Warne: The Hidden Stats


Charles Davis

12 September 2007


Shane Warne’s potential was recognised very early by selectors. So much so, that he had almost no track record to speak of. Prior to his Test debut, Warne had taken only 26 first-class wickets, just 15 of them in Australia. In the last 100 years, only one  bowler has won Test selection at home with fewer first-class wickets in Australia. That one, John Watkins (10 first-class wickets prior to Test debut in 1973) was one of the greatest selectorial disasters ever; after his one and only Test, he never played first-class cricket in Australia again.


The story of Warne’s early struggles has often been told. His bowling average peaked, briefly, at 346, the worst average ever suffered by any Australian bowler, ahead of Ian Chappell, who once endured an average of 267.


Contrary to legend, Warne did not really turn the corner with his spell of 3 for 0 against Sri Lanka. He took no wickets in his next Test and became a fringe selection; his average still exceeded 100 before his breakthrough 7 for 52 at the MCG against the West Indies in 1992/93.


From that point, Warne became a phenomenon, taking 203 wickets at 22.1 in his next 40 Tests, until a finger operation interrupted his career in 1996.


Though still a potential match-winner, Warne was not quite the same bowler when he returned. In 40 Tests from late 1996 to 2000, interrupted again by a shoulder operation in 1998, he took 159 wickets at 29.2.


Eventually,  Warne began to make up for the technical limits imposed by injury through smarter and more mature bowling. After recovering from a broken finger and a knee operation in 2000, he then took 125 wickets at 25.0 in his next 23 Tests, before a drug misdemeanour sidelined him again.


The final phase of his career came when he returned from suspension in 2004, reinforcing his place among the great bowlers with 211 wickets in 37 Tests at 25.1. However, his last year, 2006, showed indications of fading powers, with his average rising above 30.


Warne’s Test Milestones




RJ Shastri


Sydney (SCG)


BM McMillan


Adelaide Oval




Perth (WACA)


JH Kallis


Sydney (SCG)


AJ Stewart




HP Tillakaratne




ME Trescothick




SJ Harmison


Melbourne (MCG)


A Flintoff


Sydney (SCG)

Not including World XI match. It is a pity that Warne’s 700th wicket in “real “ Tests, taken on the last day of his last Test on his home ground, in front of 80,000 people, went largely unnoticed.



Warne won 17 Man of the Match awards in Tests, an Australian record, ahead of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting on 14, but one short of Mutiah Muralitharan’s leading mark. Warne also is the leading Australian with eight Player-of-the-Series awards, ahead of Waugh with six, but Murali once again leads with eleven.


Warne has been hit for six at least 158 times in his Test career (there are possibly a handful of others not identified), more than any other bowler in history, and more than three times more than any other Australian (MacGill, 46). The most successful batsman in this regards has been Kevin Pietersen, with ten sixes off Warne. Craig MacMillan and Chris Cairns of New Zealand both hit seven.


Pietersen has also scored 307 runs off Warne’s bowling, the most for any batsman from 1999 to 2007. He averaged 61.4 off Shane’s bowling.


Perhaps Warne’s most extraordinary bowling sequence was 5 for 5 off 22 balls against South Africa at the SCG in 1993/94. And it wasn’t a case of “running through the tail”; his victims included, Jonty Rhodes, Gary Kirsten and Kepler Wessels.


The most runs off a Warne over came late in his career: 21 including two legbyes (0,6,6,2lb,6,1)

 by Mohammad Rafique of Bangladesh at Chittagong in 2005/06.


Another oddity of Warne’s career is that success on his home ground has been surprisingly limited. In senior cricket of all kinds, barely ten per cent of Warne’s 1,700-plus wickets have been taken on the MCG. Warne has never taken ten wickets in a first-class match on the MCG, and his name will not be found on a list of the 100 best (first-class) bowling performances at the ground. Warne has a weaker record in Tests at the MCG than in Sydney, Brisbane or Adelaide, or in Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and South Africa.


Even in cricket statistics, fashions can change. In 2005, when Shane Warne passed Dennis Lillee’s peak of 85 Test wickets in a calendar year, going on to a record 90 wickets (plus six in the World XI match), it was a major feature of newspaper and website reports. But when Lillee set his mark in 1981, nobody noticed, and the record went unremarked in the major publications of the day.


Warne actually took 96 wickets (102 including the World XI) in 273 days from  21st July 2005 to 20th April 2006, his best over any period of less than 365 days. Only Muralitharan has done better, with 113 wickets in the 365 days to 23rd July 2002.


Brian Lara once went for more than eight years (1997 to 2005) without being dismissed by Shane Warne in a Test. Lara was also undismissed by Mutiah Muralitharan from 1997 to 2001.


Not one of the 120 batsmen dismissed by Warne from November 2002 to October 2004 had scored a century. The average score of all batsmen dismissed by Warne is 23.6.


Like most spinners, Warne took a lot of wickets among the lower order. Some 37.1% of his wickets came at #8-11 in the batting order. Among bowlers with more than 150 wickets, only Harbhajan Singh (38.7%) and Stuart MacGill (38.9%) have higher percentages. One reason modern Australian bowlers have high percentages is that they bowl their opposition out, and therefore bowl to tailenders, more often than most teams in history. Spin bowlers also tend to do less bowling to top order players than pace bowlers, especially when those batsmen are failing.


Warne’s batting order Test dismissals

























Warne’s longest Test bowling spell was 41 overs back in his youth, at Old Trafford in 1993. He bowled 37-over spells against Pakistan at Bellerive in 1999 and against South Africa at Cape Town in 2002, part of his 70 overs in that innings.


Warne dismissed 236 different batsmen during his Test career, including Alec Stewart 14 times. Ashwell Prince and Nasser Hussain fell eleven times, and Mike Atherton ten times.


About 23.2% of Warne’s dismissals were of left-handers. This is very similar to the proportion of left-handed batsmen overall, in Tests against Australia since 1991 (22.7%).


Warne’s 40 wickets in the 2005 Ashes series was the most by any bowler for a losing side in a 5-Test series.


During his career, Warne was on the winning side 91 times (plus the World XI match), or 63% of his Tests, with 26 losses. When Warne took 5-wicket hauls, the Australians won 75% of their Tests, but when Warne was absent, Australia’s winning percentage dropped to 56%. The effect of Warne’s absence was greatly magnified if Glenn McGrath was also absent from the team. Australia never once lost an Ashes Test with both Warne and McGrath playing. In their last 41 Tests together, Warne and McGrath lost only once, to South Africa in 2002 (Durban). Their last loss together in a home Test was in 1996/97 (v West Indies at Perth).




Over the last ten years, Australia’s bowling average when both Warne and McGrath were playing was 25.9. When both were absent, the team bowling average rose to 42.7 (ignoring Tests v Zimbabwe).


Warne’s last ball in Test cricket was hit to the boundary by Steve Harmison.


Shane Warne’s last Test may have been unremarkable with the ball, but in his 145th (or 144th) match, he did manage a personal batting first: it was the first time that he had made the highest individual innings (71) for Australia in a completed Test. He had previously top scored for Australia in a drawn Test, when he scored 99 against New Zealand in Perth in 2002. Warne preferred batting in Australia: eight of his twelve half-centuries were scored at home, and his average was 19.2 at home vs 15.9 away.


It is well-known that Warne is the only player to score over 3,000 Test runs without a century. Less well-known is another Warne batting ‘distinction’: he faced, on average, 29.4 balls per dismissal in Tests, the shortest average innings length for any player, with more than 2000 Test runs, in history. Next on the list is Kapil Dev, 31 balls per dismissal.


A puzzle from Warne’s career: his performances were often mediocre whenever he was teamed with Stuart MacGill. In their Tests together, Warne took 74 wickets at 29.6, while MacGill took 86 wickets at 22.1. MacGill outperformed Warne in eleven of their 16 matches together (including the World XI match). Warne’s returns were inferior to his career as a whole, even though they were selected as a pair only when conditions supposedly favoured spin. By contrast, MacGill’s bowling average when not paired with Warne balloons out from 22 to over 30.


Although Warne went wicketless in eight times in Tests, the last occasion was in early 2000, and he took at least one wicket in each of his last 63 Tests.


A study of catches in Tests from 2001 to 2005 found reference to 15 dropped catches by Shane Warne. He took 46 catches over the same period. His drop rate of around 25% was typical for Test cricket, although a little higher than Australia’s average of 21%. As a bowler, about 21% of the chances off Shane’s bowling were dropped.


Warne vs Murali

Parallel careers, starting within months of each other, invite comparisons  of the two great spinners. However, genuine comparison is complicated by the fact that the two bowlers played in a very different mix of locations, against different varieties of opponents. Murali has played a much higher proportion of his Tests at home, and does better at home than away, while Warne, oddly enough, has better away figures than in Australia.


By most core statistical measures, Murali has had the more outstanding career; he beats Warne, by a decisive margin, on both bowling average and wickets per match. Murali has, of course, many more five-wicket and 10-wicket hauls, partly thanks to the fact that he has fewer top-class colleagues to share the wickets with. It is intriguing that the two bowlers are almost equal on three-wicket innings hauls, but Murali has a huge lead in five-wicket hauls (60 to 37).


One useful alternative comparison is to look at their performances under “neutral” but competitive conditions – that is, excluding all Tests in Sri Lanka or Australia, while ignoring Tests involving Zimbabwe, Bangladesh or World XI. Curiously, Murali has played only 37 Tests that qualify (out of 113), while Shane played 64.


Murali still has the edge here: he leads by 23.7 to 25.4 on bowling average, and 5.9 to 5.1 on wickets per match. There is still a difference, but not so clear cut.



Charles Davis

12 September 2007