Such is the magnificence of the record of Sir Donald Bradman, that it breeds its own adjective: ‘Bradmanesque’, a word always applied to batsmen. In an attempt to define it, I extracted the best 80-innings stretches in the careers of top batsmen in a previous post on Cricingif.
Can there be a similar yardstick for bowlers? This two part article now looks at similar streaks for Test bowlers, through two different metrics.
In terms of average, the unanimous choice is George Lohmann, with 10.75 runs per wicket, his medium pace coupled with movement off the seam and clever variations resulting in 112 Test wickets over a short career of 36 innings. Seems like a fitting counterpart to Bradman’s 99.94.
Lohmann holds the lowest lifetime Test bowling average
Let’s go on and look at the best 36-innings streaks with the lowest average:
Table 1: Best 36-innings streaks by bowling average
The list is topped by Johnny Briggs, a left-arm finger spinner whose most famous feat was a miserly spell of 5/29 in 34 overs against Australia in 1886 at Lord’s, bundling them out for 121. His streak includes match figures of a devastating 15/38 at Cape Town in 1888 that gave the South Africans defeat by an innings and 202 runs, a 12/136 in Adelaide against Australia in 1892. Test matches were scarce in those days, and the covered ten-year streak overlaps with a glorious 14 years, which brought him 2034 first-class wickets at less than 16 apiece.
The second man on the list is Imran Khan, taking 119 wickets at 14.41 from November 1981 to March 1986, which included his career best 8/58 against Sri Lanka at Lahore, a game in which he also put on a crucial century partnership with Zaheer Abbas to orchestrate an innings win. At Edgbaston in 1982 he scythed through the English batting, taking 7/52 as captain, and gobbling up Gower, Botham and Tavare in a spell of fierce fast bowling. With an 8/60 at Karachi, he was instrumental in Pakistan’s biggest win over archrivals India. Moreover, he maintained an average of 14 in a more modern era, with faster scoring, compared to his companions at the top of the list.
Imran Khan shines the ball
What is more remarkable is a look at Imran’s batting in the same period: an average of 44.45, with six fifties and a ton, five fifties away from home, including an 83 and a 72* at Melbourne in the Boxing Day Test of 1983. Perhaps the greatest all-round streak ever?
Imran Khan's all-round performance from 1981 to 1986 is perhaps the best ever
Jim Laker’s presence on the list is a testament to his economy: he had only 97 wickets in that streak, including the famous 19/90 performance at Manchester and a 6/55 in 41 overs in the same Ashes of 1956. Similar is the case of Tony Lock, who follows him: just 81 wickets, low by the standards of the table, with his economy rate almost never going above two over these 36 innings.
Jim Laker walks back after taking all ten wickets, England v Australia, 4th Test, Old Trafford, 5th day, July 31, 1956
Sydney Barnes has far from the lowest average, but has taken 148 wickets, with a five-wicket haul more often than every other innings, and four victims on average every innings. As captain, would you prefer the stingy Laker and Lock, or the impact of Barnes, for about one run more per dismissal? After all, Test cricket is a game of taking twenty wickets. It is natural that the sheer ability to strike should be valued at an even pedestal, if not higher.
Sydney Barnes demonstrates his bowling action
In the next part of this article, which will seek to measure the best bowling streaks by exactly this number: the wickets taken per innings, to see who were the best bowlers in terms of pure wicket-taking value.