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George Lohmann - was he Bradmanesque?

We’ve often heard the phrase ‘Bradmanesque’ used in reference to eye-opening batting averages, e.g. when Michael Hussey started out with an average over 120 which became 100, then 80, finally finishing at 51.22, or Neil Harvey’s average of over 106 after nine Tests. So far no one has been able to maintain that pace for very long, certainly not over a full career as Bradman did. Bradman’s career average of 99.94 remains significantly higher than the next best, currently Cheteshwar Pujara at 65.55 and Graeme Pollock before that with 60.97.

However with the ball, George Lohmann enjoys a similar advantage over the next best but with much less fanfare – no one to my knowledge has used his average as a postal code, for example. Over 18 matches the ill-fated medium-pace bowler took 112 wickets at an eye-popping 10.75, including nine 5-wicket innings and five 10-wicket matches. His first 50 wickets took him ten matches, nowhere near the quickest, however his next 50 took just six Tests, making him still the quickest ever to 100 wickets. But was he so much better that we should be referring to bowlers who start out carrying all before them as Lohmannesque?

Here is a list of the top-ten bowling averages in Tests, minimum 20 innings bowled:-

10.75 GA Lohmann (ENG)
15.54 W Barnes (ENG)
16.42 W Bates (ENG)
16.43 SF Barnes (ENG)
16.53 CTB Turner (AUS)
16.98 R Peel (ENG)
17.13 VD Philander (SA)
17.75 J Briggs (ENG)
17.97 H Ironmonger (AUS)
18.41 FR Spofforth (AUS)

So the next best, Billy Barnes, has an average about 45% higher than Lohmann, as compared to Bradman’s lead of about 52% over the aforementioned Pujara. Neither Billy Barnes or the next in the list, Billy Bates, could be considered front-line bowlers as they didn’t bowl in anything close to all of the innings, as Lohmann did. The legendary Sydney Barnes is the next front-line bowler listed, and his average is about 53% higher than Lohmann’s. That compares to Bradman’s lead of 52%, though if Pujara’s average drops to a value below Pollock’s over the rest of his career, Bradman’s advantage is almost 64% over Pollock.

Lohmann also has a very high return of matches in which he took 10 wickets, which we can compare to Bradman’s return of Test hundreds. The list of top century-makers looks like this:-

100s Inns % 100s Player
51 327 15.6% SR Tendulkar (IND)
44 274 16.1% JH Kallis (SA)
41 287 14.3% RT Ponting (AUS)
36 286 12.6% R Dravid (IND)
34 214 15.9% SM Gavaskar (IND)
34 232 14.7% BC Lara (WI)
33 200 16.5% KC Sangakkara (SL)
32 260 12.3% SR Waugh (AUS)
31 232 13.4% DPMD Jayawardene (SL)
30 184 16.3% ML Hayden (AUS)
29 80 36.3% DG Bradman (AUS)

The top century-makers score a ton on average between 12.3% and 16.5% of innings, which is quite a small variation – take a look at Bradman though, who notched a ton an incredible 36.3% of the time! By comparison the list of top bowlers in terms of 10-wicket matches looks like this:-

10wM MTCH %10wM Player
22 133 16.5% M Muralitharan (SL)
10 145 6.9% SK Warne (AUS)
9 86 10.5% RJ Hadlee (NZ)
8 132 6.1% A Kumble (IND)
7 27 25.9% SF Barnes (ENG)
7 37 18.9% CV Grimmett (AUS)
7 70 10.0% DK Lillee (AUS)
6 88 6.8% Imran Khan (PAK)
6 86 7.9% DL Underwood (ENG)
5 18 27.8% GA Lohmann (ENG)

Unsurprisingly and as can be seen from these numbers, a 10-wicket match haul is much more rare than a Test match ton, representing as it does at least half of the wickets taken, thus we also see a much wider variation in the percentage and, although as suspected Lohmann has the highest percentage he is not that much ahead of the other Barnes, SF. But then Barnes is often cited as being perhaps the greatest bowler ever, so the fact that Lohmann pips him in this regard is not insignificant.

As a result of the preconception of Lohmann chiefly having feasted on the minnows of South Africa, he is often downgraded, while Barnes, who also took many wickets against South Africa, is downgraded to a much lesser degree, if at all. Of Lohmann’s 18 matches, just three were against South Africa, though he did take 35 of his wickets against them for just 203 runs. If we remove those figures from his career numbers, his average is 12.84 though this is still significantly lower than the next best. Two of Lohmann’s five ten-wicket hauls came against South Africa, which if excluded would give him 20%, still pretty high but not much more than Grimmett. Interestingly, a similar exercise performed on SF Barnes’ career figures would see his percentage of 10-wicket matches reduced to just 5%, six of his seven 10-wicket matches having come against South Africa, though to be fair South Africa in Barnes’ time were not quite the minnows which Lohmann faced.

In terms of wickets per match Billy Barnes, who was second-placed in terms of average, took 51 wickets in his 21 matches, or 2.43 per match, while Lohmann’s figure is much higher at 6.22 per match. In this latter measure however, Lohmann trails the great Sidney Barnes who managed exactly 7 wickets per match. The only other bowlers to have exceeded six wickets per match are Tom Richardson, whose figure of 6.29 is slightly better than Lohmann’s, and Murali who just qualifies with 6.01.

Charles Davis is certainly not convinced of Lohmann’s greatness. In his book Best of the Best Davis re-figured all bowling averages based on various factors such as strength of opposition and for era – Lohmann’s ‘standardised’ average was increased to 23.2. The complete working of the figures is not shown, though the final general era increases are, such that we can determine that for the period up to 1896, which encompasses Lohmann’s Test career, the bowing averages as a whole are increased by 15%. Despite this, Lohmann’s average increases by a whopping 115%. Presumably much of the increase to Lohmann’s average is due to pre-Golden Age low scoring together with his matches against South Africa, though that represents only 17% of his matches and about 30% of his wickets – a 115% increase seems a bit harsh all things considered.

Nonetheless, I’m not here to rubbish Mr Davis’ methods as I’m sure they are scientific, and I think we can agree that it’s fair to say that Lohmann’s average as it stands is unrepresentative of his comparative ability. As a result, I don’t think his bowling reflected an almost 50% superiority over every other bowler before or since, as Bradman’s batting did. Interestingly Bradman’s adjusted average in Davis’ book remains a very high 43% better than the next best, Graeme Pollock.

Lohmann did of course contribute a bit with the bat too, as well as being a celebrated slip fielder. As an example of his impressive all-round ability, in 1890 his batting average in the County Championship was 29.00, which compares favourably with the great WG Grace at 36.17. On top of that Lohmann led the Championship bowling averages and wickets taken, as well as being top in 5-fers and 10-wicket matches. Finally, he was second overall in fielding, behind just one wicket-keeper, Mordecai Sherwin.

However, we’re considering just his bowling here and it’s not unreasonable to say that, if a player took wickets in a low-scoring era then his bowling average will consequently be low. We can confirm this generally is the case by looking at the others who bowled in the matches in which Lohmann played – here are the figures, considering only England bowlers to restrict the comparison to be against the same batting line-ups:-

18 112 10.75 Lohmann
12 51 11.58 J Briggs
8 45 10.08 R Peel
8 21 9.19 W Barnes

As can be seen, although none of these players bowled in all of the matches in which Lohmann appeared, his average is not all that special when compared to the others; indeed both Billy Barnes and Bobby Peel have averages that are actually lower than Lohmann’s.

I think we can safely say that, all things considered and despite his average being significantly lower than everyone else, George Lohmann was some way short of being ‘Bradmanesque’.


I hadn’t seen the stats in the last table before – sums it up pretty well

Comment by fredfertang | 12:00am BST 11 June 2013

Good article on an often forgotten cricketer.

My own standarised average of Lohmann is 23.94 with is strike-rate also increasing to 55 from 34. However, he still took a standarised 5.39 wickets per match, and most impressive of all was his win record. He contributed to a team win in 18 innings (I define a contribution as usually 3 wickets or more). That’s 18 innings in 18 matches, a 100% record, which no one else can match. The next best is Barnes with 81% and then Steyn with 78%.

Crucially, the overall aggregate of runs and wickets in matches in which Lohmann played in is 10650 runs for 630 wickets, an average of 16.90. If we take Lohmann out of it, then the runs per wicket average of those matches increases to 18.23, still a very low average.

Coupled with that, not only did Lohmann play against the minnow South Africans, but he also made merry against the weakest Australian batting lineups in history. Australia were very weak once the nucleus of the 1880-1882 team left the game, and after the famous win at the Oval in 1882, they only beat England in 5 matches until 1892, to go with 16 losses.

Just my two cents. 🙂

Comment by Days of Grace | 12:00am BST 11 June 2013

Thanks for your comments Steve. So you found a similar increase to Charles Davis – were all bowlers of that time impacted to that degree?

Comment by Dave Wilson | 12:00am BST 11 June 2013

Good article. Really think that last table helps clear things up a bit.

Comment by Coronis | 12:00am BST 11 June 2013

Of the players before the Great War whose averages I have adjusted (and in the order that I have ranked them):

Barnes 16.43 – 19.91 (x1.21)
Lohmann 10.75 – 23.94 (2.23)
Richardson 25.22 – 27.97 (1.11) – My favorite player from that era
Trumble 21.78 – 27.04 (1.24)
Blythe 18.63 – 24.30 (1.30)
Turner 16.53 – 25.12 (1.52)
Spofforth 18.41 – 26.25 (1.43)
[B]Peel 16.98 – 27.37 (1.61)[/B]
[B]Briggs 17.75 – 26.47 (1.49)[/B]
Palmer 21.51 – 28.99 (1.35)
[B]Bates 16.42 – 24.67 (1.50)[/B]

Peel, Briggs, and Bates were teammates of Lohmann.

Comment by Days of Grace | 12:00am BST 11 June 2013

So Lohmann does have the largest adjustment. Despite that, and ignoring Barnes who came a bit later, Lohmann does manage to maintain the lowest adjusted average of the era.

Good work there Steve.

Comment by Dave Wilson | 12:00am BST 11 June 2013

I am here to say about Muttiah Muralitharan. He is easily the GREATEST bowler that has ever lived. Why? Take a look at his first-class and Test records. Syd Barnes took 719 wickets from 133 first class games but Murali took 81 more in same number of Test matches. Lohmann, Barnes, Trumble and others played in the amateur era of international cricket where the pitches were uncovered and batsmen were mostly middle-aged gentlemen or didn’t play with unflappable temperament. Also, modern cricket is very competitive and batsmen are highly trained with a big workload all the year round. Back in those days, cricketers mostly held jobs at elsewhere and cricket wasn’t the top priority to them. Had Syd Barnes played in the modern era he would have got 4.5 wickets at the most per Test match at an average of 23-24.

Comment by Sourin | 12:00am BST 23 July 2013

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