Happy Christmas (War is Over) – The Ashes are Won

Well a much-anticipated return clash has turned into something of an anti-climax as Australia battered England into Ashes oblivion to reclaim the famous Urn and deliver its long-suffering fans a decidedly early, and perhaps unexpected, Christmas present.

After the turmoil of the year that was in Australian cricket, with its disgraceful examples of off-field behaviour and player discipline, the appalling results and standard of cricket leading into the contest, and the sacking of a decent and amiable coach who presided over much of it, the ease of such a victory was certainly a great surprise.

And yet amidst the euphoria of victory we should not forget that it will not solve some of the systemic and underlying problems in Australian cricket. I’ll have more to say on that front in the new year, when I have time for more sober reflection after the celebrations.

Until then this will be my final post for a tumultuous 2013 as I make preparations for a trip to The G and my annual Christmas sojourn, this time to Sri Lanka where I hope the wonders of cable let me stay in touch with the games.

To end the year I have enlisted the help of John Lennon to pen an ode to the return of the urn and the memory of a few of the ghosts of Christmas past – I hope you enjoy it!

And so this is Christmas

The Ashes are won

After all of the turmoil

We’re leading three none

And so this is Christmas

Mitch back with a bang

After all of their hubris

English heads now hang

A very Merry Christmas

Forget the dark past

The homework forgotten

As Mitch just bowls fast

 

And so this is Christmas (war is over)

They did not get along (if you remember)

In change rooms and bar rooms (war is over)

Now they’re singing our song (if you remember)

And so Happy Christmas (war is over)

Remember Davey and Joe (if you remember)

Boof comes in for Mickey (war is over)

Who got told to go (if you remember)

Now we’re doing all right

 

A very Merry Christmas

Nathan belts out the song

On a cracked WACA wicket

Time to say we were wrong

 

And so this is Christmas (war is over)

Recall the Mohali four (if you remember)

The appalling behaviour (war is over)

From the man with top score (if you remember)

And so Happy Christmas (war is over)

The rotation is dead (if you remember)

With a ramp up of sledging (war is over)

To mess with their head (if you remember)

 

A very Merry Christmas

I hope you have fun

Watching in Melbourne and Sydney

To see us win it five none

 

War is over, and we’ve won it

War is over now

 

Happy Christmas

 

Thanks to everyone for reading and supporting my musings in 2013 and until next year … that is stumps.

 

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The First Australian Cricket Tour to England – A Look at the 1868 Aboriginal Team

There’s only one sleep to go until the start of The Ashes and I must confess to being a little like a young child excitedly waiting to spring Santa putting the presents under the tree.

It would be fair to say that I am keenly awaiting the start of this series and my mind has been in a state of hyperactivity, alternating between considering various approaches the teams might take towards victory, and remembering the great moments of the past.

Fondly I’ve remembered AB’s 1989 group, the catalyst for the revival of Australian cricket, the majesty of Terry Alderman, the drama of the Centenary Test, the great deeds of The Don, McCabe’s epic at the SCG, Warne’s raging against the dying light in 2005, the triumphant drubbing of the Old Enemy in 2006, and so many more.

Not so fondly, but equally well, my mind also turned to the Botham and Willis inspired miracle at Headingly in 1981, the gripping tension and unforgettable finish at Edgbaston in 2005, and the pain inflicted by a couple of openers 24 years apart in Chris Broad and Alistair Cook during their plunderings Down Under.

Of course no trip down memory lane can be considered complete without a visit to where things began, and so with my memory triggered by an exchange with a couple of guys on Twitter, I decided to have a look at the deeds of the first Australian team to tour England, the 1868 Aboriginal team.

In fact, a decade prior to the first official representative cricket tour of England, they were the first sporting team of any description to represent Australia overseas, a truly extraordinary happening given their legal and social status in the country at the time.

From the early 1860s there were reports of cricket matches being played between European settlers and Aboriginal stockmen on the cattle stations of western Victoria, games in which the Aborigines displayed great athleticism and aptitude for the game.

A series of matches were soon held with the intention of unearthing the strongest Aboriginal XI, and under the organisation of William Hayman, a station owner from Lake Wallace, a team was formed to play in a match held at the MCG beginning on Boxing Day 1866, one of, if not the earliest matches of the great Boxing Day tradition.

The team was coached and captained by Tom Wills, a well-known first class cricketer of the time and one of the pioneers of Australian Rules football, and the match attracted a crowd of between 8,000 and 10,000 spectators, depending upon which report can be believed.

Among the audience was an entrepreneur William Broughton-Gurnett, who saw the commercial opportunity the group presented and promptly contracted them to play matches in Sydney and Brisbane, followed by a tour to England.

As sometimes happened during the early era of cricket, the promoter embezzled some of the funds raised to finance the tour, which left the players destitute in Sydney with many also in poor health.

Charles Lawrence, a professional cricketer who remained in Australia after playing with the first English team to tour Down Under in 1861, took over the coaching and captaincy of the team and organised a number of benefit matches that enabled the players to return home in May 1867.

Soon after Lawrence arranged a tour of England for the team of 16 players plus himself. This group of pioneers are listed below (traditional names in brackets):

  • Charles Lawrence – captain/coach
  • Peter (Arrahmunyarrimun)
  • Sundown (Ballrinjarrimin)
  • Tiger (Bonnibarngeet)
  • Tommy Red Cap (Brimbunyah)
  • King Cole (Bripumyarrimin)
  • Harry Bullocky (Bullchanach)
  • Mosquito (Grongarrong)
  • Two Penny (Jarrawuk)
  • Dick-a-Dick (Jumgumjenanuke)
  • Jim Crow (Lyterjerbillijun)
  • Johnny Mullagh (Unaarrimin)
  • Johnny Cuzens (Yellanach)
  • Jeremy Tarpot (Murrumgunerrimin)
  • Lake Billy (Mijarrie)
  • Billy Officer (Cungewarrimin)
  • Harry Rose (Hingingairah)

After a three-month odyssey to the Mother Country via boat, the team arrived on 13 May, 1868. Coming not long following the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” the team’s arrival generated considerable public interest.

Unfortunately not all of it complimentary with The Times describing the tourists as “the conquered natives of a convict colony” before going on to decry them as “a travestie upon cricketing at Lords”. Nevertheless the matches were very well attended throughout with the first match at The Oval attracting a bumper crowd of 20,000.

Of course it was not all about the cricket with cultural demonstrations being an equally, if not more, important part of the attraction for the crowd.

Dressed in traditional white trousers, the team sported distinctive bright red shirts with accompanying blue sashes and different coloured caps to assist the public in identifying the players. The players also took along traditional tribal wear such as possum cloaks and feathers into which they would change at the conclusion of play to provide demonstrations of boomerang and spear throwing, with ‘Dick-a-Dick’ also using a narrow shield, or boammer, to parry away a hail of cricket balls thrown at him by teammates.

The undoubted star of the tour was Unaarrimin (‘Johnny Mullagh’) who captured an incredible 245 wickets at an average of around 10 in addition to scoring the most runs for the tour with 1,698 as well as its highest individual score of 94.

Crisscrossing an alien country for almost six months he helped his side achieve some impressive results as they won 14, lost 14 and drew 19 matches across a gruelling 47 match itinerary, the difficulty of which was noted by Sporting Life upon their departure when they wrote “no eleven has in one season ever played so many matches so successfully – never playing less than two matches in each week, and frequently three, bearing an amount of fatigue that now seems incredible”.

Sadly it should be noted that the arduous tour saw the death of Bripumyarrimin (‘King Cole’) while in England as well as serious illnesses to another two members of the team who returned home early.

However, despite these beginnings few Aborigines have followed in the footsteps of this ground-breaking group of men.

Jarrawuk (‘Two Penny’) moved to New South Wales and featured in one match for the colony against Victoria in 1870, while Unaarrimin (‘Johnny Mullagh’) played for a short time as a professional with the Melbourne Cricket Club and also representing Victoria against the touring English side in 1879, top scoring in the second innings despite batting towards the tail, a long way from his usual club position at number three.

Many of the other players were left to obscure futures and early deaths  following the conclusion of the tour, many being forced to live on reserves.

More significantly, in 1869 The Central Board for Aborigines, held that it was illegal to remove any Aborigine from Victoria without the approval of the Minister, a ruling which effectively greatly limited opportunities for Aboriginal players. Like Jarrawuk and Unaarrimin, many Aborigines continued to play the sport, but those with ability faced continued discrimination and obstruction by cricketing and government officialdom.

Two early instances involved ‘Alec Henry’ and ‘Jack Marsh’, both of whom were terrifyingly fast bowlers in the early 1900s with impressive wicket taking records for their respective states of Queensland and New South Wales.

Some excellent performances saw both mentioned at different times in connection with higher honours only for them to be strangely judged to be throwers by umpires from that point on, although in the case of ‘Jack Marsh’ this also involved the touring English team of 1902 steadfastly refuse to play against him if selected.

Almost thirty years later ‘Eddie Gilbert’ from Queensland suffered a similar fate despite being regarded as the fastest bowler in the country and famously bowling The Don for a duck in 1931. Like Henry he protested against his unfair treatment at the hands of umpires and like Henry, who was forcibly relocated from Brisbane for “defying authority”, Gilbert also suffered and was admitted to a mental asylum.

Even to the current day there are very few indigenous players involved with the game and certainly few who have attained first class honours, and in the entire history of the game only one has worn the famous Baggy Green – the wonderfully talented Jason Gillespie who will rank among our finest ever bowlers.

It is something worth remembering when sitting down to watch the opening session on Wednesday.

Until next time … that is stumps.

A Maelstrom of Mitchells – A Bird Watcher’s Guide to Australia vs New Zealand

Like a flock of seagulls fighting for a hot chip on the beach, a maelstrom of Mitchells will descend upon Edgbaston today in a pivotal Champions Trophy battle of the Antipodes.

There must be something in the water Down Under that conspires to produce so many strapping specimens on a single arena – tall, muscular young men who have a fondness for hitting the ball hard (well at least in the Australian genus) and in thundering to the wicket to deliver a white Duke ball at breakneck speed.

For the non-ornithologists among you (and I fancy that is the vast majority) I have put together a bird watchers guide to the big clash, in which one or all of the Mitchells will play a leading role.

Mitchell Johnson (Mitch Radarless)

Mitch Radarless

Mitch Radarless

The oldest and most well-known of the genus, the Johnson hails from Australia’s northern climes and features a unique colouring down its left wing, commonly referred to as a sleeve.

With its dazzling and ever-changing plumage, ranging in appearance from 1920s Underbelly gangster to its current morphing as something resembling a Major Mitchell cockatoo, the Johnson is capable of destructive bursts of brilliance intermingled with astounding periods of ineptitude.

The beauty of this talismanic and unique creature lies in such flights of fancy, the watcher never knowing quite which of its enigmatic personalities it will display during its mating dances with the batsman.

Mitchell Starc (Mitch Swingerus)

Mitch Swingerus

Mitch Swingerus

Another supremely talented, yet slightly erratic bird, the Starc has recently been discovered among the urban sprawl of Australia’s largest city.Tall and angular, the Starc has a unique mating ritual with the batsman that relies upon his ability to curve the white Duke ball with searing pace in order to capture their scalp.

However, when conditions, form and fitness shear the Starc of its armoury it transforms into a rather less terrifying proposition, its mating advances quickly spurned and dispatched to all parts of the oval.

Mitchell Marsh (Mitch Loveadrinkus)

Mitch Loveadrinkus

Mitch Loveadrinkus

The most recently discovered of the Australian genus, this young bird from the nation’s western regions is a querulous specimen, prone to erratic bouts of behaviour around watering holes that have somewhat stunted its growth and development.

Yet despite these struggles, the Marsh remains a bird of great intrigue to the watcher with its occasional displays of potential, reminiscent of the greatly beloved aerialist Keith Miller.

Mitchell McClenaghan (Mitch Kiwius)

Mitch Kiwius

Mitch Kiwius

The sole representative of the New Zealand genus, the McClenaghan shares more than a passing resemblance to the Watto with its neatly arranged plumage and muscular carriage.

The Australian Watto

The Australian Watto

Like a comet streaking across the a night sky, the McClenaghan has quickly established itself as a favourite of the keen ornithologist with a series of eye-catching mating dances with the batsman that have produced a string of conquests at a strike rate superior to anyone this calendar year.

In the aftermath of their abject showing against England it would be easy to dismiss the chances of the Australians in this match, particularly in light of the Kiwis series victory over those same opponents just prior to the start of the tournament.

I for one don’t share such a view. Facing certain extinction with a loss in this match, I am predicting an emphatic response from Australia’s cornered birds, and as a keen student of their behaviour patterns, I believe it will be the Starc and the Johnson leading the way with their pace and one-two combination of swing and seam.

Naturally their efforts may amount to little should the brittle Australian batting line up fail to resist the temptations of the McClenaghan during the early mating dance.

It will be an intriguing battle, but one in which I am backing the Watto to triumph as the cornerstone of a hard-fought victory.

Of course as any keen student of the avian world would know, predicting the future behaviour of such flighty and exotic creatures is not always an exact science, but I do know one thing for certain, and that is the feathers will be flying during an epic battle for bragging rights and survival.

Dale Steyn – a Once in a Century Bowler

This morning the Sunrisers Hyderabad sit jointly atop the IPL table. If, like me, you have been surprised by their strong start to the IPL competition, there is a simple reason in my opinion – in Dale Steyn they have one of the greatest bowlers to have ever graced the field.

This piece is an attempt to find the place of the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ in the firmament of great bowlers, and readers familiar with my previous pieces will be aware that I attempt to design statistical frameworks to come to grips with such questions – after all I certainly was never blessed to witness wonderful bowlers such as O’Reilly, SF Barnes, Grimmett and many others, and perhaps neither have you.

Makes things a touch difficult doesn’t it ?

Well fear not dear reader, for I have found a way to shine a torch through the murky and bamboozling array of numbers and statistics to guide us in this quest.

The first seeds of this method were sown while discussing what defined greatness in a bowler with a fellow cricket tragic while watching the Australian XI battle the touring South Africans at the SCG. His view was that a player could only be classed as a truly great bowler if they had taken at least 100 Test wickets and averaged more than 5 wickets per Test match.

Thirty minutes of frantic iPhone searching ensued, and we found it this was a fairly elite list of an even dozen. Surprisingly it did not include some players that I would have immediately thought were certainties such as Warne and McGrath, to name two obvious examples. Accordingly, I broadened the qualifying criteria slightly to include:

  • all bowlers who have taken 100 Test wickets (amazingly there are only 163), AND
  • of those bowlers, those who have averaged 4.5 wickets per Test match or better

This still left me with a very select list of 24 players, including three current players, although I suspect they will soon be joined by Vernon Philander and Ravichandran Ashwin. Given the spot-fixing findings against him, I have taken the liberty of excluding Mohammad Asif from the field, which leaves the final list at 23.

I have designed a statistical framework designed to measure each players consistency, longevity, impact and greatness for their era. The latter is an important addition and I am indebted to one of my Twitter compadres @BjornThorgesen for his suggestions around this. I hope I have done them justice.

From its early days to the present cricket has seen many, many changes – covered pitches, shorter boundaries on some grounds with the advent of roped boundaries, bat technology, independent umpires, DRS, shorter overs, improved safety protection for batsmen, laws against intimidatory bowling, the frantic schedule involving new formats of the game and many more Test playing nations, and the relative strength of opposition in some eras as new nations joined the fray and struggled for competitiveness and relevance.

Many would argue that it is these very changes that make it so impossible to compare across eras. They may have a point, but it would really limit water cooler conversation about cricket, and many other sports for that matter. After all finding a historical context for performances is an often used way to attribute greatness to an act or individual, and statistics are frequently used in cricket discussions, so my view is that they provide valid insights and answers.

In compiling this analysis with the help of Cricinfo, I was also struck by the fact that despite constant changes in the game over the past century, many aspects of performance remained very similar. For example, it might surprise you to learn that since the Great War roughly a century ago, with the exception of a rebuilding period following the Second World War, that across the careers of most players in this list, the averages and strike rates per wicket across all Tests have remained fairly similar, which tends to suggest a better ability to compare across eras than may initially be apparent.

Nonetheless subtle differences no doubt remain. I am convinced that in the vast majority of cases a great player in one era would succeed in another, but first you have to be great for your time. Accordingly, as you will see below, I have placed significant weight on how players rated against the overall norms of their times and, to a lesser extent, the impact their absence had upon their nation’s fortunes.

Anyway, time to get on with it, and here is the rating system used, noting that each player will be ranked 1 to 23 in each category and these scores multiplied by the rating factors to derive a total score, the lower the score the better. To account for longevity the final score will be reduced by 1.25 times the number of Test matches played (remember, it is the lowest score that wins).

CONSISTENCY RATING FACTORS (27% of total)

  1. wickets per innings bowled (ranking X 8)
  2. career bowling average (ranking X 11)
  3. wickets per Test (ranking X 8)

IMPACT RATING FACTORS (23% of total)

  1. % of innings bowled resulting in 5WI (ranking X 8)
  2. career bowling strike rate (ranking X 12)
  3. career economy rate (ranking X 3)

GREATNESS IN THEIR ERA FACTORS (50% of total)

  1. % difference between player’s career bowling average and the average runs per wicket for ALL Tests played during the period of their career (ranking X 20)
  2. % difference between player’s career economy rate and the average runs per over for ALL Tests played during the period of their career (ranking X 3)
  3. % difference between player’s career strike rate and the average balls per wicket for ALL Tests played during the period of their career (ranking X 17)
  4. difference in winning % between matches they played for their country vs those they didn’t during the period of their career (ranking X 6)
  5. difference in losing % between matches they played for their country vs those they didn’t during the period of their career (ranking X 4)

Without further ado, here is my top 10 in history based on the statistical framework outlined above. Certainly many of you will be surprised by it by I am sticking by it – after all you can claim to have seen or have detailed knowledge of 2,085 Test matches played across 136 years !

10) Allan Donald (South Africa) 1992-2002

In the words of Neil Manthorp, “no living South African player, past or present, commands as much respect from the public and his peers as Donald.”

Very high praise indeed from such a respected commentator and very appropriate for the man labelled ‘White Lightning’ who was the rainbow nation’s first great fast bowler and their first to capture 300 wickets.

During the period in which he played Donald carried a nation’s hopes to a large extent on his shoulders, but more importantly he stood out as a preeminent proponents of his craft, admired and feared in equal parts, a man whose bowling average was nearly 42% better than the average per wicket during his career and whose strike rate 40% better than the average balls per wicket of his era.

From a rhythmical and springy approach, Donald could generate ferocious pace and combined this with a superb outswinger that saw him achieve an outstanding career average of 22.25 and take a wicket every 47 balls, a phenomenal achievement only bettered by 8 players who have taken at least 100 wickets in the history of the game.

9) Charlie Blythe (England) 1901-1910

Charlie Blythe was a slow left arm orthodox bowler from the first decade of the 20th century. My research tells me that he reputedly possessed good flight and turn and was particularly difficult to face on a ‘sticky wicket’, so prevalent in the time.

Nonetheless he captured 100 wickets at an almost unbelievable average of 18.6 combined with a superb strike rate of 45.4. Certainly the age in which he played was one of low scores, uncovered wickets and only three Test nations, however his average was 35% superior to the contemporary runs per wicket and his strike rate was 16% better. What is truly remarkable is that he was able to capture a 5WI once in every four innings that he bowled, and this during a period in which one of the greatest bowlers ever (read further to discover who) bowled alongside him.

Given the scarcity of Test cricket during these times it is easy to dismiss such a player, but before you do consider that he also took 2,503 FC wickets in 439 matches at an average of 16.81. Unbelievably he took 5WI on 218 occasions, in other words once in every two matches.

Sadly Charlie Blythe suffered from epilepsy for his career which saw him in and out of the England team, a fact which strangely improved the winning and losing percentages of the team when it occurred, and he died in action on the Western Front in 1917.

8) Dennis Lillee (Australia) 1971-1984

One of Australia’s most loved and revered players, Dennis Keith Lillee, burst onto the scene as a tear away fast bowler who tore through the English batsmen on the 1972 Ashes tour, and ended his career as a medium fast bowler of incredible intelligence and mastery of all matters swing and seam, after famously remodelling his action following debilitating stress fractures of the back.

Through a combination of charisma, enormous skill, and showmanship, Lillee’s feats thrilled fans everywhere, most notably in his native Australia, where the chant “Lillllllleeeee, Lillllleeee…” would ring out at the start of play and often when his team was down and needed a breakthrough, which he often obtained.

I can still see DK running in at the MCG against the Windies in 1981. Having seen his side skittled late on the first day for 198 (thanks to an amazing unbeaten 100 for Kim Hughes) Lillee responded to the desperate urgings of the crowd removing Haynes and the night-watchman, before skittling Viv Richards on the last ball of the day to reduce the Windies to 4/10.

Not satisfied with that drama, Lillee returned the next day to collect his best Test figures of 7/55, along the way dismissing Larry Gomes to claim the world record for most number of wickets, and leading Australia to a most unlikely victory.

Selected in Australia’s team of the 20th century, Lillee played in one of the most competitive eras ever, one that contained many acknowledged as greats of the game. When Lillee played his team won 48% more often than when he did not. The fact that his bowling average was 36% superior than the average runs per wicket of his time, and his strike rate 35% better, is testimony to his greatness.

7) Fred Trueman (England) 1952-1965

The burly and scowling Yorkshireman holds the distinction of being the first player in the history of Test cricket to break the 300 wicket barrier. At the time it seemed such an Everest, so much so that when asked if he thought his mark would ever be bettered he famously quipped that the person who did would be “bloody tired”.

Since then 24 players have gone past Freddy’s mark, a mark which admittedly might have been higher had he not been stood aside from so many Tests during his prime for run-ins with officialdom. Nonetheless, only one of these players enjoyed a better average than Trueman and just 4 a better strike rate.

During his era, England’s winning percentage was 69% better than when he did not play from his intermittent suspensions, and Trueman was streets ahead of his contemporaries with an average 42% better than the average runs per wicket of the era, and a strike rate a remarkable 56% superior, the largest statistical  dominance of any player considered on this list.

6) Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka) 1992-2010

One of the most remarkable, and to a certain extent controversial cricketers, of our time, Murali’s place among the greatest has always provoked considerable debate, much of it centred on the legality or otherwise of his bowling action, and the disproportionate numbers of occasions he has played against minnow nations like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Personally I think these arguments are a load of rubbish. Murali’s action has been declared legal, players in many different eras have had to play against emerging cricket nations, and his record against all comers across 132 Tests competes can not just rely on dominating lesser lights.

No player in the history of the game has taken more wickets or bowled more deliveries than this little man with the strange action from Kandy – in fact it is unlikely that anyone ever will. No one has taken 5 or more wickets in an innings than this little magician who has achieved the feat an astonishing 67 times, a rate better than once in every four innings bowled.

All of these facts will stand the test of time and during his career Murali did more than any other player to make Sri Lanka a truly competitive Test nation that managed an excellent winning percentage of almost 43% when he played, a figure that was halved on the occasions during his career when he was not available.

Murali played in an era full of terrific players, including his great contemporary Shane Warne. His career average of 22.72 was 46% better than the average runs per wicket of his time, remarkable in an era that included Ponting, Waugh, Sangakkara, Kallis, Tendulkar, Dravid, Hayden and Sehwag, all players who averaged over 50 in Test cricket, and a true mark of his greatness.

5) Sir Richard Hadlee (New Zealand) 1973-1990

During his 17 year Test career, New Zealand NEVER won a Test without the name (Sir) Richard Hadlee appearing on the team sheet. Undoubtedly his nation’s finest cricketer, Hadlee was also one of the finest of his generation, which is some statement considering the quality of the West Indian attack and players such as Lillee, Imran, Kapil, and Botham, to name just a few.

In 2001, Wisden ranked his 9/52 against Australia at the Gabba the fifth greatest bowling performance of all time. It was a display that epitomised all the was great about him as a bowler and one I had the great fortune to witness.

At the time and I was struck not by his hostility but rather the constant menace he posed. With the crowd baying for his blood, Hadlee would whirl away at the top of his mark like Snidely Whiplash, and deliver each ball with metronomic precision in the same spot over after over. There was no respite and no let up and for the batsman it was impossible to predict what would happen next as balls moved late in and away from them both off the seam and with swing.

It is little wonder that Hadlee took a five wicket haul on average once every four innings he bowled in, one of the best ratios in this elite list. The fact that, in one of the greatest ever eras, his career average of 22.29 was 46% superior to the average runs per wicket during that time, and his strike rate was 36% better than the average balls per wicket, is testimony to his greatness and his position on this list.

4) Malcolm Marshall (West Indies) 1978-1991

Marshall played for one of the great sides in one of the great eras – in fact he only played in 8 losing sides over his career and did not play in a losing Test until 1984. He also played alongside some fearsome and wonderful bowlers like Holding, Garner, Roberts and Ambrose, all of whom took over 200 Test wickets, and all of whom had enviable records.

Yet somehow this short man from Barbados managed to become the greatest of them all, and certainly one of the greatest ever to have played, a man as effective on the WACA as he was on a Delhi dust bowl. with a mixture of late outswing and cutters bowled at a great skidding pace.

Marshall’s career average of  20.94 is the lowest of any player to have taken 200 or more Test wickets and only 7 of the 163 players to have taken 100 or more Test wickets can boast a better strike rate than his 46.70. Even more importantly however, for a man to have a career bowling average 55% better than the average runs per wicket of his era, and a strike rate 46% superior than the average balls per wicket in such a wonderful era, marks Marshall as one of the true greats.

3) Dale Steyn (South Africa) 2004-current

There is no doubt that Dale Steyn is the preeminent bowler of today – just this year he has taken 33 wickets in just 5 Tests at the astonishing average of 12.36 and a staggering strike rate of 32.97.

What makes Dale Steyn one of the greats of the game and rates him so highly on this list is his strike rate, and the huge gap between him and his contemporaries. Of all the players in the history of the game to have taken 100 Test wickets, only one (who appears ahead) has a strike rate superior to Steyn’s 41.1 – think of all the great players you know and none will have a better strike rate than this man which says an awful lot I would think.

Against the norms of his time Steyn is vastly superior with his career average of 22.65 being 53% superior to the average runs per wicket of his career, and his strike rate being 54% superior.

Steyn’s career has yet to finish obviously so his final place is still up for grabs, but at the moment his overall record is that of a very special talent and a great of the game.

2) Sydney (SF) Barnes (England) 1901-1914

No greater judge than Richie Benaud rated this man worthy of a spot in his greatest XI of all time and most cricketers and students of the game in the period in which S.F. Barnes played were agreed that he was the bowler of the century.

Barnes played in cricket’s first “Golden Age” against players such as Trumper, Hill, McCartney, Kelleway, Nourse and Taylor. Certainly there were few easy games against good quality opponents, no new balls every so any overs, and significant disadvantage in touring given the distances, time and sacrifices involved – his achievement in taking 77 wickets in Australia a simply staggering one during his time, including famously dismissing the great Victor Trumper for a duck in three successive innings.

The literature describes him as having an upright, high arm action and proclaims him as one of the first bowlers really to use the seam of a new ball and combine swing so subtly with movement that few batsmen could distinguish one from the other.

He took 189 wickets in just 27 Tests, unbelievably averaging 7 wickets per Test and taking 5WI on average every second innings in which he bowled.

His average of 16.43 was 58% superior the average runs per wicket of the age and his strike rate nearly 30% better, so while many might dispute his inclusion due to uncovered pitches and the like, the quality of his opponents and his sheer statistical dominance over his contemporaries should mean that his place is indisputable.

1) George (GA) Lohmann (England) 1886-1896

George Lohmann debuted for England as a 21 year old in the earliest years of the game. While no more than medium pace, Lohmann possessed great variation and unerring accuracy, and he has left some statistical achievements that may never be bettered.

He claimed his 100th wicket in just his 16th Test during his penultimate series against South Africa in 1896, along the way claiming a staggering 35 wickets in just three Tests at the miserly average of just 5.80. Tragically he only played one further Test before tragically retiring early due to effects of tuberculosis.

Lohmann’s career average of 10.75 and strike rate of 34.10 are the best of any player to have taken 100 or more Test wickets and are unlikely to ever be bettered. Certainly he played in an era of uncovered pitches and the like but no player in this list has the statistical dominance over his contemporaries that he does with a career average 85% superior to the average runs per wicket of his era, and a strike rate 43% better than the average balls per wicket.

For these reasons Lohmann can be considered a worthy number one.

So there we have it. Certainly a lower qualification number for wickets per Test might produce a different result – Garner, Ambrose, Waqar and Imran would be worthy additions to the list in these circumstances and may pressure some in this top 10 for a place.

However, you have to draw a line somewhere, and having drawn it one thing is clear – in the past 100 years there has not been a better bowler to have played Test cricket than Dale Steyn.

For those interested in the full list and scores here is a link to them Greatest Bowler Stats.

I hope you enjoyed reading this piece and until next time …. that is stumps.