Are lbws on the rise?
Technology in decision-making has been one of the furiously debated issues in world cricket over the last few years, but most experts have agreed that one of the fallouts is that the benefit of the doubt doesn't save batsmen as often as it used to earlier. Intuitively you'd expect this to be true, but what do the stats say? Are batsmen given out lbw more often in the last five years than they were earlier? Are spinners winning more lbw verdicts than before? Let the numbers reveal all.
First, a check on the year-wise percentages since 2000. It turns out that the lbw percentage, as a factor of the total wickets taken by bowlers, hasn't changed that much during these 11 years. It went up marginally in 2002 and 2003, but since then it's been hovering at around 17%, which means, roughly, one out of six wickets taken by a bowler is an lbw. From 2004 to 2010 the percentage has been remarkably similar; it has gone up significantly so far this year, but the stats for 2011 hardly provide a substantial sample size. Only eight Tests have been played this year, and the lbw stats have become highly skewed due to the two-Test series between West Indies and Pakistan, when lbws contributed a whopping 26 out of 72 bowler wickets in the series (36.11%). (That's the second-highest number of lbws ever in a two-Test series. Any guesses for the highest?)
The first Test of that series, in Providence, witnessed 20 lbws, which is the highest in a Test match. Exclude the numbers from that series, though, and the stats for 2011 look pretty normal: 31 lbws out of 176 wickets, which is a percentage of 17.61.
The DRS has been around for a couple of years, but it hasn't been consistently used in all series, which means a verdict regarding its effect on lbw decisions must wait a little longer. In the 2010-11 Ashes, for example, when the DRS was in use, there were only 15 lbws out of the 142 wickets that the bowlers took; when England went to South Africa in 2009-10 for a four-Test series with DRS, the percentage was 18.25, which isn't much more than the overall average. Overall, though, the use of ball-tracking systems - whether for television or for actual decision-making - seems to have convinced umpires to be less conservative with lbws.
|Year||Tests||Bowler wkts||Bowling ave||Lbws||Lbw %||Lbws per Test|
The decade-wise numbers offer a better picture of the overall trend: till the 1970s, the percentage hovered at around 12-13, but it spurted up to more than 16 in the 1980s, and since then the lbw percentage has been marginally higher in each decade compared to the previous one. The number of lbws per Test has gradually increased too, from around 3.5 per Test in the 1960s and '70s to more than five over the last two decades.
|Decade||Tests||Bowler wkts||Bowling ave||Lbws||Lbw %||Lbws per Test|
The big difference over recent years, though, is the willingness of umpires to give more lbw decisions off spinners. The year-wise stats show that from 2003 to 2005, lbws constituted a higher percentage of total wickets for fast bowlers than for spinners. From 2006, though, the percentages have been in favour of spinners, and since 2008, the contribution of lbws has been more than 20% each year, which suggests that umpires have gradually come around to giving lbws even when batsmen stretch forward. That's the one aspect that several experts have also talked about, and the numbers seem to indicate that technology has affected this area of decision-making.
The percentage for fast bowlers, on the other hand, has been consistently dropping over the last six years. Is it because there aren't so many fast bowlers around who target the stumps these days, or is it that they simply aren't quick enough to beat bat and hit the pad? That's a debate for another day.
|Year||Pace - wkts||Lbws||Percentage||Spin - wkts||Lbws||Percentage|
Among the spinners, the one who has the highest percentage of lbws since 2006 is Graeme Swann - 41 out of his 138 Test wickets have been obtained in that manner, which explains England's loud protests at the DRS not being employed for the home series against India. India's chief spinner, Harbhajan Singh, on the other hand, hasn't relied as much on the lbw, with only 21% of his dismissals coming in that manner.
The two other spinners for whom the lbw has contributed more than one-fourth of their wickets are Daniel Vettori and Anil Kumble. Both aren't huge turners of the ball, but one suspects they didn't always get their just rewards for their variations in flight and pace in their early years.
A comparison of the lbw percentages for four bowlers in different stages of their careers further shows umpires aren't as reluctant to give batsmen out lbw as they used to be: Vettori's lbw percentage has almost doubled since the beginning of 2006, and the difference is equally dramatic for Harbhajan as well. Muttiah Muralitharan's lbw percentage was negligible in the early stages of his career, but the improvement in his numbers is also because he developed the doosra in the second half of his career - with the amount of turn he obtained from his stock offbreak deliveries, umpires were understandably averse to giving batsmen out lbw.
The one spinner for whom the lbw percentages didn't change much was Shane Warne - before 2000, 64 of his 351 victims were trapped in front, a percentage of 18.23; in the second half of his career that percentage did increase, but only marginally, to 20.73.
|Vettori - before 2006||65||208||31||14.90|
|Vettori - from Jan 2006||40||137||38||27.74|
|Kumble - before 2000||58||264||58||21.97|
|Kumble - from Jan 2000 to Dec 2005||42||221||60||27.15|
|Kumble - from Jan 2006||32||134||38||28.36|
|Harbhajan - before 2006||50||219||25||11.41|
|Harbhajan - from Jan 2006||43||174||37||21.26|
|Murali - before 2000||48||227||26||11.45|
|Murali - Jan 2000 to Dec 2005||51||357||73||20.45|
|Murali - from Jan 2006||34||216||51||23.61|
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo