April 11, 2008

Why India have been missing a Srinath at home

India have won only seven of their last 22 home Tests, and while their spinners have been less effective recently, that is hardly the complete explanation

Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh have been below par in home Tests recently, but they aren't the only ones who have struggled for wickets © AFP

South Africa's emphatic win by an innings and 90 runs in Ahmedabad - India's heaviest home defeat in nearly 50 years - has raised plenty of chatter along the lines of "Have India lost the ability to dominate at home?" The stats will show that India have won eight of their last 12 series at home, but more recently, home wins have been much tougher to come by, while opposition line-ups have learnt the art of holding India to a draw at least.

In the last five years (since January 2003), India have been held to a drawn series by New Zealand, Pakistan and England, and have lost to Australia. Of India's three series wins, two were by slender 1-0 margins, and only one - against Sri Lanka in 2005-06 - was by a convincing 2-0 verdict.

India's 7-5 win-loss record since 2003 is in stark contrast to that in the eight years before 2003, when they won 16 and lost just seven. The six years before that, from 1990 to 1995, were the golden period for India at home, when the team was nearly invincible, with ten wins and just one defeat on pitches where India's spinners brooked no response. Gradually though, teams from abroad have geared up to the challenge, while pitches have eased up as well, allowing far more stalemates - nearly 50% of the Tests played in India over the last five years haven't produced a decisive result.

India at home
Period Tests Won Lost Drawn Win-loss ratio
Jan 1, 1995 to Dec 31, 2002 34 16 7 11 2.28
Since Jan 1, 2003 22 7 5 10 1.40

The biggest difference during this period has been the increasing ability of the overseas batsmen to come to grips with the conditions and the bowlers in India. Players like Damien Martyn, Jacques Kallis, and Pakistan's middle-order giants have won more than their fair share of battles in India, which is reflected in the numbers below: between 1995 and 2002, overseas teams scored less than 27 runs wicket in India; over the last five years that figure has improved significantly to almost 35. While only 22 centuries were scored in 34 Tests in the earlier period, the last five years have produced 27 in just 22 games, which converts to more than one century per Test. This clearly indicates that the Indian bowlers have had to work a lot harder for their wickets at home.

Overseas batsmen in India
Period Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Jan 1, 1995 to Dec 31, 2002 14,566 26.72 42.23 22/ 65
Since Jan 1, 2003 12,176 34.68 47.33 27/ 57

At the same time, overseas bowlers have improved as well, but the difference here has been marginal: whereas the Indian batsmen averaged 38.39 runs per wicket between 1995 and 2002, it has only dropped to 36.60 over the last five years, a difference of less than two runs per wicket.

Overseas bowlers in India
Period Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Jan 1, 1995 to Dec 31, 2002 438 38.39 80.0 14/ 2
Since Jan 1, 2003 317 36.60 70.6 9/ 0

Clearly, thus, the improvement of overseas batsmen - or, conversely, the decline of Indian bowlers - has been a bigger factor for India's weaker results at home than the improvement of the overseas bowlers.

The consensus mostly, though, is that overseas batsmen are scoring bigger runs in India mainly because they have learnt the art of playing Indian spin on subcontinent pitches. That is, admittedly, part of the reason: India's spinners have become less effective at home, conceding five runs more per wicket over the last five years.

Indian spinners at home
Period Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Jan 1, 1995 to Dec 31, 2002 352 26.61 64.4 23/ 5
Since Jan 1, 2003 238 31.75 68.3 17/ 5

That, however, is only part of the issue. A bigger problem has been the ineffectiveness of India's fast bowlers at home. In the ongoing Test series against South Africa, the Indian pace attack has managed just three wickets in two games, compared to 26 by their South African counterparts. This is only an extreme case of what has been a worrying trend for India over the last five years. Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, RP Singh and Ishant Sharma have been superb overseas, setting up victories at a rate unheard of in Indian cricket - of India's 30 overseas wins, 17 have come since 2000 - but they haven't quite replicated the successes of their new-ball predecessors.

It could be due to the lack of comfort with the SG ball or the difference on conditions, but Zaheer and Co have had far less success at home than Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad managed. The current crop concedes more than 46 runs per wicket, and require nearly 15 overs per wicket; both numbers are significantly worse than what the previous era of fast bowlers managed.

Indian fast bowlers at home
Period Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Jan 1, 1995 to Dec 31, 2002 176 31.27 65.4 7/ 1
Since Jan 1, 2003 105 46.48 88.1 2/ 0

In the 29 Tests that Srinath played at home between 1995 and 2002, he took 100 wickets at an impressive average of 25.37, including a ten-wicket haul against Pakistan in Kolkata. Prasad, too, had his moments, though he played only 11 Tests in India. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were outstanding too, both averaging less than 22.

Indian bowlers at home between 1995 and 2002
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Anil Kumble 29 166 21.43 54.6 13/ 3
Harbhajan Singh 16 90 21.55 51.8 9/ 2
Javagal Srinath 29 100 25.37 53.9 5/ 1
Venkatesh Prasad 11 27 31.25 73.9 2/ 0
Zaheer Khan 7 19 31.15 57.8 0/ 0
Sunil Joshi 9 22 44.09 106.7 0/ 0

In the last five years, though, the bowling stats are distinctly less impressive: both Kumble and Harbhajan have conceded around 30 runs per wicket, while the fast bowlers have leaked much more, with Irfan Pathan touching the 50-mark.

Indian bowlers at home since Jan 2003
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Murali Kartik 3 14 21.42 55.5 0/ 0
Anil Kumble 22 121 29.45 65.0 9/ 3
Harbhajan Singh 20 94 31.70 67.3 8/ 2
Munaf Patel 4 13 33.23 66.9 0/ 0
Sreesanth 4 12 38.67 67.4 0/ 0
Lakshmipathy Balaji 5 15 42.33 74.6 1/ 0
Zaheer Khan 11 23 47.47 94.3 0/ 0
Irfan Pathan 14 27 50.33 97.8 0/ 0

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo