August 12, 2011

England's pace pack, and Johnson's Asia heroics

Over the last 18 months England's pace attack has been the best in the world, while Mitchell Johnson has been at his best in subcontinent ODIs

This was supposed to be the big battle between the strongest batting line-up going around today and the best bowling attack, but two-and-a-half Tests into the series the stats are surprisingly lopsided. England's pace attack has been so utterly dominant that no Indian batsman apart from Rahul Dravid has made runs with any sort of consistency. Among batsmen who've played more than two innings in this series, Dravid is the only one averaging more than 31. Both VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar have a highest of 56 in five innings, which indicates how effective England's pace attack has been.

England's overall bowling average in this series has been 23.32, but the average of their pace attack has been an incredible 18.70. Leave out Dravid, who has averaged 49.75 against this attack, and the rest of India's average against this England pace attack is a woeful 15.89.

Admittedly, India's campaign has been disrupted by injuries: Virender Sehwag missed the first two while Gautam Gambhir missed the second, and their absence forced India to shuffle their order, but that shouldn't take away from the complete dominance of England's pace attack. Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan have given India little breathing space, and so sustained has their firepower been that they must rank as the best pace attack going around at the moment.

Over the last year and a half, England's pace attack has averaged 26.55 runs per wicket and struck every 52 deliveries, which is the best among all teams during this period. South Africa and Pakistan are the other teams to average less than 30 runs per wicket, while Australia have been pushed back to fourth place with an average of 31.73. It can be argued that England have played a bit against relatively weak batting line-ups - Bangladesh and Pakistan were the two sides that toured England last season - but their displays against Australia and India have shown just how strong their pace attack is. What they now need to prove is that they can be as dangerous in the subcontinent as well.

Bangladesh expectedly make it to the bottom of the list, but the average of the team placed just above them is interesting: Sri Lanka have played nine Tests during this period, including three in England, but their seamers have conceded more than 61 runs per wicket. In the three Tests in England their average was 57.19.

Pace bowlers for each team in Tests since Jan 2010
Team Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
England 21 270 26.55 51.8 11/ 1
South Africa 12 146 27.84 53.6 8/ 1
Pakistan 14 139 29.84 55.2 6/ 0
Australia 13 157 31.73 58.5 9/ 1
India 21 181 32.58 57.0 6/ 2
West Indies 11 87 33.14 69.5 4/ 0
New Zealand 8 57 47.85 85.9 1/ 0
Sri Lanka 9 40 61.50 93.4 1/ 0
Bangladesh 8 37 67.67 100.7 3/ 0

What has set this England attack apart is its relentlessness. Most teams have one or two incisive fast bowlers, but England have Tremlett or Bresnan back up the efforts of Broad and Anderson - when Tremlett was ruled out of the second and third Tests, England could immediately turn to Bresnan, whose pace, bounce and seam movement has already fetched him 11 wickets in less than two Tests. And even if one of these bowlers is unavailable, there's still Steven Finn lurking in the background. On the other hand, India have been unable to make up for the absence of their best bowler, Zaheer Khan. Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma have had their moments while Praveen Kumar has done splendidly despite his limited pace, but everyone agrees that the injuries to Zaheer has robbed India of the one bowler who could have consistently troubled England's top order.

A look at the top eight fast bowlers in the last year and a half indicates that depth in the England attack - there are four England bowlers in the top eight and five in the top 11. Broad, the most successful bowler in this series against India, only averages 30.05, thanks to his poor displays against Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The list is headed by Dale Steyn, while Morne Morkel is the other South African fast bowler who has been a force. India have Zaheer Khan, who averages 22.71, but their next-best is Ishant Sharma, who averages 32.08.

Best averages for fast bowlers since Jan 2010 (Qual: 30 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Dale Steyn 12 66 21.25 39.9 5/ 1
Mohammad Amir 7 33 22.33 45.7 2/ 0
Zaheer Khan 11 53 22.71 42.4 2/ 1
Tim Bresnan 7 33 23.27 48.9 1/ 0
James Anderson 18 85 23.42 50.0 4/ 1
Chris Tremlett 7 36 24.22 47.2 2/ 0
Morne Morkel 12 52 25.21 49.7 3/ 0
Steven Finn 12 50 26.92 41.4 3/ 0

The bowling stats for England and South Africa have also pushed up the overall bowling numbers for 2011. The fast-bowling average for the year is just over 30, which is the lowest it's been since 2000, when it was 27.52. There are still plenty of Test matches to come in the year, but if the fast bowlers continue to be as effective as they have been so far, this could be their best year in a decade. In fact, the average for spinners, as well as the overall bowling averages, have improved as well.

Fast bowling and spin each year since 2005
Year Pace - wkts Average Strike rate Spin - wkts Average Overall ave
2005 1014 32.92 58.6 487 34.51 33.40
2006 951 33.59 60.5 445 36.22 34.53
2007 629 33.23 60.3 281 37.54 34.83
2008 958 32.59 60.7 475 35.57 33.68
2009 771 37.22 66.0 438 38.47 37.70
2010 776 34.14 60.9 476 40.52 36.60
2011 356 30.37 58.9 138 35.29 31.81
Stats updated till the end of the first day of the ongoing Edgbaston Test.

Johnson at home in Asia

You'd expect fast bowlers from outside the subcontinent to struggle to adapt to the generally slow pace of Asia's pitches, but Mitchell Johnson has had no problems at all. In 31 ODIs in the subcontinent so far, Johnson has taken 60 wickets at an average of 20.41; outside the subcontinent, he has 98 in 69 ODIs at 28. Three of his six four-wicket hauls, as well as two out of three five-fors, have come in the subcontinent. (Click here for Johnson's bowling career summary.) Among Australian bowlers who've taken at least 30 wickets in Asia, Johnson's average is the best, edging ahead of Nathan Bracken.

A look at the stats for some of the other Australian fast bowlers shows that Johnson isn't the only one who's been successful in Asia: Bracken, Brett Lee, and Damien Fleming have pretty good numbers too.

Australian fast bowlers in ODIs in Asia (Qual: 30 wickets)
Bowler ODIs Wickets Average Econ rate Career ave Econ rate
Mitchell Johnson 31 60 20.41 4.76 25.12 4.89
Nathan Bracken 27 46 20.58 4.06 24.36 4.41
Brett Lee 34 51 23.64 4.56 23.03 4.71
Damien Fleming 40 66 23.92 4.52 25.38 4.41
Shane Watson 34 33 24.42 4.72 29.14 4.85
Glenn McGrath 47 69 25.31 4.29 21.98 3.87
Craig McDermott 27 37 29.64 4.48 24.71 4.03

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muhammad on August 13, 2011, 7:14 GMT

    If in such circumstances Pakistan's pace attack is positioned like this, what if ....... :)

  • Ross on August 12, 2011, 20:52 GMT

    Interesting to see the improvement in the overall bowling figures this year. I suppose the question we should ask: is the bowling getting better, or is the batting getting worse? Is T20 starting to erode the technique and application of batsmen when they play the long form of the game?

  • kan on August 12, 2011, 16:07 GMT

    Dhoni, Zaheer, Bhajji, Viru, Gambhir and Tendulkar should all quit IPL to concentrate on Test and ODI cricket. Ishant Sharma's problem is he loves bowling short of length, he should realize in swinging conditions you get wicket more often than not if you pitch it up

  • joel on August 12, 2011, 14:27 GMT

    England have the best bowling attack in world cricket today , completely balanced and not 1 supposed superstar . Also Broad and Bresnan can bat too , oh happy times for England .

  • Rafay on August 12, 2011, 13:26 GMT

    Pakistan plays no test matches in 2009 and the pace bowling average goes up from 32.59 to 37.22. Coincidence? I think not.

  • Solaiman on August 12, 2011, 12:22 GMT

    Zaheer makes the difference. India started to win overseas test matches after arrival of the Zaheer in 2000. Without him India shows the sign of back to the pre Ganguly era.

  • Thube on August 12, 2011, 11:47 GMT

    I can't, for the life of me, understand why South Africa have played so few Tests. We have the best all-rounder who's basically the best batsman, we also have the best bowler since all the good ones retired but we still play a few Tests. It's embarrassing.

  • Ryo on August 12, 2011, 10:21 GMT

    And if the Pakistani's could actually field they would have had by far the best bowling averages....The full Eng tour against Eng and Aus alone they dropped over 20 chances (mostly easy ones at that).

  • aaditya on August 12, 2011, 9:03 GMT

    I think we should rather follow emerging players tnmnt!!india is doing fantastically well there winning most games!!current game vs australia they shot them out for 200 and then scored 540 in 100 odd overs with some 25 odd SIXES!!can star cricket plz cover that series??

  • masood on August 12, 2011, 7:30 GMT

    two things for me...pakistan attack 3rd in list an aamir in 2nd position...yeaaa pakistan are good bowling unit...

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