The worst Test bowling averages of all time

Who has the worst Test bowling average of all time?

This is, on the face of it, a very simple question. There are, however, two different answers, neither of which get to the nub of why the question is interesting in the first place.

Answer 1: Bangladesh’s Naeem Islam averaged 303. He took one Test wicket.

Answer 2: Bangladesh’s Anwar Hossain Monir conceded 307 runs without taking a wicket.

Anwar Hossain Monir’s is clearly the worst performance. We aren’t quite sure which technically constitutes the worst average.

It doesn’t matter though because that isn’t really what we want to know, is it? What we really want to know – the real heart of the question – is ‘who was the shittest Test bowler’?

Let’s explore the world of terrible Test bowling averages. What we’re looking for here is not a statistical anomaly. We want a solid body of shoddy work. That means we need to set a minimum wickets requirement that will rule out the dilettantes.

But where do you draw the line? Let’s do as all good scientists do: let’s get our results first and then decide what we’re looking for afterwards.

Here are the worst Test bowling averages of all time…

At least 10 wickets

Kevin Pietersen, England: 10 wickets at 88.60

This is a delightful and satisfying start because it’s Kevin Pietersen and it’s always good to get Kevin Pietersen into a best/worst article in any way you can.

Pietersen started out as a spinner (he bowled Nasser Hussain in an England tour game before he came to the UK), but even if you know that, he still bowled more in Test cricket than you probably think he did. 10 wickets is quite a lot. It took him 218 overs.

At least 20 wickets

Rubel Hossain, Bangladesh: 33 wickets at 80.33

Our first frontline bowler, which means Hossain has a legitimate claim to being the worst Test bowler in history. (Ian Salisbury is second in this category with 20 wickets at 76.95.)

At least 30 wickets

Well it’s Rubel again, isn’t it?

The following paragraph appears on Rubel Hossain’s Wikipedia page. We apologise if you laugh at this and feel bad about doing so. Reassure yourself that you were laughing exclusively at the astonishing/confusing way in which the story has been worded and not at the story itself.

“Bangladeshi police arrested Rubel after Bangladeshi actress Naznin Akter Happy complained that he made hardcore love to her. He was put in custody for three days, later the court granted him bail to participate for sexual intercourse with Nazneen Happy. On Bangladesh’s victory over England, in which Hossain played a starring role, Nazneen withdrew the charges and married him. Because of Rubel’s performance against England, Happy’s lawyer, Debul Day, ended his participation in the case saying “I no longer wish to fight against Rubel after seeing Bangladesh succeed. Rubel should feel no pressure.”

At least 40 wickets

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Marlon Samuels, West Indies: 41 wickets at 59.63

Anyone who says chucking gives a bowler an unfair advantage, should think long and hard about the Test record of Marlon Samuels.

Sachin Tendulkar is second in this category. (The 40 wickets category, not the chucking category.)

At least 50 wickets

Mohammad Sami, Pakistan: 85 wickets at 52.74

Another strong contender for the title of shittest Test bowler in history. Sami’s case is all the more remarkable for the fact that he took 121 wickets at 27.48 in one-day internationals.

At least 100 wickets

Carl Hooper, West Indies: 114 wickets at 49.42

This one’s painful. That should have been Carl’s Test batting average really.

At least 150 wickets

Ravi Shastri, India: 151 wickets at 40.96

Another pleasing entry. There are few articles on any subject that wouldn’t be improved by the inclusion of Ravi Shastri.

Here, for no reason whatsoever, is a photograph of Ravi Shastri in a flat cap, on a beach, holding a cocktail with his arms spread.

At least 200 wickets

Danish Kaneria, Pakistan: 261 wickets at 34.79

Unsatisfactory, because Kaneria was a good bowler, but also wholly satisfactory, because it serves him right for being one of Pakistan’s top five wicket-takers ahead of a whole host of spinners who were way better and less objectionable than him.

At least 300 wickets

Daniel Vettori, New Zealand: 362 wickets at 34.36

Okay, we’re way past the point at which a bowler has been given enough opportunities to prove how shit he is now. Vettori was just a good bowler. Let’s call a halt and sum up.

Conclusion

Somewhere between Shastri and Kaneria, we hit players who are worth a place in a Test team based on their bowling alone. (Moeen Ali is right in this zone with the worst average among bowlers who have taken at least 175 Test wickets – 181 at 36.59.)

Shastri, it should be noted, opened the batting for India, so his efforts are tempered by competence in other areas. Hooper was a batsman too, so it’s Sami who has the greatest number of expensive wickets to his name without offering anything else to the team.

Hossain took a fair few too though and 678 overs is a significant volume of out-and-out filth.

We can’t split them. Mohammad Sami and Rubel Hossain have the worst Test bowling averages of all time.


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29 Appeals

  1. That’s an excellent list. Though Ajit Agarkar (one Yer Maj’s favourites) runs Sami close with 58 wickets at 47.

  2. Splendid article this. Much enjoyed. Kevin Pietersen is my favourite but they’re all good – or rather, bad. Apart from Vettori. And Moe. Love Moe. Hope he makes a comeback soon. What was the article about again?

  3. That Rubel Hossain paragraph justifies the monthly patreon payment by itself, and you didn’t even write it (I presume)….

      • Thanks, Ged, that’s a super new word – for me, for one – and one that very satisfyingly means exactly what you think it means without having to google it. (Although I did google it just to confirm.)

        Aptronymical.

    • It’s not often that a cricket story makes me feel sick to be a part of something, but that one has. Leaving aside the fact that rape is rape and not “hardcore love” (maybe strangulation is hardcore massage), why on earth did the ICC allow him to take part in the tournament? Did we know about this at the time?

      There is an element of complicity in this from the ICC (assuming that they at least knew). I am perfectly willing to believe that parts of the Bangladeshi judicial system are misogynistic morons (I am perfectly willing to believe this of parts of our system also), but I would hope for much, much better from a global sporting body. What sort of message does this send to women in Bangladesh? Well, that at least is an easy question to answer – it tells them they are worthless in the eyes of their cricket board, and it would seem in the eyes of the ICC.

      • I feel a sense of trepidation responding to this point, as there is a risk that I will be perceived to be condoning rape and or misogynistic behaviour which I most certainly do not condone…

        …but…

        …the case in question (from the little we know of the facts) resembles more closely, in English law terms, the now defunct Victorian concept of “breach of promise of marriage” than it does that of rape.

        Further, the accused at the time of the world cup selection was merely “accused” – he certainly had not been convicted and possibly (again to use English law terms) not even charged with a specific offence.

        Naznin Akter Happy, the actress who made the accusation, declined the cloak of anonymity which Bangladeshi law allowed her (and would have been the norm), subsequently withdrew the accusation and instead married Rubel. I therefore think we can entertain the possibility that the Bangladeshi judicial and cricketing authorities made the right call to release Rubel from custody and allow both the domestic and the cricketing drama to play out. I’m not sure the ICC would have had any say in the matter once the Bangladesh cricket board decided to proceed with selecting Rubel in such circumstances.

        This is not to defend the ICC and/or the Bangladesh Cricket Board unequivocally – both might be capable of making loathsome decisions on such matters; but on this particular matter I think they exercised their judgment correctly.

        As for the true facts of the domestic conflict between the married-couple-to-be prior to their reconciliation and marriage…that is a matter solely for them once the accusation was withdrawn.

      • Apologies for the seriousness, but that original story stuck in my craw. Even the way it is presented on Wikipedia – someone needs to edit that page to include the word “rape”.

        No doubt all of what you say is true, Ged, but at the time he was picked (and allowed to play) he had a standing accusation of rape on him. To me the affront is less about the specifics of this case, or its outcome, more about the general acceptance that cricket was more important than giving women genuine legal protection from “hardcore love”. Hossain was released purely because he was a cricketer, not because the case had mitigating circumstances. It would appear that the same would have happened no matter what the nature of the alleged crime (presumably as long as it was against a woman).

        England dropped a player accused of punching some bigots in a nightclub. While that seems somewhat on the harsh side, I’d rather err that way than the other. As for the ICC, sport does not exist in a vacuum, and cricket has a decent history of non-neutrality (its stance on apartheid). There are cases when the morality of a choice is entirely obvious. When you stage a grand prix in Bahrain or a world cup in Qatar, you are part of the problem.

        I will lighten the tone a bit though. The accusatory team in this case were called Happy – Day. It would be a crime against everything I hold dear if the judge had not set aside Sunday and Monday for their evidence.

  4. This is a great analysis that unfortunately ended by drawing the wrong conclusions. Shastri is the worst test bowler ever. If you have a list of the worsts in any field and Shastri happens to figure in it (and why won’t he?), there’s a theorem that you can push him up to the top of the list with impunity.

    Tell me, in that picture why did the jackass need to tell us the drink is in his *left* hand?

  5. Daisy has consistently found it hard to distinguish between Mohammad Sami and Mohammed Shami; the latter being significantly better but not so quick.

    This article might help to disambiguate the two bowlers, but I have my doubts that Daisy will end up any the wiser, so the “didn’t he used to play for Pakistan” question might yet return in Mohammed Shami is still playing next year.

  6. Surely Ian Salisbury is the worst test bowler ever. Picked because he bowled leg spin, not because he was any good at it.

  7. How long do we have to wait before you do one on batsmen?

  8. I wonder whether this qualification might have been better based on balls bowled rather than wickets taken, since a rubbish bowler by definition finds it difficult to demonstrate their rubbishness in terms of wickets taken though they may have amply demonstrated it with the balls they bowled.

  9. Moe almost makes your list of shittest bowlers despite, smack in the middle of his taking all those expensive wickets and on this very site, it was demonstrated statistically that he was England’s best player, as an all rounder. And both are absolutely true. Which is why we watch cricket .

  10. Yes, exactly. And so with a qualification of 1000 pies, I give you Asoka de Silva whose 2328 leggies yielded 8 wickets at 129 before realising that a few more decisions would go his way if he was doing the umpiring. Averaging 15 with the bat rounded out a pleasing lack of contribution.

  11. Nerd Stats Time! Here is the full list of “Shittiest Bowlers” starting with Islam and ending with Murali. Obviously contains everyone mentioned above, but with a few holes filled in.

    Naeem Islam BDESH 1 303
    CS Nayudu INDIA 2 179.5
    EAR de Silva SL 8 129
    S Chanderpaul WI 9 98.1
    KP Pietersen ENG 10 88.6
    Rubel Hossain BDESH 33 80.33
    MN Samuels WI 41 59.6
    SR Tendulkar INDIA 46 54.2
    Mohammad Sami PAK 85 52.7
    CL Hooper WI 114 49.4
    RJ Shastri INDIA 151 41
    FH Edwards WI 165 37.9
    MM Ali ENG 181 36.6
    Danish Kaneria PAK 261 34.8
    DL Vettori NZ 362 34.4
    Harbhajan Singh INDIA 417 32.5
    A Kumble INDIA 619 29.7
    SK Warne AUS 708 25.4
    M Muralitharan SL 800 22.7

    • And here is the England list

      RS Bopara 1@290
      MA Atherton 2@155
      MR Ramprakash 4@119
      M Leyland 6@97.5
      KP Pietersen 10@88.6
      IDK Salisbury 20@77
      GA Hick 23@56.8
      DCS Compton 25@56.4
      JW Hearne 30@48.7
      PI Pocock 67@44.4
      AF Giles 143@40.6
      JE Emburey 147@38.4
      MM Ali 181@36.6
      A Flintoff 219@33.3
      SJ Harmison 222@31.9
      MJ Hoggard 248@30.5
      GP Swann 255@30
      SCJ Broad 467@28.7
      JM Anderson 575@26.9

    • King Cricket

      November 13, 2019 at 7:29 am

      Our favourite part of the international list is Fidel Edwards who constitutes additional evidence in the “at what exact number of wickets do they become good?” debate.

  12. There’ll be a bit of deliberate declaration bowling mixed in there with the lower wicket numbers/”batsman really” end of Micko’s stats, but still an interesting read.

    21% of those on the England list learnt their filth trade at Middlesex, which is a bit of a worry, although I do think that 3 of the 4 will have been declaration bowling for the most part and the fourth is Embers, who really was pretty good.

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