Over the coming Australian summer, Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralidaran is expected to overtake Australian spinner Shane Warne as the highest wicket-taker in the history of test cricket. But who has been the better bowler? Let’s take a look at their respective records:
Warne – 145 tests, 708 wickets at 25.42 runs per wicket, 57.49 balls per wicket, 2.65 runs per over, 37 times taken five wickets in an innings, 10 times taken ten wickets in a match.
Muralidaran – 114 tests, 702 wickets at 21.36 runs per wicket, 53.45 balls per wicket, 2.40 runs per over, 60 times taken five wickets in an innings, 20 times taken ten wickets in a match.
On the face of it, Murali’s figures are more impressive. However, a common charge against Murali’s record is that, unlike Warne, he has taken a lot of his wickets against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, both of whom are relatively easy pickings for a half-decent trundler. Muralidaran has taken 163 wickets in 23 matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, while Warnie has taken 17 wickets in a paltry 3 matches against the minnows. Hence, the argument goes, Warne’s career figures are more impressive than they first appear.
But are they? To answer this, let’s adjust Murali’s figures so that he has played the same amount of Tests against each nation as Warnie has. For example, Murali’s career wickets would be the sum over all opponents of the number of wickets Murali has taken against that opponent times the ratio of the number of tests Warne has played against that opponent to the number of tests Murali has played against that opponent. Murali’s adjusted figures are as follows:
Muralidaran adjusted – 144 tests*, 903 wickets at 21.86 runs per wicket, 55.50 balls per wicket, 2.36 runs per over, 75 times taken five wickets in an innings, 29 times taken ten wickets in a match.
*Warne played 1 test against the ICC World XI.
So Murali still appears to come out ahead; the only difference now being that Warne has bowled to the Sri Lankan batting line-up, while Murali has faced the mighty Australian batting line-up (which makes Murali’s figures more impressive). While Murali’s figures have been helped by playing more often against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, he has also performed well against the nations that Warne played a lot of cricket against, including England, South Africa, New Zealand and the West Indies.
So what hope is left for Warnie-boosters? Well, leaving aside any arguments about the legality of Murali’s bowling action, the main argument would seem to be that Warne’s figures were adversely affected by being surrounded by better bowlers than Murali. It could be that when there were easy wickets to be had, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie gobbled up most of them before Warne could get a go, but when the going got tough, it was left to Warne to be belted around the park before getting the breakthrough. My guess is that will not make the difference, but I’m ready to be proven otherwise. At least Warne can always say that he won more matches.