ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

The spin challenge for England's batsmen

In the last 11 years, England's Test batting average against spin in Asia is among the poorest

S Rajesh

November 9, 2012

Comments: 10 | Text size: A | A

Despite a change of ball colour, Ian Bell remained in good touch, Warwickshire v Sussex, County Championship Division One, Edgbaston, 1st day, July, 12, 2012
Ian Bell has a career Test average of almost 47, but against spin in Asia (excluding Bangladesh), it drops to 23.47 © Getty Images

The 2000-01 season was an outstanding one for England cricket. Under Nasser Hussain, they toured two out of three subcontinental fortresses, and won both battles, beating Pakistan 1-0 and Sri Lanka 2-1 in two three-Test series. For a team whose ability to play and bowl spin bowling had always been questioned, this was resounding success.

In those six Tests, England found several heroes: Graham Thorpe was undoubtedly the leader with the bat, scoring 553 runs - including two hundreds - at an average of 61.44; Michael Atherton contributed consistently, and while Hussain generally struggled, his one major score, 109 in Kandy, led to victory against Sri Lanka. With the ball, Darren Gough and Ashley Giles were the stars, taking 24 wickets each in six Tests at averages of less than 30; Gough was skilful with the old ball, and Giles offered the reliable spin option that every team must have when it visits the subcontinent.

It has been more than 11 years since those triumphs, and England haven't come close to replicating those results in the subcontinent. In eight series against India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Asia since then, the best they've managed are drawn series in India (2005-06) and Sri Lanka (2011-12). On the other hand, they've lost six times, twice each to India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. They've won two series in Bangladesh during this period (in 2003 and 2010), but even the staunchest England supporter will agree that those wins don't count for all that much. Leave out those results, and in 22 Tests in Asia from December 2001, England have a 2-11 win-loss record.

Is the problem with their batting or their bowling or both? The table below lists the averages for both, comparing them with other teams from outside the subcontinent. The England bowlers have a combined average of 36.77 runs per wicket, which isn't outstanding, but only Australia have done better, among teams from outside the subcontinent. However, as a batting unit, three of the five teams listed below have better averages than England's 26.80. The big problem for England has been converting their fifties into hundreds: both Australia and South Africa average more than one century per Test when playing in these countries, but England's average is a poor 0.68 hundreds per Test. Their ratio of hundreds to fifties is almost 1:4, which is much worse than those of Australia and South Africa.

Batting and bowling stats for overseas teams in Ind, Pak, SL and UAE since Dec 2001
Team Tests Bat ave 100s/ 50s Wickets Bowl ave Strike rate
Australia 19 31.73 26/ 40 317 29.95 59.6
South Africa 17 36.55 22/ 44 234 40.47 77.0
England 22 26.80 15/ 56 311 36.77 77.2
New Zealand 12 29.97 12/ 28 141 49.26 91.0
West Indies 16 26.36 9/ 40 198 43.75 80.9

Breaking up the numbers further into batting records against pace and spin, it's clear that England's batsmen have found it tough to survive spin in Asia. The most recent example was against Pakistan in the UAE, when Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman spun rings around the England batsmen, in a series England lost 3-0.

In these last 11 years, South Africa have been the best batting side in Asia, against both pace and spin. Against the slow bowlers they average 35.10 runs per wicket, which is significantly better than England's 25.54.

Teams v spin in Ind, Pak, SL and UAE since Dec 2001
Team Team inngs Wickets Average Run rate
India 109 367 42.01 3.22
Sri Lanka 109 390 40.89 3.10
Pakistan 96 325 36.30 2.91
South Africa 32 168 35.10 2.66
Australia 35 201 31.91 2.93
New Zealand 23 132 29.90 2.56
West Indies 28 148 26.71 2.69
England 44 231 25.54 2.45
Zimbabwe 10 69 15.43 1.85
Bangladesh 20 83 14.86 2.41

A look at the records of England's batsmen against spin in Asia (excluding Bangladesh) shows that most of them have much poorer records there in comparison to their overall numbers. Among the current lot, only Alastair Cook has a 40-plus average against spinners in Asia; in fact, he averages 63.75. He has faced 1327 balls from spinners, and been dismissed just eight times, an average of 166 balls per dismissal. Kevin Pietersen, on the other hand, has been dismissed 16 times in 932 balls, an average of 58 balls per dismissal. Pietersen, though, has looked to take charge against spin, scoring at almost four an over against them, thanks to which his average is a respectable 37.62 (against left-arm spin, though, that drops to 25.50).

Most of the other England batsmen have done much worse than that. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Ian Bell, who averages less than 25, with a dismissal rate of once every 64 balls. His run rate is similar to that of Cook, but he tends to get out far more often to spin, which is surprising, given his organised technique and his ability to play the ball late and with soft hands.

England's lower middle order has been an area of strength for them, but even they have struggled to score runs against spin. Matt Prior has reasonable numbers, but even his average against spin is well below his career average of 42.61. Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad, who have often scored vital runs down the order, have struggled to replicate those performances against spin in the subcontinent.

England batsmen v spin in Ind, Pak, SL, UAE since Dec 2001
Batsman Runs Dismissals Average Run rate
Kevin Pietersen 602 16 37.62 3.87
Alastair Cook 510 8 63.75 2.30
Paul Collingwood 484 11 44.00 2.53
Andrew Strauss 452 14 32.28 2.68
Ian Bell 446 19 23.47 2.19
Marcus Trescothick 301 6 50.16 3.64
Matt Prior 292 10 29.20 2.58
Michael Vaughan 247 8 30.87 2.02
Mark Butcher 224 6 37.33 1.74
Jonathan Trott 217 7 31.00 2.21
Graeme Swann 109 9 12.11 3.65
Stuart Broad 69 6 11.50 3.39
Eoin Morgan 63 5 12.60 2.64

Cook has done a fine job in tackling spin in Asia, but South Africa and Australia have had at least two batsmen who have done that job for their team. Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers have absolutely stunning records against spin in Asia, with Amla averaging in excess of 80. For Australia, Ricky Ponting and the two Michaels, Hussey and Clarke, have done the job pretty well. Similarly, Shivnarine Chanderpaul has performed consistently well in Asia, and Chris Gayle has been among the runs too. If England are to end their 11-year drought in Asia, they'll need several things to fall into place. Among the main ones will be to ensure that their batsmen conquer India's spinners, and get enough runs on the board to allow the bowlers to exert some pressure on the home batsmen.

Overseas batsmen with best records v spin in Ind, Pak, SL, UAE since Dec 2001
Batsman Runs Dismissals Average Run rate
Jacques Kallis 1071 17 63.00 2.93
Hashim Amla 757 9 84.11 2.63
Ricky Ponting 691 11 62.81 3.30
Michael Clarke 611 14 43.64 3.10
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 601 12 50.08 2.55
Michael Hussey 579 10 57.90 2.89
AB de Villiers 561 10 56.10 3.58
Alastair Cook 510 8 63.75 2.30
Chris Gayle 418 7 59.71 3.50

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

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Comments: 10 
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Posted by David on (November 10, 2012, 22:32 GMT)

Looking at those batting stats, I'd say the best available solution for England is to get Trescothick or Collingwood to unretire from international cricket. Failing that, someone should find out if Graham Thorpe and Mike Atherton are passing through Ahmedabad on the 15th and whether they're busy

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 10, 2012, 17:29 GMT)

just because some non indian fans here think that ashwin and ojha are far from quality spinners that doesnt become truth the stats prove other wise !! name one spinner in the world who had a better debut than ashwin in tests !! name one spinner who also made a 100 on debut apart from getting a big chunk of wickets on debut !! ashwin is a match winner for india in tests .his entry in to tests is a relevation for indian team he was winning all home tests single handedly tormenting the batsmen with spin and the best thing is he runs through tail enders so swiftly which was a big problem fr indian bowlers before !! ashwin has more variations than any other spinner in the world presently he can bowl 6 differrent balls in an over can swann and ajmal do that ?? can swann and ajmal also hit a century on debut like ashwin ?? ask chris gayle whom he fears to bat against ashwin or swann :-p

give credit where it is due guys appreciate talent instead of overhyping club level bowlers like swann

Posted by Arshad on (November 10, 2012, 6:52 GMT)

England is weak against quality spin and this Indian spin attach is far from quality do I don't see any problems for England handling this rather below average Indian attack. India always win matches by virtue of their batting and never thru their bowling.

Posted by Girish on (November 9, 2012, 23:59 GMT)

Why even waste time on Bell? He is going to be a walking wicket. 25-30 runs and he is done.

Posted by Andrew on (November 9, 2012, 22:40 GMT)

Batting ave of 25 in Asia - not good! It will be interesting if India's bowling attack will continue that trend or help England batsmen's to shore up that statistic?

Posted by Richard on (November 9, 2012, 20:55 GMT)

@electric_loco_WAP4 - not sure what you have against England exactly, they haven't ever pretended to be the best in the world against spin. Interesting contest, with the best spinner from both teams being Graeme Swann, and then Monty Panesar (whether he gets on the field or not) is the second best. Ravichandran Ashwin will be a top player, he is still learning his craft in Tests at the minute, and Ojha has been included in the hope Pietersen's hoodoo against left arm spin continues. England have never had a better chance of winning in India since they last did, and I think you realise this. Before commenting on an Ashes humbling, lets see how the Springboks do in Oz. England at least managed to win Day 1 of the Test series v South Africa - although other than KP's ton and Bairstows 95 - there weren't many other victories to cling on to

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 9, 2012, 14:44 GMT)

Everyone struggles against the spinning ball. did'nt india struggle against ajantha mendis. England never had any problem playing mendis but the Indians were bamboozled so many times. Indians dont struggle against spin because they dont play their own spinners. but they will definitely struggle against spin of swann and company. I also think that its a racial bias if indians think that the english batsmen cant handle spin. if someone from england says that Tendulkar cant play pace bowlers' would'nt that be biased statement. Good players are good players but no player, good or bad, likes the moving ball (spinning or seaming). I know lot of people will be shouting after reading the stats provided by cricinfo but stats dont always tell the story. I think you all should see how indians played mendis and not just look at the stats and you will know that even the county cricketers play spin better.Can't cricinfo look at how mendis tormented india rather than put up these stats.

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 9, 2012, 13:53 GMT)

Gayle's stats in the final table are inflated due to one score of 333. Mr.Rajesh take note. I wonder why Thorpe is not mentioned in the 2nd last table which has many retired guys like Butcher,Vaughan,Tersco, etc.

Posted by Adrian on (November 9, 2012, 13:08 GMT)

I think this article confirms what most of us have suspected for a long time about England's ability to play spin in Asia. It is interesting to see that Cook has done well though. An average of 63.75 is not to be sniffed at even if he does look like he's going to fall over every time he plays spin. I hope the rest of our batsmen can take a leaf out of his book.

Posted by sam on (November 9, 2012, 5:16 GMT)

Sums up everything about England ...and for those Eng fans still under illusions of their 'great' team-one of the greatest of all time (incl mighty WI and Aus-dominant teams of the past) and the 'best' Eng side since 'The War'(best in> 60 years!!) ,no way to argue against cold,hard stats and facts. Compliments to the dedicated and truly brilliant brainwork by cricinfo stats-team-great work been done by all!! Also Bang are right to feel aggrieved by their stats been overlooked for games against 'Asian' teams-surely Eng won't mind having a coat of varnish patch up those ugly stats(pathetic best to describe) in/against Asia(n) teams.By the way young Bang batsmen smashed Eng bowling(however mediocre) in their last series in the U.K,there's not much separating the 2 teams.They at least gave a good account on alien seaming conditions unlike the sorry sight of the Eng 'playing' spin in the SC.Surely after Ind v Eng and an Ashes humbling,Eng will get their deserved 7th rank, still> Bang!

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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