Smackdown: Murali v Warne – Battle for World XI


This post was in the works for sometime. Finally, I got a chance to finish it. So its kind of outdated in the sense that the article below was written in October 2010. However, I believe my analysis is still applicable.

In October 2010, Cricinfo released ALL TIME WORLD XI: It consisted of cricketers who are by far the best the cricketing world has seen or will ever see.

Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Viv Richards, Garry Sobers, Adam Gilchrist, Malcolm Marshall, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Dennis Lillee

I am not going to comment on the selection except with regards to the selection of Shane Warne over Muttiah Muralitharan (Murali). Warne was selected not marginally but by 34 points more than Murali and was considered by the Judges to be the fourth best cricketer of all-time.

Of course, this debate about who is better is always going to exist. Westerners are known to be stubborn especially when admitting defeat to a game they created and nurtured  (but which the Asian have Mastered).

This post is going to illustrate on how misconceived Warne’s strengths over Murali are. These are the usual arguments put forward by pro-Warne supporters;

  • Warne had performed better overseas than Murali.
  • Substantial percentage of Murali’s wickets have been at Home or against “Weak” or “Second Tier” Test Playing Nations
  • Warne is leader and great performer on and off the pitch
  • Leg Spinner is a harder art to master and control than Off Spin

Let’s start with the Numbers (All the Data are retrieved from Cricinfo: Shane & Murali but the analysis was done by myself)

23 out of the 60 against Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand

43 out of 73 against England, South Africa and New Zealand

The 4 Fallacies

The first fallacy is that Murali is a lesser cricketer because most of his wickets are against 2nd Tier nations. While I concede that Murali played 2nd tier teams more often than Warne, lets be honest, the only reason for this was because 1st tier country’s like Australia, South Africa and England just don’t find it lucrative to tour Sri Lanka or let Sri Lanka tour them. Its only every 4 to 5 years that Sri Lanka has the privilege of playing these countries and its rarely for a full test series. So, do we blame Murali for this, do we call him less of a cricketer because he had, due of poor administration by the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, fewer opportunities to play these nations. If only Murali had a Sri Lankan version of Ashes against England. Given his average of 7 wickets per match – one Ashes tour every year would give him 35 wickets per year. Let’s assume that Murali did play England and South Africa as frequently as Warne:

If Murali played England and South Africa in away matches as much as Shane Warne, Murali would have got:

Additional Wickets

Against Engalnd – 128 for 16 matches (22-6 * 8 = 128)

Overall tally against England – 128 + 48 = 176 (47 more than Warne)

Against South Africa – 30 for 6 matches (12-6 * 5.12 = 30)

Overall tally against South Africa – 30 + 35 = 65 (4 more than Warne)

Next people assume just because you are a 2nd tier nation, you tend to give more wickets to Murali. On the contrary, 2nd tier nations such as West Indies, Bangalesh or Zimbabwe have been known to play spin alot better than 1st tier nations such as England or South Africa. Look at the 1st Bar Chart – Murali’s average per match for  Zimbabwe and West Indies is less than for England and South Africa. So,  I think the real question that must be asked is “Has Murali got more wickets against countries that play spin better than Warne?”  The numbers show that its an obvious yes.

The second fallacy is that Warne performs better overseas, again this is a generalisation which serves no real analytical purpose. Overseas, where ? In non-spin tracks ? In spinning tracks ? The last table and bar chart shows that outside New Zealand, Murali has better statistics than Warne in most of the non-spin overseas tracks. Also, it is noteworthy than Murali has got the same average number of wickets in Australia as Warne has got in Sri Lanka and lets not foget that Australia is a “non-spin” overseas nation compared to Sri Lanka.

The third fallacy is that Warne is a better player on and off the pitch. The simple answer  to this is – Murali is a tamil in Sri Lanka period. His whole life, he had to struggle against all odds such as discrimination and racism in a country where if you ain’t a Sinhalese you pretty much has zero chance of making it into the team. Look at players like Dilshan, undoubtedly a talented player yet he had to convert before given a stable position in the team. However, Murali did not hide behind such a veil. He was proud of his identity and cuture and worked very hard towards creating racial harmony and helping the less privileged tamils especially in the war worn areas.  However, I am not saying that he is better than Warne but that this answer to this question is subjective and let’s be honest we don’t select Murali or Warne into a test squad because they are philanthropist or good and kind people. It boils down to talent and teamwork and while one may dispute who is better at teamwork, the numbers clearly show who’s the best when it comes to talent.

Finally, the fallacy about leg spin is a harder skill to master than off spin. The lack of good talent in particular discipline doesn’t make that discipline a difficult or more demanding one. I concede that there ain’t many good leg spinners but is that because this skill is harder to master ? Who knows. Personally, I find that leg spin is harder to control but let’s be honest, if you are a professional cricketer then it’s all about spending that additional one or two days in the nets. Warne and Murali were not born good or excellent players, it was through endless hours of training and determination that they became successful. Unless, someone can empirically show Warne spent more hours in the net than Murali,it would be only be stupid to blame the discipline for the lack of talent within that discipline.

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