Australia in India 2012-13 February 20, 2013

Australia's trial by spin

Spin - both facing it and bowling it - has been a challenge for Australia on their previous tours to India. How well will they cope this time?

An Australian line-up with only four players who've experienced Test cricket in India before will attempt to achieve something that only three other sides have managed in 23 series since 2000. When England trumped India 2-1 in the four-Test series late last year, they became the third team - after Australia in 2004 and South Africa in 2000 - to win a Test series in India since 2000. Despite India's Test fortunes being on a downward slide in the last 20 months, it'll be a tough ask for Australia to replicate what England achieved: England had two high-quality spinners, and a settled and experienced batting line-up; Australia's spin attack looks far inferior when compared to the Graeme Swann-Monty Panesar combination, while their batting line-up is still grappling with the retirements of two heavyweights, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey.

The India-Australia historical head-to-head shows two distinct sets of numbers, depending on the country hosting the matches. In Australia, India have struggled to notch up victories, losing five Tests for every one they've won. At home, though, they've won more than they've lost, and have been especially dominant in the last few years, winning ten out of 17 since the beginning of 1996.

The average columns indicate that Australia tend to slip up in both aspects, the batting and the bowling, when they tour. At home against India, they average 39 with the bat and 29.49 with the ball; in tours to India since 1995, the batting average has dipped to less than 32, and the bowling one has gone up to more than 37.

In these 17 Tests in India, Australian batsmen have scored more hundreds than the Indians - 16 to 15 (though their batsmen have also batted 28 more times). However, they've also been dismissed cheaply more often, getting out for 20 or less 178 times, compared to 151 for India.

Australia v India, in Tests
  Tests Aus won Ind won Drawn Bat ave-Aus Bat ave-Ind
Overall 82 38 20 23 35.42 30.89
in Australia 40 26 5 9 39.00 29.49
in India 42 12 15 14 32.15 32.42
in India since 1995 17 4 10 3 31.59 37.21

Three teams have done significantly better than Australia when they've toured India, of which two are South Africa and England, teams you'd expect should also struggle to play spin. South Africa have won as many Tests as they've lost, and they're the one team whose batting average is higher than the bowling one. For Australia, the bowling average is more than five runs higher than the batting average.

Overseas teams in India since 1995
Team Tests Won/ lost Ratio Bat ave Bowl ave
Pakistan 9 3/ 3 1.00 34.00 39.09
South Africa 12 5/ 5 1.00 35.67 31.58
England 12 3/ 4 0.75 34.60 35.12
Australia 17 4/ 10 0.40 31.59 37.21
New Zealand 13 0/ 5 0.00 30.93 45.79
Sri lanka 9 0/ 4 0.00 34.20 46.93
West Indies 6 0/ 4 0.00 27.83 44.03
Zimbabwe 4 0/ 3 0.00 33.01 64.08

Australia's susceptibility against spin was on display in their warm-up game against India A, and traditionally too they haven't handled spin all that well in India. Since 1995, Indian spinners have averaged 29.05 runs per wicket against Australia in 17 Tests, their third-best against any team during this period. England and South Africa have the best stats against India's spinners, but while England's batsmen have performed relatively poorly against India's seamers, South Africa have done well against them too. Australia's stats against pace is pretty good in India, but they've succumbed to spin pretty regularly: 15 times India's spinners have taken five-fors against them in 17 Tests.

Almost half of those 15 five-fors have been taken by Harbhajan Singh, which explains his inclusion into the Indian squad despite not having lived up to his reputation in the domestic season. In 12 home Tests against Australia, Harbhajan has taken 81 wickets at 24.48. Anil Kumble was equally spectacular as well, with 62 wickets in ten Tests at 24.46, but in his absence, it remains to be seen if Harbhajan can be equally effective.

Among the current Australian batsmen, Michael Clarke and Shane Watson are the two batsmen who've faced the Harbhajan threat in Tests in India. Clarke has the better stats against him, scoring 132 runs at an average of 44, while Watson averages 31. Both have pretty low scoring rates against him, with Watson scoring only 93 runs in 273 balls.

Australia will also miss the experience of Ponting and Hussey, especially when it comes to handling Harbhajan. Ponting struggled against Harbhajan in 2001, but did much better thereafter, scoring 148 runs and being dismissed only twice. Hussey scored 136 off Harbhajan and was dismissed three times. In their absence much of the batting onus will be on Clarke, and though he scored a century in his first Test innings in India - which was also his debut - his overall numbers in India are disappointing: 686 runs in 19 innings at 38.11. Watson has done slightly better, averaging 40.09 in 11 innings.

India's spinners and pace bowlers at home v each team in Tests since 1995
Opposition Spin-wkts Average 5WI/ 10WM Pace-wkts Average 5WI/ 10WM
West Indies 79 24.02 7/ 0 64 34.43 0/ 0
New Zealand 127 27.14 8/ 2 59 34.05 1/ 0
Australia 210 29.05 15/ 4 82 36.57 2/ 0
Zimbabwe 43 31.27 2/ 0 27 37.29 1/ 0
Pakistan 91 31.50 6/ 2 67 35.16 5/ 1
Sri Lanka 73 31.82 3/ 2 48 36.08 2/ 0
South Africa 118 32.61 5/ 0 56 40.39 2/ 0
England 120 34.84 7/ 1 64 32.79 0/ 0
Clarke and Watson v Harbhajan Singh in Tests in India
Batsman Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Michael Clarke 132 308 3 44.00 2.57
Shane Watson 93 273 3 31.00 2.04

While Australia's batsmen have struggled against Indian spin, the visitors' spinners haven't made much of an impression on the Indian batsmen, either in terms of taking wickets or in terms of keeping the runs in check. The Australian spinners have conceded almost 42 runs per wicket, at an economy rate of 3.50 runs per over. Thus, the onus of taking wickets and keeping a check on the runs has fallen on the fast bowlers, and they've done a reasonably good job of it. Among the bowlers in the current Australian squad, though, only Mitchell Johnson has played more than one Test, and his six matches have fetched him 21 wickets at 37.23.

Australia's pace and spin in India in Tests since 1995
  Wickets Average Econ rate Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Pace 157 33.78 2.86 70.8 3/ 0
Spin 90 41.73 3.50 71.4 3/ 1

Among the Indian batting lot, the pressure will be on Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, both of whom have had poor spells of late. Tendulkar scored a commanding century in the Irani Cup and has an outstanding record against Australia both home and away, while Virender Sehwag has better stats in Australia than in India. The biggest contrast in numbers, though, is for MS Dhoni, whose home average against Australia is more than twice his away average against them.

Indian batsmen v Australia, home and away since 1995
Batsman Home Tests Average 100s/ 50s Away Tests Average 100s/ 50s
Sachin Tendulkar 15 62.65 5/ 8 15 55.42 4/ 7
Virender Sehwag 10 40.15 1/ 5 10 47.40 2/ 4
MS Dhoni 6 44.12 0/ 4 7 18.69 0/ 1
Murali Vijay 2 62.50 1/ 0 - - -

All four venues hosting the Tests - Chennai, Hyderabad, Mohali and Delhi - have been pretty good ones for India: collectively they've lost only 13 out of 73 Tests at these grounds. Since 2000 they haven't lost at any of these venues, winning 13 out of 21 Tests, and drawing eight; they've won five out of six in Delhi, four out of seven in Mohali and three out of six in Chennai. Australia, on the other hand, haven't played a Test yet in Hyderabad, but have a losing record at the other three grounds, winning only two Tests out of 14, and losing six.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on February 21, 2013, 20:38 GMT

    @valvolux - not sure what you have against Henriques to say he is "hopeless". He has one of the highest batting averages this summer in shield cricket and a bowling average around 20 for the summer as well. In the tour matches in India he has been the standout of the quicks, and arguably all the bowlers, taking 5x more wickets than any other quick and being significantly more economical than any of the spinners.

    I do agree though that I would have included Bird instead of Siddle, but I guess the selectors wanted his experience. Bird will probably play in the second or third match when Pattinson is rested. And Johnson will get a run when Starc is rested.

  • Mark on February 21, 2013, 20:27 GMT

    @Robofk - WOW! what a brilliant idea, develop some good young spinners. We should have thought of that years ago! Now that you've thought of it, we'll get right on it and have a new Warne by next summer!

    Seriously though, if it was that easy to just "develop a couple of good young spinners" every country would have a few. Aussie wickets don't generally spin a lot, so it's not exactly the breeding ground for spin that India is, that's why we have a surplus of top quality fast bowlers and nothing in the spin department and India is the exact opposite.


  • david on February 21, 2013, 14:33 GMT

    brusselslion is correct. Ohja(and even Ashwin) are miles better than Doherty and Lyon, who whouldn't get into any test team except Aus. That's why Aus are only playing one spinner. everyone knows this is a mistake, but they have no option because these two lightweights are the best they have. It will be 2 or 3 nil to Ind ps i'm an Eng fan.

  • Ray on February 21, 2013, 11:56 GMT

    @valvolux on (February 21, 2013, 7:12 GMT): You're right about Doherty and Lyon. They are poor, very poor. However, you are completely mistaken to think that they are better than Ohja. He will be the difference between the sides. I wouldn't be surprised if he picks up over 25 wickets in the series.

  • Rahul on February 21, 2013, 7:53 GMT

    AUS will miss hussy but they will be happy that ponting is not ther as he was the biggest failure in India. Guess what Aus fans call these pitches flat but don't realize that their so called great has been less than average on Indian pitches and a poor player against quality spin. What would have happened if he had to face bowler like warne like tendulakrs and laras on turning wickets

  • Philip on February 21, 2013, 7:14 GMT

    Australia has Michael Clarke who is a good player of spin. I'm not sure who's the second best. No one else stands out. That is the opportunity for India. If they can make use of spin then they can win. India's problem, though, is that they have shown similar problems with playing fast bowling. If they can get good returns from their veteran bats against Australia's pace, as well as making use of spin when they bowl, they will win.

  • Ravi on February 21, 2013, 7:13 GMT

    If India win the series, it's going to do more harm than good. 1. Dhoni will be retained as captain for the next 2 years. 2. Sehwag, Ashwin will continue playing till they retire. So, I prefer India losing and see wholesale changes to the test team.

  • Justin on February 21, 2013, 7:12 GMT

    Is Australia a better cricket team than India? Without a doubt yes - this is without a doubt the worst Indian team in a long time whom i suspect sit somewhere between Zimbabwe and New Zealand in the talent stakes. India will likely employ the same negative tactics they did the last time Australia visited there - bowl the ball 2m outside off stump and try to bore the aussies into getting out. Could work again, especially against watson and warner - but I know just like last time, everyone will have turned their TVs off by lunch time on the first day so you'll have to email me the result. We dont have a spinner...but neither do India. Let's be honest - as bad as Lyon and Doherty are - they would be the first picked bowlers in the Indian side. We shouldnt get too carried away with critisiing the aussie selectors (even though Moses is hopeless and Bird is our in form bowler) - Sachin is the only player they have who would make the Australian side.

  • kieran on February 21, 2013, 6:44 GMT

    @mikey76, you can't play what you don't have, and we don't have good spinning options. Doherty or Maxwell bowling their "offspin" is not noticeably a better option than having Warner try his legspin. Bird would be effective but Henriques provides a similar option with the bonus of extra batting (Bird is a bonafide #11) to strengthen the long tail. Mind you the tail is pretty handy with Pattinson & Starc both very capable. But the top order is a disaster just waiting to happen: Hughes & Cowan are poor players of spin. Mind you this all depends on India's performance, the've hardly been setting the world on fire these last two years. Advantage India, but not by much.

  • Sandeep on February 21, 2013, 6:13 GMT

    The same has been taald when ENG came to India.we can see what has happened later.The fact is India is not good even in Indian pitches nowadays.We cannot say that we have a good batting side.Our players cannot play quality spinners any more.forget about pace bowlers, evan accurate slow medium pacers will create problems for indian team.And also Clarke is an aggressive captain but Dhoni is not.We have seen in Eng and Aus and against eng in India that he is not creating any option when opposition plays well.He is playing the waiting for them to make mistakes instead of trying to make them do mistakes with his bowlers and field placings.So i would think that result will be 2-1 in Aus favour.

  • No featured comments at the moment.