Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Murali was the greatest bowler ever, without question

I would argue that - whatever people may say about it, and leaving aside considerations such as personality or entertainment value - Murali was the greatest ever bowler.

The evidence is that:

1. We have to assume that standards in sport are rising all the time, so that recent sports people are better than those of previous generations. This applies to all sports with objective measurements (running, jumping,, throwing etc), and we must assume it applies to competitive sports.

2. The most valuable bowler is a great spinner. Because a spinner can bowl more time and more overs than a quick bowler, as and when required.

3. Murali is the greatest spinner of the most recent generation. His main rival was Shane Warne, and Murali outperfomed Warne.

I did the folowing analysis in 2008, before Murali's recent decline, which was published as a letter in Wisden monthly.

v England: Murali 7.15 wickets per match @ 19.74; Warne 5.41 wickets per match @ 23.25;

v South Africa: Murali 6.93 wickets per match @ 22.22; Warne 5.42 wickets per match @ 24.16;

v India Murali 4.47 wickets per match @ 32.47; Warne 3.07 wickets per match @ 47.18;

v Pakistan: Murali 5.64 wickets per match @ 23.31; Warne 6.00 wickets per match @ 20.17.

Warne out-performs Murali against Pakistan, but Murali dominates Warne against the other three major test teams.

I would particularly highlight Murali against England - considering that Warne was always considered to bowl especially well against England, yet he was totally out-perfomed by Murali; and Murali's superb performances against India - in an era when India had the second-best batting in the world.

(India were second only to Australia, against whom Murali still managed to take a very impressive 4.5 wickets per match although at a modest average of 36 - sadly we will never know the comparison of how Warne would have performed against Australia.)

I lay considerable stress on the statistic of the number of wickets a bowler takes per match as a measure of how much a bowler contributes as an individual to test victories. In this respect Murali ranks very high throughout history - with only SF Barnes scoring significantly higher than Murali's 6 test wickets per match - and over a much smaller number of matches than Murali.

And of course Murali's basic statistic is that he has taken more test wickets than anyone else ever - which reflects that Murali's incomparably high value to his team over many years.

Murali therefore is the most recent bowler who made the largest contribution to his team (both in sheer volume and also per match) - and he therefore deserves the accolade of 'the greatest ever'.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The perfect wrist-spin bowler

The perfect wrist spinner would be equally effective against left and right handed batters.

This means that they should have two stock deliveries - a leg-break for use against right anders and a googly/ wrong-un for use against left-handers.

To be effective, a spinner needs a good, sharply pun and accurate stock delivery and a well-disguised variation - either a straight ball or one that turns in the opposite direction. Both alternatives seem equally effective, so long as they are well disguised.

(e.g. for most of his career, Shane Warne had a leg-break plus a variety of well-disguised straight balls - he could not use the googly in the second half of his career due to a shoulder injury. The best current spinner, Graeme Swann, has an off-break and a straight-on undercut spinner - or gyro-ball!).

However, and this is the key, the stock delivery to the right and left hander might be bowled with a completely different action. This would not matter - so long as the variation was well disguised with respect to the stock delivery being used.

So that the leg-break for use against right handed batters might have a moderately round-arm delivery (like Warne’s) but the googly/ wrong-un for use against left handers might have a high arm delivery (more like Kumble and Mushtaq Ahmed - who bowled the googly as their stock delivery - pretty much).

The round-arm leg break for right handers might have a straight ball as its main variation (e.g. a top-spinner, a slider, or a flipper - as Warne used) - while the googly for left handers might have a leg-break as its main variation (as Kumble used).

My hunch is that having a completely different action against right and left handers might enable bowlers to develop better stock deliveries, and become equally effective against both right and left handers - which is very rare.

By becoming two bowlers in one, one might become the perfect wrist spin bowler.

The circle change-up for fast bowlers?

I wonder whether any cricket bowlers have tried using the same grip as baseball pitchers use for their 'circle change-up' pitch?

This article tells how to do it: http://www.helium.com/items/1153498-how-to-throw-a-circle-change-up - in a nutshell, the ball is gripped such that the index finger and thumb make a circle down the side of the ball, and the middle finger is vertically on top of the ball. http://www.ehow.com/how_5605037_throw-circle-changeup.html

If it worked for right hand fast bowlers in the same way it does for baseball pitchers, the circle change-up would be a surprise slow delivery (bowled with full effort, and the normal bowling action, but coming-out about 15-20 mph slower than the fast delivery) that would swing-in to the right handed batter.

Presumably it would be a way of bowling a hard-to-read slow in-swinging yorker.

Another way of thinking about it is that the delivery should curve-in and drop-shorter than expected - almost exactly like a sharply spun leg-break does before pitching (think Shane Warne).

Apparently, the grip is relatively easy to master - so it might be worth a try.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why so few medium pace bowlers?

Test match and other international bowlers nowadays are essentially fast or slow - that is they bowl a stock delivery at about 50-55 mph or 80-90 mph (i.e. fast-medium to fast).

Why are there so few (none at all?) medium paced frontline international quality bowlers with a stock delivery of 65-75 mph?

The reason is perhaps that in spinning the ball, bowlers put at least 15 mph of 'work' on to the ball in imparting enery to spin it. In other word, they reduce the pace by about 15 mph and instead put that energy into rotating the ball.

This can be seen from observing that a spinners 'quick' (non-spinning) delivery is typically about 65-70 mph (I suspect that spin bowlers with a fast delivery of 75 mph or more are likely to be throwing); while a right handed fast bowlers spinning 'off-cutter' is typically about 65-75 mph.

The faster a bowler's 'arm' the better for a bowler, since it is mostly the arm speed which imparts energy.

So it can be seen that a bowler with a fast arm will naturally tend to bowl fast - and it is natural and more straightforward that a bowler who can propel the ball at 80 plus mph will do so as a stock delivery, rather than bowling cutters at 70 mph.

And if a bowler is naturally a 70 mph medium pacer, and given that (at first class level a 70 mph non-spinning delivery is innocuous) it makes sense to impart as much spin to the ball as possible - turning oneself into a 55 mph spinner.

So, it can be seen that a top-notch medium pacer would need to be someone who has a fast arm and would naturally be a fast-medium or fast bowler deliberately choosing to reduce their pace through the air in order to impart spin.

I suggest that this was very likely to have applied to 'the greatest' British bowler of all time: SF Barnes - whose stock delivery seems to have been a medium paced leg-spinner.

I would guess that Barnes was naturally a right arm fast-medium bowler with a fast arm, but that he was able (and chose) to bowl a finger-flick delivery as stock - using his ring finger to flick the ball anticlockwise from the front of his hand, with a normal off cutter as his main variation.

If there are ever to be international front line medium pacers again, I would predict that they will come from quickies, with a quick arm, deliberately sacrificing some of their speed to generate spin. Like Barnes they would therefore be fast seam or swing bowlers in their simple basic action, but in imparting rotation to the ball would end-up as medium-paced front-of-hand spinners.