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Why career numbers for bowlers of yesteryear look better than they are

no ball bowling average
by Wisden Staff 2 minute read

Bowling averages have long been used as one of the traditional ways of comparing the influence bowlers from different eras have had on the game. 

However, while it is undoubtedly a useful tool in doing so, it might not be quite as accurate as we think.

On the latest Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, while discussing Paul Allott’s moving tribute to his friend Bob Willis is this year’s Wisden Almanack, Jo Harman brought up Allott’s mention of Willis’ no-ball habit. 

Jo Harman: “In amongst all the celebratory stuff, there’s also a mention from Allott that Willis bowled 939 no-balls in Test cricket. I knew that he had a habit, but I didn’t know it was that many. That’s an extraordinary figure.

Lawrence Booth: It is extraordinary. It includes a stat from Benedict Bermange, the Sky Sports statistician, that – in those days the no ball didn’t count against the bowler, it was an extra ball but not an extra run – his Test average would have been 28 not 25 had the rules been different. 

Yas Rana: Maybe he wouldn’t have bowled as many no balls if they went against the bowler. 

LB: He always used to get angry on The Verdict when England bowlers overstepped so Paul thought it was a great irony. 


While the change in the law surrounding no balls and wides affected the career numbers of bowlers from yesteryear for the better, it has had the inverse effect on the stats for players whose careers started after no balls and wides began to go against the bowlers in the mid-1980s. 

In 2012, Anantha Narayanan calculated for ESPNcricinfo that had the law never been changed, some modern day players would have seen their bowling averages improve by up to 7.88 per cent. Lasith Malinga, for example, would have finished with a career average of 30.54 as opposed to 33.16 had the 264 no-balls and wides he bowled not gone against his name. Curtly Ambrose would have finished with a career average of under 20 had he played Test cricket under the game’s previous laws.

You can listen to the full episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast on Spotify or the Podcast App

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