Who Is the Best Bowler in the World Right Now? January 2014

By (Featured Columnist) on January 27, 2014

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The mantle of the best bowler in the world right now is one that seems to be passed around on a regular basis, as players hit form while others struggle.

Every cricket fan has their own opinion on who the best bowler in the world currently is, but we could find a way to establish who it actually is using the statistics available to us.

If we manipulated the figures from all three forms of cricket, could we determine who the best bowler in the world is right now, as of January 2014?

Let’s give it a go, starting with an explanation of our statistics and the methodology that we will use.

All statistics courtesy of ESPNCricinfo, correct as of January 26 2014.

Methodology

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Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

To do this, we will use the statistics provided by the ICC Player Rankings http://www.icc-cricket.com/player-rankings/about, which the world’s governing body will now explain:

The Reliance ICC Player Rankings are a sophisticated moving average. Players are rated on a scale of 0 to 1000 points. If a player’s performance is improving on his past record, his points increase; if his performance is declining his points will go down.

The value of each player’s performance within a match is calculated using an algorithm, a series of calculations (all pre-programmed) based on various circumstances in the match.

All of the calculations are carried out using pre-programmed formulae, using the information published in a Test match scorecard. There is no human intervention in this calculation process, and no subjective assessment is made.

For bowlers, the rankings take into account how many wickets they take and how many runs they concede, but also the abilities of the batsmen they dismiss.

Therefore, if a bowler removes more top-order batsmen they will have more rating points, as opposed to one who only dismisses tailenders.

For this, the ratings will be manipulated slightly to reflect the belief that Test cricket is harder than One Day and Twenty20 Internationals.

The rating a bowler has in Test matches will be doubled to reflect this higher standard, while their rating for ODIs will be multiplied by 1.5.

With their Twenty20 rating left the same, it is a reflection of the difficult nature of Test cricket and rewards bowlers who are consistent in the toughest arena of the game.

Limitations

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There are some issues with this method, however.

One drawback is that it excludes bowlers who are very effective in one form of the game but have been unable to fully realise their potential in other forms.

Take three examples—Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Pragyan Ojha.

All these individuals are in the top 10 of the Test bowling rankings, with Harris at No. 3, Siddle at No. 6 and Ojha at No. 9.

However, because they have not played limited-overs cricket in a long time they do not have a rating or a ranking in ODIs or Twenty20s, which means they come in well down our list.

There is little doubt that these three bowlers are very fine at their jobs and are among the best bowlers in the world, but unfortunately our list is unable to reflect this.

Our list rewards players who bowl well across all three forms of cricket, as opposed to just one or two.

Previous Findings

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We’ve been here once before, in November, when we tried to find out who the best fast bowler in the world was at that stage.

There were some surprises, most notably Steven Finn coming in at No. 4 above his more illustrious peers James Anderson, Tim Southee and Zaheer Khan.

In the top three, Stuart Broad was rewarded for some fine form with a spot at No. 3, just below South Africa's Morne Morkel.

At the top spot sat Dale Steyn, with an enormous lead of 162.507 average rating points, showing his dominance across all three forms of cricket at that stage.

Has that changed, especially with the addition of the world’s spin bowlers into January’s list?

Notable Omissions

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Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Before we get to the main bulk of our list, let’s take a look at some notable individuals who have not managed to make our top 20.

Trent Boult has enjoyed a stunning rise for New Zealand and now sits at No. 10 in the Test rankings, but his low rating in ODIs and Twenty20s brings him down in our list.

Below him, Nathan Lyon is ranked as the No. 19 Test bowler in the world by the ICC, but his lack of ranking in the shorter forms means—like Boult—he is way down our list.

Similarly, Ben Hilfenhaus is a very highly ranked Test bowler at No. 17, but has been unable to force his way into Australia’s limited-overs teams and so is another who finds himself outside the top 20.

Speaking of the top 20, let’s get to the first section of our list—No. 20 to No. 11.

Players Ranked 20-11

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Name Test Rating (x2) ODI Rating (x1.5) Twenty20 Rating Average Rating Overall Rank
Ravindra Jedeja 1140 1012.5 452 868.167 11
Kemar Roach 1298 930 278 835.33 12
Junaid Khan 1298 982.5 232 820.167 13
James Anderson 1366 1018.5 0 794.83 14
Darren Sammy 998 796.5 550 781.5 15
Vernon Philander 1818 519 0 779 16
Nuwan Kulasekara 774 897 657 776 17
Umar Gul 1062 763.5 497 774.167 18
Abdur Rehman 1410 714 175 766.33 19
Tim Bresnan 1024 783 484 763.66 20

Coming in at No. 20 in our list is Tim Bresnan, who continues to maintain a high position despite some recent struggles.

Above him comes two Pakistani standouts—Umar Gul and spinner Abdur Rehman—who both have made good impacts in the international game in the last few months.

The world’s best Test bowler Vernon Philander comes in at No. 16, hamstrung still by his relative lack of experience in limited-overs cricket despite his high Test rating.

West Indians Kemar Roach and Darren Sammy sit above him at No. 12 and No. 15 respectively, sandwiching Junaid Khan at No. 13 and James Anderson at No. 14.

Above them all at No. 11 comes another spinner, the highly-rated Ravindra Jadeja, who is making waves in all three forms of the game.

That takes us to the top 10, so let’s take a look at those players ranked between No. 10 and No. 4.

Players Ranked 10-4

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Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Name Test Rating (x2) ODI Rating (x1.5) Twenty20 Rating Average Rating Overall Rank
Morne Morkel 1414  1009.5  536  986.5  4
Mitchell Johnson  1486  958.5  473  972.5  5
Stuart Broad  1458  834  621  971  6
Steven Finn 1104  1036.5  667  935.83  7
Tim Southee  1398 876 514 929.33  8
Shakib Al Hasan  1228 898.5 655 927.167  9
Rangana Herath  1578  1017  180  925  10

The top 10 is opened up by two spin bowlers from the subcontinent, with Sri Lankan Rangana Herath at No. 10 and Bangladesh’s star Shakib Al Hasan at No. 9.

Above them, Tim Southee maintains his place as New Zealand’s leading bowler, while Stuart Broad and Steven Finn also stay in the top 10 despite some differing fortunes in recent months.

England’s tormentor Mitchell Johnson sits above them both at No. 5, helped along by his stunning display in the recent Ashes series against the Baggy Green’s oldest enemy.

Then, at No. 4 comes something of a surprise, as Morne Morkel no longer occupies a spot in the top three despite improving his average rating slightly since our last list.

That means we’ll have some new names in the top three of our list, which we’ll go into now.

The Top Three

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Name Test Rating (x2) ODI Rating (x1.5) Twenty20 Rating Average Rating Overall Rank
Dale Steyn 1802 1113 647 1187.33 1
Saeed Ajmal 1574 1164 714 1150.67 2
Ravi Ashwin 1518 907.5 589 1004.83 3

Into the upper echelons of our list we go, and we kick things off with Ravichandran Ashwin at No. 3, the Indian spinner who has made an impact across all three forms of the game.

A rank of No. 7 in Tests pushes Ashwin well up the list due to that form’s weighting, and with his No. 18 ODI rank and No. 22 in Twenty20s, he is clearly a very good bowler.

Above him comes Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal, who is ranked in the top five in every form of the game and rewarded for his consistency.

Generally recognised as the best spin bowler in the world, Ajmal has maintained a high level regardless of the form of cricket he is playing and has been key in Pakistan’s revival.

Then, at No. 1 and unmoved despite the introduction of spin bowlers into the equation comes Dale Steyn, whose margin of victory is vastly reduced to just 36.66 average rating points.

Despite a slightly poorer Twenty20 rating and rank, Steyn is rewarded for being consistent across Tests and ODIs, which are weighted higher than the shortest form.

He may have some other pretenders for his throne, especially among his own countrymen, but Steyn remains the world’s best according to our ranking system.

Risers, Fallers and New Entries

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The introduction of spin bowlers has brought a new level of intrigue into these rankings, and has brought about a great deal of change in the top 20 in particular.

From November, Shane Watson, Ravi Rampaul, Mitchell Starc, Ishant Sharma, Ryan Harris, Zaheer Khan and the recently-retired Jacques Kallis have all dropped out of the top 20.

Tim Bresnan, Umar Gul, Nuwan Kulasekara and James Anderson also found themselves lower down in the rankings but remained in the top 20, although they may see their places under threat in the coming months.

Above them, Tim Southee, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Morne Morkel also all dropped down places, a reflection of spin bowlers being added into the equation.

It’s not all bad news for the seamers though, with Kemar Roach and Dale Steyn both holding their positions in the top 20.

Most notably, Junaid Khan, Darren Sammy and Mitchell Johnson all rise in the rankings as a reward for their good form in recent series.

Vernon Philander is the only seamer to enter the top 20 having been outside it in November, and with his continued rise in international cricket is sure to improve his position.

However, the introduction of six spin bowlers has definitely made things more interesting, especially in the upper sections as we see Saeed Ajmal and Ravi Ashwin make a big impact.

Conclusion

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From digesting all the figures, the first conclusion to draw is that given his consistency across all three forms of cricket, Dale Steyn is a worthy winner and deserves to keep his place atop the rankings.

Of course, this system is not perfect by any means and does throw up some interesting results, especially as it is very hard on a player who does not have a rating in a certain form of the game.

A final tally of 14 seamers and six spinners tells its own story, as the dominance of seam over spin is something that is taking hold across the cricketing world.

In time, we may see players like Vernon Philander and Ryan Harris rise further, especially if they are able to stay healthy and keep up with an exhausting international calendar.

However, for now Steyn is the No. 1 and there are few who would question that finding.

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