joel_garner
Illustration- Vasim Maner

Joel Garner, a celebrated member of the famed West Indies pace quartet of the 1970s and 80s, is remembered for his ability to bowl yorkers at extreme pace while simultaneously intimidating batsmen with the bounce he extracted delivering from all of 6 feet 8 inches!

He is also remembered for his hostile spell against England in the 1979 World Cup Final (5-38 in 11 overs). Cricket historians and statisticians gloat over Garner’s bowling average of 18.84 and economy rate of 3.09 – the best in ODI cricket history (min. 100 wickets). In Tests his bowling average of 20.97 is the fourth-best in history (min. 150 wickets) after Sydney Barnes, Alan Davidson and Malcolm Marshall.

He had another quality – one that is not intrinsically associated with a bowler as feared and of the stature (literally) of Garner.

And that was his consistency . The ability to turn up day in, day out and regularly produce substantial performances defines a player’s consistency .

A tabulation of Garner’s performances in Tests and ODIs would affirm his consistency in both the formats. This is hardly a hidden fact.

But what is, is this.

Joel Garner is the most consistent bowler in the history of cricket – in Tests and in ODIs (min. 50 Tests and 60 ODIs).

The fact that he was a part of – perhaps – the greatest cricket team ever,  makes this feat even more special.

CONSISTENCY IN TIMES OF GREATNESS

Garner’s career (1977-1987) coincided with a period of greatness for the West Indies. Their domination in Tests lasted 15 years – from the Wisden Trophy in 1980 to the Frank Worrell Trophy in 1995 – a period in which they did not lose a single Test series.

They were by far the best ODI team as well. West Indies did not lose a single bilateral series between their 1975 World Cup triumph and the Texaco Trophy in England in 1988.
Being a part of such a prolific side, Garner had to share his Bowling Impact with other great bowlers in the team – Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall, and later with Courtney Walsh.

It is therefore remarkable that Garner delivered with the frequency he did. He was phenomenally consistent in Test cricket with a failure rate of just 12% – this means that he failed in just seven out of the 58 Tests he played in his career. That is quite a stunning statistic.

He is followed by Dennis Lillee who had a failure rate of 14%, Muttiah Muralitharan (16%), Glenn McGrath (18%) and Dale Steyn (18%).

His failure rate of 22% in ODIs (he failed in 21 of the 97 matches he played) – meant that he failed once in approximately every 5 matches. He is followed by Muralitharan, McGrath and Saeed Ajmal (all at 24%).

Garner’s ability to regularly pick wickets while, simultaneously, being restrictive defined his consistency . And it is this consistency that gave him a higher impact than other bowlers who were better than him in other individual parameters.

THE FIFTH-HIGHEST IMPACT TEST BOWLER IN THE WORLD DURING HIS CAREER

Garner made a sensational start to his Test career. He went 22 matches without failing even once. This sequence lasted from his debut (against Pakistan, Barbados 1977) till the opening Test against England in 1981 (Trinidad) – a period of 4 years.

Only Imran Khan (27 matches), Hadlee (26) and Jeff Thomson (23) have enjoyed a longer streak in Test cricket, albeit not from debut.

Garner was the third-highest impact bowler in this period only after Lillee and Croft (min. 15 Tests). Two qualities, intrinsic to his bowling gave him a higher impact than Hadlee, Imran and Thomson – in spite of the Kiwi being a more prolific wicket-taker and the other two matching Garner on this count. These were the qualities that defined him as a bowler – the ability to restrict opposition batsmen (the best in the business in this period) and his remarkable consistency (Thomson also had a 0% failure rate in this period but Hadlee’s was 24% and Imran’s 27%).

Garner went through another period of 15 Tests without failing – from the fourth Test against India in Barbados in April 1983 to the fourth Test against Australia in Melbourne in December 1984.

It is mainly because of this consistency that, despite not being a big-match bowler (he had just 1 series-defining performance in Test cricket), Garner emerged as the fifth-highest impact bowler in the world in Test cricket during his career (February 1977 to March 1987) after Marshall, Hadlee, Lillee and Imran (min. 30 Tests).

This is also why he had a higher impact than Holding and Ian Botham during this period. Both had a better frequency of producing high impact performances than Garner. However, Holding’s failure rate was 28% and Botham’s 31% in comparison to Garner’s 12%.

Garner’s assurance from one end also gave freedom to the other West Indian quicks – Holding, Roberts and Marshall – to go all-out and give their best from the other. For even if they had a bad day and failed, they could count on Garner to deliver.

Garner’s failure rate when Marshall failed in a match is just 25% (Garner failed in 2 out of the 8 matches he played with Marshall in which the latter failed). It is 33% (4 out of 12) with Holding and 40% (2 out of 5) with Roberts. Thus, Garner shouldered responsibility and kept delivering when the others failed.

THE FOURTH-HIGHEST IMPACT BOWLER IN ODI HISTORY

It is in one-day cricket where Garner’s remarkable consistency together with his big-match prowess and restrictive abilities, took him to a legendary status.

Garner is the fourth-highest impact bowler in the history of ODI cricket behind Lillee, McGrath and Shane Warne (min. 60 matches).

Unlike Test cricket, Garner was a serious big-match bowler in ODI cricket and produced 3 series-defining performances ( SD ) in just 97 matches.

But here too, his control and miserly bowling stood out. And even more so. He is the best in this regard in this format – Garner is the most restrictive bowler in ODI history.

And what further accentuated his greatness as an ODI bowler was his consistency – a 22% failure rate- again the best in history. This clearly being his underlying quality.

It is also because of this consistency that Garner has a high SD value – which gives his overall impact a boost. Basically he not only gave high impact performances in his three SD matches but was also consistent throughout the three tournaments/series in which he produced an SD . He failed twice in 4 matches in the World Cup in 1979 (his first SD ), then did not fail in even one out of six matches in the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup in 1983-84 (his second SD ) and failed just twice in 10 matches in the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup in 1984-85 (his third SD ).

Overall, in 10 of the 20 series/tournaments he played in his ODI career, Garner did not fail in even one match – nothing short of staggering. That means he had a 0% failure rate in half the number of series/tournaments he played in. This included the 1983 World Cup (4 matches), Benson and Hedges World Series Cup, 1983-84 (6 matches) and the Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket, 1984-85 (3 matches).

Garner went 16 matches without failing – from the first final of the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup against Australia in Melbourne in 1982 to the third final of the same tournament against Australia in Melbourne in 1984.

He was the second-highest impact bowler during his ODI career after Lillee and unlike Tests (where Marshall and Holding took the lead), Garner was the greatest asset West Indies had with the ball in ODI cricket in this period.

It is not surprising that Garner did not recognize his pace or bounce or intimidation and fear as his most potent strength. When asked once, in an interview, as to what he recognized as his most important attribute as a bowler, he replied ‘Accuracy. I used to practice, practice and practice. I used to bowl at three stumps, two stumps and one stump. And I could hit the single stump often.’

This ‘accuracy’ went a long way in helping Garner achieve his ‘legendary’ consistency in both Test and ODI cricket.

Therefore, it isn’t a coincidence that Garner’s role-model in school was Wesley Hall – the second-most consistent bowler in West Indies’ Test history (min. 40 Tests).

As manager of the present national team, Garner will do West Indian cricket a great service if he can administer them even a small dose of his greatest legacy.

 
Nikhil Narain

NOTE: This piece is up-to-date as of August 2016