Go figure

A look at some of cricket's more improbable bowling analyses

Steven Lynch

March 10, 2014

Comments: 56 | Text size: A | A

Hedley Verity tosses the ball, 1940
Hedley Verity: sent down a spell to write home about in 1932 © Getty Images

The spell that inspired this week's selection came last week during the Asia Cup in Mirpur. Pakistan's experienced slow left-armer Abdur Rehman came on for the 11th over of the match against Bangladesh - and bowled three high full tosses. One was smashed for four, and another was caught... but it didn't count as a wicket, as all three were ruled no-balls on height. After the third one, the umpires suspended Rehman from bowling, and Fawad Alam had to complete (or, really, start) the over. Until then, the weirdest bowling figures in international cricket probably belonged to England's David Gower who, with the scores level, playfully threw the last ball of the second Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge in 1986. The umpire called it a no-ball, Martin Crowe smashed it to the boundary... and Gower came off with figures of 0-0-4-0.

The 1963-64 India-England series would be near the bottom of the list of exciting encounters: all five Tests were drawn, and in the first one, in Madras, England - who had several regular players injured or ill - crawled to 317 from 190.4 overs. Of those, 32 were sent down by the left-arm spinner Bapu Nadkarni, at a cost of just five runs: his spell included 131 successive dot balls, and he was apparently furious when this sequence was broken by a misfield.

10 for 10
The best bowling analysis in first-class history was recorded back in July 1932 by the Yorkshire left-arm spinner Hedley Verity against Nottinghamshire at Headingley. Verity's full figures were 19.4-16-10-10. Notts were 38 for 0 at lunch on the third day, but then lost all ten wickets for 29 on a drying pitch. Verity's spell is the subject of a book, out later this year, by Fred Trueman's recent biographer Chris Waters.

4 for 362
The most expensive bowling figures in first-class history were recorded by the whimsical Australian legspinner Arthur Mailey, whose 64 eight-ball overs for New South Wales in Melbourne in December 1926 - while Victoria were amassing the record total of 1107 - brought him 4 for 362. Mailey consoled himself with the thought that his figures would have been much better but for three dropped catches - "two by a man in the pavilion wearing a bowler hat".

It's perhaps not a great surprise that the most economical ten-over figures in a one-day international belong to a West Indian from the 1990s. But it wasn't Courtney Walsh (who did once take 5 for 1 in 4.3 overs against Sri Lanka in Sharjah in 1986), or even the frugal Curtly Ambrose (who had figures of 10-5-5-1 against Sri Lanka in Sharjah in 1999). The scroogiest figures of all belong to a man of more modest pace than those two: Phil Simmons hurtled through his ten overs for just three runs in Sydney in December 1992. "Pakistan fell apart against Simmons's medium-pace swing," sniffed Wisden.

19 for 90
Still unapproached after 58 years, Jim Laker's match figures in the Ashes Test at Old Trafford in 1956 still defy belief: 9 for 37 in the first innings was followed by 10 for 53 in the second. Yes, it was a helpful pitch... but it didn't seem to help Laker's combative spinning partner Tony Lock much: he toiled away at the other end for 1 for 106 from 69 overs in the match.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: several bowlers suffered in the famous one-day international in Johannesburg in March 2006 in which South Africa overhauled Australia's 434 with one ball to spare. In all, 872 runs were scored that day - and 113 of them came off the bowling of the unfortunate Mick Lewis, a seamer from Victoria. It was Lewis' seventh one-day international... and his last.

The Somerset offspinner Brian Langford recorded an unbeatable bowling analysis in the first season of England's 40-over Sunday League. In Yeovil in 1969, Langford's eight overs were all maidens, after Essex's opener Brian Ward decided Langford was the danger man and decided to see him off. Essex still lost - the young Greg Chappell later took three wickets for Somerset, then top-scored with 36.

Yes! Mick Lewis removes AB de Villiers, South Africa v Australia, 4th ODI, Durban, 10 March, 2006
Mick Lewis went for 113 runs out of the 872 scored in Johannesburg on March 12, 2006 © Getty Images

5 for 2
The cheapest - and quickest - five-for in Tests came the way of the versatile Australian left-armer Ernie Toshack. On a sticky pitch in Brisbane in 1947-48 he needed only 19 balls (2.3 eight-ball overs) to wrap up India's innings, and finished with 5 for 2. Some 90 years earlier, in Launceston in 1857-58, a Victorian bowler called Gideon Elliott had demolished Tasmania for 33, finishing with first-class cricket's cheapest nine-for - he ended up with 19-17-2-9.

0 for 259
In the innings in Kingston in 1957-58 best remembered for Garry Sobers' 365 not out, it's kinder not to look at the bowling figures: injuries left Pakistan with only two fully fit regular bowlers. One of them, Fazal Mahmood, toiled through 85.2 overs, conceding 247 runs - but at least he had the satisfaction of two of the wickets as West Indies ran up 790 for 3. Fazal's fast-bowling partner Khan Mohammad was not so lucky: after 54 overs he had 0 for 259, the most expensive wicketless analysis in all first-class cricket. "People always ask me about the 0 for 259," Khan lamented in later life. "They never ask about the time I got Len Hutton out for 0 at Lord's!"

In a County Championship match against Surrey at Grace Road in May 1955, Leicestershire's captain Charles Palmer gave his gentle medium-pacers an airing to enable his spinners to change ends to take an advantage of a wet patch on the pitch. But it was Palmer who hit the spot: he took a wicket in his first over, so he stayed on. He claimed another in his second, and after about an hour had the amazing figures of 8 for 0 from 12 overs. A bit of last-wicket swishing dented his figures slightly, but they were still remarkable: "I found my offcutters turning about two inches, but the Surrey batsmen kept playing down the wrong line," he remembered modestly. "In fact, I bowled down the Metropolitan Line and they played down the Bakerloo."

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013

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Posted by   on (March 12, 2014, 21:45 GMT)

@Pelham_Barton...you are quite correct....

Posted by   on (March 12, 2014, 10:01 GMT)

One of my enduring early cricket memories is Steven Boock kissing the ground after being relieved from his bowling spell after figured of 70-10-229-1 against pakistan at Eden Park... but I see that was still short of L.O. Feeltwood-Smith's 87-11-298-1 in terms of runs, and Sonny Ramadhin's tireless 98-35-179-2. How anyone can bowl 98 overs in an innings...

Posted by Rememberthegame on (March 11, 2014, 20:53 GMT)

Ah but Safraz is always going to be better remembered for his unsporting appeal for handled ball against Andrew Hilditch. Such acts rightly overshadow achievements in the memory.

Posted by regofpicton on (March 11, 2014, 13:31 GMT)

"Playing down the Bakerloo line" is now heard quite often. Is this remark of Charles Palmer's the origin of the expression?

Posted by BellCurve on (March 11, 2014, 13:10 GMT)

When comparing Sobers and Kallis few mention that Sobers' 365* came against a weak and severely depleted Pakistani attack and a very flat pitch. Yet the 365* is often used as the clinch the debate in Sobers' favour. I for one would suggest that Pakistan in 1957 were weaker than Bangladesh are today.

Posted by jazzaaaaaaaa on (March 11, 2014, 10:34 GMT)

What about Nathan Lyon in the recently completed Test Match. 22 overs, 17 maidens 0/10.

Posted by Pelham_Barton on (March 11, 2014, 9:47 GMT)

@haq33 on (March 10, 2014, 22:43 GMT): Under current laws, there is no problem: the penalty run for the wide ends the match and the stumping or run out is not counted. Under pre-2000 laws, I would come to the same conclusion, although the logic is less clear and I am not aware of any instance where this has gone to an official ruling. As with the case of the boundary off a no ball, I would look at what would happen in the middle of an innings. Suppose, for example, that the score is 120-3 before the stumping off a wide ball. Then there is no doubt that the score would be 121-4 afterwards. As I understand it, the fall of the wicket would be recorded as 4-121 not 4-120: this means that the run is deemed to have been scored before the wicket falls. Taking this to the end of match, the run is scored first, which ends the match, and the wicket therefore does not count.

Posted by Jagger on (March 11, 2014, 6:21 GMT)

You can't blame Mick Lewis. There's no way anyone can perform at their best with pants like that.

Posted by gibbons on (March 11, 2014, 5:14 GMT)

@The_other_side... er... both of those WERE mentioned here.

Posted by FieryFerg on (March 10, 2014, 23:18 GMT)

@Headbandenator - when Simmons played for Leicestershire in their Championship winning season in '98 he was reckoned to be the quickest in the country when he let it go. He didn't do it often, but when he did bowl as fast as he could it was seriously rapid. As you say with shoulders like that there was power to be had!

Posted by haq33 on (March 10, 2014, 22:43 GMT)

Off topic...but there seems to be a meeting of rule-knowing minds here - if scores are level with one ball to go and one wicket left, and the final bat is stumped or run out off a wide, does the batting team still win? Is it a win by 1 wicket or by 0 wickets? Thanks.

Posted by AndrewBT on (March 10, 2014, 21:12 GMT)

In a Test Trial match at Bradford Park Avenue in 1950, Jim Laker took 14-12-2-8 for England v The Rest. I suppose to mention him twice in the article would have been excessive.

Posted by Naikan on (March 10, 2014, 20:42 GMT)

I saw the title of this article and quickly jumped in - but was disappointed to not find anything on "one of the greatest bowling feats in the history of test cricket" (words from Wisden) - By Safraz Nawaz in Test no. 849 at Melbourne against Australia (1978-79). Australia were cruising along to victory against Pakistan and were 305 for 3 chasing a target of 382 - When the enigmatic Safraz struck and won the match for Pakistan 5 runs later. He took all the remaining 7 wickets at a personal cost of 1 run in 33 deliveries! That astonishing SPELL actually trumps the cheapest 5 for by Ernie Toshack - though the innings return of 9 for 86 may not. I am sure that Australia have rarely ever faced such ignominy in their test history. The funny part is that other than that lone Wisden article it is not easy to find much on this feat in Cricinfo. I request you to get us more on that feat if you can.

Posted by Dysan25 on (March 10, 2014, 18:35 GMT)

I thought Sunil Joshi's 10-6-6-5 (had to double check this !!!) is worth a mention here too .. I had watched all his overs .. and the fact that they were playing in whites made it look like a test match ..

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 17:36 GMT)

what about sunil joshis 10-5-5-6 against South africa?

Posted by The_other_side on (March 10, 2014, 17:02 GMT)

Courtney Walsh Best ODI figures of 4.3-3-1-5, effectively 5 wickets for 1 run and Phil Simmons ODI figures of 10-8-3-4, effectively 4 wickets for 3 runs in 10 overs need a mention here!!

Posted by Pelham_Barton on (March 10, 2014, 15:39 GMT)

@Rajiv Radhakrishnan on (March 10, 2014, 14:32 GMT): With respect, I disagree with your interpretation of the Laws here. As you say, under the pre-2000 Laws, the one run penalty for a no ball was not awarded if runs were scored in any other way. Therefore the one run for the no ball could not be awarded until the ball became dead, so the four off the bat rightly took precedence. Under current Laws, the one run is awarded anyway, and therefore takes effect immediately, so the match would end before any runs can be scored off the bat. I think there has been at least one instance of a batsman being denied a hundred under those circumstances.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 14:36 GMT)

Also on a related note, if an umpire miscoutns and a bowler bowls a 5 ball over this over still counts as six balls; the bowler is recorded as having boweld 6 deliveries. So if he took 4 wickets, his SR would 6/4 not 5/4. But the batsman in that over is recorded as having received 5 deliveries. So the equation is not balanced.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 14:32 GMT)

Regarding the Gower issue: the scores were level when he bowled his first delivery which was a no-ball. At that instant the match was over, anything after was irrelevant. If Crowe was run out, it went for six etc. According to the laws Gower should have had 0-0-1-0. However, the TCCB decided to give the 4 to Crowe, which was incorrect, but we cannot go back and change it. Also at that time, if you bowled a NB and batsman hit a 4, the extra run was not in place, just an extra ball. Now, you get the extra run and the 4!

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 14:22 GMT)

@Bharath - you have a nice surname! What I don't understand is why a bowler's SR does not take into account the no-balls or wides he bowls. For example, if Wasim bowled 10 overs (without delivering a wide or no ball) and took 5 wickets his SR would be 12. But if Waqar bowled 10 overs including 5 no balls his SR would still be 12, which I think is unfair. Waqar bowled 5 "poor" deliveries and his SR should reflect that; ie. 65/5 = 13. Also, it becomes worse if a bowler comes on with 9 wickets downs, takes a wicket with a wide ball and is SR is thus zero!

Posted by Pelham_Barton on (March 10, 2014, 13:48 GMT)

To clarify the facts on wides and no-balls, there are two separate issues which have arisen in this discussion. First, the question of whether runs scored as wides and no-balls count against the bowler. This change was made in the mid 1980s as a change of scoring convention. Second, whether the penalty for a wide or no ball is counted additionally to runs scored. This came in to the laws with the revision in 2000, but had been in playing conditions of various domestic competitions before then. Before then, if runs were scored off a wide or no ball, the one run penalty was not added. As the Gower/Crowe incident took place before 2000, only the four runs for the boundary were scored, and these were counted in Crowe's total and against Gower.

Posted by sergio11 on (March 10, 2014, 13:09 GMT)

hey Dale Steyn recently against PAK..6/8..i think thatz the most recent one..cannt think of any modern bolwer capable of bowling like that except Steyn..

Posted by Headbandenator on (March 10, 2014, 12:44 GMT)

Weird Beard - no. Wides and no Balls were not debited against the bowler until a few years after the Gower/Crowe incident. Phil Simmons? Given the size and power of the man, I believe that if the idea took him, he could have been Windies fastest bowler of the time. Then imagine a fast bowler who who bat like Simmons - he'd have played 50 more tests than he did...

Posted by Bhrams on (March 10, 2014, 12:36 GMT)

@WeirdBeard420, till very recently - I guess till the early/mid 2000s - if runs were scored off a no-ball, then only those runs were added to the score. In such a scenario, the sundries/extras column wouldn't budge.

Posted by a.mittra on (March 10, 2014, 12:09 GMT)

Thanks, Steven, for this excellent piece. But side by side, I am really attracted by the picture that Getty has provided with. I guess the picture was not from that match itself. By the way, can anyone identify the umpire? Shall be glad to have any response.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 11:49 GMT)

Mailey's figures are inflated by his selfless act to protect his team's other spinner who was on debut - rather than dent the youngster's confidence on a flat pitch, Mailey insisted he keep bowling and take the punishment himself.

Posted by WeirdBeard420 on (March 10, 2014, 11:47 GMT)

I once umpired an amateur match, in which the team chasing required 3 runs for victory. With several overs left to bowl, the fielding captain knew it was all but over, so he brought on his debutant to bowl. The debutant sent down a leg-side Wide off of a 2-step run up, which the batsman came out to play, but missed and was then Stumped. The next ball was the exact same scenario: a leg-side Wide turned into Out-Stumped. With the scores level, and wickets falling cheaply, the next batsman played wildly at another potential Wide and smashed it to midwicket for four runs, thus ending the game, and giving the debutant the extraordinary figures of 0.1-0-6-2. He vowed never to bowl again, and effectively ended his career with an Economy Rate of 36.00, an Average of 3.00, and an absurd Strike Rate of 0.50, along with 2/3 of a hat trick.

On another note: the match in 1986 where Martin Crowe hit David Gower's No-Ball for four, wouldn't Gower have finished with figures of 0-0-5-0?

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 11:24 GMT)

sunil Joshi's 10-6-6-5 vs SA in Nairobi in 1999 is one of the most uncommon in recent years

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 10:54 GMT)

Playing for the New Zealand provincial side, Otago in 1981-82, John Bracewell's off spinners once took the remarkable figures of 7 for 9 off 10 overs against Canterbury.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 10:45 GMT)

malcom marshal's spell of 7 for 1 run against australia

Posted by glovescarf on (March 10, 2014, 10:33 GMT)

A similar incident was Ryan Sidebottom's figures of 0.1-0-11-0 for Yorkshire v Glamorgan in a one day match in 2003. First ball went for five wides and then Matthew Maynard hit a six off the first legitimate ball before Sidebottom left the field injured.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 10:08 GMT)

Raghav, as these are the most unlikely bowling figures. If they were the finest bowling performances, Anil's would definitely make it.

Posted by Protears on (March 10, 2014, 10:02 GMT)

I remember Shaun Pollock bowled a 10 over spell in Pakistan in a ODI around 2003 if I remember correctly he bowled 10 overs giving a paultry 9 runs. I also know he repeated a similar feat in Durban 2007 against Pakistan again in an innings where Pakistan completed their innings for 113 odd runs in 50 overs.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 9:26 GMT)

If only I had a time machine to witness each of these performances.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 9:06 GMT)

Sunil joshi 10-6-6-5 against south africa

Posted by Jonathan_E on (March 10, 2014, 9:06 GMT)

It was said at the time that Tony Lock only took one wicket to Laker's 19 because he was turning the ball so far it was nearly impossible either to get bat on it or to be certain it was actually hitting the stumps.

Posted by nursery_ender on (March 10, 2014, 8:45 GMT)

Surely Dirk Nannes is worthy of mention: for Victoria against Western Australia in November 2008 he opened the bowling and a short while later finished his spell with figures of 0.1-0-2-1. His first ball took the wicket of Shaun Marsh, the next two were no-balled as beamers and he was removed from the attack.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 8:36 GMT)

Sunil Joshi 10-6-6-5 against South Africa in 19999 triangular series

Posted by sanyam_kamat on (March 10, 2014, 8:07 GMT)

Why you no include Adam Gilchrist? his all career figures says 0.1-0-0-1

Posted by Rohit-Sen on (March 10, 2014, 7:51 GMT)

Any list of ridiculous without ishant Sharma is incomplete ;)

Posted by Devadatta_Rajadhyaksha on (March 10, 2014, 7:44 GMT)

Jason Krejza's 8 for 215 on debut against India was quite unusual too. And Bedi's 12-8-6-1 against East Africa is probably the cheapest 12-over spell in ODIs.

Posted by jw76 on (March 10, 2014, 7:39 GMT)

I understand Nadkarni's remarkable figures were helped by his consistently bowling a line as far outside the off stump as he legitimately could!

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 7:09 GMT)

Why no Kumble? Although I agree Jim Laker's contributions were higher.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 7:03 GMT)

Asif Karim's 8.2-6-7-3 for Kenya against Australia in the 2003 World Cup comes to mind. A really heart-warming performance that was.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 6:55 GMT)

One name missing Courtney Walsh 5 for 1 against SL.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 6:49 GMT)

This is mind boggling stuff.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 6:43 GMT)

Could have added our Sunil Joshi

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 6:42 GMT)

What needs to be said about Lewis' own "performance" was that he "did't bowl that badly".

Posted by YL89 on (March 10, 2014, 6:38 GMT)

Gideon Elliott's 19-17-2-9 was all the more remarkable considering that neither of the two runs he conceded came from the bat, both runs came from wides.

Posted by gimme-a-greentop on (March 10, 2014, 6:34 GMT)

Mick Lewis can thank Nathan Bracken for dropping Gibbs off his bowling and basically ending his one-day career. Gibbs smashed him after that. Mind you, so did everyone else. But I don't think SA would have won that game if Bracken had taken that catch.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 6:31 GMT)

Howcome u failed to mention Jermain Lawson 6 for 3 against Bangladesh

Posted by ElevenIndians on (March 10, 2014, 5:49 GMT)

Sunil Joshi's 10-6-6-5 against a full strength South Africa at Nairobi (September 1999)! That should make the list.

Posted by India_boy on (March 10, 2014, 5:08 GMT)

Imran Tahir's figures are not there because they came over a period of two innings, while 0/259 is a one innings effort!

Posted by DavidAbbott on (March 10, 2014, 4:44 GMT)

I recall a county match between Essex and Hampshire at Chelmsford in 1980. At the beginning of the 3rd day, Essex needed one more run for a batting point. The Hampshire captain Nick Pocock stepped up to bowl a no ball to his opposite number, Keith Fletcher, and Essex promptly declared. In those days, no balls didn't count against the bowler, so his analysis was 0-0-0-0. The cricinfo scorecard relegates this - possibly unique - event to a mere footnote!

Posted by Vorticon on (March 10, 2014, 4:20 GMT)

Bert Vance's effort of 1-0-77-0 against Canterbury are my favourite figures, although it was stricken from the record and survives as a footnote.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 3:58 GMT)

Why Imran Tahir 's figures 37-1-260-0 in that drawn 2nd Adelaide Test in Nov-Dec Series between Aus & SA not here ?

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Steven LynchClose
Steven Lynch Steven Lynch won the Wisden Cricket Monthly Christmas Quiz three years running before the then-editor said "I can't let you win it again, but would you like a job?" That lasted for 15 years, before he moved across to the Wisden website when that was set up in 2000. Following the merger of the two sites early in 2003 he was appointed as the global editor of Wisden Cricinfo. In June 2005 he became the deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. He continues to contribute the popular weekly "Ask Steven" question-and-answer column on ESPNcricinfo, and edits the Wisden Guide to International Cricket.

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