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Dave Wilson | 5:24pm gmt 10 Jun 2013
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:-

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

100sInns% 100sPlayer
5132715.6%SR Tendulkar (IND)
4427416.1%JH Kallis (SA)
4128714.3%RT Ponting (AUS)
3628612.6%R Dravid (IND)
3421415.9%SM Gavaskar (IND)
3423214.7%BC Lara (WI)
3320016.5%KC Sangakkara (SL)
3226012.3%SR Waugh (AUS)
3123213.4%DPMD Jayawardene (SL)
3018416.3%ML Hayden (AUS)
298036.3%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:-

2213316.5%M Muralitharan (SL)
101456.9%SK Warne (AUS)
98610.5%RJ Hadlee (NZ)
81326.1%A Kumble (IND)
72725.9%SF Barnes (ENG)
73718.9%CV Grimmett (AUS)
77010.0%DK Lillee (AUS)
6886.8%Imran Khan (PAK)
6867.9%DL Underwood (ENG)
51827.8%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:-

125111.58J Briggs
84510.08R Peel
8219.19W 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'.

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Red Hill
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