October 8, 2010

Pace, spin, and India's batsmen

Overseas spinners have generally struggled to make an impression in India, largely because of the sheer quality of India's batsmen against spin

"It would have been nice to have another fast bowler to rotate through when we needed that breakthrough." Those were Ricky Ponting's words after Australia suffered a heartbreaker at the hands of VVS Laxman in Mohali. Doug Bollinger's absence due to injury obviously hurt Australia, but they were also hampered by a limp performance from their only specialist spinner, Nathan Hauritz. In the first innings Hauritz did reasonably well, taking a couple of wickets and threatening to take more, but in the second, with a small target to defend, he leaked five runs per over, a luxury Ponting simply couldn't afford. Hauritz's woes reflected what has been a recurring problem for overseas spinners in India - from Shane Warne to Muttiah Muralitharan to Daniel Vettori, they have found Indian conditions and Indian batsmen a particularly lethal combination.

On the other hand, if you'd ask Indian spinners, they won't have too many complaints about the conditions they have to bowl in on home turf. Obviously there are instances when the pitches are too flat and don't offer much bounce, but those are usually compensated for by others when the tracks offer wicked turn and inconsistent bounce.

The stats since 1990 bear out the difference between the stats for Indian spinners and those from most other teams. The Indian ones have averaged 29.08, and have taken more than 10 wickets per Test, thanks largely to the efforts of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh - between them they've taken 592 out of 859 wickets. Kumble has been phenomenal, with 350 wickets in 63 games at an average of less than 25, while Harbhajan is only slightly behind, with 242 wickets at 27.70.

Apart from India, the only team whose spinners have been effective in India is Pakistan: they've taken 73 wickets in nine Tests, at a strike rate better than that of the Indians. A third of that Pakistan spin total was taken by Saqlain Mushtaq in three Tests during an outstanding series in 1999, while Danish Kaneria has had his moments too in India, most notably when he took seven wickets in Bangalore in 2005 to help Pakistan level the series.

For all the other spinners, though, bowling in India has been a real struggle. The Australian spinners are the best of the rest, but even they average 40 runs per wicket. Jason Krejza's 12 wickets in Nagpur in 2008 was a fine effort, but he conceded more than 200 runs in the first innings and almost 150 in the second. Shane Warne's failures in India have been documented far too often to warrant repetition, while Gavin Robertson's 12 wickets in three Tests is the only other effort worth mentioning.

For the other teams, the numbers look even worse: Sri Lanka average more than 45 despite Muttiah Muralitharan, while Daniel Vettori has done little to lift New Zealand, who are one of three teams with strike rates of more than 100.

Team-wise performances of spinners in India in Tests since 1990
Team Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
India 80 859 29.08 67.7 51/ 12
Pakistan 9 73 32.58 65.1 6/ 2
Australia 16 86 40.48 70.2 3/ 1
South Africa 12 44 42.11 77.5 2/ 0
England 11 53 45.20 91.5 1/ 0
Sri Lanka 13 88 46.57 89.7 4/ 0
West Indies 6 23 52.00 100.8 1/ 0
New Zealand 8 27 57.07 116.5 1/ 0
Zimbabwe 5 22 60.95 112.6 1/ 0

On the other hand, pace has been a much better option for these overseas teams, even if pitches in India generally haven't been conducive to fast bowling. South Africa have been terrific, with the irrepressible Dale Steyn leading the way with 26 wickets in five Tests at an average of 20.23, while Makhaya Ntini hasn't done badly either, averaging 27.77 in five Tests.

West Indies are in second place, thanks to their display in 1994, when they still had Courtney Walsh in their attack. The other stat that stands out about West Indies is the fact that they've only played six Tests in India since 1990, and none at all since the beginning of 2003, which is another indictment of the ICC's scheduling. (On the bright side, that at least means we're seeing a list where West Indies are second from the top; it's so unusual these days that it needs to be emphasised that this is not an error.)

Australia are next, with a highly respectable fast-bowling average of 33.25, which is much better than their spinners' performances. The credit goes to Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, who are the leading wicket-takers among overseas fast bowlers in India during this period, with 33 scalps at averages of less than 22. In comparison, Mitchell Johnson averages more than 35 for his 18 wickets in five matches. For England and New Zealand too, the fast bowlers have done a much better job than the spinners.

Team-wise performances of fast bowlers in India in Tests since 1990
Team Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
South Africa 12 134 28.05 58.8 3/ 1
West Indies 6 67 33.01 65.4 2/ 0
Australia 16 148 33.25 70.0 3/ 0
India 80 416 34.72 68.8 13/ 1
England 11 77 36.01 77.4 1/ 0
New Zealand 8 54 38.44 81.8 1/ 0
Pakistan 9 63 43.60 76.7 1/ 0
Sri Lanka 13 51 52.68 93.7 1/ 0
Zimbabwe 5 15 93.93 166.0 0/ 0

And the list of top five overseas wicket-takers in India among spinners further illustrates how difficult it's been for their tribe: apart from Saqlain, all of them average more than 39.

Overseas spinners with most wickets in India since 1990
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Muttiah Muralitharan 11 40 45.45 86.2 2/ 0
Shane Warne 9 34 43.11 81.0 1/ 0
Danish Kaneria 6 31 39.58 71.1 2/ 0
Saqlain Mushtaq 3 24 20.95 46.9 4/ 2
Daniel Vettori 5 17 51.52 116.6 1/ 0

While spinners have found it particularly difficult to tackle Indian batsmen in India, it's also true that spinners have generally found it difficult to bowl to Indian batsmen anywhere in the world. Warne, for instance, has taken nine wickets in five Tests against India at home at an average of 62.55, which is much worse than his numbers against them in India. Similarly Vettori averages 61 against India at home, and has nine wickets in seven Tests against them. The one exception has been Muralitharan: he has often been toothless in India, but in Sri Lanka he has dominated the Indian batsmen, taking 65 wickets in 11 Tests at an excellent average of 24.72, which is almost twice as good as his away record against them.

The list of overall averages of fast bowlers and spinners against each team reveals just how good Indian batsmen generally are against slow bowling. Spinners have averaged 44.53 against them since 1990 (both home and away), which is the poorest among all teams. Against fast bowling, though, the overall average of Indian batsmen drops by 10 runs, to 34.37. Among the subcontinent teams Sri Lanka have done pretty well against spin, but Pakistan's stats aren't as impressive. The difference between the two averages, though, is highest for India, which clearly reinforces common wisdom - when doing battle against India's batsmen, pace is the best option.

Averages of spinners, fast bowlers and all bowlers against each team since 1990
Team Spinners Fast bowlers All bowlers
India 44.53 34.37 37.62
Australia 42.24 37.74 39.22
Sri Lanka 39.39 32.65 35.07
South Africa 36.60 36.42 36.58
Pakistan 35.94 30.68 32.31
England 34.93 31.48 32.52
West Indies 33.50 28.29 29.74
New Zealand 32.13 29.66 30.51
Zimbabwe 28.88 25.35 26.61
Bangladesh 21.18 21.62 21.46

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ali on October 11, 2010, 3:04 GMT

    Wow.....Saqlain has excellent stats

  • safwan on October 9, 2010, 21:05 GMT

    @sskris .....its only natural that a batsman will score more runs on a flat track, like a bowler would pick more wickets on seaming pitches!! statistically, in our region, there's been a multitude of triple and double hundreds scored in the last 5-7 years, and loads of mundane and boring drawn test matches .... Hence, there is definitely something wrong! no reason to get all worked up buddy.....its not an Indian problem, its a regional (pak, ind, sl) problem...infact thesedays even in australia, west indies and southafrica most test match wickets r flat!!! so what is left in the game for faster men???

  • Mark on October 9, 2010, 17:22 GMT

    Very poor analysis.

    Indian batsmen are very good against spin however that's not the reason visiting spinners have failed against Indians. This is demonstrated by the fact that Indians are hardly invulnerable against spin outside india.

  • Subash on October 9, 2010, 13:59 GMT

    @Scorpionoid Khan: You are really funny....

    @timmy You have no clue what you are talking...Every test playing natiion prepares pitches that suite their bowlers and batsmen. Jimmy Anderson is a great bolwer in English conditions where the ball swings, but is mediocore when the ball is not doing much, but then everyone swings in English conditions.

    This bashing of Indian batsmen scoring runs only on dead pitches is from people for whom the grapes will always be sour. No pont in commenting on lame senseless statements.

  • safwan on October 9, 2010, 13:40 GMT

    bowlers are probably not needed on these back-breaking tracks......pack your team with 10 batsmen and a keeper, 3-4 of these guys should be able to bowl part-time and you'll do fine. One thing's assured, play half your test matches as a batsman on these pitches, and you are guaranteed an average of 50+! that is precisely why an english batsmen's average of 40 is better then most averages of 50+ in the game today......atleast they have to fight for their runs on seaming wickets!!

  • Vishwanath on October 8, 2010, 23:02 GMT

    not to be arrogant and draw away from the conversation, but if the last table is anything to go by, purely on averages, sri lanka's batting line ups since the 1990s are the third best in the world. i think =P

  • Dummy4 on October 8, 2010, 22:10 GMT

    I think its the indian batsmen who make the difference in indian condition there performance has been better in india and indian bowlers understand the condition well and crowd makes them going thats what you call home advantage

  • Manasvi on October 8, 2010, 17:12 GMT

    There's no chance of spinners getting Indians out on non-responsive pitches. You'd need to be Richie Benaud to do well

  • Adrian on October 8, 2010, 17:07 GMT

    I've said it before - don't play spinners in India. Australia have a great stock of fast bowlers available, so why not play them? If the pitch is really spinning like mad, there are still 3 part-time spin options who can do the job.

  • rohit on October 8, 2010, 16:40 GMT

    criceshwar, why do you think stats here don't reveal anything. In fact, Rajesh has spelt it out for the opposing team in the last line - use pace battery against India. The drop of 10 runs from spinners to pace simply confirms this.

    nzcricket174, if you are reading about ind-aus series, do you think the statistician will talk about nz-cricket? with india riddled with injury, and ponting's injured pride, this match is building up for a aussie fight-back. the article is quite timely and confirms that aussie needs to stick to its pace attack. i did not see rajesh talk about low caliber of indian bowlers. maybe we are talking about different articles. cheers

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