The first instalment in our new series where we compare two legendary cricketers from the same generation. Rather than necessarily settle the debate on who is ‘better’, this series attempts to illustrate who had a greater say in dictating his country’s cricketing fortunes. Along the way, you may also find a few facets of these players that are not necessarily discussed in conventional media.

We commence the series by pitting two of the greatest spinners to have played the game.


Shane Warne vs Muttiah Muralitharan

A comparison of spin bowlers in Test cricket


Parameter Shane Warne Muttiah Muralitharan Maximum or
Highest (100%)
Number of Tests 145 133 Shane Warne (145)
Wickets Taken 708 800 Muttiah Muralitharan (800)
Bowling Average 25.41 22.72 Muttiah Muralitharan (22.72)
Percentage of team wickets taken 28.30 40.65 Muttiah Muralitharan
Bowling Impact 87 100 Muttiah Muralitharan
Top-Middle Order Wicket Impact 81 100 Muttiah Muralitharan
Economy Impact 57 74 Lance Gibbs
Bowling Impact in wins (min. 20 Tests) 54 68 R Ashwin
Home Impact (min. 25 Tests) 42 70 R Ashwin
Impact Away (min. 20 Tests) 99 77 Richie Benaud
Impact in Subcontinent (min. 15 Tests) 66 72 R Ashwin
Impact in Eng/SA/NZ/Aus  (min. 10 Tests) 61 74 Bobby Peel
Failure Rate (min. 50 Tests) 23% 16% Muttiah Muralitharan (16%)
Number of Series Defining  performances 8 (once every 18 Tests) 10 (once every 13 Tests) Muttiah Muralitharan (10)
Number of high impact performances 41 (once every 3.5 Tests) 45 (once every 3 Tests) Muttiah Muralitharan (45)
Most dominant period in career July 2001 – March 2004 July 2000 – December 2006                NA
Number of years as highest  impact bowler 2 (1997, 2002) 4 (2000, 2001, 2003, 2006)   Anil Kumble – 4
(1993, 1998, 1999, 2007),
Muttiah Muralitharan – 4
(2000, 2001, 2003, 2006)
Highest impact bowler in a match 42 51 Muttiah Muralitharan
(51 in 133 Tests)
Highest impact bowler in a series 11 24 Muttiah Muralitharan
(25 in 61 Test series)

1) All parameters from ‘ Bowling Impact ’ till ‘Impact in Eng/SA/NZ/Aus’ are expressed on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the maximum for any player in Test history in that parameter. A player’s impact in a particular parameter is then expressed as a percentage of it.
Example: Lance Gibbs has the highest Economy Impact in Test cricket history. So he denotes 100 for that parameter. Shane Warne’s and Muttiah Muralitharan’s Economy Impact are, then, expressed as a percentage of Lance Gibbs’ Economy Impact .
2) From ‘Bowling Average’ till ‘ Economy Impact ’, a minimum of 50 matches is considered as qualification. For all other parameters, the qualification is mentioned alongside.
3) Only spin bowlers have been considered for this comparison.



Shane Warne’s impact as a bowler is 87% of Muttiah Muralitharan’s.

Muralitharan is, quite emphatically, the highest impact bowler in the 139 years of Test cricket (minimum 50 Tests) – duly corroborated conventionally as well. The next highest impact bowler, Dennis Lillee, has a 9% lower Bowling Impact .

Warne comes in at number four in the all-time Bowling Impact list after Muralitharan, Lillee and Malcolm Marshall.

Muralitharan was the only great bowler (he had Vaas for support, for a while) in the Sri Lankan side during his career. Being the lead bowler, he made the most of the opportunities he had. On the other hand, Warne was a part of an all-time great Australian team comprising Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie. He did not get as many opportunities to bowl at the top/middle-order and, consequently, had to share his impact with the other legends.

Muralitharan is also the biggest series-winner (maximum number of series-defining or SD performances) in Test cricket history. But interestingly, if we compare series played/ SD ratio, it is Warne who produced an SD more frequently. Muralitharan played 61 Test series and registered 10 SDs while Warne played 46 Test series for his 8.

Prior to R Ashwin’s meteoric rise, no bowler had a higher impact in home conditions than Muralitharan. He was pivotal to Sri Lanka’s remarkable success at home. Again, not surprisingly, out of Muralitharan’s 10 SDs, 7 were at home.


Warne was the one the Romantics loved, a leg spinner’s natural advantage, though arguably also the tougher art. He was part of an all-great side, bowling alongside pace bowler legends, all of whom shared impact with him.

Muralitharan was, conversely, a sole bowling legend in a side that was near-unbeatable at home, with a controversial bowling action that was never quite accepted across the board. His impact was greater on Sri Lanka’s cricket results than Warne’s was for Australia’s – that is all Impact Index measures.


Nikhil Narain
Illustrations: Vasim Maner