The Friday column February 24, 2006

Trial by spin awaits England

Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh will be licking the chops in anticipation of bowling to England's batsmen

Michael Vaughan: a key man for England © Getty Images

Of the England squad which has arrived in India for the series, only three batsmen have played Tests against India. Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Flintoff were members of the touring party to India in 2001-02, and also played them in the home series in 2002. As the head-to-head table below shows, Vaughan and Trescothick have both had plenty of success against the Indian attack, including the much-feared duo of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. However, there's a small catch there: 249 of Vaughan's runs against the pair came in the 2002 series in England, on tracks which were relatively less conducive to spin. Flintoff, though, has a few scores to settle with the spin duo: his combined stats against them read 34 runs, for five times out - an average of less than seven.

England batsmen versus Indian spinners
Batsman Bowler Runs/ Balls Dismissals Average
Vaughan Kumble 174/ 269 1 174.00
Vaughan Harbhajan 151/ 265 0 -
Trescothick Kumble 98/ 134 1 98.00
Trescothick Harbhajan 64/ 113 0 -
Flintoff Kumble 26/ 39 3 8.67
Flintoff Harbhajan 8/ 18 2 4.00

If the stats above make England's two main batsmen look good, they only need to see the stats for Kumble and Harbhajan against England at home to get a feel of just how tough it will be: Kumble has a haul of 40 wickets in six Tests at 21.40, while Harbhajan's 13 wickets have come at 24.53 apiece.

Clearly, spin will be the biggest threat for England's batsmen on this tour, a fact borne out by history as well: in the last two series between the two sides in India, spinners have accounted 78% of England's wickets, and at a far superior average than the fast bowlers.

Eng v pace and spin in India
since 1992-93
Versus Runs Wickets Average
Spin 2089 82 25.48
Pace 810 23 35.22

Any chinks in the Indian spin armour? Given that the series will be played with SG balls, Harbhajan should be a huge threat, but his performance against left-handers isn't that flash: he averages 35 and takes a wicket every 80 balls; against right-handers, those numbers are far more impressive (stats since September 2001). However, the two England left-handers in the line-up are both at the top of the order (Trescothick and Andrew Strauss), which will make it difficult for them to exploit what might be a kink in Harbhajan's armour. For Kumble, the difference is only marginal: an average of 28.68 against the right-handers, and 30.17 against left-handers.

Harbhajan v right and left-handers
(since Sept 2001)
Against Wickets Average Strike rate
Right-handers 112 27.63 57.29
Left-handers 42 35.14 79.71

Among England's bowlers, Stephen Harmison, Simon Jones and Flintoff have improved tremendously since they last played a Test against India, and will clearly be the main threats, but Sachin Tendulkar and co. will also do well to watch out for Matthew Hoggard, often the unsung bowler of the line-up. As the table below shows, Hoggard has more-than-adequate stats against a couple of batsmen who are likely to figure in the Indian line-up. And it isn't as if Hoggard's successes have only come in conditions tailormade for swing bowling: on the last tour to India, he took nine wickets at an impressive 31.22.

Indian batsmen against Hoggard
Batsman Runs/ Balls Dismissals Average
Jaffer 29/ 41 2 14.50
Ganguly 71/ 140 4 17.75
Sehwag 78/ 150 3 26.00
Dravid 163/ 340 4 40.75
Tendulkar 177/ 269 3 59.00
Laxman 56/ 141 0 -

In contrast, Flintoff hasn't had any success against India's three best batsmen: in 567 balls to Tendulkar, Dravid and Sehwag, he has gone for 217 runs and hasn't dismissed them even once. And Vaughan expressed "great disappointment" at the absence of Ashley Giles, but the Indian batsmen must be equally dismayed: Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag, Laxman and Ganguly have milked 430 runs off him and have been dismissed just four times, that's a healthy collective average of 107.50.

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