Sunday, August 28, 2011

Most Valuable Players in Tests

Over the past few weeks, I have been developing a way to determine the value of a player to his team. By value, I refer to a player's importance to runs his team scores or concedes and the wickets his team takes. In this introductory post, I will explain how the determination of the MVP works, and focus on bowlers. At the outset, the "value" of a player is not the same as the "quality" of a player.

It was originally my intention to be able to provide a single statistic to represent the value of a player. However, since bowling works differently from batting, the value of a bowler is a collection of statistics. The new statistic that i wish to introduce is quite simple. I am currently calling it "Performance", and it is calculated as follows:

A bowler's performance in a Test Match =
(Wkts taken by bowler)*(Cost of each wicket taken by his team) - (Runs Conceded by Bowler)

A batsman's performance in a Test Match =
Runs Scored by Batsman - (Number of times the batsman was dismissed)*(Cost of each wicket for his team while batting)

For example, in the recently concluded Oval Test which India lost by an innings, Rahul Dravid made 146 not out and 13, a total of 159 runs for 1 dismissal, while India made 583 runs for 20 wickets. Dravid's Performance as batsman for the Oval Test is 129.85. In the same match, Tendulkar made 23 and 91, a total of 114 runs for 2 dismissals. His batting performance comes to 55.70. Over their respective careers, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid have performance scores of 27.88 and 22.63 respectively. Sunil Gavaskar's performance score at the end of his career was 23.76. I will publish the scores for batsmen in a separate post.

This statistic takes into consideration only those Tests in which both teams take at least one wicket. A bowler's career Performance is the average of his performance for each match.

The basic difference between batsmen and bowlers in Tests, is that all 11 players bat, but only 4 or 5 bowl. They also perform very different roles. According the rules of Test Cricket, batsmen can only prevent games from being lost. Bowlers on the other hand, can force victories.

In this post, I will concentrate on the bowling statistics. In addition to the usual bowling average and wicket aggregate, I look at a player's bowling Performance, his share of the bowling workload, and the difference between his bowling average and his teams bowling average in matches that he has bowled in.

The tables below show all bowlers who have taken at least 75 Test wickets. Here is a brief explanation of each column.

Player: Name of the Player
Workload: The player's share of his team's bowling over his career. For example, Muralitharan has bowled 33% of Sri Lanka's Overs in Tests during his career, while Kapil Dev bowled 20% of India's Overs.
Wkts: Wickets taken by the bowler. Tests played for the ICC World XI have been excluded.
TCR: 'Team Cumulative Runs' is the number of runs conceded by a player's team in test matches that the player bowled in.
TCW: 'Team Cumulative Wickets' is the number of wickets taken by a player's team in test matches that the played bowled in.
Team R/W: This is the cost in runs of each wicket taken by a bowler's team.
Mat.: The number of matches that the player has bowled in
Bowl P.: The players bowling performance. A higher score is better.
R Conc.: Runs conceded by a player in his Test bowling career.
Bowl. Ave.: A player's Test bowling average
Team Ave. - Bowl. Ave.: The difference the cost of the player's wickets and his team's wickets in matches played by the player.

Here is an example of how this table should be read. Richard Hadlee took 431 Test wickets at 22.3 runs per wicket. In Tests that he played in, New Zealand conceded on average 32.05 runs per wicket (including Hadlee). Hadlee's wickets cost 9.75 runs less than his team's. His Performance score is 43.11, which is the highest amongst fast bowlers and second best to Muralitharan.

These are intended as descriptive statistics. Unlike the bowling average, "Performance" takes into account when a bowler took his wickets. For example, a player taking 8/90 in a match where 20 wickets were taken by his team for 400 runs (20 runs/wicket), would have a score of +70. But a bowler taking 10/150 in a match where 20 wickets were taken by his team for 600 runs (30 runs/wicket) would have a score of +150, even though the first bowler would have a bowling average of 11.25, while the second bowler would have a bowling average of 15.

Perhaps the most telling example is that of Shane Warne. Warne was a great bowler, a master of a difficult and eccentric art. In figures, his record is phenomenal. 708 wickets at 25.42 in 145 Tests. But his bowling 'Performance' is only 6.61, and his bowling average is only 1.97 better than his teams. This speaks to the limitations of spin bowling and leg spin bowling in particular in Test Cricket. Warne's numbers in this chart should not be read as a commentary on his quality. They are an indication of the wealth of talent at Australia's disposal in Warne's era. Australia having Warne, was a little bit like the owner of a great art collection owning a major work by Picasso.

Warne's great contemporary Glenn McGrath on the other hand, had a 'Performance' score of 16.96. McGrath took 563 Test wickets at 21.64. Jason Gillespie's (259 wickets at 26.14) 'Performance' score is 5.95.

Another illustrative comparison is between Waqar Younis (373 wickets at 23.56) and Dale Steyn (238 wickets at 23.22). Waqar bowled in a much stronger bowling attack (at various times including Imran, Akram, Qadir, Saqlain, Mushtaq and Shoaib) and in the Tests that he played in, Pakistan conceded on average 28 runs per wicket. The corresponding figure South Africa with Steyn is 31.6. Steyn's superior strike rate (40 compared to Waqar's 44) and shallower support bowling, mean that his value for South Africa is 36.58, while Waqar's value to Pakistan was 16.43. When Donald played, South Africa took their wickets at 27.2, and Donald, who took his 330 wickets at 22.25, had a performance score of 19.39.

This method can also be applied to phases of individual player's careers, as well as various opponents. For example, Warne's value to Australia in the Ashes is 19. Against India it is -47, while against West Indies it is -14.

Zaheer Khan's 273 Test wickets have come at 31.78, and a performance score of 9.2. His first 42 Tests (until early 2006 when he was dropped) brought him 121 wickets at 36.3. In these games, India took their wickets at 35.00. His Performance score over those 42 Tests were -9.2. Since his return in November 2006, 37 Tests have brought him 152 wickets at 28.14. India have conceded 34.6 runs per wicket during this time. Zaheer's Performance score over these 37 Tests is 27.8!

India's most valuable bowler in Tests was Subhash Gupte who took 149 wickets at 29.5 in games where India conceded 37 runs per wicket. Gary Sobers thought he was the best leg spinner he had faced (and Sobers faced Benaud quite a bit).

Do have a look at the charts. I hope you have as much fun remembering teams and bowlers as I have. I will post the batting charts soon. Please leave a comment if you have criticisms, suggestions or observations, or even if you saw something that surprised you in these figures.

The tables have been sorted by career wickets in descending order. All Test players who have taken at least 75 Test wickets feature in these tables. Here is Cricinfo's table of top Test wicket takers.

My hope is to encourage you to look at four figures - Workload, Bowl P and the final column on the right - Team Ave - Bowl Ave. to get a well rounded view of a bowler's value to his team. This will hopefully paint a multi-dimensional picture.

For players with 250 - 800 Test wickets
For players with 150 - 249 Test wickets
For players with 125 - 149 Test wickets
For players with 100 - 124 Test wickets
For bowlers with 75 - 99 Test wickets


  1. Thats great! but the inclusion of team's performance brings a player's value down. Andy flower was a good player but his bad team would bring his performance down.

  2. Vaibhav,
    In fact, it does the exact opposite. You will see this when I post the batting charts.

  3. I found the methodology to be refreshingly different from other charts of this type to come out and loved it. However, one thing in particular didn't seem to gel. I may have got it wrong, but what I understood was that for batsmen, you're calculating 'Performances' from each match and then averaging over a career. And for bowlers, you're just taking the career figures. Wouldn't it be better to do the same for bowlers - i.e. take each match 'Performance' and average it over each career?

  4. Could you perhaps sort on the bowling performance stat when you upload the tables? Or, just upload downloadable copies of the tables?

    A more general query from a fellow datahead, do you manually enter the stats off of Cricinfo (or a similar site) or were you able to obtain access to manipulable databases?

    Nice work.

  5. Saurabh,
    Both batting and bowling figures for Performance are computed for each game and then averaged over a players career.

    Manually :)
    I'll try and work out a way to publish a sortable table.

  6. Very pleased to see Muhammad Asif's P at 26, shows that he was carrying the bowling alone since Sami's P is -33 and that of Gul is perhaps zero.