March 1, 2010

Why is Sreesanth playing ODIs?

Sreesanth has been very impressive in Tests, but ODIs clearly isn't the format for him

Sreesanth is one short of playing 50 ODIs, but he still hasn't figured out a way to concede fewer runs © Associated Press
To start with, I must admit that I've always enjoyed watching Sreesanth bowl. He has a smooth, rhythmical action, has a classical side-on delivery motion, and, when he gets it right, the outswinger is wicked and a thing of sheer beauty. None of these things matter, though, when the format is limited-overs cricket, because then the rule is that Sreesanth will get clobbered no matter what he tries.

When Sreesanth returned to the ODI team with much fanfare at the beginning of the year, I had my doubts. Sure, he'd taken five in an innings against Sri Lanka in a matchwinning performance in the Kanpur Test, but this was a different format. Consistency has never been his forte, and on these benign subcontinent pitches, I feared he would be ruthlessly exposed.

And so it happened. Sri Lanka milked him for 47 off seven overs, while even Bangladesh too 54 and 53 off eight overs in the triangular tournament in Dhaka. More punishment from Sri Lanka in the final - none for 72 in 9.3. If anything, it got worse in the three-match home series against South Africa, with 74 and 83 runs - the fifth-highest for an Indian in ODIs - going off his nine overs in two of those matches.

Which brings us to a pertinent question: should Sreesanth be considered at all for one-day cricket? Let's look a little more closely at his ODI stats: he has bowled in 48 matches so far, and 15 times - very nearly one third of all innings - he has gone at seven runs an over or more. Another eight times he has conceded more than a run a ball. That means 23 out of 48 times - almost 50% - he has leaked in excess of a run a ball. In contrast only 11 times has he gone at less than five an over.

Admittedly, his strike rate is reasonably impressive - a wicket every 34 balls - but his profligacy completely undoes his wicket-taking ability. Compare him with Irfan Pathan, who has the same strike rate but has an economy rate of 5.25, which is way better than Sreesanth's 6.03. And we're not even starting on the relative batting capabilities of the two.

And did you know that Sreesanth belongs to a highly exclusive club of which he is the only member? Of those who've bowled at 1500 balls in ODIs, he is the only one with an economy rate of more than six. Which means Sreesanth in the team is excellent news for the opposition, but if I were MS Dhoni, I would much rather have him in my Test line-up than in the ODIs.

Worst economy rate among ODI bowlers (Qual: 1500 balls)
Bowler ODIs Wickets Average Strike rate Econ rate
Sreesanth 49 68 34.20 34.0 6.03
M Nkala 50 22 71.36 71.9 5.95
Elton Chigumbura 103 73 36.94 37.7 5.87
Ishant Sharma 41 56 32.48 33.5 5.81
Henry Olonga 50 58 34.08 35.5 5.76
Sean Ervine 42 41 38.07 40.2 5.67
N Odhiambo 45 46 35.95 38.0 5.67
Shahadat Hossain 46 42 43.42 45.9 5.67
Tapash Baisya 56 59 41.55 44.2 5.64
Naved-ul-Hasan 74 110 29.28 31.5 5.57

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter