April 4, 2008

How important is Shoaib Akhtar for Pakistan?

Numbers can't completely explain what Shoaib has brought to the table for Pakistan, but they can help reveal the basis for some of the arguments that have been used to support or rubbish him



At his best, Shoaib Akhtar is a fearsome prospect for batting line-ups, but sadly for Pakistan, he has seldom strung it all together consistently © AFP

How much will the Pakistan team miss Shoaib Akhtar if their board's decision to ban him for five years isn't overturned? Opinions about him remain heavily polarised: for some he is an outstanding match-winner, to others he represents a disruptive element who has done more harm than good to the team. Numbers can't completely explain what Shoaib brought to the table, but they can help reveal the basis for some of the arguments that have been used to support or rubbish him.

That a fully tuned-in Shoaib can single-handedly turn a game on its head has been proved more than once. The South Africans were at the receiving end in only his third Test, when Shoaib took his first five-for, in Durban, while India felt the heat soon after, as Shoaib's match haul of 8 for 118 brought Pakistan a famous win in Kolkata. He has won only three Man-of-the-Match awards, but a significant reason for that is probably that these awards tend to be biased towards batsmen. In the 46 Tests he has played, Pakistan have won 20 and lost only 16, a win-loss ratio of 1.25.

What's equally true is also that Shoaib is often missing in action when the team needs him. Since his debut he has missed more Tests than he has played. When he has been absent, though, Pakistan's win percentage has come down considerably.

Shoaib's influence on Pakistan
Played Won Lost Drawn W/ L ratio
With Shoaib 46 20 16 10 1.25
Without Shoaib 48 16 18 14 0.88

The stats are slightly different, though, when the two minnows, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, are left out of the analysis. Pakistan's win-loss ratio with Shoaib in their ranks slips to marginally below one, and in his absence the ratio slips only marginally.

Shoaib's influence on Pakistan (excluding Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe)
Played Won Lost Drawn W/ L ratio
With Shoaib 39 15 16 8 0.93
Without Shoaib 43 12 17 14 0.70

Here are more numbers to swing the argument in either direction: in matches he has played, Pakistan have taken their wickets at an average of 33.63, conceding almost eight runs more per wicket than Shoaib. (Excluding the minnows, Shoaib averages 26.60 per wicket, which clearly indicates he hasn't feasted on the poorer batting line-ups.)

The table below also shows that Shoaib takes a quarter of the total wickets taken by Pakistan, but bowls less than 19% of the overs bowled by the team. To a Shoaib fan these are outstanding numbers that exemplify his value as a strike bowler; to a Shoaib baiter, it shows an unwillingness to shoulder the responsibility of bowling more overs - for a team that has usually played with four specialist bowlers, the rest obviously have to take up the slack when one bowler takes on less than 19% of the workload.

Shoaib's contribution to the Pakistan bowling attack
Overs Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
Shoaib Akhtar 1357.1 178 25.69 12/ 2
Pakistan bowlers, in Tests involving Shoaib 7272.3 702 33.63 30/ 4
Shoaib's contribution, in % 18.67% 25.36%

The counter-argument, that he is the strike bowler and hence can't be expected to share the burden equally, is a valid one. The question, though, is how much leeway should he be given?

Compare his numbers with those of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and the picture becomes clearer. Pakistan's win ratio only came down marginally in Akram's absence, but he also took on a lot more bowling responsibility, sending down more than 23% of his team's overs.

Akram's influence on Pakistan
Played Won Lost Drawn W/ L ratio
With Akram 104 41 27 36 1.51
Without Akram 27 7 5 15 1.40

Akram's contribution to the Pakistan bowling attack
Overs Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
Wasim Akram 3771.1 414 23.62 25/ 5
Pakistan bowlers, in Tests involving Akram 15,994.3 1595 28.25 83/ 18
Akram's contribution, in % 23.58% 25.96%

Waqar's presence increased Pakistan's win ratio considerably, but his overs percentage (21.09) is less than Akram's. Where both bowlers score significantly over Shoaib is in that they were around for their team through most of their career - Akram and Waqar played more than 78% of the Tests that Pakistan played during their career spans; Shoaib, by contrast, has played less than 50%.

Waqar's influence on Pakistan
Played Won Lost Drawn W/ L ratio
With Waqar 87 39 26 22 1.50
Without Waqar 24 6 7 11 0.85

Waqar's contribution to the Pakistan bowling attack
Overs Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
Waqar Younis 2704.0 373 23.56 22/ 5
Pakistan bowlers, in Tests involving Waqar 12,819.4 1362 27.48 71/ 15
Waqar's contribution, in % 21.09% 27.39%

To compare him against a non-Pakistan strike bowler: Brett Lee has missed less than 30% of Australia's Tests - many of which weren't because of fitness reasons but simply because the team didn't need him - and has also bowled more than 21% of his team's overs.

Lee's influence on Australia
Played Won Lost Drawn W/ L ratio
With Lee 65 50 7 8 7.14
Without Lee 27 19 4 4 4.75

Lee's contribution to the Australian bowling attack
Overs Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
Brett Lee 2328.0 271 29.97 8/ 0
Australian bowlers, in Tests involving Lee 10,911.0 1186 27.82 46/ 7
Lee's contribution, in % 21.34% 22.85%

Home disadvantage
Of the last seven Tests that have produced a decisive result this year, six have been won by the touring team: India beat Australia in Perth, after which South Africa swamped Bangladesh 2-0, England won twice in New Zealand, and Sri Lanka triumphed in Guyana. In 16 Tests in 2008 so far, six have been won by the home team and six by the visitors, and going by the events of the first day in Ahmedabad, it might soon be 7-6 in favour of the visitors. Since 2000, the win-loss ratio is the lowest for the home team in 2008 so far. Looking at decade-wise stats since 1960, though, the win-loss ratio in the 2000s is a fairly healthy 1.61, second only to the 1990s.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo