June 17, 2011

Are lbws on the rise?

The overall lbw percentage hasn't changed all that much over the last two decades, but spinners are certainly getting more decisions in their favour

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-wise lbw percentages in Tests since 2000
Year Tests Bowler wkts Bowling ave Lbws Lbw % Lbws per Test
2000 46 1340 29.56 237 17.69 5.15
2001 55 1569 34.09 250 15.93 4.55
2002 54 1607 32.58 297 18.48 5.50
2003 44 1305 36.12 260 19.92 5.91
2004 51 1555 35.31 262 16.85 5.14
2005 49 1508 33.40 266 17.64 5.43
2006 46 1400 34.53 251 17.93 5.46
2007 31 920 34.83 156 16.96 5.03
2008 47 1445 33.68 247 17.09 5.26
2009 41 1214 37.70 223 18.37 5.44
2010 43 1252 36.60 219 17.49 5.09
2011 8 248 33.66 57 22.98 7.13

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-wise lbw percentges in Tests since 1950
Decade Tests Bowler wkts Bowling ave Lbws Lbw % Lbws per Test
1950s 164 4818 28.54 655 13.59 3.99
1960s 186 5778 32.10 661 11.92 3.55
1970s 198 6115 31.90 721 12.23 3.64
1980s 266 7734 32.09 1197 16.02 4.50
1990s 347 10,564 31.51 1754 17.19 5.05
2000s 464 14,341 34.10 2449 17.67 5.28
2010s 51 1557 36.11 276 18.40 5.41

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.

Lbw percentage for pace and spin in Tests since Jan 2002
Year Pace - wkts Lbws Percentage Spin - wkts Lbws Percentage
2002 1071 201 18.77 511 97 18.98
2003 890 189 21.24 415 71 17.11
2004 977 170 17.40 577 92 15.94
2005 1014 183 18.05 487 80 16.43
2006 951 155 16.30 445 95 21.35
2007 629 100 15.90 281 55 19.57
2008 958 148 15.45 475 98 20.63
2009 771 115 14.92 438 107 24.43
2010 776 115 14.82 476 104 21.85
2011 158 30 18.99 90 27 30.00

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.

Lbw percentages of spinners with 100+ Test wickets since Jan 2006
Bowler Innings Wickets Lbws Percentage
Graeme Swann 56 138 41 29.71
Anil Kumble 58 134 38 28.36
Daniel Vettori 66 137 38 27.74
Monty Panesar 65 126 31 24.60
Muttiah Muralitharan 62 216 51 23.61
Harbhajan Singh 77 174 37 21.26
Danish Kaneria 53 118 23 19.49
Paul Harris 63 103 11 10.68

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.

Lbws for spinners, then and now
Bowler Tests Wickets Lbws Percentage
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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • srini on June 20, 2011, 13:40 GMT

    Was the LBW rule same always? I think the rule was different for 'hit outside the line of off stump' during 40s and 50s.

  • Anurag on June 18, 2011, 14:34 GMT

    hi i think d reason y d spinners get more lbw in d ltr prt of d career is wen d bowler is new he is bold enugh to flight d bowl, bowl outside d line etc. since he needs to display his talent also he knows that being new d batsman will tend to atack him. while when d bowler alredy earns reputation then he doesnt attack often since batsman do not take chances against him so he adopts wicket 2 wkt line nd adopt u miss i hit strategy. another reson is also d umpires r reluctant to giv close decns in favor of a new bowler

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2011, 23:15 GMT

    Poor Abdul Qadir. I remember how the English umpires never understood his googlies and other variations, and never gave him an LBW. He was always in trouble with the English umpires. I think if DRS was then, Qadir's wickets would have been significantly higher, as his planning would have included going for LBWs.

  • Mradul on June 17, 2011, 19:26 GMT

    I think the difference started to emerge since the usage of Neutral Umpires in tests. I remember reading several times how frustrating it was for the visiting team to get the LBW decision against the famous local players. Many former players who played in Asia have recounted that it was almost impossible to get LBW against Javed Miandad in Pakistan or against Sunny Gavaskar in India. Now with the changing times the Umpires have gone to the extent of introducing new and absurd ways of giving LBWs, "Shoulder before Wicket" (against Sachin in Australia). That makes it total 11 ways of getting out.

  • Sameer on June 17, 2011, 18:35 GMT

    gr8 stats and figures .it just goes to show the rise of finger spinners.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2011, 17:49 GMT

    Was an analysis done to check if the number of lbw's increased with experience of the bowler ? i.e. the number being smaller in the first half of their career compared to the latter half ?

    Or has something special occurred around 2006 ? New umpires in the elite panel who are not afraid to give as many lbws ?

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2011, 14:57 GMT

    Ankur - have you ever watch Swann?

  • David on June 17, 2011, 14:31 GMT

    @pradeep_dealwis, with respect to your theory, I suspect the bigger reason for the rise in spinner LBWs in recent decades has been the change in the LBW law which allows for batsmen to be given out LBW when struck outside the line if they don't offer a shot. Before that, any spinner trying to bowl someone from out of the rough could be safely dealt with by simply padding him away. Now that's no longer possible.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2011, 10:30 GMT

    Warne's LBW stats will be affected by the fact that he took a large number of LBW wickets with his flipper early in his career. Whereas he bowled few, if any, flippers in the tests he played in the later part of his career. I'm sure that the percentage of LBW dismissals for his other deliveries would have risen in the later part of his career too, but those dismissals were counteracted by the absence of flipper LBWs. Umpires have definitely changed their habits in relation to front foot LBWs for spinners - and Warne was no exception.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2011, 9:15 GMT

    That is interesting about Vettori, people always say what a very good bowler he is but it doesn't show in his figures. An average of 33.98 is not good. However, since DRS, he takes wickets at 27.7, before it was 38.0. Basically, it was not giving him LBWs and giving "benefit of the doubt" to the batsmen was impacting his figures greatly.

    I would say an average of 27.7 puts him strongly in the second tier of spinners, like Swann, Harbajan etc, whereas he is probably rated third tier based on his figures.

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