ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

A new high for overseas spinners in India

England's spinners took 39 wickets in the four-Test series in India, which is more than what any overseas team had managed in the last 30 years

S Rajesh

December 21, 2012

Comments: 22 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Swann had Sachin Tendulkar caught at slip, India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata, 4th day, December 8, 2012
Graeme Swann has a Test average of less than 32 in every country he has played in, except Australia © BCCI
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Immediately after India's series defeat against England in Nagpur, MS Dhoni said, somewhat bafflingly, that batting and pace bowling were the key differences between the two sides. Obviously they were important factors - England's batsmen were far more patient, organised and resilient than the home team's, and their pace attack, led by the skilful James Anderson, made much greater impact than India's - but the way England's spin duo bested India's slow bowlers was probably the biggest surprise of the series.

Against batsmen who were supposedly at their best against spin, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar did huge amounts of damage - England's spinners picked up 39 wickets at 28.61, at a strike rate of 64.5 balls per wicket. Against batsmen who were supposedly iffy against slow bowling, especially in the subcontinent, India's spin contingent, led by Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin, managed 43 at 40.62, with a strike rate of 90.5 balls per wicket. (In their previous home series, against New Zealand, the Indian spinners had taken 31 wickets in two Tests, averaging 15.93 at a strike rate of 37.8.) As far as beatings go, this was a pretty comprehensive one, and given the amount of bowling done by spinners in the series, this difference in wicket-taking ability was the decisive one in the series.

It was highly unusual too, for overseas spinners to have so much success in India. Since the beginning of 2000 and before the start of this series, overseas spinners had averaged 46.12 runs per wicket in India; the only country in which they averaged more was in Australia (49.14). During the same period, India's spinners averaged 30.49 runs per wicket at home, second only to Sri Lanka's 25.27. In 59 Tests, India's spinners took 644 wickets, more than twice the tally of the overseas ones (295).

In this series, though, the roles were reversed: Swann and Panesar churned out the kind of numbers that the Indians normally do at home, while Ojha, Ashwin and Co performed like touring spinners usually do in India.

Home and overseas spinners in each country between Jan 2000 and Nov 14, 2012
Host country Tests Hosts - wkts Average Strike rate Away - wkts Average Strike rate
Sri Lanka 67 690 25.27 58.9 345 43.89 84.2
India 59 644 30.49 67.0 295 46.12 84.8
Australia 73 334 33.43 65.2 266 49.14 84.9
England 89 246 36.00 71.5 311 40.32 76.4
Pakistan 32 199 37.38 76.8 167 41.85 81.4
New Zealand 51 164 41.40 89.6 185 34.35 74.0
West Indies 64 243 41.95 93.5 353 32.93 69.3
Zimbabwe 25 93 43.12 85.3 140 30.11 71.5
South Africa 64 127 43.40 84.4 228 37.41 72.6
Bangladesh 38 255 43.94 86.6 314 23.50 48.5

England's overall spin stats were among the best by any team in India ever, and certainly the finest in recent - and even not-so-recent - memory. Only three times have spinners from an overseas side taken more wickets in a series in India, and all of them were in five-Test series. It's quite conceivable that had there been another Test in this series, Swann and Panesar might have equalled or exceeded the current record.

The three instances when an overseas team took more wickets in a series with spin in India were all before 1970, which puts into perspective this effort by Swann and Panesar. Also, the others among the top eight (see table below) were all in five-Test series. The earlier record in a series of less than five Tests was 33 in three Tests by England in 1933-34, in what was India's first series at home. In the last 25 years, no overseas team had taken more than 29 spin wickets in a series in India - England exceeded that number by more than 30%. (Click here for the team-wise list of most wickets by overseas spinners in a series in India since 1970.)

Most wickets taken by overseas spinners in a series in India
Series Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
England in India, 1961-62 5 49 33.24 88.3 2/ 0
England in India, 1963-64 5 48 39.22 117.1 2/ 0
Australia in India, 1969-70 5 41 24.34 75.7 3/ 1
Australia in India, 1959-60 5 39 19.69 66.8 2/ 0
England in India, 2012-13 4 39 28.61 64.5 3/ 1
England in India, 1951-52 5 38 31.76 70.8 2/ 0
England in India, 1972-73 5 37 32.35 84.5 0/ 0
Pakistan in India, 1986-87 5 35 36.85 82.6 2/ 0

Thanks to England's performance in this series, their overall spin stats in India are the best among all touring teams since 2000. In 12 Tests in India during this period - spread over four series - their spinners have taken 75 wickets at 35.49. Most of the good work, though, was done in this series: in eight previous matches, they'd only taken 36 wickets at 42.94, at a strike rate of 90. Those were more like the average performances by overseas spinners in India; this time, though, they turned it around completely.

Most of the other teams have struggled with their spinners. Pakistan is the only other team with a bowling of less than 40 and a healthy wickets-per-Test rate. Sri Lanka have relied on their spinners too, but they've gone for plenty of runs too. South Africa have had plenty of success in India during this period, but they've relied almost entirely on their fast bowlers.

Team-wise stats for overseas spinners in India since Jan 2000
Team Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
England 12 75 35.49 76.8 4/ 1
Pakistan 6 42 37.66 70.1 2/ 0
Australia 13 63 41.26 69.6 3/ 1
Sri Lanka 6 48 45.72 77.3 2/ 0
New Zealand 7 38 48.34 96.5 1/ 0
South Africa 9 24 51.87 95.7 1/ 0
West Indies 6 26 57.34 102.4 0/ 0
Zimbabwe 4 18 61.66 117.0 1/ 0

These performances by Swann and Panesar have also lifted them pretty high in the all-time list of wicket-takers among overseas spinners: both have 28, which puts them in joint ninth position. Derek Underwood and Richie Benaud are on top with 54 and 52 wickets at averages of less than 27, but the two modern spin giants, Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne, both average more than 43.

Highest wicket-takers among overseas spinners in India
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Derek Underwood 16 54 26.51 78.0 1/ 0
Richie Benaud 8 52 18.38 56.7 5/ 1
Muttiah Muralitharan 11 40 45.45 86.2 2/ 0
Lance Gibbs 9 39 23.38 76.0 3/ 0
Shane Warne 9 34 43.11 81.0 1/ 0
Danish Kaneria 6 31 39.58 71.1 2/ 0
Daniel Vettori 8 31 44.77 102.7 2/ 0
Iqbal Qasim 10 29 33.86 87.0 2/ 1
Ashley Mallett 5 28 19.10 64.0 3/ 1
Graeme Swann 6 28 28.96 61.3 1/ 0
Monty Panesar 8 28 38.25 81.4 2/ 1

Swann remains England's leading spinner, but Panesar's recent form should make him a certainty whenever the team opts for two spinners. Since returning to Test cricket at the beginning of this year, he has taken 33 wickets in six Tests at 26.03. He has also averaged almost 62 overs per Test, and his economy rate of 2.31 has given England plenty of control in the field.

Swann, meanwhile, continues to improve hi record in different conditions. He now has an outstanding record in Asia - 73 wickets in 13 Tests at 25.97. Breaking up those numbers country-wise, he averages 28.96 in India, 25.25 in Bangladesh, 22.18 in Sri Lanka, and 25.07 in the UAE. (Click here for his career bowling summary in Tests.) Australia is the only country in which his bowling average exceeds 32 (39.80 in five Tests). He'll surely get another opportunity to improve those numbers as well.

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

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Comments: 22 
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Posted by Zaccharia on (December 23, 2012, 11:43 GMT)

Wow, Richie Benaud's record in India is truly remarkable.

Posted by Black on (December 23, 2012, 2:52 GMT)

I do not think that nos of wkts taken, is a fair criteria as if one plays more matches it's likely that he will end up with more wkts. (shane warne 34 in 9tests, so 3.77 wkts per test)...but if we see Saqlain's stats...3 tests, 6 innings, 24 wkts, (so 8 wkts per test match) avg: 20.95 SR: 46.9 I believe by not mentioning Saqlain in this article, Rajesh dropped the ball.

Posted by Alistair on (December 22, 2012, 18:04 GMT)

@ Stuart online. You're right, stats alone don't prove the case, the whole of reality and every single observer of these matches confirm that England's spinners were the best, not only in India but they're also the best in the world along with Ajmal. As others have pointed out, it was only feeble and rusty batting that lost them the series 3-0 in UAE. The series was actually a very close one, although I have no quarrel with the overall result because England got what their batsmen deserved which was a series loss. @liz1558 - that's a great suggestion as with Swann and Monty plus Anderson, Finn and probably an on-form Broad we'd have a great chance of winning the home Ashes comfortably. We'd probably need to select differently for the away series though. Should have enough batting with Prior at 6 and Broad and Swann at 7 and 8 to get the runs too. Don't think it's very likely though. Anyway, all hail our great spin twins and yes, Benaud was pretty handy back in the day...

Posted by Ragavendran on (December 22, 2012, 17:59 GMT)

@atirakeel: Pak may have won the test series 3-0 but the gap between the two sides was not as great.There were no huge innings defeats or 300 run losses that were suffered by England in the UAE series. Indian batsmen failed as a group in 2nd and 3rd tests which can happen to any team that is not legendary. We observed the SA team struggling to hold their own against in the 1st 2 Tests in Aus and also in the previous home series in SA. Neither is SA as superior compared to England as they demonstrated in England recently.

We can conclude that the top 4 - 6 test playing nations are so closely matched that any series result is possible depending on the form of the players, a bit of luck, pitch & weather conditions, injuries etc.

Posted by sports_freakz on (December 22, 2012, 17:45 GMT)

On a totally side note, I was shocked to see that Murali has a worse record in India that Warne. That would mean that he has an awful record in two countries - India and Australia.

Posted by Bored on (December 22, 2012, 17:41 GMT)

@liz1558: Haha, that could be one helluva surprise for the Aussies! Lyon vs Monty-Swann! :-D On current form, Monty+Swann are only comparable to Ajmal+Rahman(+Hafeez). India's spinners since the retirement of Kumble, have lost direction. But give them time, Ojha seems capable, Ashwin needs guidance tho.

Posted by Dummy4 on (December 22, 2012, 12:21 GMT)

@aitrakeel , it was purely because of high quality spin , england players had no clue what to do againt ajmal n then on the other hand it was Abdul Rehman n then M hafeez too

Posted by Stuart on (December 22, 2012, 9:24 GMT)

I'm still not sure the stats alone prove the point that England spinners were better. Indian spinners had a worse average and worse strike rate. Better Eng batting or better Eng bowling ? Indian spinners did take more wickets, but maybe just because the Indian pace men were so poor. And by the way, Benaud's stats for wickets per match and 5WI are stunning !

Posted by R on (December 22, 2012, 5:57 GMT)

@optic... Could not agree more, well said, it was a magnificemt reply (by all but esp Monty and Swanny) to being 1 nil down in totally alien conditions, with a new captain and especially after the string of failures vs spin in UAE & SL. Add in bcci playing silly over England's preparation and it was a formidable achievement to come back and win the series so easily. It shows excellent camaraderie in the Eng dressing room and an encouraging strength in depth in the squad. With a couple of selection tweaks this team could def be heading back in the right direction again. A great result.

Posted by GARY on (December 22, 2012, 0:52 GMT)

@Gopinath Agrahara Bet you wasn't saying that 1-7 in India's line up are 'atrocious players of test cricket' after you won the first test & particularly at home. Don't know why you need to say that tbh especially when talking about playing spin bowling which is what we're talking about here. The likes of Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar have monstered spin bowling for years, particularly at home and then add Pujara & Kholi to them and that's a very good top 5 against spin. Tendulkar may not be the player he was but he's still a good batsmen. It's that just this time England had 2 bowlers who kept the pressure on through line & length, drift, variation & spin, they out did to India what India usually do the opposition in India. Maybe that top 7 isn't quite as good as before but to not give Swann & Monty their full dues is wrong imo but tbh it's no surprise they performed so well, they've were magnificent in the UAE & Sri Lanka but the batting let them down.

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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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