South Africa in India / Stats Analysis

Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh

Spinning in tandem

A statistical look at the spin pair of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh

Mathew Varghese

April 4, 2008

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Spinning together for the 50th time © AFP
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A pitch with a tinge of green was perhaps not the ideal setting for Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh to play their 50th Test together. South Africa's fast bowlers wrecked India, and the duo hardly made an impact as AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis piled on the misery.

Harbhajan himself was forthright with his take on the Motera strip on offer, and indicated how home pitches should have been conducive to spin. After all, the Indian bowling line-up consisted of what perhaps is the most experienced spin pairing of all time.

Although the 50 Tests for Kumble and Harbhajan is far behind the most experienced bowling pair of all time - Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne tormented batsmen for over 100 Tests, a factor in Australia's phenomenal success - they are one of the longest-serving spins pairs in Tests.

Bowling pairs featuring in most number of Tests
Tests Bowler Wickets Average Bowler Wickets Average
104 Shane Warne 513 24.87 Glenn McGrath 488 21.38
95 Courtney Walsh 373 24.30 Curtly Ambrose 389 21.11
93 Shaun Pollock 377 22.61 Jacques Kallis 170 33.48
88 Muttiah Muralitharan 545 21.70 Chaminda Vaas 294 27.54
89 Courtney Walsh 315 25.70 Carl Hooper 95 47.52
79 Kapil Dev 243 31.73 Ravi Shastri 151 40.66
77 Jacques Kallis 159 32.74 Makhaya Ntini 297 28.57
70 Carl Hooper 76 47.60 Curtly Ambrose 291 21.95
63 Shaun Pollock 235 24.70 Makhaya Ntini 255 27.67
61 Wasim Akram 282 21.33 Waqar Younis 277 22.92
60 Garry Sobers 181 32.60 Lance Gibbs 237 29.00
60 Bob Willis 222 24.62 Ian Botham 254 25.67
58 Glenn McGrath 274 20.52 Jason Gillespie 210 26.27
53 Shane Warne 269 25.78 Jason Gillespie 176 28.57
52 Anil Kumble 225 27.94 Javagal Srinath 187 29.30
51 Ray Lindwall 195 22.47 Keith Miller 150 23.68
49 Andrew Flintoff 167 30.06 Matthew Hoggard 200 28.32
49 Derek Underwood 161 28.09 Tony Greig 119 31.41
49 Anil Kumble 272 26.95 Harbhajan Singh 197 32.52
Only those players who have bowled 90 balls per Test on an average have been considered.

Perhaps only one spin pair has played more Tests together than Harbhajan-Kumble; the word "perhaps" is used since the combination in question includes Garry Sobers, whose bowling styles included left-arm fast-medium, slow left-arm orthodox and slow left-arm chinaman. Sobers played 60 Tests alongside offspinner Lance Gibbs. With the Motera Test, Kumble and Harbhajan move ahead of another dubious spin combination - Derek Underwood and Tony Greig played together in 49 Tests, but Underwood could lay as much claim as to being a left-arm spinner as Greig could to being an offspinner.

Three Indian spin pairs come in next, all featuring a left-arm spinner. The first two include Bishan Bedi, who played alongside offspinner Erapalli Prasanna and legspinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar in 43 and 42 Tests, while Chandu Borde combined with the miserly left-arm spin of Bapu Nadkarni in 40 Tests.

Spin pairs featuring in most number of Tests
Tests Bowler Wickets Average Bowler Wickets Average
60 Garry Sobers 181 32.60 Lance Gibbs 237 29.00
49 Derek Underwood 161 28.09 Tony Greig 119 31.41
49 Anil Kumble 272 26.95 Harbhajan Singh 197 32.52
43 Erapalli Prasanna 162 31.03 Bishan Bedi 169 29.04
42 Bhagwat Chandrasekhar 184 28.70 Bishan Bedi 184 27.22
40 Bapu Nadkarni 88 27.46 Chandu Borde 37 47.51

Harbhajan wasn't too off with his suggestions on the pitch, as in the 32 home Tests together for Kumble and Harbhajan, India have won 14 and lost only five. Both average below 20 in home victories.

However, they fare far worse in away conditions, though Kumble has been the better of the two both home and away.

Kumble-Harbhajan home and away
Venue Tests Wickets for Kumble Average Wickets for Harbhajan Average
Home 32 200 24.51 148 28.64
Home wins 14 114 16.87 77 19.89
Away 17 72 33.76 49 44.24
Away wins 6 28 21.35 19 27.63

In the 49 Tests they played together prior to the Ahmedabad Test, Kumble and Harbhajan have been part of 20 wins, with 20 matches ending in a stalemate and nine ending in defeat. Their averages in victories are less than half of the corresponding figures in draws, an indication that when they have failed to get going, opposition bowlers too haven't been able to dismiss India twice.

Kumble-Harbhajan by match result
Result Tests Wickets for Kumble Average Wickets for Harbhajan Average
Won 20 142 17.76 96 21.42
Lost 9 47 34.53 38 34.42
Drawn 20 83 38.40 63 48.30

While Kumble's averages 16.91 in the fourth innings of a match - with 48 wickets in 12 innings - Harbhajan only manages a third of those wickets, at an average of 37.18. The offspinner gives away more than 40 per wicket in the first, but he outdoes Kumble when it comes to averages in the third innings of a match, with both bowlers having taken 77 wickets.

Kumble-Harbhajan by match innings
Innings Tests Wickets for Kumble Average Wickets for Harbhajan Average
1st 30 83 32.61 60 42.20
2nd 19 64 26.01 44 33.38
3rd 31 77 27.90 77 23.53
4th 12 48 16.91 16 37.18

While the inclusion of Harbhajan works favourably on Kumble's statistics, the same doesn't hold conversely. One prime reason for Harbhajan's better performance in the absence of Kumble has to be the 2001 home series against Australia, when India, without Kumble, turned the series on its head. Harbhajan was one of the stars in that series, with 32 wickets at 17.03 apiece in three Tests.

Harbhajan with and without Kumble
Tests Wickets Average Strike-rate 5WI/10WM
Overall 64 264 31.45 66.1 21/4
With Kumble 49 197 32.52 69.3 16/2
Without Kumble 15 67 28.29 57.0 5/2

Kumble with and without Harbhajan
Tests Wickets Average Strike-rate 5WI/10WM
Overall 126 607 28.98 64.6 35/8
With Harbhajan 49 272 26.95 59.0 19/6
Without Harbhajan 77 335 30.62 69.2 16/2

All stats prior to the second Test between India and South Africa in Ahmedabad.

Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo

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Sub-editor (stats) After graduating in Economics from St Xavier's College, Mathew Varghese did a journalism course before joining Cricinfo. Born and brought up in Bombay, Mathew thought hailing from the same city as Sachin Tendulkar would automatically make him inherit some of the genius. Sadly, besides a low grip on the bat handle, he acquired nothing else. He still dreams of being the perfect cricketer - a Bradmanesque batsman who can blend aggression with dour defence; a bowler who can perform the roles of McGrath, Lee and Warne; a fielder in the Jonty class; and a captain-cum-coach with an unprecedented record.
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