000. But of these the greatest performance is 33 wickets by Ambrose in Australia - against the best line up on the planet, when the series was on edge, as part of a rebuilding team, and with decent bot not outstanding support from fellow quicks.

  • Rufus_Fuddleduck on January 10, 2014, 4:48 GMT

    Even more relevant would be the position of each wicket in the scorecard.

  • on January 10, 2014, 3:04 GMT

    the fact is that in a playing eleven 3 out of 4 bowlers will be fast bowlers with one spinners making up the attack. Hence I feel the stats are skewed. What would make more reliable reading will be wicket per fast bowler(not fast bowlers) in a series vs wicket per spinner in series. only then will you be able to see that fast bowlers domianted or not....

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  • on January 10, 2014, 3:04 GMT

    the fact is that in a playing eleven 3 out of 4 bowlers will be fast bowlers with one spinners making up the attack. Hence I feel the stats are skewed. What would make more reliable reading will be wicket per fast bowler(not fast bowlers) in a series vs wicket per spinner in series. only then will you be able to see that fast bowlers domianted or not....

  • Rufus_Fuddleduck on January 10, 2014, 4:48 GMT

    Even more relevant would be the position of each wicket in the scorecard.

  • Cool_Jeeves on January 10, 2014, 6:31 GMT

    Lovely article. Great to see an article on fast bowling. I wish the author had created a table in which neither packer depleted teams, nor the post 1997 West Indies featured, as there were not really genuine batting line ups. Amazing that Ambrose and Walsh each had an entry in the top 10 post 1970 when aged 37. I distinctly remember Walsh bowling almost as fast as he had ever done, right through to the end of his career, including his last series in England, but Ambrose had slowed down quite a bit, and was a containment bowler. Despite this he did very well in that one home series against England in 2000. But of these the greatest performance is 33 wickets by Ambrose in Australia - against the best line up on the planet, when the series was on edge, as part of a rebuilding team, and with decent bot not outstanding support from fellow quicks.

  • Romanticstud on January 10, 2014, 6:33 GMT

    Interesting stats ... I would like to see a similar analysis including spinners with such series stats ... but with who the top batsmen were against the bowlers who achieved these averages ... The batsmen that could handle the bowlers the best ...

  • azzaman333 on January 10, 2014, 7:41 GMT

    So, where are the standout performances from the current South African attack of Steyn, Philander and Morkel? Aren't they supposed to be the best fast bowling line up in the world?

  • domeroo on January 10, 2014, 8:21 GMT

    @azzaman333: they are but rarely do they get to play a 4/5 test series so they would not make the cut for this analysis...

  • on January 10, 2014, 8:25 GMT

    azzaman333, South Africa only plays 2 and 3 Test series. Look at the qualifying criteria for these lists: at least 4 Tests for the first two lists, at least 30 wickets for the last one. That means that one of our bowlers would have to take a ten-fer in every match of a series in order to even qualify. If you want standout individual performances in shorter series, I'll give you a couple from the last few years: 2 Jan 2013: Vernon Philander 5 for 7 v NZ 1 Feb 2013: Dale Steyn 6 for 8 v Pak 10 Nov 2011: Vernon Philander 5 for 15 v Aus

    The SA attack has bowled out three different teams for under 50 in the past three seasons. Which other attack can say the same? If the retort is "yes but SA play on the liveliest wickets in the world", let me mention that Jacques Kallis averaged 56 on SA pitches during his career.

  • on January 10, 2014, 8:42 GMT

    You should rework the last table with a relaxed cutoff of about 20 or 25 wickets. All entries in the table are from 5 or 6 match series (apart from the freakish Hadlee performance at the top) which is natural considering the time needed to pick up 30 wickets. But this inadvertently excludes recent test cricket, since you simply do not see 5 match series nowadays outside of the Ashes. Relax the cutoff a bit and we might see the likes of Dale Steyn in there.

  • 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.

  • 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.