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for the Greatest Bowler
By the time Sir Donald George Bradman retired from cricket he had done enough to secure his place at the top of the heap. There have been debates and discussions about the greatest batsman in history, and while WG Grace, Victor Trumper and Sir Jack Hobbs enter the fray, invariably the Don is regarded as the best. An average of 99.94 is hard to argue with, and 29 centuries in 52 matches certainly help the cause.
it comes bowlers,
on the other hand, the jury is still out. There are many contenders to
title of the greatest bowler – Dennis Lillee, Andy Roberts,
Sir Richard Hadlee,
Muthaih Muralitharan and
Wasim Akram among others. The most popular choice is probably Shane
Wisden including him in the Five Cricketers of the Century, and the
Australian media completely supporting this claim. But are these
biased by the recency effect?
To effectively compare bowlers across era we need a statistic that is as ‘unbiased’ as possible. While complex weighted averages are employed in numerous rating systems that keep popping up everywhere, what we need is to find one effective statistic that is a close approximate for a bowler’s ability and efficacy. For batsmen the batting average works rather well because at the end of the day we want our batsmen to score as many runs as possible. But the bowling average doesn’t work quite as well. It unfairly penalizes bowlers who cleverly ‘buy’ their wickets – world-class spinners who flight the ball inviting batsmen to attack while seducing them to their demise. A bowler’s strike rate has a similar bias. Typically a spinner bowls many more balls to get a wicket, and hence will typically have a higher strike rate.
more robust option appears
to be the average number of wickets a bowler takes for each test match
plays. Every team aims at taking 20 wickets in a test and the advantage
‘wickets per match’ is that it measures a
bowler’s efficacy in helping his team
achieve this goal. The other benefit is that it does not penalize
the fact that they often have to bowl more balls and concede more runs
wicket that they take.
Figure 1 shows the 20 top bowlers by wickets taken per test match amongst those who have taken at least 100 test wickets. Sydney Barnes is the clear leader, a fair way ahead of George Lohmann and Charlie Turner, and Muthaiah Muralitharan is the best active bowler according to this statistic. The graph also shows how spinners consistently have a higher average and strike rate than their seaming peers.
Figure 1: Top 20 bowlers – by Wickets/ Match
While the choice of Sydney Barnes as the greatest bowler of all time may be unexpected it is certainly not surprising. Stories about Barnes’ deadly accuracy and ability to wipe out a batting line up are legendary. He had the unique ability to bowl off-spin and leg-spin at significant pace and he combined this with swing to offer batsmen of his time with the most challenging of tests. His most potent weapon was the ball the swung from off to leg and the spun violently and very quickly towards off stump.
played most of
his cricket for Staffordshire and is the only cricketer to be regularly
selected for the English team while playing minor league cricket. For
Staffordshire he took 1441 wickets at 8.15 runs per wicket. In test
Barnes was just as amazing. He had a bowling average of 16.43 and a
of 41.65 – both of which are second only to George Lohmann
amongst bowlers with
at least 100 wickets. He took an astounding 7 wickets per test match,
means the other bowlers in the team needed to pick up just 13 wickets
them. He also took a phenomenal 24 five wicket hauls in just 27
that to Bradman’s 29 centuries in 52 tests and you get an
idea of just how crucial
Barnes really was to his team. And that’s not all. In a test
The ‘wickets per match’ yardstick leads to some other interesting conclusions. Six of the top 20 bowlers are still playing cricket – which is commendable given the fairly easy batting conditions that exist today. Statistics are a measure of efficacy as opposed to raw talent and three bowlers in particular – Anil Kumble, Danish Kaneria and Stuart MacGill – are on this list because of how effective they have been.
are unending, and opinions vary vastly affected by patriotic fervour,
experience and media coverage. Try telling Mike Gatting that Warne is
greatest bowler ever! But through the fairly neutral lens of
man, Sydney Barnes, who played in an era before the advent of the
Superstar’, is the strongest contender for the title of the
‘Greatest Bowler of
TABLE USED FOR THIS ARTICLE
Table 1: Top 20 bowlers – by Wickets/ Match
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