The Friday column June 9, 2006

Indian spin twins in tandem, and Murali magic in England

Did the Indian think-tank make a huge mistake by not including Harbhajan Singh in the team for the first Test against West Indies in Antigua

Anil Kumble waged a lone spin battle, and almost pulled it off for India © Getty Images

Did the Indian think-tank make a huge mistake by not including Harbhajan Singh in the team for the first Test against West Indies in Antigua? The fact that Virender Sehwag got so much purchase from the pitch, and ended with match figures of 4 for 71 suggests that Harbhajan would have been a huge factor as well - especially on the last day, when West Indies were battling for survival - but apart from his potency, would he have increased Anil Kumble's effectiveness as well?

Both Kumble and Harbhajan have said in the past that they work better when their spin-partner is keeping up the pressure at the other end, and it was quite evident in both innings in Antigua that Kumble suffered because of the inability of the bowlers at the other end to keep up the pressure. The numbers below indicate that Kumble has bowled better when Harbhajan has been around, but interestingly, the reverse isn't true: Harbhajan's stats are actually better in games when Kumble hasn't been included.

Kumble - with & without Harbhajan (since Harbhajan's debut)
Matches Wickets Average Strike rate
With Harbhajan 40 225 25.93 58.60
Without Harbhajan 22 102 35.23 70.03

Harbhajan - with & without Kumble
Matches Wickets Average Strike rate
With Kumble 40 160 30.93 68.21
Without Kumble 15 67 28.30 57.00

It's interesting to note that Kumble has taken 65 more wickets than Harbhajan in the games that they have played together, and averages exactly five runs fewer per wicket. Of the 21 five-fors that Kumble has taken since Harbhajan came into the picture, 15 of them have been in Harbhajan's presence, while for Harbhajan, the corresponding stats are 12 out of 17. Of course, there are other factors that explain these numbers as well: a lot of times both Kumble and Harbhajan have been included because the conditions have been favourable for spin bowling, while they've played in isolation in more pace-friendly conditions - so you'd expect more success in matches when they've played together.

Of the 40 Tests that both have played together, 28 of them have been in India, in conditions generally quite responsive to spin, and with the SG ball, Harbhajan's favourite. Kumble, though, still has better stats in those 28 matches: 179 wickets at 23.81, compared to Harbhajan's 130 at 27.18. Harbhajan has taken 67 wickets in the 15 Tests when Kumble hasn't played, but 32 of them came in three matches in that historic series against Australia. In the remaining 12 matches when Kumble wasn't around, Harbhajan has only managed 35 wickets at 38.60.

Murali weaves his magic
With 24 wickets at an average of 16.87, Muttiah Muralitharan made all the difference England romping to a series win and Sri Lanka clawing back to draw level. He took almost twice the number of wickets that all the other Sri Lankan bowlers managed together. The only batsman who handled him with any measure of confidence was Kevin Pietersen, easily England's best batsman of the series. Though he was dismissed four times, Pietersen took the attack at Murali. Not only did he score with more runs off Murali than any other batsman, he got them at an amazing rate of almost 85 per 100 balls. He'll probably be holding batting lessons for his mates the next time England are up against Murali. The openers could certainly do with some tips.

England versus Murali
Batsman Runs/ Balls Dismissals Average Strike rate
Andrew Flintoff 34/ 47 1 34.00 72.34
Kevin Pietersen 134/158 4 33.50 84.81
Alastair Cook 64/ 210 2 32.00 30.48
Paul Collingwood 56/ 161 4 14.00 34.78
Andrew Strauss 19/ 70 3 6.33 27.14
Marcus Trescothick 24/ 80 4 6.00 30.00

The makings of a fine allrounder
Just how good is Dwayne Bravo? After 13 Tests, the stats are impressive - 821 runs at 35.69, with two centuries, and 32 wickets at 33.65, with two five-fors. The batting average is more than the bowling average, a good indication of a quality allrounder, but even more importantly, his 13 matches have all been against good opposition. None of those matches were against Zimbabwe or Bangladesh; his two hundreds were against South Africa and Australia, and two five-fors against England and Australia. The table below indicates that Bravo's stats compare quite favourably with some of finest allrounders in the world in a similar stage in their careers. All that Bravo needs to do now is sustain those numbers over a small matter of 100 or so matches, and he'll join the ranks of Ian Botham and co.

Leading allrounders after 13 Tests
Runs Average Wickets Average Difference
Keith Miller 677 48.36 34 21.35 27.01
Ian Botham 590 39.33 70 18.49 20.84
Kapil Dev 533 33.31 40 37.05 -3.74
Richard Hadlee 438 23.05 47 33.00 -9.95
Imran Khan 427 21.35 50 35.30 -13.95

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For the stats, he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan.