Sri Lanka v England 2007-08 / Stats Analysis

Highest wicket-taker in Tests

The Murali story in numbers

A stats analysis of Muttiah Muralitharan's 710 Test wickets

S Rajesh and HR Gopalakrishna

December 3, 2007

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Paul Collingwood walks back, and Muttiah Muralitharan owns the world record © AFP
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Fittingly, it was the doosra that brought him the world record. When Paul Collingwood played down the wrong line to lose his middle-and-off stumps, Muttiah Muralitharan took over from Shane Warne as the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket, in 29 fewer Tests than it had taken Warne to get to 708.

The feature of Muralitharan's career, which has already spanned more than 15 years, has been his phenomenal consistency. In 44 series that he has played in (excluding one-off Tests), only 10 times has his bowling average exceeded 35, and seven of those were before 2000. In the last eight years, his average for each year has never gone beyond 23. (Click here for his career summary, and here for a complete list of his wickets.)

The presence of another spin wizard in the same era has meant Murali's numbers have always been compared with Shane Warne's. The table below charts the journey for each bowler. Warne was faster off the blocks than Murali, getting to 100 wickets in just 23 Tests, compared to Murali's 27, but since then Murali has got his wickets at a much quicker rate in terms of dismissals per Test.

The wicket-taking journeys of Murali and Warne
Wicket no. Murali - Tests Average Warne - Tests Average
100 27 31.49 23 24.19
200 42 26.90 42 22.92
300 58 25.17 63 23.56
400 72 23.53 92 26.11
500 87 22.89 108 25.51
600 101 22.35 126 25.24
700 113 21.33 144 25.36
709 116 21.67 - -

Murali's ability to spin the ball was never in doubt from the moment he entered Test cricket, but through most of the first half of his career, the turn was predictable, making him a much easier bowler to tackle. The doosra, though, has added a whole new dimension to his bowling, and made him a far more dangerous proposition for opposition batsmen. The table below tells the story.

Murali's career in two halves
Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
First 58 Tests 302 25.17 24/ 5
Last 58 Tests* 408 19.08 37/ 15

As a matchwinner, Murali has no rival. In the 45 Tests that Sri Lanka have won with him in the team, he has taken a phenomenal 373 wickets - that's more than eight per match - at an average of 15. Only Warne, with 510, and Glenn McGrath (414) have taken more wickets in wins.

Best matchwinners in Tests (at least 200 wickets in wins)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Muttiah Muralitharan 45 373 15.19 41.4 36/ 16
Malcolm Marshall 43 254 16.78 38.1 17/ 4
Curtly Ambrose 44 229 16.86 44.4 13/ 3
Waqar Younis 39 222 18.20 35.0 14/ 4
Dennis Lillee 31 203 18.27 39.0 17/ 6
Shaun Pollock 48 218 18.33 47.8 9/ 1
Anil Kumble 41 279 18.41 44.1 20/ 5
Wasim Akram 41 211 18.48 42.3 13/ 2
Glenn McGrath 84 414 19.19 47.7 18/ 3
Courtney Walsh 52 239 19.72 46.2 10/ 2
Shane Warne 92 510 22.47 51.2 27/ 7

Murali's record has few blemishes, but the two teams he hasn't quite conquered have been Australia and India. He had a disappointing series in Australia recently, averaging 100 runs per wicket, while in eight Tests he has played in India, he has only managed 31 wickets at 39.58 apiece. Everywhere else, though, his stats are impeccable.

Murali in Australia/ India and the rest
Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
In Aus and Ind 13 43 49.58 2/ 0
In all other countries 103 667 19.87 59/ 20

The other criticism sometimes levelled - quite unfairly - against Murali is the number of wickets he has taken against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. He has done exceptionally well against them, but remove those matches from his career numbers, and the stats still look very good.

Murali v Zim/ Bang and the rest
Versus Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
Zim and Bang 23 163 14.57 16/ 5
All other teams 93 547 23.79 45/ 15

More Murali milestones

  • He is the only bowler to take more than 50 wickets against every opposition team he has played.

  • Collingwood's wicket was also Murali's 50th against England at home, making him the only bowler to take 50 home wickets against four sides - Bangladesh, South Africa and Zimbabwe are the others.

  • With 20 ten-wicket hauls in Tests, he is clearly the leader in that category, with the second-placed Warne having managed only half that number. In fact, Murali has taken a ten-for at least once against every opposition that he has played against. His 60 five-wicket hauls is a record as well.

  • Murali's presence has been good news for the close-in fielders too: Mahela Jayawardene has taken 63 catches off him, which is the most by a bowler-fielder pair, excluding a wicketkeeper.

  • On 30 occasions he has caught a batsman off his own bowling, which is a record. Anil Kumble is next in line with 29.

  • Muralitharan is one of only six bowlers who have dismissed all the eleven batsmen in a Test match. Jim Laker. S Venkataraghavan, Geoff Dymock, Abdul Qadir and Waqar Younis are the others.

  • Murali remains the only bowler to capture 100-plus Test wickets at two venues. He has 143 at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo, and 112 wickets in Kandy.

  • He is the only bowler to take 75 or more wickets in a calendar year on three occasions, achieving it in 2000, 2001 and 2006.

    * All numbers till the end of the England's first innings of the Kandy Test.

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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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