Asia Cup 2014 March 1, 2014

India's left-right bowling quandary

Karthik Krishnaswamy
Each of India's four frontline bowlers is good against either right-handed batsmen or left-handed batsmen. Not both.
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In the eighth over of Sri Lanka's innings on Friday, Virat Kohli brought R Ashwin into the attack. He replaced Mohammed Shami, who had given away 22 runs in his first three overs. At the other end, Bhuvneshwar Kumar had been much less expensive, conceding just seven runs in four overs.

A bit of post-match number-crunching reveals that the situation shouldn't have come as a surprise. Kusal Perera and Lahiru Thirimanne, Sri Lanka's openers, are both left-handed, and Shami has a poor record against left-handers, averaging 55.00 and conceding 6.43 runs per over. It was no surprise, either, that Bhuvneshwar had kept them so quiet. He has an economy rate of 4.30 against left-handers, and an average of 26.12.

The numbers of India's new-ball bowlers against right-handers, meanwhile, tell a very different story. Shami has an average of 21.02 and an economy rate of 5.48, which is expensive but still better, by nearly a run every over, than the corresponding figure against left-handers. Bhuvneshwar, against right-handers, averages 46.42 and gives away exactly five runs an over.

There was good reason also for Ashwin to come on in Shami's place. He has an average of 26.45 and an economy rate of 4.65 against left-handers. Against right-handers, he averages 39.70 and concedes 5.09 runs per over.

Ashwin was hit for a six in his first over and briefly taken off the attack, but settled into a good rhythm and trapped Thirimanne lbw with a ball that skidded in from around the wicket. At the 20-over mark, Sri Lanka were 93 for 1. Ashwin had bowled six overs and conceded 25 runs. He - and India's attack - had only bowled to left-handers so far, with Kumar Sangakkara having come in at No. 3.

It was here that Ravindra Jadeja came on. Kohli might have waited this long because Jadeja hasn't tasted too much success against left-handers, averaging 58.43 and giving away 5.50 runs an over. India have also been reluctant to use him against left-handers. They have only faced 21% of all the balls he has bowled in ODIs. It's likely that other left-arm spinners around the world bowl a similarly small percentage of their overs to left-handed batsmen.

Ashwin, however, bowls 65.40% of his deliveries to right-handers; he can't escape it, since there are so many of them. His break-up between right- and left-handed batsmen is similar to those of Shami (roughly 63-37) and Bhuvneshwar (65-35). Their numbers seem to correspond far better than Jadeja's to what must be the distribution of right- and left-handed batsmen in international cricket.

Back to the match. Jadeja gave away 12 runs in his first two overs, before he was taken off for Ambati Rayudu, an off-spinner, in the 25th over. He came back three overs later, as soon as Ashwin had spun one viciously to have Perera caught behind. The reason for Jadeja's reintroduction wasn't too difficult to fathom: Mahela Jayawardene, a right-hander, had just walked in. Against them, Jadeja averages 28.84 and goes for 4.51 runs an over.

Real life doesn't rigidly conform to statistics, of course. Jadeja nearly had Sangakkara in the second over of his new spell, only for Dinesh Karthik to fluff up an easy stumping. In Jadeja's next over, though, things got back to normal. An exaggerated sort of normal. Jayawardene scooped him straight to extra cover and Chandimal, next ball, was bowled by a ripper that pitched middle and hit off. Two balls, two right-handers, two wickets.

Sri Lanka took the batting Powerplay in the 36th over, bowled by Jadeja. For the next over, with a right-left pair at the crease, Kohli could have brought on either of his two seamers, and each of them had four overs left to bowl. He chose Shami. Second ball, he jagged one back to trap the right-handed Mathews in front. In his next over, Sachithra Senanayake, another right-hander, popped him straight to midwicket.

Jadeja and Ashwin finished their 10-over quotas by the end of the 45th over. Their numbers told a tale that was in line with the story of their careers. Against Sri Lanka's right-handers, Jadeja gave away six runs in 26 balls and took two wickets. He bowled 34 balls to their left-handers, conceded 26 runs, and took the wicket of Chathuranga de Silva.

Ashwin, for once, was bowling to a team with a large number of left-handed batsmen in its top-order, and India could therefore use him the way they normally use Jadeja. Ashwin bowled 59 of his 60 balls to left-handers, taking two wickets and conceding 43 runs.

Sri Lankan teams, historically, have contained a lot of left-handed batsmen, and it's no surprise Ashwin has an excellent record against them - 26 wickets at an average of 25.73, and an economy rate of 4.52. Jadeja, as you would expect, hasn't done quite as well in terms of taking wickets, his 23 strikes coming at an average of 38.60, even if his economy rate is a more than decent 4.74.

With five overs left, Bhuvneshwar and Shami took over. By now, neither could do anything to stop a rampant Sangakkara, particularly with dew hampering their control. They bowled nine full-tosses in the last five overs, and Sangakkara's hundred took Sri Lanka home by two wickets.

Despite the hammering Sangakkara dished out to him - 26 runs off 12 balls - Bhuvneshwar finished his spell with reasonable figures of 0 for 45 in 9.2 overs. Again, India had the option of using him solely against left-handers if they wished, and they did so. Bhuvneshwar didn't deliver a single ball to a right-hander.

Shami, meanwhile, bowled 10 balls to right-handed batsmen, went for 16 runs, and took two wickets. He bowled 50 balls to left-handers, conceded 66 runs, and took one wicket off a full-toss. His display against Sri Lanka was a microcosm of his career, and so were those of the other three frontline bowlers. Any team planning for a match against India would do well to shuffle their batting order to exploit this quirk in their attack.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • android_user on March 2, 2014, 14:44 GMT

    kohil has doing great job with standing bowling he help out from lossing india

  • dummy4fb on March 2, 2014, 6:45 GMT

    Come On Karthik & media, stop mollycoddling non-performing Indian batsmen. What have the batsmen been doing - With the bat, Either chucking their wickets trying to show-off (selfishly, trying to up their price in IPL games, shamelessly risking defeat for team India) OR blocking too many balls to look responsible & batting India out of the match by eating up balls without getting sufficient runs. On the field - butterfingers - misfielding & dropping catches. What does the team management do - replaces one bowner with another batsman to actually protect those lazy bums & conning the media into publishing "we need more batting cover to protect against our weak bowling"...weak bowling my foot - it is reckless & selfish batting that India needs protection against. Bring in 3 genuine quicks, 2 genuine spinners & a seaming all-rounder, replacing one of the non-performing batsmen. Tell the batsmen - "you are paid to get runs for team india, not increase your career average OR IPL price tags

  • dummy4fb on March 2, 2014, 6:30 GMT

    @Arjun Calidas I completely agree with you. I don't know why they are denying Amit Mishra a change. On these dead and low wickets Amit could run all his magic for India like Shenwari did for Afghanistan (in last couple of games) and Mendis did for SL against India. Binny, Aaron, etc are least helpful in these sort of conditions. Only spinners could turn the game.

  • tententen on March 2, 2014, 6:22 GMT

    the problem with spinner can be sorted out by using mishra who is a leggie turning it both ways. ajmal doesnt face this problem as he has a well diguised doosra which ashwin and jadeja lack

  • karnamgiridhar on March 2, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    well, India and Pakistan match again, all players' weaknesses gets shifted as strengths on this day. So stop guessing guys. Enjoy the game of cricket. Binny might well click today as an alrounder. Akmla can lose his nerves or Kohli can come under high pressure while batting. Whatever it is, its not an easy game for men in blue. Their morale is down after series of losses, Dhoni less team will have to do lot of hard work this afternoon.

  • ssenthil on March 2, 2014, 5:17 GMT

    At the end of the day India missed to have a fifth bowler option. I don't know why U Yadav is not being considered for the squad. I don't think Aron fit the bill. We need at least a Agarkar type of bowler, even if he goes for runs he will always pick wickets. Bhuvi is getting exposed as he is going wicketless in many matches. We can't have a opening bowler going wicketless every other match, Indian fans as hard as against Ashwin for not picking wickets but always soft or one dimensional against seamers. They think Seamer's job is to contain only and spinners to take wickets?

  • Sir_Ivor on March 2, 2014, 4:47 GMT

    I agree entirely with fair_play_1.This sort of ananlysis can only be after the match. If one were to make a conclusion it can only be after a bowler retires.The inescapable fact is that eventually,it is the length that a left handed or a right handed bowler bowls and the field he deploys that will determine his chances of success.If one were to analyse the career statistics of say Bishen Bedi with Prasanna to determine whether they were more successful against one type of batsmen,and use that against others coming into the game,I can understand. Not this way at all. Like I always believe, success for a bowler rests on the length and line he bowls to and the field he places.Then again there is the matter of strategy. It is an accepted fact that if a medium pacer bowls back of length on or about off stump to a right handed bat,he will restrict scoring and maybe take wickets as well.So my point is that each type of bowler has his own advantage. It is how they are used that matters.

  • IAS2009 on March 2, 2014, 4:41 GMT

    a good bowler should be good against all batsmen on all kind of surfaces, stats some time makes thing complicated than it is, just go and perform, modern coaches have all these stats and plan for batsmen weaknesses, sometime they just don't work, the great WI team of 80 and 90's had one target, they destroy every opponent, regardless of pitch and conditions, Aussies did same thing to some extent not as great as WI, but they intimidated the umpires, taunt players on field. Sehag is good example of players played against all conventional wisdom, sehwag played with one principal, see ball and hit ball, on his day he was destroyer of any attack, India have won lot of test matches because of his quick scoring. Shami has to learn how to get better against left handers too.

  • aativas on March 2, 2014, 4:38 GMT

    Mind blowing analysis. Do captains really think about all such things when they are on the field? You must be kidding!!

  • dummy4fb on March 2, 2014, 3:55 GMT

    Actually the comparison between Shami and Bhuvi for the left and right handed batsmen came on live coverage.. Ashwin and Jadeja share a very similar problem because of their nature of bowling.. Offies are generally good to leftys and the left arm orthodox to right handed batsmen.. We need another bowler who can spin it both ways.. Generally a leg break/googly or a left arm chinaman/googly bolwler does the trick.. Bring in Mishra and see the difference..

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