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The worst country for a touring spinner

Overseas slow bowlers have struggled in Australia more than in any other country

S Rajesh

November 12, 2010

Comments: 19 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Swann trapped Imran Farhat leg before, England v Pakistan, 3rd Test, The Oval, August 21, 2010
Graeme Swann has a fine opportunity to reverse the trend of overseas spinners performing poorly in Australia © Getty Images
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Will Graeme Swann turn out to be the crucial difference between Australia and England in the forthcoming Ashes series? Opinions are divided - some are sure his skills will win him battles in all conditions against all opponents, while others question the quality of some of his wickets. What's certain, though, is that he'll have to go against recent trends if he is to do well - overseas spinners and Australian conditions haven't made for a happy combination in the last several years. Here's a look at how overseas spinners have performed in each country, and just how tough it's been for even the best of them in Australia.

Let's start with the stats of spinners in each country, both home and away, since 2000. As the averages column for away spinners indicates, Australia has been the worst venue for them: they've conceded almost 49 runs per wicket, which is much worse than the numbers that Australian spinners have put up. The numbers for Australia are largely the result of displays by Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill - both have taken more than 100 wickets at averages of around 30. The difference between the averages for home and away spinners in Australia is almost 17, which is second only to the difference in Sri Lanka. However, both in Sri Lanka and in India, overseas slow bowlers have done marginally better than they have in Australia.

The overall averages for spinners are worse in South Africa and West Indies, but in both cases the lack of quality of the home spinners has been the biggest reason for the high averages: in both countries, the home spinners have conceded well over 40 runs per wicket, with the overseas bowlers doing significantly better.

Performances of spinners home and away in each country since 2000
Host Tests Home spin - wkts Average Strike rate Away spin - wkts Average Strike rate Overall ave
South Africa 56 109 43.05 83.3 194 38.04 74.4 39.84
West Indies 54 179 45.97 103.2 275 35.52 72.8 39.64
Pakistan 32 199 37.38 76.8 167 41.85 81.4 39.42
Australia 61 307 31.99 63.1 237 48.81 82.8 39.32
New Zealand 45 151 40.48 86.3 166 34.19 73.4 37.18
India 52 550 31.53 69.4 264 45.56 84.3 36.08
England 78 207 34.90 70.1 278 37.35 72.6 35.97
Zimbabwe 22 81 43.53 84.9 114 29.39 70.2 35.26
Bangladesh 33 205 44.56 88.4 270 22.51 46.6 32.02
Sri Lanka 57 586 24.74 59.2 284 45.84 86.9 31.38

Over the last decade, spinners from all teams have struggled in Australia, but those from England have found it tougher than most other sides. New Zealand's average is closest to the home team, but for all the others, it exceeds 40. Indian spinners have taken plenty of wickets in Australia - almost seven per match - but they've come at quite a cost. England, though, have done even worse: over two five-Test series, their spinners have managed only 24 wickets, each costing more than 56. Not only have their spinners failed to take wickets, they've also failed to keep the runs under check, leaking 3.87 runs per over, which is again higher than all teams except Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Going back a little further and looking at the corresponding numbers since 1990, it turns out that England haven't done that much better, with only 63 wickets in 25 Tests at 49.66.

Team-wise stats for spin in Australia since 2000
Team Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Australia 61 307 31.99 63.1 14/ 1
New Zealand 7 34 35.79 70.8 3/ 0
Sri Lanka 4 22 42.95 70.8 2/ 1
India 9 62 45.06 73.5 4/ 1
South Africa 9 26 50.57 84.4 0/ 0
Pakistan 6 28 52.25 84.1 3/ 0
West Indies 11 24 55.37 115.1 1/ 0
England 10 24 56.45 87.4 1/ 0
Zimbabwe 2 8 73.50 97.6 1/ 0
Bangladesh 2 3 98.00 138.6 0/ 0

And now here's a look at the individual bowlers during this period. Admittedly, it's a table which doesn't make for pretty viewing. Anil Kumble leads the wickets tally with 44 in eight games, but he has had to work pretty hard for his successes, conceding almost 35 runs per wicket. His strike rate's pretty good, but he has an unusually high economy rate of 3.62 runs per over. In fact, Kumble conceded more than three runs per over in every innings he bowled in Australia.

Vettori's economy rate is much better at 2.95, but his average is slightly higher, and the lack of too many other attacking options in New Zealand's bowling attack has hurt him too. Pakistan's Danish Kaneria is the second of three legspinners among the top four wicket-takers, but he too has had to work a lot for his wickets, conceding more than 40 runs per wicket and 3.80 runs per over. (Kaneria, though, can justifiably point to Kamran Akmal's contribution in pushing that average towards 40.) Upul Chandana has done better, thanks to his match haul of 10 for 210 in Cairns.

England's leading spinners on their last two tours to Australia have been left-armers, and Monty Panesar has clearly been the better of the two, with ten wickets at 37.90, but what's more surprising is the lack of success for the offspinners. Both Harbhajan Singh and Muttiah Muralitharan have had entirely forgettable series in Australia.

Overseas spinners in Australia since 2000
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Anil Kumble 8 44 34.65 57.4 4/ 1
Daniel Vettori 8 29 37.55 76.2 3/ 0
Danish Kaneria 5 24 40.58 64.0 3/ 0
Upul Chandana 2 12 22.50 30.8 2/ 1
Sulieman Benn 3 11 37.09 83.4 1/ 0
Paul Harris 3 10 38.70 81.5 0/ 0
Monty Panesar 3 10 37.90 53.7 1/ 0
Ashley Giles 3 9 50.33 90.2 0/ 0
Harbhajan Singh 4 9 73.22 126.0 0/ 0
Muttiah Muralitharan 3 9 61.88 113.3 0/ 0
Claude Henderson 3 8 60.00 90.1 0/ 0
Ray Price 2 6 61.83 89.6 1/ 0
Richard Dawson 4 5 79.60 115.2 0/ 0

Even in the last 30 years, England's spinners have struggled to be incisive in Australia. As the table below shows, the leading wicket-takers since 1980 have all had a strike rate of more than 100 balls per wicket. Offspinner Geoff Miller has the best average, but he has only taken 13 wickets in five Tests.

England spinners in Australia since 1980
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
John Emburey 6 19 43.05 121.2 2/ 0
Phil Tufnell 8 19 41.42 109.7 1/ 0
Eddie Hemmings 5 18 42.66 111.8 0/ 0
Phil Edmonds 5 15 35.86 104.6 0/ 0
Geoff Miller 5 13 30.53 78.9 0/ 0
Peter Such 2 11 29.36 63.7 1/ 0
Monty Panesar 3 10 37.90 53.7 1/ 0
Ashley Giles 3 9 50.33 90.2 0/ 0
Richard Dawson 4 5 79.60 115.2 0/ 0

However, there are quite a few reasons to believe that Swann stands a much better chance than his predecessors: England have a decent pace attack, and if the fast bowlers provide breakthroughs, Swann will have much better match situation to bowl in. More importantly, Australia's batting form has been so patchy that it's unlikely they'll take too many liberties against Swann. Both, the England team and their leading spinner will believe past record won't count for much when the battle begins in a couple of weeks.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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Posted by Skaul on (November 16, 2010, 19:03 GMT)

Mr S. Rajesh, there is a mistake in the second last paragraph. Peter Such has a better average than Geoff Miller.

Posted by   on (November 14, 2010, 17:33 GMT)

I think the main differences between Swann and some of the other English spinners in the list above are that he is allowed to bowl aggressively and also spins the ball a fair distance.

This is something that has needed to change in the English mindset for a while as all too often, the spinners' role on an overseas tour was to hold down one end and nothing much more.

Also, as an earlier post mentioned, this Australian batting line-up is not as top-drawer as it has been in recent years. Therefore, I think he'll do well this time.

Posted by   on (November 13, 2010, 22:43 GMT)

@Meety FOOD FOR THOUGHT. Something I don't hear talked about is HOW DIFFERENT the last 30 years of Australian wickets and Test Cricket have been from Australian wickets and test cricket in the time of Bradman. Now Australian wickets and cricket are known for the dominance of fast and fast medium bowling. Believe it or not, the Australian Test attack for many tests in the 1930's was ONE fast bowler and THREE wrist spinners - Tim Wall (fast), Bill O'Reilly (legspin), Clarrie Grimmet (legspin) and Fleetwood-Smith (left arm wrist spin or 'chinaman'). Cricket was predominantly batsmen batting against wrist spinners - 80-90% of overs were bowled by wrist spinners. Unrecognisable and almost the opposite of today where quick dominate the bowling, including the % of overs. Some Oz supporters see the dry turning wickets of the sub-continent as not as legitimate as quick ones - yet the wickets of our heritage seem to have been like sub-continent wickets, only more so.

Posted by Meety on (November 13, 2010, 19:43 GMT)

Whilst I believe Oz pitches are the most sporting in the world for Tests, I think @ Shield level pitches tend to be too favourable to pace too often. We need to have a few really dry pitches so that spinners get a look in. Hauritz bowled 2 overs in the entire match against QLD recently. I would like to see the AIS play as a "Non-Shield" side out of Canberra or Darwin. The pitch in Darwin is very sub continental & should spinners, the AIS would play first class matches against Shield sides when they weren't playing a Shield game. This would open up some potential for youth to get a game, but more importantly, spinners like Dan Cullen, Cullen Bailey, Boyce, & Doherty would get more of a go.

Posted by Meety on (November 13, 2010, 19:38 GMT)

@JimDavis - Swann is uncanny @ 1st over break throughs. I think its more about batsmen don't rate him. Pak & WI were guilty of that against Hauritz last year. @Wolver - Swann as good as he is has a LONG LONG way to go to be Englands best spinner ever. @Dhanno - disagree, foreign spinners have done well in SL. @neil Phillips - spot on matey. Swann will be important for giving the pace bowlers a break, keeping up the pressure & chipping in with a wicket - particularly the tail end, any top order wickets will be cream. There is a reason why Oz don't have many spinners at the moment, & that is OZ play spinners in Oz conditions very well. Hauritz has a Shield average around 50 but a Test average around 33, Warne's Shield average was way above his Test average, MacGill took alot of Shield wickets but got carted a fair bit too. Sth Oz have 2 very good spinners who can't get a game, O'Brien got a game against Poms, but thats partly cos he is a useful batsmen too.

Posted by Mark00 on (November 13, 2010, 15:56 GMT)

Out of the 13 most successful spinners touring Australia since 2000,all of the top 8 (and 10 out of the 13) are bowlers whose stock ball moves away from the right hander.

The combined average of the 3 whose stock ball moves into the right hander is about 70.

Posted by memoriesofthepast on (November 13, 2010, 13:22 GMT)

Yet , 1977-78 India tour of Aus was the best for the Indian spinners - left armer Bedi, offie Prasanna, offie Venkat and leggie Chandrasekhar collectively taking 67 wickets in that 5 tests series-perhaps this may be the best performance of spinners from teams that have toured Aus. Bedi's 10 wicket haul at Perth pitch and a 5 wicket haul at Brisbane test were good efforts even though India lost those tests ,but Chandrasekhar took 12 wickets in the Melbourne test and Chandrasekhar and Prasanna shared the wickets in Sydney test and India won these two tests. Those days, Indian bowling relied solely on the shoulders of spinners-Chandra, Venkat, Bedi and Prasanna and so they had to bowl even if the wicket was supportive for spin or not supportive for spin. At the same time there was no bouncer restrictions nor protective equipment but a high chance that one of these may get themselves retired hurt while batting against the fast bowlers of those days.

Posted by memoriesofthepast on (November 13, 2010, 9:44 GMT)

Shane Warne made his test debut against India in Sydney test of 1991-92 . His bowling was so easy for Indians to handle that a one time tail-ender Ravi Shastri was able to make 206 runs as an opening batsman and Warne had bowling figures of only one wicket for approx 150 runs in that test at Sydney. The same Shane Warne was also ineffective on India tours of 1998 and 2001 whereas Indian spinners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh had dominated over the Aus batsmen on the Indian turners. Normally it is said that India is the worst country for a touring pacer but except a few like Saqlain Mushtaq, India has been a worst country for a touring spinner. So when India tours Aus, Aus make wickets that are for the pacers. For visiting English, Aus make wickets that will make Englishmen call Warne's delivery as the ball of the century. Same Warne starts having nightmares of Sachin going after his bowling when he tours India.

Posted by   on (November 13, 2010, 6:00 GMT)

Yes Neil, you've hit the nail on the head. In the list as well you'd see legspinners or left armers dominating. The stats just prove what a great bowler Anil was!! He was a big force behind the two successful tours down under

Posted by   on (November 13, 2010, 1:21 GMT)

I played some first grade cricket in Sydney in the sixties as a legspinner and have been a student of all spin bowling ever since. In watching test cricket over all the years since, I have seen that no overseas off spinner has been successful in test cricket in that time in Australia. The greatest English offspinner, Jim Laker, had a mediocre record in Australia; as has the greatest of all offspinners - Murali. Saqlain Mustaq, Harbajan Singh and a whole list of English finger spinners have been conspicuous over all those years for their lack of success on Australian wickets. Why would Swann be expected to do any better? Is he really much better than Murali - I think not? Teams who have beaten Australia in Australia have done it with great fast bowlers, always. John Snow, Richard Hadlee and numerous West Indians. England need to win with fast bowling - Broad & Finn. A finger spinner won't do it on Australian wickets.

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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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