The Friday column March 10, 2006

India's battle against left-hand batsmen

Do Indian bowlers struggle more than most against letf-handers, or are they generally toothless against most batsmen?

Andy Flower: one of the left-handers who has relished the Indian bowling attack © AFP

For a while now, Indian bowlers have been getting the flak from the media at home for their supposed ineffectiveness against left-hand batsmen. Talk to a cricket enthusiast in the country, and he'll be quick to reel off a long list of left-handers who have made merry at the expense of the Indian bowlers. Andy Flower, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Matthew Hayden are three names that come to mind immediately, while in the Nagpur Test Alastair Cook was the latest to etch his name among left-handers who've helped themselves to plenty of runs against Indian bowlers.

Is it true, then, that Indian bowlers are especially poor against left-handers, or is their lack of bite a universal phenomenon against all types of batsmen?

Examine the table below, which lists the performances of the top seven opposition batsmen against each team since 1990, separated by left and right-handers. (The tail has been left out of the equation as the predominance of right-hand tail-enders tends to unfairly skew the numbers in favour of the lefties.) The results are interesting: against India, left-hand top-order batsmen score at a rate of more than 41, which is more than against any side except Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Even right-handers, though, manage an average of nearly 38 against them, which suggests that India's problem isn't restricted to left-handers alone - their bowling has generally been a favourite attack to tuck into for many batsmen, regardless of what their style is.

Left and right-handers v each team since 1990 (top 7 only)
Against LH Ave RH Ave Difference
West Indies 36.24 35.61 0.63
England 38.75 37.57 1.18
New Zealand 40.72 38.84 1.88
Australia 33.31 31.06 2.26
India 41.29 37.75 3.54
Bangladesh 62.23 58.28 3.96
Zimbabwe 47.13 41.87 5.26
Sri Lanka 40.31 33.52 6.79
South Africa 37.83 30.64 7.19
Pakistan 40.27 32.37 7.90

Admittedly, some of the left-handers have been scourges for the Indian team, as they have been for many other sides: Flower averages a phenomenal 94.83 in his nine Tests against India, with three centuries and seven fifties in 18 innings. Chanderpaul's stats are only marginally inferior - an average of 85.33 in 14 matches, while Sanath Jayasuriya (67 from ten) and Hayden (62.20 from 11) have enjoyed more than their share of fun against the Indian bowlers.

A few top-notch performances by left-handers, though, is hardly enough reason to draw generalisations. All the names mentioned above are extremely proficient against spin, which suggests that their stats against India will be superior to what they achieve against the other sides.

There is another set of batsmen - some of them very competent ones - for whom the Indian bowling attack isn't synonymous with a boxful of goodies. Ask Adam Gilchrist, for instance, and he'll probably say the Indian attack is the one he least want to face (possibly apart from an Andrew Flintoff-led England line-up). Brian Lara's case is even more inexplicable, for he is unarguably the best batsman against spin bowling today. Against India, however, he hasn't been able to score at the rate he usually does. The table below lists left-handers who have found runs against India relatively harder to come by.

Left-handers who have struggled against India
Batsman Tests v India/
Career Average Difference
Adam Gilchrist 14/ 29.95 50.18 20.23
Brian Lara 13/ 37.67 53.86 16.19
Arjuna Ranatunga 13/ 24.70 35.69 10.99
Chris Gayle 8/ 30.50 38.79 8.29
Kumar Sangakkara 6/ 40.00 46.86 6.86
Stephen Fleming 13/ 32.63 39.03 6.40
Justin Langer 14/ 40.27 45.72 5.45
Gary Kirsten 10/ 40.00 45.27 5.27

And for right-handers who have relished the Indian attack, you needn't look beyond Younis Khan, Pakistan's middle-order batsman, who has creamed 1061 runs from 11 Tests at an outstanding average of 106.10. Michael Vaughan (721 runs at 90.13) and Jacques Kallis (579 at 82.71) make up the top three since 1990.

As the first table shows, Pakistan and South Africa are the sides with the most skewed stats against right and left-handers. In both cases, the numbers which make the difference is the right-handers' average against the two teams - both Pakistan and South Africa have restricted the right-hand batsmen to very little, whereas the left-handers have scored reasonably well against them. It's also interesting to notice that the lefties have flourished more against all teams - clearly, bowlers from all over have an issue when it comes to bowling against them.

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