March 31, 2017

The best bowling pairs in a season

Ashwin and Jadeja took 153 wickets in the 13 Tests they played in 2016-17. A look at other bowling pairs who excelled in a season
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Ashwin and Jadeja took 36 more wickets than the next best in a single Test season © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Over a long home season of 13 Test matches, three Indian players played every Test, and each of them made significant contributions right through the season. One of them was Cheteshwar Pujara, who averaged more than 50 in each of the four series, and the other two were the spin duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, whose relentlessness throughout these matches made life miserable for most opposition batsmen.

In 13 Tests, Ashwin and Jadeja took a combined total of 153 wickets, at an average of 24.14. Ashwin's 82 wickets is the most by any bowler in a Test season, while Jadeja's 71 is third on the all-time list. Dale Steyn is the only bowler to come between the two: he took 78 wickets from 12 Tests in 2007-08.

As a combined force, Ashwin and Jadeja were the cornerstone of India's fantastic season: together, they bowled 59% of India's total overs, and took 64% of the wickets taken by India's bowlers. Their poorest combined performance was in Rajkot against England in the drawn Test, when they returned figures of 6 for 363 in 114.3 overs, averaging 60.5 runs per dismissal. In the 12 other Tests in 2016-17, they picked up at least eight wickets between them in every game, and at least 11 in nine Tests. Other than in Rajkot, one of the two always picked up the slack when the other had a relatively poor game. Their best match, in terms of total wickets, was in Mumbai against England, when they had combined figures of 18 for 339. They also had stunning success against New Zealand, picking up 17 in Indore and 16 in Kanpur.

In terms of wickets taken, the tally of 153 for Ashwin and Jadeja is easily the highest by any pair of bowlers in a Test season; the next best is 117, by Glenn McGrath and Stuart MacGill in 1998-99, when the pair played 11 Tests together. McGrath took 63 wickets in those games at an average of 20, while MacGill took 54 at 23. The Australian pair averaged 10.6 wickets per Test, compared to 11.8 for Ashwin and Jadeja, but both pairs took almost exactly the same percentage of their teams' bowler wickets. Unlike this season, in which India played all their Tests at home, Australia played overseas in seven out of those 11 Tests, touring Pakistan and the West Indies, and had a 5-3 win-loss record.

In fact, the list of top eight such bowling pairs in a Test season is dominated by Australia and India - seven of the eight pairs are from these two teams. That's largely because these two teams tend to play more Tests in a season than most other sides: of the 12 instances of a team playing 12 or more Tests in a season, ten are by Australia or India (with one each for New Zealand and South Africa). Also, the list only includes pairs in which each contributor has taken at least 40% of the share of the wickets, to exclude instances of one bowler completely dominating the show. (In the 2007-08 season, for instance, Steyn took 78 wickets from 12 Tests, while the next best for South Africa was 36, by Makhaya Ntini.)

Most wickets by a bowling pair in a Test season*
season Tests Bowler1 (wkts) Average Bowler2 (wkts) Average Tot wkts Average % team wkts^
  2016/17  13   R Ashwin (82)  25.28   Ravindra Jadeja (71)  22.83  153  24.14  63.8
  1998/99  11   Stuart MacGill (54)  23.00   Glenn McGrath (63)  20.00  117  21.38  63.9
  2005/06  12   Shane Warne (62)  26.16   Brett Lee (52)  27.15  114  26.61  50.0
  2004/05  11   Glenn McGrath (56)  18.20   Shane Warne (56)  25.95  112  22.07  57.1
  1979/80  13   Kapil Dev (63)  20.25   Dilip Doshi (46)  26.15  109  22.74  56.2
  2004/05  9   Harbhajan Singh (48)  27.25   Anil Kumble (55)  25.27  103  26.19  64.8
  2004/05  12   Glenn McGrath (59)  18.36   Jason Gillespie (42)  25.76  101  21.44  46.8
  1983/84  9   Malcolm Marshall (52)  18.37   Michael Holding (43)  21.12  95  19.61  59.7
  2004/05  11   Shane Warne (56)  25.95   Jason Gillespie (38)  26.47  94  26.16  48.0
  1978/79  8   Rodney Hogg (51)  15.37   Alan Hurst (40)  22.55  91  18.53  66.4
  1999/00  10   Shane Warne (41)  30.63   Glenn McGrath (50)  20.00  91  24.79  48.4
* In Tests where both bowlers played, and where each bowler took at least 40% of the combined wickets
^ % of team's bowler wickets taken by the pair

In the 13 Tests this season, Ashwin and Jadeja had a combined average of 24.14, while the rest of the Indian bowlers collectively took 87 wickets at 35.08, which means Ashwin-Jadeja conceded 10.94 runs fewer per wicket. That's quite a significant difference in average, but there are other pairs who have done even better. In the 1978-79 season, Australia played eight Tests, and in those games Rodney Hogg and Alan Hurst were outstanding, taking a combined 91 wickets at 18.53. The rest of the bowlers were fairly ordinary, though, conceding 39.7 runs per wicket. The difference in average was 21.17, which is the highest between a bowling pair and the rest of the team's attack in a season. Australia lost six of the eight Tests that season, despite the exploits of Hogg and Hurst. (That season was during the Kerry Packer period, when the top Australian players weren't on national duty.)

Among the 30 bowling pairs who have taken a combined total of 75 wickets in a season (with at least 40% of the wickets taken by each bowler), the difference in averages between the Hogg-Hurst combination and the rest of the team's attack is the highest. There are 11 other pairs with a difference greater than the one between Ashwin-Jadeja and the rest of the Indian attack this season, including two by Indian pairs. In 1979-80, Kapil Dev and Dilip Doshi combined to take 109 wickets at 22.74, while the rest of the Indian attack averaged 37.87, a difference of 15.13. In 2004-05, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh jointly averaged 26.19, while the rest averaged 37.79, a difference of 11.59. (Harbhajan missed a couple of Tests that season, so these numbers and comparisons only include the matches where both played.)

Highest difference in ave between a bowling pair and rest of the attack in a season (Min 75 wkts)
Bowler1 (wkts) Ave Bowler2 (wkts) Ave Comb ave Oth wkts Oth ave Diff season
  Rodney Hogg (51)  15.37   Alan Hurst (40)  22.55  18.53  46  39.70  -21.17   1978/79
  Shaun Pollock (37)  27.57   Makhaya Ntini (40)  29.60  28.62  66  47.32  -18.69   2003/04
  Graham McKenzie (42)  24.74   Neil Hawke (36)  23.61  24.22  66  41.89  -17.68   1964/65
  Stuart MacGill (54)  23.00   Glenn McGrath (63)  20.00  21.38  66  37.65  -16.27   1998/99
  Kapil Dev (63)  20.25   Dilip Doshi (46)  26.15  22.74  85  37.87  -15.13   1979/80
  Wayne Clark (43)  27.02   Jeff Thomson (39)  25.08  26.10  64  40.59  -14.50   1977/78
  Dennis Lillee (38)  21.89   Bruce Yardley (51)  22.67  22.34  53  35.55  -13.21   1981/82
  Malcolm Marshall (52)  18.37   Michael Holding (43)  21.12  19.61  64  32.66  -13.05   1983/84
  Shane Warne (37)  24.41   Craig McDermott (39)  25.72  25.08  52  37.88  -12.81   1994/95
  Peter Pollock (40)  24.20   Joe Partridge (38)  28.42  26.26  53  38.15  -11.89   1963/64
  Shaun Pollock (34)  23.76   Allan Donald (49)  19.57  21.29  67  33.12  -11.83   1997/98
  Harbhajan Singh (48)  27.25   Anil Kumble (55)  25.27  26.19  56  37.79  -11.59   2004/05
  R Ashwin (82)  25.28   Ravindra Jadeja (71)  22.83  24.14  87  35.08  -10.94   2016/17

Of the 153 wickets that Ashwin and Jadeja took, 95 came when they were bowling in partnership. Ashwin took 56 of his wickets when Jadeja was bowling at the other end, while Jadeja took 39 of his wickets with Ashwin at the other end. Their combined average when bowling in tandem was 21.75, which was about 10% better than when not bowling with each other. That could also be because they would have bowled together when conditions were more favourable for spinners, but all of these numbers point to a season of unprecedented success for the two Indian spin stalwarts.

Most wkts taken by a pair when bowling in tandem in a season (since Jan 2002)
Bowler 1 Wkts Ave Bowler 2 Wkt Ave Tot wkts Comb ave Season
 R Ashwin  56  20.21   Ravindra Jadeja  39  23.95  95  21.75   2016/17
 Anil Kumble  37  22.70   Harbhajan Singh  31  25.10  68  23.79   2004/05
 Saeed Ajmal  35  14.69   Abdur Rehman  28  18.68  63  16.46   2011/12
 Jason Gillespie  28  22.57   Glenn McGrath  29  16.55  57  19.51   2004/05
 Dale Steyn  35  14.83   Makhaya Ntini  19  30.68  54  20.41   2007/08

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats
Shiva Jayaraman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo @shiva_cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • subodhsarin on April 7, 2017, 8:32 GMT

    NIAZBHI ON MARCH 31, 2017, 4:53 GMT: "There is so many things wrong with this analysis"...not as much as your conclusions, I'm afraid. "There is no way Ashwin will be as deadly as Marshall, no matter how many wickets he gets"...is there a specific conclusion in the article that you are trying to refute here? "Ashwin and Jadeja are good but they are not the greatest as you presented"... again this seems to be a wishful misread of the article. The author has presented statistical data, not unfounded opinions, unlike you.

  • ZUBZ-1-ZN on April 5, 2017, 13:48 GMT

    @CRIIND , Cricket seasons are as follows - 2016/17 Season started August and ran until March , 2017 Season starts April/May and runs until July / Aug. Then 2017/18 will start in Aug / Sept this year. That series started in July so it fell in the previous season even though it ended in the new season.

  • cricfan6497100000 on April 3, 2017, 11:27 GMT

    The issue with the pitches are not that home sides should not prepare pitches that would obviously suit them. Yes India should prepare Indian style pitches and so should other countries cause if all pitches were the same it would become kinda boring. Get the best out of players by letting them play in these different kinds of conditions and the best will rise to the top. The problem comes when you prepare pitches either so dry or so green it basically eliminate the competition bar the really good players who will still perform to some degree e.g. S Smith now in India or even S Tendulkar in overseas conditions. India should prepare Indian pitches and SA, AUS, and ENG should prepare their natural pitches but the extremes should be kept to a minimum. That is basically what people are complaining about what has been happening in India and not that they should prepare green wickets when SA or AUS come there.

  • ChutneyWalsh on April 2, 2017, 19:28 GMT

    So, in summation, Ashwin and Jadeja are very good, but not as good as the McGrath-led Aussie attack, who did it in all conditions and with everyone contributing, or as good as Dale Steyn, who was so insanely good that you could have paired him with practically anyone and that combination would have made the list.

  • Jansher Khan Niazi on April 2, 2017, 16:04 GMT

    @DRJEZ The fact is that Lillee didn't do well in Asia. In any game. Could have - would have - all conjecture. Despite his abject failure in Pakistan, I still hold him in high regard, although most of us Pakistanis can never forget his spat with Javed Miandad. And that is my overall point. To stop nitpicking, and to stop having different standards. Whether or not Jadeja and Ashwin are 'great' can only be judged at the end of their careers, but if you wish to get into an argument about their not doing well in different conditions, the same argument applies to Lillee too.

  • caribbeanfan on April 2, 2017, 15:42 GMT

    Ashwin + Jadeja + Indian Pitches = How good is more suited

  • cricfan38393454 on April 2, 2017, 14:24 GMT

    why not! kuldeep and umesh yadav

  • mahendra1 on April 2, 2017, 13:38 GMT

    Good stat, thanks Mr S Rajesh and Mr S Jayaraman.

  • diri on April 2, 2017, 12:33 GMT

    lol these two spinners are the best in the world ? what a joke. Give me Dale Steyn please. How I miss those days when we had a champion bowler like him at the top of the rankings.

  • cricfan3766181931 on April 2, 2017, 12:14 GMT

    I believe players are to b judged on performances in big moments not career averages this is y i rate jadeja alot higher than ashwin gave to aussies but also y kholi n warner fall a peg in many an eye and smith and pujara statuses grew this summer wont be remembered for Bangladesh or even england it was aus v india and lets face it thats what mattered most

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