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.)
(Update: Rubel took 3-113 against Pakistan in February 2020 and dragged his average down to 76.77 – which is just under Salisbury’s.)
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
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.
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.