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Warne vs Murali – who is better? A statistical comparison

Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan are unarguably the two greatest spinners of the modern era if not the two greatest in cricket history.

Warne, a leg spinner, who spun the ball miles, and who always had the aura that batsmen were out even before facing him.

He excelled first with his flipper, but after a finger injury he gave the flipper up. Instead he developed a variety of straight balls with clever changes of flight, pace, over spin and side spin.

He developed the slider and a zooter (former a over spun straight ball and the latter a back spun straight ball), and took many wickets with it. He was never really a good exponent of the googly, because of his grip. Very good born leader was he, and a thinker, planning dismissals of many batsmen.

Muralitharan, bowls unorthodox wrist spun off breaks, is also a big turner, and easily the biggest spinner ever when it comes to finger spin – or off break bowlers.

In his early years he relied on change of flight and pace and the big of breaks to get wickets for him. In the dawn of the 2000’s, Muralitharan, developed a straight ball, or a top spinner, and by 2003 he developed a doosra, or the off spinners wrong’un / googly.

That’s when his effectiveness increased, and he became the leading bowler of the world surpassing Warne. Currently he is in the process of developing a flipper, or a back spun off break.

How do we compare these two?

Best method will be to let them bowl against a set of batsmen with same support bowlers and fielders. This is not a possible option, and some other method must be developed using current data.

Comparing bowlers across eras is difficult because the game is changing. But for a players who have played in same era can be compared with their stats.

Comparing stats is a tricky subject, because if you torture the stats enough, they will confess to you. What ever the method used should be used with sound reasons to back up the claim.

The comparison

Muralitharan is unfairly accused of playing more against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. But on other hand Warne has played more against England who were poor against spin. To iron out these differences a method is needed to make all the parameters for the bowlers similar.

The main point is that bowlers should be tested in similar conditions. Sri Lankan and Australian conditions differ so much and all home games for these two players can be disregarded.

For the conditions to be fair, the same set of batsmen should be facing. Hence Murali’s matches against Australia and Warne’s matches against SL cannot be used to compare, although this could be added to make it complete.

The next hurdle is that Warne and Murali has played different number of matches against different oppositions, and sent different number of deliveries as well.

In this comparison, we have to allow both of them the same number of deliveries against each opposition.

The second approach is to allow each bowlers the same proportions of deliveries against each opposition. Since the number of deliveries against SL by Warne and that of Murali against AUS is a fixed number.

I adopted the second method. Since Warne has sent more deliveries than Murali his stats are taken as the base values.

Warne has sent down 21288 deliveries against all test teams away from home. He has bowled 14% of them against India and 12.8% of them against New Zealand.

This calculation does not include Sri Lanka as there is no common conditions applied for Murali. Murali has bowled 18067 against all test teams, and 16495 of them excluding Australia.

The standardization will give a share of 2305 deliveries against India for Murali (14% x 16495).

The strike rates and economy rates were used to calculate the number of wickets Murali will take, and runs that he’ll concede during the number of deliveries against each other. Later the composite Average, Strike rate and economy rate were calculated. The following table shows the standardization process.

The standardization process

When looking at the overall results Warne has a better SR and a better Avg than Murali. But these include matches played against AUS and SL which involves different conditions and different batsmen.

If we did have data of how Murali would do against same the SL line up in AUS conditions, and Warne’s performance against an Aussie line up in SL, we could have included them.

Only oppositions that both Warne and Murali played against should be considered. When common oppositions are taken in to account, Muralitharan has a better Average (23.2 vs 24.9), better Strike rate (55.1 vs 56.0) and better Economy (2.5 vs 2.7).

This proves beyond doubt that Murali has not been helped much by playing against weaker teams.

In fact had he been presented with the similar conditions as Warne, his stats would be far better. Considering Murali as the greatest spinner ever is very much helped by these stats.

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