The Friday column July 28, 2006

The travails of Mohammad Sami

Five years ago he was touted as Pakistan's next big fast-bowling hope, but since then it's been one steady downward slide for Mohammad Sami

Such moments have been rare in the Test career of Mohammad Sami © Getty Images

Five years ago he was touted as Pakistan's next big fast-bowling hope, but since then it's been one steady downward slide. At Lord's in the first Test against England last week, Mohammad Sami's stock went down even further, when he leaked 139 runs from 34 overs, and had only one wicket to show for his efforts. It was the seventh time in his fledging 26-Test career that Sami had gone past the century mark at the bowling crease with a wicket or less as his reward. Contrast that with his match haul of 8 for 106 in his debut Test - a performance which won him the Man-of-the-Match award - and it gives you an idea of just how far he has slipped.

Sami's latest debacle at Lord's means that he is fast hurtling towards a landmark which cherished by a batsman, but isn't such an encouraging sign for a bowler - an average of 50. If Sami gives away 96 more runs without taking a wicket in the Old Trafford Test - or gives away an additional 50 runs for every wicket he takes - he will break the 50 barrier. That he continues to be part of Pakistan's Test match set-up is an indication of just how highly he is still rated, or just how threadbare Pakistan's bowling cupboard is after injuries to many of their frontline bowlers.

Over the years, Sami's career has progressed along very similar lines to another wiry fast-bowling talent from whom much was expected. Ajit Agarkar has played in exactly as many Tests as Sami, taken eight fewer wickets, and averages only marginally lower. There are more similarities too - both have a strike rate of exactly 83.7 deliveries per wicket, and while Sami's best Test figures read 8 for 106 (against New Zealand on his debut), Agarkar's is 8 for 160, against Australia at Adelaide in 2003-04.

The table below lists the fast bowlers who have the worst averages after playing at least 25 Tests and taking at least 50 wickets. The two names mentioned above figure on top of the list, and by quite some distance too - the next in the list, Pramodya Wickramasinghe, averages less than 42 per wicket. The table also excludes those who are primarily batsmen - Nathan Astle, Guy Whittall, Mudassar Nazar and Wally Hammond all make the cut according to the criteria, but none of them were in the team primarily for their bowling ability.

Worst averages for fast bowlers (at least 25 Tests, 50 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate
Mohammad Sami 26 66 48.54 83.7
Ajit Agarkar 26 58 47.32 83.7
Pramodya Wickramasinghe 40 85 41.87 85.4
Madan Lal 39 71 40.08 84.4
Bryan Strang 26 56 39.33 97.0
Mahmood Hussain 27 68 38.64 86.9
Henry Olonga 30 68 38.52 66.2
Martin Snedden 25 58 37.91 86.0
Lance Klusener 49 80 37.91 86.0
Chris Lewis 32 93 37.52 73.6

The problem for Pakistan and for Sami has been that Sami has shown little signs of improving - in fact, as the table below shows, his average has progressively worsened over each five-Test period. In his last six Tests, for example, Sami has managed 16 wickets at an exorbitant 51.63. Both of Sami's five-wicket hauls have come in New Zealand, against whom he averages 35; against the other teams the figure balloons up to 52.17. According to the ICC's Future Tours Program, Pakistan aren't supposed to go to New Zealand again till December 2010. If Sami doesn't deliver against some of the other teams in the interim, it's highly unlikely he will be on the plane to New Zealand in four years' time.

Sami - from bad to worse
After Test no. Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
5 14 40.50 1/ 0
10 26 44.23 1/ 0
15 39 46.94 2/ 0
20 53 47.84 2/ 0
26 66 48.54 2/ 0

Harmison finds his groove again
Sami hasn't had much to cheer about lately, and the picture was somewhat similar for England's spearhead before the first day of the second Test. He'd missed much of the early part of the season due to injury, and when he returned, he lacked rhythm, control and confidence, and was once even taken for 97 runs by the Sri Lankans in an ODI.

No-one doubted Harmison's matchwinning ability, but it was in need of some urgent reinforcement - in the last two years, he had dropped from taking four-and-a-half wickets per Test to just over three, and the average, which has hovered in the mid-20s for much of his career, was nudging dangerously close to 30. His 6 for 19 - at a ground where he had previously managed only seven in two matches - proves he is back near his best. Now, if only Sami can conjure up a similarly inspirational performance before the Old Trafford Test is done.

Break-up of Harmison's career (before the ongoing Manchester Test)
Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
First 23 Tests 102 24.73 4/ 0
Last 19 Tests 61 36.54 2/ 0

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.