Do Indian bowlers struggle against left-handers?
After Alastair Cook thwarted India for more than nine hours with some splendid defensive skills in Ahmedabad, there was some mention of how the Indian bowlers had again come off second-best against a left-hand batsman. That line of analysis was also prompted by a few other names that cropped up when comparing Cook's effort with those of other overseas batsmen who had defied India's bowlers for long periods: Cook's innings fell only seven minutes short of the longest by an England batsman in India - Graeme Fowler batted 563 minutes to score 201 in Chennai in 1985. Cook's effort was also the longest by an overseas batsman in the second innings of a Test in India, going 12 minutes beyond Andy Flower's 544-minute marathon in Nagpur in 2000. That made it three left-handers who figure prominently in discussions of overseas batsmen who have been very successful against India. Add a few more, like Matthew Hayden and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and it's easy to imagine a pattern of Indian bowlers struggling against left-handers.
Is that actually the case, though, or is it one of the mind selectively remembering certain events and not others? Here's a look at what the numbers have to say on this topic. (All numbers in the tables are for Tests from 1990 onwards, and for batsmen in the top seven only, to exclude the drop in averages that may occur due to tail-end batsmen.)
The table below clearly shows that the Indian bowlers aren't the worst ones going in terms of getting left-handers out: these batsmen have marginally higher batting averages against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. What's more revealing is a comparison between the batting averages of left- and right-hand batsmen against each opposition. If the problem for India's bowling attack was specifically left-hand batsmen alone, then the bowlers should have been getting the right-handers out for fewer runs. That, though, clearly isn't the case: India's bowlers have struggled, speaking relatively, against all batsmen, regardless of their batting style.
The last column of the table lists the ratio of these batting averages (left-hand average divided by right-hand average), and the ratios are closest to one for England, India and West Indies, which suggests these teams haven't had strong preferences in terms of the type of batsmen they have bowled to. Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka, on the other hand, seem to have preferred bowling to right-handers: left-hand batsmen average much more against these teams than their right-hand counterparts do.
These stats take into account matches from 1990, but the numbers don't change a whole lot, even if the time frame moves back or forward a decade. Since the beginning of 1980, left-hand batsmen average 39.01 against India, compared to the right-handers' 40.31. (Click here for the left-handers' averages against each team, and here for those of the right-handers.) Since 2000, left-handers average 38.57 against India, which is lower than their averages against all teams except Australia and England. During this period, the right-handers average 41.86 against India, which is higher than against all teams except Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. With the advent of bowlers like Zaheer Khan, India have, in fact, become one of the better bowling sides against left-hand batsmen.
|Team||Innings||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||R.hand ave||Ratio|
|South Africa||862||29,657||36.70||63/ 134||31.75||1.16|
|West Indies||786||27,049||38.09||60/ 136||37.25||1.02|
|Sri Lanka||669||25,338||40.47||55/ 137||35.37||1.14|
|New Zealand||702||25,415||40.66||61/ 136||39.11||1.04|
A look at the list of top left-hand batsmen against India reveals the usual suspects. Flower was a force against most teams - averaging more than 50 over his career - but he was pretty much immoveable against India, scoring 1130 runs against them in 17 innings, at an average of almost 95. None of the others in the list below have such a huge difference between their overall average and their numbers against India, but at least a couple of them - Sanath Jayasuriya and Chanderpaul - clearly relished the Indian attack more than they did bowlers from other sides.
|Batsman||Innings||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Career ave|
|Andy Flower||17||1130||94.16||3/ 7||51.54|
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||39||2034||67.80||7/ 10||50.94|
|Sanath Jayasuriya||16||938||67.00||3/ 2||40.07|
|Jesse Ryder||10||601||60.10||3/ 2||40.93|
|Matthew Hayden||35||1888||59.00||6/ 8||50.73|
|Kumar Sangakkara||24||1257||57.13||5/ 2||56.44|
|Alastair Cook||22||1092||52.00||3/ 4||48.71|
|Darren Bravo||12||609||50.75||2/ 2||46.91|
But for these successes, there's also a list of top-class left-hand batsmen who have done well against other teams but not India. Adam Gilchrist, for instance, had a career average of more than 47, but against India it dropped to 27.89, with only two hundreds in 31 innings. Graeme Smith is another whose struggles against India, and particularly Zaheer Khan, are well documented: compared to a career average of 49.39, his average against India is only 34.82, with a highest of 94 in 23 innings. Similarly, Chris Gayle's average against India is about ten lower than his career average, while Stephen Fleming has underperformed too.
However, the one left-hand batsman who has underperformed more than anyone else against India is Brian Lara: in 29 innings against them, Lara averaged 34.55, well below his career average of 52.88. Clearly India's bowlers had fewer problems against him than bowlers from other sides.
|Batsman||Innings||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Career ave|
|Taufeeq Umar||10||193||21.44||0/ 0||38.72|
|Arjuna Ranatunga||21||494||24.70||0/ 3||35.69|
|Salman Butt||13||327||25.15||0/ 3||30.46|
|Adam Gilchrist||31||809||27.89||2/ 3||47.60|
|Chris Gayle||21||641||32.05||0/ 6||42.06|
|Stephen Fleming||20||620||32.63||0/ 3||40.06|
|Brian Lara||29||1002||34.55||2/ 6||52.88|
|Ashwell Prince||18||519||34.60||1/ 1||41.64|
|Graeme Smith||23||801||34.82||0/ 7||49.39|
And finally, a list of left-hand batsmen who have done particularly well against an opposition team. With a cut-off of 15 innings, Flower still leads the list, and India figures in the opposition column three times, but there are also some left-hand batsmen in the list below who haven't done so well against India. Lara has splendid stats against England, while Smith has been outstanding against West Indies.
|Andy Flower||India||17||1130||94.16||3/ 7|
|Kumar Sangakkara||Pakistan||31||2320||89.23||9/ 8|
|Mark Taylor||Pakistan||20||1347||79.23||4/ 8|
|Chris Gayle||New Zealand||15||1050||75.00||3/ 5|
|Graeme Smith||West Indies||25||1593||69.26||7/ 4|
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||India||39||2034||67.80||7/ 10|
|Sanath Jayasuriya||India||16||938||67.00||3/ 2|
|Justin Langer||New Zealand||23||1196||62.94||4/ 5|
|Brian Lara||England||51||2983||62.14||7/ 11|
|Michael Hussey||England||24||1304||59.27||4/ 9|
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter