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Ask the Spider: Ask The Spider #4
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Q: Who is the best bowler the World has ever seen? And why?

A :This is an impossible question to answer definitively; there is no obvious choice the way there is with batsmen. Perhaps the man with the best case is SF Barnes, whose astonishing Test career spanned over 12 years but resulted in just 27 games. In these games he managed 189 wickets at 16.43 - no-one since the turn of the 20th-century (a time when pitch conditions changed markedly) who has played 20 Tests can come close to these figures. Barnes, however, was a complex character, and despite a First-Class career spanning 36 years he played just 106 other games, being confined, often through his own choice, to minor counties cricket. More damagingly still, he missed 31 Tests, yet remained as deadly in his last, aged 40, as in his first, aged 28. Had he debuted earlier and played every game available to him, he might just have an unequivocal case. As it is, bowlers as diverse as Malcolm Marshall, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan and Muttiah Muralitharan have all been claimed by various people, none without a fair case, to be the greatest bowler to walk the planet.
Q: Which team is the most successful at chasing in day\night ODIs?

A: At the time of this column, Australia and South Africa are neck-and-neck at the top of this tree. Counting only top-nine teams (for this purpose, defined as England, Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Zimbabwe), Australia have so far batted second in 125 day\night ODIs, winning 71 and losing 48 (with a single tie and 5 no-results), while South Africa have chased successfully 52 times, from 95 attempts. This gives Australia a win-per-loss ratio currently of 1.47, South Africa 1.44. The only other team to have had more successes than failures batting in the night is Pakistan, with 47 wins and 45 losses from 93 attempts.
Q: Which cricket country has the most Test venues - both active and inactive?

A: The current overall tallies read thus: India 19; Pakistan 16; South Africa 11; West Indies 11; Australia 9; England 8; New Zealand 7; Sri Lanka 7; Bangladesh 6; Zimbabwe 3. Counting an active ground as one which still exists and has not been specifically discontinued or superseded, the tallies read: India 12; Pakistan 10; West Indies 8; South Africa 8; Australia 8; England 7; New Zealand 6; Sri Lanka 5; Bangladesh 4; Zimbabwe 2.
Q: When was the free-hit rule first used in top-level cricket?

A: To my knowledge, the idea of the next delivery after a no-ball being one which the bowler could not affect dismissal was first conceived in the English National League 45-over competition, first played in the summer of 1999. It has been used ever since in that competition, was added to the knockout C&G (now FP) Trophy in 2003, and was copied by Australia at some point in the early 2000s. The idea was incorporated into Twenty20 cricket from its outset and has been a part of that form of the game in every way. The idea was finally introduced into ODI cricket in 2007\08. However, the idea of giving batsmen a free-hit due to a no-ball is certainly not a new one at all: that was the original idea of the no-ball, when it was called due to the position of the bowler's back, rather than front, foot. Because it was called on the back-foot, the call was made early enough for the batsman to line the ball up, knowing he could not be dismissed. The recent modifications have brought the free-hit back into the game under the front-foot rule.
Q: What's the longest Test match of all time?

A: The longest two spanned 10 and 9 days respectively - both involved England and both were in the 1930s, bookending the decade in fact. The first, at Sabina Park, Kingston on April 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 1930, had 2 full days washed-out and was drawn by agreement as the team had to sail for home. The second met a similar outcome, spanning a day longer, being played at Kingsmead, Durban on 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 13 March 1939. Both these games were scheduled to be played to a finish, as the final match of a series often was in those days (and, in fact, most matches in Australia were), but the weather and the boat home thwarted these particular two attempts. Shortly after the war, a standard five-day Test became established.
Q: What's the best bowling figures taken on ODI debut?

A: The best figures were taken by West Indies' Fidel Edwards in 2003\04, against the somewhat dubious opposition of Zimbabwe. He took 7-22-6, the only bowler to take a 6-for on debut. There are 5 others who have taken 5-fors on debut: Australian Tony Dodemaide (7.2-21-2) against Sri Lanka in 1987\88; Sri Lanka's own Shaul Karnain (8-26-5) against New Zealand in 1983\84; Austin Codrington's 9-27-5 (though whether his team, Canada, or the opposition, Bangladesh, deserved to be playing ODIs is highly questionable); South African Allan Donald (8.4-29-5) against India in 1991\92; and Sri Lanka's Charitha Buddhika Fernando (9-67-5) against Zimbabwe in 2001\02. All the aforementioned were seamers; the best figures on debut by a spinner are, of all people, Stuart MacGill's 10-19-4 against Pakistan in 1999\2000.
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