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The age of spin in ODIs

Spinners have played a much bigger role in ODIs than ever before, with teams using them successfully even in the early part of an innings

S Rajesh

December 9, 2011

Comments: 20 | Text size: A | A

Mohammad Hafeez appeals successfully to dismiss Jeevan Mendis, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd ODI, Dubai, November 18, 2011
Mohammad Hafeez has been superb with the ball in ODIs, and even more so when bowling in the early part of the innings © AFP

Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Daniel Vettori, Graeme Swann. These aren't just the names of four current spinners in the game; they are the four leading bowlers in ODI cricket, according to the ICC's rankings. All of them have been in top form recently: in 2011 Ajmal has taken 34 wickets at an outstanding average (17.08) and economy rate (3.48); Hafeez's 32 wickets have come at 25.34 per wicket and 3.54 per over, besides which he has also scored 1075 runs, making it only the fourth instance of a player scoring 1000-plus runs and scoring 30-plus wickets in a calendar year. Vettori hasn't played that much in 2011, but has 26 wickets over the last couple of years at an economy rate of 3.81, while Swann has been a fantastic strike bowler for England with 59 wickets in his last 35 matches. Add Shakib Al Hasan and Shahid Afridi to the mix, and there are six spinners in the ICC's top ten for bowlers in ODIs.

Overall, spinners are doing far more bowling in one-day internationals than they used to. In fact, in the third game between Bangladesh and Pakistan in Chittagong earlier this week, spinners contributed 439 balls out of 505 - that's 73.1 overs out of 84.1. That's the second-most number of deliveries contributed by spin in a single game. Looking at the complete list, it turns out that three of the six games with the highest contribution of slow bowlers have happened in the last one year. With pitches in many countries lacking speed and bounce, taking pace off the ball has become the mantra in ODIs. Spinners do that perfectly, giving the batsmen little pace to work with.

The year-wise stats for contribution of spinners over the last eight years clearly shows this trend. In 2004 and '05, on average only about 30% of the total deliveries bowled in a match were sent down by spinners; in the last two years, that percentage has gone up beyond 41, an increase of about 35%. The increase had been gradual till about 2009, but since then it has gone up rapidly. The fast bowlers have generally had a slightly better average, but spinners have edged ahead on economy rate.

Percentage of spin overs in ODIs each year since 2004
Year Total overs Wkts Ave/ ER Spin-overs Wkts Ave/ ER spin overs %
2011 12450.3 1930 31.72/ 4.91 5184.1 732 32.72/ 4.62 41.64
2010 12611.2 1911 32.13/ 4.86 5183.5 661 36.11/ 4.60 41.10
2009 12921 1939 33.40/ 5.01 4609.2 630 34.14/ 4.66 35.67
2008 10400 1605 31.23/ 4.82 3665.4 524 32.35/ 4.62 35.24
2007 16326.5 2462 32.61/ 4.91 5225.1 708 35.58/ 4.82 32.00
2006 14166.3 2131 31.30/ 4.70 4733.5 636 32.25/ 4.33 33.41
2005 9570.3 1402 34.10/ 4.99 2784.4 351 38.18/ 4.81 29.09
2004 10945.2 1590 32.58/ 4.73 3379.1 446 34.93/ 4.61 30.87

What's even more noticeable, though, is the fact that spinners are bowling a lot more with the new ball. Once upon a time, it used to be that spinners were strictly restricted to bowling in the middle overs of one-day games, but no longer. Abdur Razzak has started the bowling pretty regularly for Bangladesh in ODIs (on 16 occasions), while Ray Price (15 times) and Prosper Utseya (8) have also done it pretty often. Recently in Bangladesh, Hafeez bowled the first over of the innings in each of the three matches, while India's R Ashwin has also been brought into the attack pretty early by MS Dhoni.

Even so, the extent to which spinners have bowled the early overs in ODIs over the last couple of years is a huge increase from what used to be the norm earlier. Till as late as 2007, spinners used to bowl only about 4% of the overs in the first 15 of an innings (which translates into a little more than an over per match). That doubled to about 16% in 2010, and has jumped up to 21% this year. That means about three overs out of the first 15 have been bowled by spinners in an innings, and about six per match. It's a five-fold increase from the percentage between 2004 and 2007, which is probably indicative of two things: the change in conditions, and the ability of spinners to adapt. With two new balls per innings now the norm, this is good news for the spinners, especially given the fact that their averages and economy rates during the early overs look pretty impressive too.

In 2004, spin accounted for only seven wickets in the first 15 overs of ODIs, at an average of almost 87 per wicket; in 2011, they took 117 wickets at an average of less than 33.

Percentage of spin in the first 15 overs in ODIs each year since 2004
Year Total overs Wkts Ave/ ER Spin overs Wkts Ave/ ER Spin overs %
2011 4186.4 555 35.02/ 4.64 891.2 117 32.52/ 4.26 21.29
2010 3720.5 522 34.11/ 4.78 595.0 85 30.18/ 4.31 15.99
2009 4121.5 558 35.35/ 4.78 371.5 52 31.28/ 4.37 9.02
2008 3462.1 469 34.97/ 4.73 256.0 38 31.84/ 4.72 7.39
2007 4804.5 697 31.71/ 4.60 209.2 24 41.91/ 4.80 4.36
2006 3959.4 541 33.12/ 4.52 173.5 20 39.40/ 4.53 4.39
2005 3159.5 464 32.12/ 4.71 100.5 12 45.91/ 5.46 3.19
2004 3740.2 522 31.58/ 4.40 149.5 7 86.85/ 4.05 4.01

And a country-wise break-up of overs bowled by spinners shows the teams which have been the most reliant on slow bowlers, and the others who haven't relied much on them over the last couple of years. As you'd expect, no team has been as dependent on spin as Bangladesh, with Zimbabwe a close second. Both these sides have had spinners contribute more than 60% of their overs. Pakistan are very high on the list too, partially because of the number of games they've played in the subcontinent during this period. Sri Lanka have generally had plenty of slow-bowling options too, but their percentage of spin overs is the lowest among teams from the subcontinent.

At the other end of the scale are Australia, New Zealand and England, while South Africa's percentage is relatively high because they employed the three-spinner policy in the World Cup.

Team-wise use of spin in ODIs since Jan 1, 2010
Team Total overs Wkts Ave/ ER Spin overs Wkts Ave/ ER Spin overs %
Bangladesh 2050.5 287 36.48/ 5.10 1291.5 176 35.01/ 4.76 62.99
Zimbabwe 1637.4 196 42.13/ 5.04 1008.5 101 45.64/ 4.56 61.60
Pakistan 2209.4 342 30.44/ 4.71 1125.1 171 27.80/ 4.22 50.92
India 2643.4 404 33.64/ 5.14 1329.2 190 33.50/ 4.78 50.28
Sri Lanka 2043.4 336 29.05/ 4.77 885.1 125 32.65/ 4.61 43.31
South Africa 1364.4 247 27.46/ 4.97 468.3 72 30.75/ 4.72 34.33
West Indies 1839.0 280 31.10/ 4.73 587.5 79 32.43/ 4.35 31.96
England 2175.5 316 35.86/ 5.20 632.1 89 34.87/ 4.91 29.05
New Zealand 1634.2 256 31.19/ 4.88 452.4 53 37.62/ 4.40 27.70
Australia 2194.2 386 27.46/ 4.83 584.0 79 36.89/ 4.99 26.61

Among spinners who've bowled at least 200 balls in the first 15 since the beginning of 2010, the one with exceptional stats is Hafeez: he averages 15.50 at an economy rate of 2.93. West Indies' Devon Smith was especially clueless against him, falling to him four times in 21 deliveries, scoring nine runs (average 2.25). In the series in Bangladesh, Tamim Iqbal was his bunny - Hafeez dismissed him twice in eight deliveries conceding only one run. Razzak and Shakib have taken plenty of wickets too, but Harbhajan Singh's stats paint the picture of his recent problems: a decent economy rate, but unable to break through and take wickets.

Spinners in the first 15 overs in ODIs since Jan 2010 (Qual: 200 balls bowled)
Bowler Balls Runs Wickets Average Econ rate
Ray Price 642 309 9 34.33 2.88
Mohammad Hafeez 444 217 14 15.50 2.93
Daniel Vettori 258 168 7 24.00 3.90
Naeem Islam 228 151 3 50.33 3.97
Saeed Ajmal 222 147 5 29.40 3.97
Shahid Afridi 216 147 4 36.75 4.08
Abdur Razzak 810 566 20 28.30 4.19
Harbhajan Singh 294 206 2 103.00 4.20
Shakib Al Hasan 602 426 21 20.28 4.24
Graeme Swann 222 158 5 31.60 4.27

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Posted by   on (December 11, 2011, 5:14 GMT)

if im not mistaken then shahid afridi has taken over 45 matches this calendar year, the author rorgot to highlight this and made a passing reference to him.in fact he has been an impact player for pakistan leading the fight back after fightback

Posted by   on (December 11, 2011, 2:24 GMT)

If you look in detail at the first table you will see that in every single year spin has a worse average than the total average but a better economy rate so it seems spin is primarily being used for containment rather than as strike bowlers.

Posted by elimomin on (December 10, 2011, 17:54 GMT)

well pakistan seems to have one of the most reliable and strong bowling attack. and the variety offered from each pakistani spinner, its just exceptional. even after viewing icc ratings pakistani spinners are among the top 5 in 3 formats of cricket. carry on pakistan..!!

Posted by   on (December 10, 2011, 13:51 GMT)

Wish the stats were posted excluding performances against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. BCCI runs after money and hence Indian players not able to boost their stats :P

Posted by smudgeon on (December 10, 2011, 12:30 GMT)

c'mon jonesy2 - as much of a fan of doherty as I am (seriously), I'd be daft to think he's better than all of those listed above.

Posted by   on (December 10, 2011, 7:48 GMT)

that's good but giving new ball to spinners, doesn't seems good, the grace of fast bowlers, with the variations of speed n swing was great. We Pakistanis are defiantly short of a Good Fast bowler, one can swing n seam with exceptional pace, like we had many, even in recent past.

Posted by   on (December 10, 2011, 7:27 GMT)

I think Singh is definitely a poor man's Vettori.

I'm surprised that the author didn't mention where in the modern game opening with spin came about. This came about in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, from Dipak Patel of New Zealand. It helped the New Zealanders reach the semifinals, which was unexpected at the time.

Posted by   on (December 9, 2011, 23:38 GMT)

@jonesy2 who is xavier doherty??????????????????????????

Posted by barshon on (December 9, 2011, 17:02 GMT)

hey it`s an outstanding stat to follow with.

Posted by   on (December 9, 2011, 16:14 GMT)

WOW, this clearly indicates which is the best team with lowest Avg and Economy Rate 27.80/ 4.22. The only team sub 30 bowling avg. Its Pakistan.

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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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