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Hope for left-arm spin, and Kallis' riposte

Left-arm spinners have had a bounty in the Karachi Test. Can this spark off a revival for the art?

S Rajesh

October 5, 2007

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Paul Harris: a rare five-wicket haul for a South African spinner © Getty Images

Shane Warne has made legspin sexy, Muttiah Muralitharan has made everyone want to twirl the offies, but over the last 20 years and more, left-arm spin has remained largely an unglamorous art. Over the last few months, though, there have been more than a few indications that it might be getting a new lease of life.

Monty Panesar has taken England by storm with his unquestionable talent and sheer joie de vivre, Daniel Vettori was the most economical bowler on view in the World Twenty20, while over the last four days, two lesser known left-arm spinners - one making his debut, the other all of four Tests old - have done most of the wicket-taking in the Pakistan-South Africa Test in Karachi.

These are still very early days, but left-arm spin can do with all the encouragement it gets. Since 1970 the numbers for the breed have got progressively worse every decade. In the 1970s, Bishan Bedi and Derek Underwood were largely responsible for ensuring that the tribe was well represented, but since then there has only been the odd match-winning performance, flanked by numerous ordinary ones. That they average nearly 40 runs per wicket this decade, and need more than 80 deliveries to take a wicket, tells the sorry story of their plight.

Left-arm spinners over the decades
Decade Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
1970s 767 33.72 91.3 29/ 6
1980s 769 36.53 92.6 30/ 5
1990s 718 37.52 89.0 19/ 4
2000s 1038 38.97 81.3 48/ 7

Among the left-arm spinners who have taken at least 25 wickets since 2000, none averages less than 30. In fact, the leader of the pack - in terms of averages - is a bowler who is known more for his batting prowess: Sanath Jayasuriya has averaged marginally more than 30 runs per wicket for his 67 wickets. Panesar isn't far behind, but move further down the list and there are five bowlers who average close to, or more than, 40 runs per wicket.

Best left-arm spinners in Tests since 2000 (at least 25 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Sanath Jayasuriya 63 67 30.11 76.6 2/ 0
Monty Panesar 20 73 30.80 62.9 6/ 1
Daniel Vettori 45 138 33.98 73.1 10/ 3
Rangana Herath 10 29 34.79 68.2 0/ 0
Ray Price 17 69 35.55 73.7 5/ 1
Paul Adams 17 48 38.43 65.6 3/ 1
Enamul Haque 11 32 39.46 77.5 3/ 1
Ashley Giles 53 142 40.14 84.2 5/ 0
Mohammad Rafique 31 94 40.79 86.8 7/ 0
Nicky Boje 43 100 42.65 86.2 3/ 0

Harris' haul was also unusual because it isn't that common for South African spinners to take five in an innings: since 2001 it has only happened five times, and two of those were against Bangladesh. The table also shows that the last five five-fors by South African spinners were all in the subcontinent. In fact, the last time a South African spinner took five outside the subcontinent was way back in 1965, when Harry Bromfield, an offbreak bowler, took 5 for 88 against England.

Five-wicket hauls by SA spinners since 2001
Bowler Figures Versus Venue & date
Paul Adams 12.3-3-37-5 Bangladesh Chittagong, April 2003
Paul Adams 18.4-5-69-5 Bangladesh Chittagong, April 2003
Paul Adams 45-11-128-7 Pakistan Lahore, October 2003
Nicky Boje 22-0-88-5 Sri Lanka Galle, August 2004
Paul Harris 36-13-73-5 Pakistan Karachi, October 2007

Kallis hits back

Without a hundred in his last nine Tests - something that hadn't happened in the last five years - and dropped from the team for a version of the game thought to be too quick for him, Jacques Kallis responded in the best possible manner, becoming only the fourth South African batsman to score a century in both innings - the others being Alan Melville, against England at Trent Bridge in 1947; Bruce Mitchell at The Oval the same year; and Gary Kirsten against India at Kolkata in 1996.

Kallis' machine-like consistency has been almost taken for granted, but his career summary shows just how remarkable his performance has been with the bat - since 1999, his average in any year has never slipped below 40, and only once did it dip below 45.

His 255 runs in this Test for once out has propelled his average against Pakistan to 54.61 - up from 42.82 before this Test - while it has more than doubled his average in Pakistan, from 32.20 to 69.33. The numbers that he now needs to turn his attention to are his stats against Australia (average of 38.32 from 18 Tests) and Sri Lanka (33.63 from 12). If he continues in his current vein, it's likely those stats, too, will look a lot better by the time he is done.

Repeat act on debut

Playing in his first Test, Abdur Rehman returned identical figures of 4 for 105 in both innings, a feat which had been achieved only five times in Tests till then. On four of those occasions, though, the bowlers hadn't taken a wicket in either innings, which makes Rehman's only the second instance of a debutant bowler who had taken at least one wicket in the game achieving identical figures in both innings. The only other player to have done this is Billy Bates, an offbreak bowler from England who took 2 for 43 in each innings against Australia at Melbourne, way back in 1882.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the stats he was helped by HR Gopalakrishna.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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