Thursday, March 31, 2011

Muttiah Muralidaran - A statistical tribute

The final of ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 is a fitting setting for Muttiah Muralidaran to take his leave of the international cricket stage. Having taken a total of 1347 wickets in all international cricket so far, he will be hoping to put even more daylight between himself and the chasing pack. Second-placed Shane Warne is the only other player with more than a thousand, and the leading other current player is Brett Lee with “only” 676. If Murali's total of wickets is unlikely to be broken, how has he performed in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings over the course of his long career?

Having made his Test debut in August 1992, his first three years brought him 81 wickets in 23 Tests at a respectable average of 33.88, but gave no real indication of the huge strides he was to make later in his career. However, 42 wickets in his next seven Tests propelled him to his first appearance in the top ten, which came in June 1997. At that time, the top four bowlers were all pacemen - Curtly Ambrose and Glenn McGrath led the way, tied on 861 points each, followed by Allan Donald and Wasim Akram. Murali had 715 points, but the only way was up from then onwards.

It was another five years before Murali first hit the top spot, after taking 9-51 and 4-64 against Zimbabwe at Kandy in January 2002. That first innings was the occasion when he nearly made cricket history. Having taken all nine Zimbabwe wickets to fall on the first day's play, he had Travis Friend dropped by Russel Arnold at silly-point the following morning to narrowly miss becoming just the third bowler to take all ten wickets in a Test innings.

That haul took him past Glenn McGrath at the top of the bowling rankings with a total of 907 points, and he scarcely dropped from the rarefied air of the 900-point mark for the next six and a half years. His peak came in July 2007 when he reached 920 points after taking 6-28 and 6-54 against Bangladesh at Kandy, a points tally only surpassed by three bowlers in the history of the game - Sydney Barnes, George Lohmann and Imran Khan. However, Murali's total set a new record for a spinner - going past Tony Lock's 912 points from 1958.

He spent a total of 1711 days as the top-rated Test bowler - a fair way down the list, but it should be noted that far more Test Matches are played now than in previous generations. This places him 13th on that particular list, which is headed by Bill O'Reilly - who had the Second World War to boost him up to 3643 days on top.

However, when we examine the number of Tests each bowler has spent in the number one position, Murali's total of 214 puts him on top. In fact the leading thee bowlers in this respect are all modern-day players, with Glenn McGrath (174 matches) and Curtly Ambrose (145 matches) filling the next two spaces on that list. By contrast, O'Reilly was top for just 24 matches.

Murali made his ODI debut a year after his first Test appearance and his first 21 matches brought just 19 wickets at a cost of 40 runs apiece. He came to the fore as Sri Lanka triumphed in ICC Cricket World Cup 1996 in the Subcontinent, and his star rapidly rose in the shorter form of the game at the same time. He first cracked the top ten in early 1997 during a successful series in Sharjah, and he spent the vast majority of the next 12 years in the world's top ten.

It was October 2000 when he first sneaked above Glenn McGrath and made it to top spot in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI bowlers. His figures of 7-30 against India at Sharjah were a world record for ODI cricket at the time and took him to 851 points. Two days later he took 3-6 in six overs against the same opposition to rise even further to 880 points, and he didn't move out of the top three for the next five years.

However, unlike his domination of the Test bowling rankings, this period provided a large amount of tussling for positions at the top. From the time Murali first reached number one to when he finally relinquished it in October 2004, a number of other bowlers also enjoyed top spot. In fact, that period could well be considered one of the golden eras of ODI bowling with the Sri Lankan maestro having to share the limelight with Shaun Pollock, Glenn McGrath and team-mate Chaminda Vaas.

Murali's peak points tally came in April 2002 when he had the astonishing figures of 10-3-9-5 against New Zealand at Sharjah. That performance propelled him up to 913 points, which is the fourth-highest achieved by anyone since ODI cricket started in 1971. Only Joel Garner (941), Richard Hadlee (924) and Shaun Pollock (917) have ever acquired more points, and by way of a comparison, today's top-ranked bowler Daniel Vettori has a total of 701.

Despite this fierce competition for the top spot, Murali spent a total of 244 matches and 731 days at the top ranked bowler in ODI cricket. Whereas these are a fair way behind the respective leaders in those fields - Shaun Pollock (844 matches) and Curtly Ambrose (2057 days) - this represents a massive contribution given that he hardly ever had the opportunity to enjoy the new ball.

By his own incredibly high standards, Murali's returns in One Day cricket in 2009 and 2010 were fairly modest, and it may have appeared as if his powers were somewhat on the wane as the effort of bowling more than 60 thousand deliveries in international cricket began to take its toll. But he roared back into action in ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 as 11 wickets in four matches helped Sri Lanka reach its third final.

It would only be fair to make a passing mention of his batting. Always unorthodox, but occasionally very effective, he boasts 1261 Test runs and even has a fifty to his name with an innings of 67 against India at Kandy in 2001. He never quite made it into the world's top 100 in Test cricket, peaking at 102nd late in his career in 2009 after an innings of 29 against India at Kanpur.

With fewer batting opportunities in ODI cricket, he peaked early in his career with 266 points and 112th position late in 1998. However, he was responsible for winning at least a couple of matches for Sri Lanka with the bat - notably against Bangladesh at Mirpur in early 2009 and against Australia at Melbourne in late 2010.

And so he takes his leave from the international stage as the top wicket-taker in both Test and One Day International cricket, will we ever see his like again? Possibly not, but one of the joys of cricket is that we never know quite what is around the corner and records are always there to be broken.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A tribute to the Number Ones

Tell anyone who are the number one rated batsman, bowler and all-rounder in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI cricket going into ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 and you may receive some inquisitive looks in return. However, on closer examination, the three players have earned their right to call themselves the current form players as the cricketing world meets on the subcontinent.

South Africa’s Hashim Amla had to wait until March 2008 to make his ODI debut – more than three years after his first Test appearance. However, he has swiftly made up for lost time and he currently boasts an average of just under 60 after 42 matches including seven centuries and 12 fifties. He recently became the fastest player ever to reach 2000 runs, five fewer innings than previous record-holder Kevin Pietersen. In a team of higher-profile players, some of whom have performed successfully on the highest stage in previous competitions, Amla is the leading man coming into this year’s event.

His current batting rating of 889 puts him in pretty exclusive company too. Only one South African batsman has ever sneaked through the 900-point barrier in ODI cricket, and he will be at the World Cup too. Surprisingly it isn’t captain Graeme Smith or even Jacques Kallis – who managed it in Test cricket. The man in question is Gary Kirsten, who will be coaching India as they try to recapture the crown they won so memorably at Lord’s in 1983. Still the holder of the highest individual score in ICC Cricket World Cup history with his unbeaten 188 against the UAE in 1996, his century against Australia at Indore later that year saw his points tally rise to 903.

Amla’s current Rating is the highest achieved by any batsman in ODI cricket since Brian Lara before the turn of the Millennium, and it will be interesting to see if he can push his way up to 900 points over the course of the tournament.

Whereas Amla currently enjoys a healthy lead of more than 100 points at the top of the batting tree, it is far tighter with the ball with that same 100 points covering the top 12 positions. However, the man in pole position has occupied that lofty perch uninterrupted since November 2009.

Daniel Vettori has led from the front for New Zealand over the past few years and he has developed into one of the most economical bowlers in ODI history. Over the past nine years, his worst economy rate in any year was 4.15 in 2007 - his busiest year. Over that same period of time, his fellow Kiwi bowlers have conceded an average of 4.81 runs per over, illustrating his value to the team. He is New Zealand’s leading wicket-taker in the shorter form of the game and also has more than 2000 runs. In Test cricket he is now less than 100 wickets away from Richard Hadlee’s national record of 431.

Vettori will be hoping to improve on his showings in previous ICC Cricket World Cups. His 17 matches covering the last two tournaments have brought him 18 wickets at a disappointing average of 39.22. If New Zealand are to achieve the semi-final place that has almost become theirs by right since the first competition in 1975, he will need to continue the form that took him to the top of the pile nearly 18 months ago.

Now is perhaps the time when Vettori will face the greatest challenge for his number one position with three other left-arm spinners in the top five. Since overtaking Shakib Al Hasan to reclaim top spot, his average points tally has been 748. Perhaps it is an indication of the volume of ODI cricket played around the world nowadays, but no-one has even achieved 800 points since the retirement of Shaun Pollock three years ago.

The leading all-rounder in the world has occupied that position for an even longer stretch than Vettori. Shakib Al Hasan became the first Bangladeshi to rise to number one in any form of the game with bat or ball when he sneaked above Jacob Oram in January 2009. And now – more than two years and 299 matches later – he is still there. It is not difficult to see why. While some of the world’s leading all-rounders have moved down to the table due to retirement, injury or loss of form, Shakib has gone from strength to strength. Since the start of 2009, his 46 ODIs have brought him nearly 1500 runs with three centuries and 72 wickets at less than 25 each with an economy rate of just 4.26 runs per over.

Bangladesh will be relying on him if they are to repeat their successes of the 2007 tournament when they beat India and South Africa, but if he slips up, Australia’s Shane Watson is lurking just behind him, hoping to become the first Australian to top the all-rounders table since Mark Waugh in December 1996.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Year of the Rabbit

The main focus of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings is to determine who the peak performers in world cricket are, be they in Test cricket or in the One Day format of the game. However, as we enter the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, we examine the other end of the scale – the true ‘rabbits’ with the bat – those batsmen who can often be found lurking at number eleven praying they are not required to make it to the crease with a bat in their hands.

Firstly, we need to set some parameters. It is relatively straightforward to discover the players who have achieved the highest number of Ratings points, but how should we judge the lowest? A player who debuts and fails to score has a total of zero points, but that isn’t really a fair way of measuring his lowest point. So we have two points of reference in order to help us discover the true ‘rabbits’ of the world game.

Secondly, it is probably only really fair to limit our investigations to the Test arena. This is due to the fact that in the One Day game, players batting down the order only have a limited amount of time in which to make an impression, and often they fall early on in the quest for quick runs. In addition, they bat far more irregularly than their top-order colleagues.

In order to have a ‘full’ rating, a player has to have batted at least forty times in his career. To date, a total of 551 players have managed this, so more than enough to be getting on with. They range from Sachin Tendulkar with his 290 innings – 51 of which he has converted into centuries – to the fifteen batsman including George Headley and Dilhara Fernando to have batted on exactly forty occasions in their Test careers.

Of these 551 players it will probably come as no surprise to discover the names of the players with the best and worst batting averages. Don Bradman’s average of 99.94 is more than 50% better than anyone else, and at the other end of the spectrum, Chris Martin’s current average of 2.53 is comfortably worse than anyone else. In fact he would need to score 71 in his next innings to edge ahead of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.

Returning to the Ratings, whereas when we look at the high flyers we examine their highest-ever points totals, here we are interested in their lowest points totals, once the player has qualified for a full Rating. So – how do they stack up? Here are the lowest batting Ratings achieved once a player has played the required forty Test innings:

PlayerCountryLow point
Chris MartinNew Zealand22
Fidel EdwardsWest Indies45
Phil TufnellEngland47
Bhagwat ChandrasekharIndia48
Alf ValentineWest Indies53
Danish KaneriaPakistan58
Pedro CollinsWest Indies62
Terry AldermanAustralia62
Devon MalcolmEngland63
Glenn McGrathAustralia63
Corey CollymoreWest Indies64

The first thing that comes to mind is that Chris Martin really is a long way adrift of the rest of the pack. His Rating of 22 came after his 35th Test at which point his batting average stood at precisely two. A recent relative surge of form has seen his points total rocketing up to a career-best 33 – still a fair way adrift of Fidel Edwards in second place.

There are three modern-day West Indian pacemen on this list. Whereas Messrs Holding, Roberts and Garner combined for a total of ten Test fifties, the recent trio of Edwards, Collins and Collymore have never even reached 25 in an innings between them. Comprising one of the greatest tails of all time, all three of them played three Tests against England in 2004. Two of those matches were lost, but they were not required to bat in the third as Brian Lara amassed 400 not out all by himself, more than half the combined career totals of the three tail-enders in their 105 Tests.

The second method of analysing Test cricket’s ‘rabbits’ is to see who has the lowest ‘average’ Rating over the course of their career. This method enables us to include players who have not necessarily acquired the minimum forty innings used in the first method and those who played in the earlier days of Test cricket, when matches were somewhat fewer and farther between.

This now gives us a total of 1134 players who have had at least fifteen innings in Test cricket. Don Bradman’s Rating averaged 855 over the course of his 52 Test matches, but we are not interested in that here. Let’s see who were at the bottom of the pile:

Mohammad AkramPakistan11.44
Cuan McCarthySouth Africa13.00
Pommie MbangwaZimbabwe13.07
Geoff AllottNew Zealand13.10
Rubel HossainBangladesh17.25
Jack SaundersAustralia18.29
Ian SmithSouth Africa19.11
Reon KingWest Indies19.58
Enamul Haque jrBangladesh21.07
Bert IronmongerAustralia22.36

Chris Martin just misses out on the ‘top’ ten, with his average of 23.23. However, if he were to add to his current total of 29 ducks he just might edge his way into the leading pack.

There is perhaps a surprising name at the top. Mohammad Akram played 9 Tests for Pakistan between 1995 and 2000 batting a total of thirteen times. However, in eight of those he failed to score, with his only double-figure effort an undefeated innings of ten against Australia at Perth in November 1999. That kind of batting pedigree meant that his points total never made it out of the teens.

Cuan McCarthy was arguably even worse, although his points tally implies that he batted in slightly more difficult conditions than Akram. He strode to the crease 24 times in his Test career which lasted from 1948 to 1951 and never scored more than five runs in a single innings. He would argue that fifteen of those innings were undefeated so he could have gone on to greater things, but he is a worthy contender for the title of ‘worst Test batsman ever’. The bronze medal goes to medium-pacer-turned-commentator Pommie Mbangwa. His 25 Test innings from 1996 to 2000 included just one innings greater than five, but he did choose Lord’s as the venue for his career-best score of eight!

So, for every Bradman, Hobbs or Lara at the top of the tree, spare a thought for those number 11s who also have to don their pads, gloves and helmets for the good of their team, but with somewhat less success!