The Friday Column August 17, 2007

Left-armers on the rise, and England's best batting pair

The increasing success of left-arm pace bowlers, and England's best batting partnership

Zaheer Khan was the leader of the left-arm fast bowlers' pack, while RP Singh and Ryan Sidebottom played important parts as well © Getty Images

The trio of Zaheer Khan, RP Singh and Ryan Sidebottom ensured that the three-Test series between England and India was a resounding success for the tribe of left-arm fast bowlers. Zaheer stole the limelight, taking 18 wickets at 20.33, but Singh had several moments to savour and chipped in with vital breakthroughs, while Sidebottom deserved far more than his haul of eight wickets. In all, the three bowlers combined to take 38 of the 104 wickets in the series, at a collective average of 26.73.

Wasim Akram, Chaminda Vaas and Alan Davidson have all done their bit for the cause of left-arm fast bowling, but the kind of success left-armers achieved in this series hasn't happened very often. In fact, in percentage terms, only in two other series (of at least three Tests) have left-arm seamers picked up a higher percentage of total wickets.

In 2001-02, West Indies were at the receiving end of Vaas' swing and seam - the series is remembered more for the manner in which Brian Lara dismantled Muttiah Muralitharan, but Vaas had an equally memorable time, picking up 26 wickets in three Tests, including a best of 7 for 71. The only other series in which left-arm seamers have had greater success than in the recently concluded England-India one was when India toured Pakistan in 2005-06. Two of the protagonists were the same: Zaheer was India's leading wicket-taker with ten, and Singh had nine, while Irfan Pathan chipped in with eight, including a hat-trick at Karachi.

Highest % of wickets by left-arm fast bowlers in a series of three or more Tests
Series Tests Wickets by LF Total wickets Percentage
West Indies in Sri Lanka, 2001-02 3 37 94 39.36
India in Pakistan, 2005-06 3 27 73 36.99
India in England, 2007 3 38 104 36.54
Pakistan in Zimbabwe, 1994-95 3 35 96 36.49
Sri Lanka in Zimbabwe, 1994-95 3 21 64 32.81
Australia in New Zealand, 1973-74 3 30 99 30.30
Sri Lanka in Zimbabwe, 1999-2000 3 25 85 29.41
Australia in South Africa, 1957-58 5 43 151 28.48
The Ashes, 1958-59 5 41 154 26.62
Australia in India, 1959-60 5 41 155 26.45

As the table above shows, the top three series for left-arm fast men have all been played in the last six years. Not surprisingly, the current decade has been the best period for them in terms of the percentage of wickets they've taken compared to right-arm pace bowlers.

While the last seven years have been good ones, they pale into insignificance when compared to 2007, the first eight months of which have been an absolute bounty: left-arm fast bowlers have taken 86 wickets (with Zaheer, Sidebottom and Singh contributing 73) compared to 280 by their right-arm counterparts; in percentage terms that's a whopping 30.71.

Right-arm and left-arm fast bowlers since the 1960s
Decade RF* wickets Average LF* wickets Average Diff in ave LF wkts/ RF wkts x 100
1950s 2137 26.92 195 26.00 0.92 9.12
1960s 2676 30.14 323 31.07 0.07 12.07
1970s 3161 29.89 420 30.42 -0.53 13.29
1980s 4942 29.57 371 31.79 -2.22 7.50
1990s 6392 29.73 823 29.54 0.19 12.88
2000s 6242 32.70 946 33.48 -0.78 15.16
* RF - right-arm fast; LF - left-arm fast

Akram comfortably leads the list of most successful left-arm fast bowlers, but thanks to his recent heroics, Zaheer is fast climbing the charts and is next only to Akram, Vaas and the legendary Davidson. (Garry Sobers isn't included in the list as he took a fair share of his wickets with left-arm spin as well.)

Left-arm fast bowlers with highest number of wickets
Bowler Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
Wasim Akram 104 414 23.62 25/ 5
Chaminda Vaas 98 319 29.21 11/ 2
Alan Davidson 44 186 20.53 14/ 2
Zaheer Khan 50 160 33.33 5/ 0
Trevor Goddard 41 123 26.22 5/ 0

England's go-to batting pair
There is hardly any similarity in the way they approach their batting, but when Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood have got together at the crease, it has usually led to a meaty partnership. The latest example was at The Oval against India - after putting together 78 in the first innings, they added 114 in the second in a stand which effectively killed India's hopes of a 2-0 series verdict.

Pietersen has always been the more exuberant and flashy of the two, and Collingwood, with his calm and understated approach, is the ideal foil. Among English pairs who have scored at least 1000 partnership runs (there are 59 of those), only four average more than this duo's 71 runs per stand. And it isn't as if they've got those runs against easy opposition: on the tour to Australia last season, when most of the England batsmen were struggling to put together partnerships, Pietersen and Collingwood added exactly 500 in four innings at a staggering average of 125, which included a monumental stand of 310 at Adelaide.

Most successful pairs for England (in terms of average stand, among pairs who have scored at least 1000 partnership runs)
Pair Innings P'ship runs Average stand 100/ 50 p'ships
Wally Hammond - Eddie Paynter 12 1146 104.18 4/ 5
Jack Hobbs - Herbert Sutcliffe 39 3339 87.86 15/ 11
Allan Lamb - Robin Smith 16 1103 78.78 5/ 2
Denis Compton - Bill Edrich 19 1294 76.11 5/ 1
Kevin Pietersen - Paul Collingwood 21 1487 70.80 5/ 7
Les Ames - Wally Hammond 17 1173 69.00 5/ 2

With Pietersen batting at No. 4 and Collingwood coming in right after him, they've got - and are likely to have - many opportunities to bat together for the fourth wicket. They've already made their way into the 1000-run club for this wicket, a feat achieved by only three other England pairs. Forty-nine more runs will put them in third place, while the top spot isn't very far away either - Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe occupy that place, but their 1448 runs only came at 50 per partnership; Pietersen and Collingwood are currently averaging 68, and at this rate they'll only need six innings to take the top spot. On the other hand, England might profit even more if they combine for the fifth wicket - that has happened only three times, when the pair have added 320 runs at an average of 106.67.

Most successful fourth-wicket pairs for England (in terms of runs)
Pair Innings P'ship runs Average stand 100/ 50 p'ships
Nasser Hussain - Graham Thorpe 31 1448 49.93 5/ 3
Ken Barrington - Colin Cowdrey 20 1375 80.88 4/ 7
Colin Cowdrey - Peter May 15 1143 76.20 5/ 1
Kevin Pietersen - Paul Collingwood 16 1095 68.43 4/ 4
Ken Barrington - Ted Dexter 11 985 109.44 4/ 4
Mike Gatting - David Gower 18 808 44.88 1/ 4
David Gower - Allan Lamb 18 710 44.37 2/ 3

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the stats he was helped by Travis Basevi, the man who built Statsguru.