The age of spin in ODIs
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.
|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.
|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||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.
|Shakib Al Hasan||602||426||21||20.28||4.24|
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter