Sunday, March 7, 2010

The leading bowlers in world cricket

So, if Bradman is the number one batsman, who is the number one bowler using this criteria? The answer may surprise a few, but that man is Glenn McGrath. His lead is not as clear-cut as Bradman's but it is significant enough over second placed Curtly Ambrose.

Over his 124 Tests, McGrath had an average Rating of 791 points - an incredible achievement given that his career spanned over thirteen years and after 8 Tests his bowling average stood at a distinctly ordinary 43.68. However, from that moment on his ascent to greatness was rapid and his Rating never dropped below the 800 mark from November 1996 until he retired at the end of the Sydney Test more than a decade later in January 2007.

In total he spent 174 matches at the top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test bowlers, a number surpassed by only Muttiah Muralidaran. He first reached number one after taking eight wickets in the 1996 Boxing Day Test against the West Indies which moved him ahead of Pakistani Mushtaq Ahmed, and he was scarcely out of the world's top three after that. His nagging accuracy was second to none - Michael Atherton - who he dismissed a record 20 times - will testify to that, and his final tally of 563 Test wickets is well ahead of the next-highest by a paceman - Courtney Walsh's 519.

In second place to McGrath in terms of average Rating points comes that West Indian miser Curtly Ambrose, whose 405 Test wickets cost just 20.99 each. Over his 98-Test career, he averaged 777 points and spent a total of 145 matches on top of the world. England were his favourite opposition and he is the only non-Australian to take 150 wickets against them, thwarting victory chases on more than one occasion, and helping to humble them for just 46 at Port-of-Spain in early 1994.

Positions three and four are occupied by those two modern-day South African great pace bowlers Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald. They shared 397 wickets in the 47 Tests they played together from 1995 to 2002 and the Proteas won 23 of those Tests, losing only nine.

In fifth place is the first spinner on the list - Muttiah Muralidaran. It may come as a surprise to some that he is this far down, averaging 770 points over his 132-Test career so far, but he was a fairly late starter, and his career only really took off after twenty Tests or so. But once he took 28 wickets in four Tests in early 1997 he never looked back and spent the first of his record 214 matches in the number one spot in January 2002.

Proving their mastery over all bowling conditions, three of the top five Test bowlers in terms of average Ratings points also feature in the ODI list, but there is a slight shuffling of the pack as this time it is Shaun Pollock who comes out on top. When he finally retired in February 2008 his Rating still stood at 894 points, far ahead of second-placed Shane Bond on 755. Pollock had occupied the top position for the last two years of his career and his tally of 844 matches as world number one is more that twice that of anyone else in the shorter format of the game. He played a total of 303 One Day Internationals over the course of his career and averaged 794 points over those.

In second place in the one day arena is a man who just missed out on the top five in the Test game - Joel Garner. Admittedly, scoring rates were somewhat slower when he was in his pomp, but to maintain an economy rate of just 3.09 runs per over in 98 matches goes some way to explaining how he had an average Rating of 776 points. Few people will forget how he blew away England's tail in the 1979 World Cup final ending with figures of 5-38.

Unsurprisingly Messrs McGrath and Ambrose clock in at positions three and four and Michael Holding makes it three West Indians in the top five as he managed to average 739 points in his 102 ODIs. Fortunately for batsmen the world over, Ambrose didn't make his debut until the year after both Holding and Garner hung up their bowling boots, otherwise it really would have been too much to bear.

Lurking just outside the top five at positions six and seven are two Kiwis who played the vast majority of their careers together. While Sir Richard Hadlee often took the headlines, it is sometimes forgotten what an excellent bowler Ewen Chatfield was. They both played practically the same number of matches and averaged pretty much the same. Chatfield's peak of 893 was achieved in 1984 and has only ever been bettered by five bowlers in the history of the game.