How the bowlers started and finished
An analysis of how well or poorly the leading Test bowlers started and finished their illustrious careers
How the bowlers started & finished?
This is the second part of the analysis on the first ten and last ten Tests in a player's career. I looked at the batsmen in the first part and this article concentrates on the bowlers.
I am going to standardise the criteria. First, the start of a player's career is defined as the first ten Tests and the finish of his career as the last ten Tests. Ninety-two bowlers qualify with my cut-off for wickets which is 150. Sydney Barnes has crossed this landmark in the short span of 27 Tests, which is the lowest any player has played in this list. So, his middle period is only seven Tests. Because of the rather high cut-off, bowlers like Subhash Gupte, Hedley Verity, Bill O'Reilly, Fazal Mahmood, Colin Croft, Saeed Ajmal et al. do not qualify. But this cannot be helped. Lowering the cut-off to 100 wickets will mean that a few bowlers who have played either side of 20 Tests will get it and that does not seem correct.
I did not want to draw the line at the "active status" of players. That would exclude many players and is an artificial restriction, especially, since some of them may play very few Tests in future. I am also going to use Wickets-per-Test (WpT) as the measure of comparison. The Bowling-average is only an add-on information data element. The most important task of a bowler is to capture wickets and whether he captures 5 for 50 or 5 for 100, there is very little difference. 'Five-fors' are very important. It is also common knowledge that 5 for 80 scores over 4 for 50, almost always.
I have incorporated different types of analysis in this article. I have tables which list the best and worst starts among players' careers. I have the best and worst finishes among players' careers. Then I have combined the start and finish to create four different combinations. Great starts and great finishes, great starts and poor finishes, poor starts and great finishes and finally poor starts and poor finishes. These are represented in a BCG Chart, which is my favourite graph. Many insights can be drawn from these tables.
First let us look at the great starts. I have to have cut-offs for each table to keep the tables to reasonable sizes.
Maurice Tate had the best ever start for a bowler: 67 wickets at 20.0 in 10 Tests. Ravi Shastri's final figures were so poor that even the 2.7 WpT he captured during the start of his career pushed him into the second place. In a way, Srinivas Venkataraghavan was in a similar position. Ian Botham and Andy Roberts had great starts at over 5 WpT. Many famous bowlers have had wonderful starts, including Waqar Younis. It is clear that these starts would be neutralised by below-average figures for the rest of their career, especially for bowlers such as Tate and Botham.
The figures are true. Andrew Flintoff, in whatever capacity he was playing, captured seven wickets in his first ten Tests, nine lower than Bob Massie and Narendra Hirwani captured in their first Test. Alan Davidson had a similar nightmare start, with a princely haul of 13 wickets in ten Tests. And his playing comrade, Richie Benaud, pitched in with 17. Garry Sobers and Jacques Kallis had awful starts as bowlers, capturing 12 and 11 wickets in their ten Tests. I remember that both had poor starts as batsmen also. And Shane Warne, and Muralitharan. But Muttiah Muralitharan had an excellent start, by anybody's standards, with 40 wickets. It is only his stupendous career figure which has pushed him down.
These are the great finishers. They retired at the top, so to say. Rangana Herath is still active and his presence at the top is a testament to his phenomenal form over the past year. He led the wicket-takers table for 2012-13. Alec Bedser finished very strongly. Sydney Barnes finished with 88 wickets, most of it against South Africa in two series. If anyone glances through this illustrious set of bowlers, it is a representation of truly great bowlers across the generation: Barnes, Fred Trueman, Clarrie Grimmett and Davidson. Davidson made up for his miserable start with this good finish. Monty Panesar is still active and could go better or worse.
They finished poorly and probably after their sell-by-date. Imran Khan's presence is understandable since he played most of his later Tests as a batsman. But the fall of Ian Bishop and Botham was dramatic: they captured only 14 and 16 wickets in their last 10 Tests. Shastri fell off as a bowler. Javagal Srinath as a shadow of his peak period. But look at Abdul Qadir. Like his mentor, Imran, he also finished with a whimper: 20 wickets in ten Tests to finish his career. Waqar, who had a great start, fares poorly here. Anil Kumble and Kapil Dev round off this list. The presence of so many Indian bowlers in this list should make one think: do these bowlers stretch their career about a series or two past their retirement? Kapil, often highlighted in India for stretching his career, still finished with 20 wickets, a reasonable performance for an allrounder. Combined with his good batting finish, quite good: maybe he is the wronged player in this regard.
Now for the combination analysis. I have considered the two percentage values, start and finish and got them grouped into four combination groups. Not all bowlers are covered though. For each combination I have set different criteria and grouped the players. This is to ensure that the graph is not too crowded. The absence of players from these four groups basically means that they are in the circle in the centre. You can have a look at all players by perusing the downloadable file.
To represent these selected players I have used my favourite BCG chart. BCG stands for Boston Consulting Group for whom Bruce Henderson invented this method of depicting growth-share matrix for companies. It has since found many uses and I have used this graph extensively. When there are two independent measures, the quadrant-based representation of BCG chart is an excellent visual method of classifying players. In this case the two independent measures are the first-10-Test precentages and the last-10-Test percentages. These two measures form four groups and lend themselves to an excellent BCG representation.
We have the first-10-Tests WpT percentages in the X-axis and the last-10-Tests WpT % in the Y-axis. The graph is split into four quadrants. The top-right quadrant represents great starts and great finishes. The top-left quadrant represents poor starts and great finishes. The bottom-left quadrant represents poor starts and poor finishes. The bottom-right quadrant represents great starts and poor finishes. Let us now look at the graph.
Since I am going to show the tables for all these classifications I am not going to dwell too long on the graph now since the tables with detailed data for these players are presented later.
Now let us move on to the tables containing these group combinations.
This table gives the full details of the combination analysis. The criteria here are that both percentage values should be over 100%. Trueman had the best start and best finish, considered together: 51 and 55 wickets respectively. This necessarily means that his middle period was below par. He captured only 201 wickets in these 47 Tests, an average of 4.27 WpT, compared to a career value of 4.58. It is clear that it is not easy to start and finish well, as evidenced by the fact that only 6 bowlers meet these criteria. The only modern bowler is Chris Martin, who has almost certainly played his last Test for New Zealand.
This is the other end of the table. Bowlers whose starts and finishes were below par. The criterion is that both percentages should be below 75%. Again very few bowlers have got into this combination. Bishan Bedi and Srinath represent India. Surprising that Bedi should figure in this, having played some of his initial Tests in India. The other great bowler to figure here is Muralitharan. This also means that Muralitharan captured 716 wickets during the interim 113 Tests at a WpT value of 6.33. But let us face it. Muralitharan sits here, despite capturing 4 WpT during both start and finish, only because of his way-out career WpT value of 6.02. The other interesting presence is Kallis. Readers might remember that Kallis also had a poor start. So he started his career poorly. However it is possible that he was pulling his weight as an allrounder. His recent form, as a bowler, has been poor. This might change in the future.
These bowlers had wonderful starts but finished very poorly. The criteria are that they should have started at over 110% and finished at below 70%. We have already seen these bowlers in the best start category- Botham. Bishop and Shastri had excellent starts, relative to their respective careers, but failed quite badly at the end. Bishop finished the worst. No doubt caused by the debilitating injury. Many others did not know when to quit, a malaise present with many batsmen too. Tate had a difference of over 100% between start and finish, the only bowler in this group.
These bowlers had nightmare starts and fairy-tale finishes. Davidson started very poorly but finished quite well. Herath's "finish" is on-going and would change. Warne also finished very well. Dale Steyn is still playing and his figures will change. So there are only three players in this table unlike the batsmen table which was reasonably well populated.
Some readers might query that quite a few top players have not found a mention in this analysis. The point is that this article is about exceptions, on either side and in combination. Quite a few players are somewhere in the middle. As Craig Dengate put it nicely in his comment on the Batsmen start and finishes, the non-mention of a bowler in these tables would be a testament to the very steady career these bowlers had. Just to clarify this further, I have given below the values for seven top bowlers across the ages that have not been referred to. This will clarify why these have not found a mention.
Bowler Career-----> First 10-----> Last 10 ---->
Wasim Akram and Dennis Lillee just about missed the poor finish list. However they were still reasonably okay since they captured 27 and 34 wickets. The others have had fairly good starts and finishes. In terms of sheer consistency, the best bowler in this elite lot is Curtly Ambrose.
To download/view the list of 92 bowlers and the complete tables ordered in different forms, in Text file format, please CLICK HERE.
A couple of readers had asked me for my comments on the recent off-field happenings. I had incorporated my comments in this article. Unfortunately, these did not meet the current editorial policy standards of ESPNcricinfo. If you want to see the comments you have to mail me directly at email@example.com. I appreciate and understand ESPNcricinfo's reservations.
Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems