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Waqar Younis: Like lightning - A statistical analysis of the King of Reverse Swing


A Stats analysis of Waqar Younis' bowling numbers in Tests and ODIs.

2nd Test Match  -  England v Pakistan : News Photo
Waqar Younis is considered one of the greats of modern day fast bowling

Since the resumption of cricket post-World War II, spinners dominated the bowling scene. Jim Laker, Tony Lock, Richie Benaud, Sonny Ramadhin, Alf Valentine, Subhash Gupte, Lance Gibbs and Bishen Bedi were some of the most miserly exponents of that art, perplexing batsmen with their variations the world over.

But the scene changed in the 1970s, Australia broke the spin formula and in the form of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson had a pair of fast bowlers who were intimidators as much as they were wicket takers.  The 1974/75 Ashes and Frank Worrell Trophy 1975/76 were the most brutal examples of fast bowlers ripping through the opposition. The Australian match atmosphere (a jeering crowd, on field sledging) only added to the aura the fast bowling combination of Lillee and Thommo carried.

This tradition was carried forward by the West Indies, which relied almost entirely on a four-pronged pace attack throughout the 1980s and stamped itself as the most overwhelmingly dominating test side since Don Bradman’s Invincibles of 1948.  The blows endured by Brian Close, Mohinder Amarnath, Mike Gatting, Graeme Wood, Robin Smith (to name a few) were a telling definition of the reputation that fast bowlers carried in that era.

Waqar Younis only helped further this reputation when he smacked Sachin Tendulkar on the jaw at Sialkot in 1989 as India was holding on to draw a historic Test series in Pakistan. A bowler of raw pace, back in 1992, Waqar Younis was a subject of much interest to purists the world over, amazed at the phenomenon of reverse swing as they were at its legality.

Waqar was an innovator with the ball and an artist who made it walk and talk like few have ever done. He, along with Wasim Akram was instrumental in making Pakistan one of the most competitive sides of the 1990s (W/L ratio of 1.52 was the third best in that decade after Australia and South Africa, and second best after the 1980s)

Test Matches

Waqar Younis was at his peak as a Test match bowler between 15 Nov 1989 and 28 Sep 1994. During this period, he was undoubtedly the most prolific wicket-taker in the world, taking 187 wickets in 32 matches; 20 wickets more than the second placed Wasim Akram, in almost the same number of matches. Waqar took an astonishing 5.8 wickets per match, comfortably ahead of Wasim (5.4) and Ambrose (5.15).

But what’s most amazing about these statistics is Waqar’s unbelievable consistency of bagging wickets by the handful. Waqar was talking a 5-for once every 3 innings, which is way ahead of Wasim (4.3) and Ambrose (5.8). Waqar’s average is only behind Curtly Ambrose (18.71) while his strike rate of 35.4 is clearly ahead of the next placed Wasim Akram (46.6).

Table 1: Top Bowlers in Test Matches (15 Nov 1989-28 Sep 1994)

Waqar Younis3218718.8535.4194
Wasim Akram3116720.4646.6132
Curtly Ambrose3115918.7151103
Merv Hughes3615825.9954.940
Craig Mcdermott3415126.2155.462
Shane Warne2712423.6267.461
Danny Morrison2710332.7859.170
Courtney Walsh3110028.6665.720
Phil DeFreitas269927.5859.130
Devon Malcolm279733.736152

During this period, Waqar was also the highest wicket-taker in wins, taking 123 wickets in 15 matches with a jaw-dropping WPM (Wickets-per Match) ratio of 8.2. Curtly Ambrose (98) and Wasim Akram (92) are the next placed bowlers again. His average and strike rate are the best of the lot too.

Waqar also took 13 of his 22 5-fors in these 15 matches. Such a skewed concentration of wickets may show that Waqar peaked very early but while he did, he stood head and shoulders above the others.

Table 2: Most Wickets in Wins (15 Nov 1989 – 28 Sep 1994) – (Qual – Min 50 Wickets)

Waqar Younis1512314.4628.8134
Curtly Ambrose159814.9842.373
Wasim Akram139215.6736.671
Merv Hughes178022.6552.610
Craig McDermott157422.951.842
Shane Warne126919.8559.830
Anil Kumble85519.3650.341
Courtney Walsh145424.2754.400

During his career, Waqar was amongst the most formidable wicket takers in winning causes. His tally of 222 wickets is bettered only by Glenn Mcgrath (297) and Muttiah Muralidaran (236). His average is also an impressive 18.20, and only Ambrose, Murali, Donald, Kumble and Wasim have a better average but the numbers are packed closely.

2nd Test Match  -  England v Pakistan : News Photo
A common sight after a Waqar Younis delivery

One thing that stands out for Waqar yet again is his strike rate, which is better than any bowler who took more than 100 wickets in matches won during his career span. Incidentally, Waqar’s strike rate of 43.4 is the second best in the history of cricket (After Dale Steyn) if the cut off is taken at 200 wickets and the fourth best when the cut-off is reduced to 100 wickets.

Table 3: Most Wickets in Wins (15 Nov 1989 – 2 Jan 2003) (Qual – Min 100 Wickets)

Curtly Ambrose3318415.1941.9123
Muttiah Muralitharan2923616.2046.22210
Allan Donald3318716.7935.5143
Shaun Pollock3416617.1945.391
Anil Kumble2317017.3445.2123
Wasim Akram3318818.1941.6122
Waqar Younis3922218.2035.0144

One of Waqar’s (and Wasim’s) outstanding ability was to ball Yorker/full-length balls at high speed which resulted in him taking a lot of wickets in the form of a bowled/LBW dismissal.

212 out of this total 373 career wickets came in the form of the two modes of dismissal, a proportion (56.8%) which is only behind England’s Brian Statham (57.1%). Ray Lindwall and Wasim Akram are the other two bowlers to take more than 50% of their wickets in this manner.

(Video courtesy: robelinda 2 YouTube channel)

One thing to note in the complete list is that of the 19 bowlers who have a proportion of greater than 40% bowled/LBW, few (6) bowled in the 2000s, and even fewer (2) made their debuts in the same decade (Rangana Herath and Matthew Hoggard). Batsmen have either found a technique to avoid the ball from hitting the timber, or bowlers have lost the penetrative guile.

Table 4: Bowled/LBW wickets (% of total Wickets)

BowlerBowled/LBW DismissalsTotal Wickets% (Bowled/LBW)
Brian Statham14425257.14
Waqar Younis21237356.84
Wasim Akram22141453.38
Graeme Swann12725549.80
Joel Garner12625948.65
Imran Khan17636248.62
Michael Holding11624946.59
Fred Trueman14330746.58
Kapil Dev19943445.85
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