The Friday column November 11, 2005

The extras factor, and Harbhajan's return

India's bowling performance at Rajkot was one of their most disciplined in the last five years, while Harbhajan Singh gets his home groove back

The Indian bowlers didn't give the umpires much opportunity to do that in the Rajkot ODI © Getty Images

Sri Lanka have been at the receiving end on the tour of India almost relentlessly since the series began, but there was one area where they had been outperforming the Indians till the sixth match of the series at Rajkot. In the first five games, the Sri Lankan bowlers had only conceded 37 runs through wides and no-balls; the Indians, on the other hand, had let slip 57. Virender Sehwag, the stand-in captain for India, mentioned that it was an area of concern, and the profligacy was immediately corrected in the sixth game, where the Indians gave away only two wides and a no-ball, compared to three and eight for Sri Lanka.

In a format of the game which places a premium on discipline, the number of no-balls and wides bowled, along with the number of runs conceded in the field, is perhaps the best indication of how well a team is doing the basics. While the Indian fielding has been top-class through much of this series, the discipline in bowling wasn't quite up to mark - in the third game, 12 runs were conceded off wides, and in the fifth that number went up by one. Which is why Sehwag made it a point to mention the improvement after the Rajkot game. It was quite an unusual stat for the Indian team too - since 2000, it was only the sixth time that they conceded three runs or less in wides and no-balls. But as the table below shows, tightening the belt hasn't always translated into favourable results - India have only won two of those six games.

Least runs conceded in no-balls & wides by India since 2000
Opponent Venue & date Wides + no-balls Result
Zimbabwe Sharjah, October 22, 2000 1 Won by 13 runs
England Delhi, January 31, 2002 2 Lost by 2 runs
West Indies Harare, July 7, 2001 3 Lost by 16 runs
Australia Margao, April 6, 2001 3 Lost by 4 wickets
Pakistan Birmingham, September 19, 2004 3 Lost by 3 wickets
Sri Lanka Rajkot, November 10, 2005 3 Won by 7 wickets

There's no doubt that no-balls and wides are a good indication of a team's discipline, but how important are they to a team's result? Does the team which concede the least such extras also win the most number of matches? As the table below shows, it isn't quite so: Bangladesh's bowlers give away only 8.48 runs through wides and no-balls, but the odd run saved through these means obviously has little consequence when the rest of their game has such gaping holes.

Australia, the team with by far the highest percentage of wins, are fourth in the list, while India are in eighth place - clearly it'll require more than one good game to improve the average. And while more extras conceded might not necessarily translate into more defeats, India's slump last season also coincided with an increase in bowling indiscipline - from the Asia Cup in 2004 to the Indian Oil Cup earlier this year, when the team lost 16 out of 28 matches, they conceded 14 runs from no-balls and wides per match.

But one team which has enough talent to rise above these trivial issues of no-balls and wides is Pakistan. They languish at the bottom of the table, with more than 15 runs conceded every game through wides and no-balls, but that hasn't prevented them from winning 62% of their matches.

Teams in ODIs since the 2003 World Cup
Team Wins/ Matches Win % Nb+wides per match
Bangladesh 7/ 48 14.58 8.48
South Africa 31/ 55 56.36 8.49
New Zealand 27/ 56 48.21 8.66
Australia 51/ 69 73.91 9.38
Sri Lanka 34/53 64.15 9.89
England 27/ 52 51.92 10.71
West Indies 21/ 57 36.84 10.79
India 32/ 66 48.48 11.82
Zimbabwe 9/ 55 16.36 11.84
Pakistan 44/ 71 61.97 15.30

Bhajji's back
A month ago, Harbhajan Singh was in the news for all the wrong reasons, but in this series against Sri Lanka, he has allowed his bowling to do all the talking: six wickets at 26, and an economy rate of 3.43 tells the story. Varying his pace and flight superbly, Harbhajan has consistently demanded respect from all batsmen.

His performance in this series also breaks an unusually lean run he'd been having in ODIs at home over the last three seasons: since November 2002 and before the current series, Harbhajan had played 16 home games - against West Indies, New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan - and had embarrassing stats of 12 wickets at more than 56 apiece, with an economy rate touching five an over.

In fact, Harbhajan has been having a rather mixed time of it in home ODIs - in the four-and-a-half year period before November 2002, 16 one-day matches fetched him 24 wickets at just 27. If Harbhajan is working on a 16-match home cycle, then Indian fans can rest easy for this season at least.

Harbhajan in home ODIs
Wickets Average Economy rate
First 16 ODIs 24 27.08 4.46
Next 16 ODIs 12 56.58 4.81
Last 5 ODIs 6 26.16 3.43

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the stats he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan in the Chennai office.