Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Straight as an Elton

Fantasy Bob has just recovered from the slight queasiness induced by the excitement of catching sight of a photograph of the madly grinning Elton John (or Sir Elton John as he is known to his friends) cradling his newly acquired baby alongside his partner.   Sir Elton is a popular musician of the rock genre.

Good luck to them all - long may their present happiness continue.  Sir Elton is beaming with particular beaminess since, at least for now, he has more hair than his infant.  FB hopes that Sir Elton will ensure that little Zach will have cricket coaching as soon as possible alongside the piano lessons and flower arranging.  But if he is dragged along to too many football matches involving Watford FC, FB fears that the authorities may have to intervene.

But this happy event got FB thinking about the concept of straightness.  Not in the context of sexual preference or inclination, but that highly valued quality that bowlers can find elusive.  FB has always prided himself on bowling wicket to wicket.  Indeed so metronomically straight can he be, that any batter with a small bit of gumption can predict where the ball is going to come and take appropriate measures to dispatch it over any boundary he chooses.  Sometimes a bit more unpredictability in line and length can get results - as the career of Ian Terence Botham demonstrated. But straightness is nonetheless a virtue.

If they miss, I hit
FB began to muse on who might be the straightest bowler in the history of the game - again employing the word not in the context of sexual inclination or preference.  Casual recollection of newspaper and other articles suggested to him 3 candidates.  Classic histories of the game say that Thomas Brett (1747-1809) was the 'fastest and straightest of all bowlers'.   Sadly, there is no footage of his action available on YouTube.  Similar journalistic claims are made for Brian Statham, alleged originator of the great motto "If they miss, I hit".   More recently, many reviews of Sean Pollock's career when he retired in 2008 extolled his straightness.

How can we judge these claims?  FB thought some evidence might help.  He therefore reviewed the records of all Test bowlers according to how they took their wickets.  Sadly this means Brett's claim cannot be evaluated, so he must remain among the mythical figures of the game.

The straightest?
FB looked at the number of times bowlers have bowled batsmen - a pretty good indicator of a good line you might think.  On this measure, the records suggest that the old timers bowled straighter.  One Tom Richardson who played 14 Tests for England between 1893-98 took 54 of his 88 wickets bowled - 61.36%.  Sadly Richardson's career was shortened by drink and weight problems and he died at the age of 41.  Nevertheless Cardus nominated him as one of the 6 cricketers of the Wisden century.  Fred Spofforth, the demon bowler himself (Aus 1887-97),  got 50 bowled in his 94 wickets - 53.19%.

Coming a bit more up to date, there is Ray Lindwall, 228 wickets, 97 of which were bowled - 42.54%; and Brian Statham, 252 wickets, 102 bowled - 40.47%.  Sean Pollock is way behind - 421 wickets but only 59 bowled, a trivial 14.01%.

What about adding in LBW?  Terry Alderman has the highest LBW quota - 58 out of 170 dismissals - 34.11% (this would come as no surprise to Graham Gooch who was the victim on a fair number of these).  But of the contenders above, only Pollock has more than 50 LBWs (the cut off in the published archive) - 90 in fact.  So together bowled and LBW give him 149 of his wickets, 35.39%.  Not enough.
Lindwall -
one of the truly
great bowling actions

But other contenders come into view when the two dismissal methods are taken together.  Waqar Younis and his inswinging yorker has 110 LBWs and 102 bowled out of 373 - 56.84%; Wasim Akram 119 LBWs and 102 bowled out of 414 - 53.38%.

So what do we conclude?  No one is straighter than Richardson and Cardus called it right?  In more modern times though, the long standing claim of Statham may not be too far away.  To top Waqar's aggregate he would need to have 42 LBWs.  Lindwall would need 33.  Both are entirely possible.  Some statistician somewhere may already be doing the necessary.

But what about Fantasy Bob?  Last season he took 19 wickets for Carlton 4th and Sunday XIs.  Of these, 12 were bowled or LBW (itself a miracle decision in lower league cricket).  63.15%  Step aside Tom Richardson!

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