November 23, 2012

Do Indian bowlers struggle against left-handers?

There's a perception that left-hand batsmen score particularly heavily against India. Do the numbers bear it out?
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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.

Left-hand top-order batsmen* versus each team since Jan 1990
Team Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s R.hand ave Ratio
Australia 953 31,258 34.96 64/ 150 31.74 1.10
South Africa 862 29,657 36.70 63/ 134 31.75 1.16
England 1128 39,870 37.64 88/ 190 37.59 1.00
West Indies 786 27,049 38.09 60/ 136 37.25 1.02
India 883 32,272 39.74 77/ 156 39.16 1.01
Pakistan 789 28,919 39.77 65/ 150 33.79 1.18
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
Zimbabwe 267 10,856 46.00 24/ 52 42.38 1.08
Bangladesh 247 12,929 60.41 39/ 58 55.45 1.09
* Batsmen in the top 7

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.

Left-handers who have done well against India in Tests since 1990 (Qual: 10 innings)
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.

Left-handers who have struggled against India in Tests since 1990 (Qual: 10 innings)
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.

Left-handers with best averages against an opposition in Tests since 1990 (Qual: 15 innings)
Batsman Opposition Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on November 26, 2012, 13:54 GMT

    Did someone forget to mention Gary Kistern? Another left hander who tormented India regularly and also became its most successful coach bringing about successful transitions in Gautam, Suresh and upto an extent Yuvraj.. India sorely miss someone like him..

  • rajnish.sinha on November 24, 2012, 6:18 GMT

    actually, since 1990, left handers have considerably done well against india. every single team has better average for left handers than right handers. a ratio of say, 1.15 may appear not that big but is actually the difference between an average of 45 and 51 which is quite significant. also, since right handers avg better since 2000 than since 1990 (which includes since 2000) and also since 1980 (which includes since 1990), it says the problem might significantly have been there but only in 1990s. would be interesting to see kumble's figures against right handers and left handers and if that might be biggest reason for the difference in the 1990s.

  • sifter132 on November 24, 2012, 3:30 GMT

    Nice figures - thank you :) But one criticism I have is that they really tells us nothing about how effective India is against left handers CURRENTLY! Since 1990 incorporates a massive amount of different bowlers, what about a breakdown of the last 2-3 years?

  • on November 23, 2012, 12:50 GMT

    What about Jimmy Adams? I remember he gave us a hard time in the early 90s (1993 I think it was) seldom getting out. What is his average against India versus his career average?

  • on November 23, 2012, 10:59 GMT

    Missed the name of another left hander who have scored lot of runs against India - Saeed Anwer

  • on November 23, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    You need to also check if left handers are more effective against India in India alone (not away). I think Indian bowlers find it hard to get left handers out in India than right handers. But, i may be wrong would be interesting to see that.

  • sk12 on November 23, 2012, 6:39 GMT

    I remember Jimmy Adams of WI tormenting Ind in 1993 (i think), dont think he scored so much ever again..

  • on November 23, 2012, 6:24 GMT

    You may analyse the record of Indian fast bowler Ajit Agarkar against the left handers. Zaheer Khan may have been effective, but Agarkar , I think, has an impressive record against some of the top left handers like Chris Gayle, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchirist, Simon Katich, Sanath Jayasuriya, Marcus Trescothick, etc. who otherwise have tormented India without him.

  • on November 26, 2012, 13:54 GMT

    Did someone forget to mention Gary Kistern? Another left hander who tormented India regularly and also became its most successful coach bringing about successful transitions in Gautam, Suresh and upto an extent Yuvraj.. India sorely miss someone like him..

  • rajnish.sinha on November 24, 2012, 6:18 GMT

    actually, since 1990, left handers have considerably done well against india. every single team has better average for left handers than right handers. a ratio of say, 1.15 may appear not that big but is actually the difference between an average of 45 and 51 which is quite significant. also, since right handers avg better since 2000 than since 1990 (which includes since 2000) and also since 1980 (which includes since 1990), it says the problem might significantly have been there but only in 1990s. would be interesting to see kumble's figures against right handers and left handers and if that might be biggest reason for the difference in the 1990s.

  • sifter132 on November 24, 2012, 3:30 GMT

    Nice figures - thank you :) But one criticism I have is that they really tells us nothing about how effective India is against left handers CURRENTLY! Since 1990 incorporates a massive amount of different bowlers, what about a breakdown of the last 2-3 years?

  • on November 23, 2012, 12:50 GMT

    What about Jimmy Adams? I remember he gave us a hard time in the early 90s (1993 I think it was) seldom getting out. What is his average against India versus his career average?

  • on November 23, 2012, 10:59 GMT

    Missed the name of another left hander who have scored lot of runs against India - Saeed Anwer

  • on November 23, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    You need to also check if left handers are more effective against India in India alone (not away). I think Indian bowlers find it hard to get left handers out in India than right handers. But, i may be wrong would be interesting to see that.

  • sk12 on November 23, 2012, 6:39 GMT

    I remember Jimmy Adams of WI tormenting Ind in 1993 (i think), dont think he scored so much ever again..

  • on November 23, 2012, 6:24 GMT

    You may analyse the record of Indian fast bowler Ajit Agarkar against the left handers. Zaheer Khan may have been effective, but Agarkar , I think, has an impressive record against some of the top left handers like Chris Gayle, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchirist, Simon Katich, Sanath Jayasuriya, Marcus Trescothick, etc. who otherwise have tormented India without him.

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  • on November 23, 2012, 6:24 GMT

    You may analyse the record of Indian fast bowler Ajit Agarkar against the left handers. Zaheer Khan may have been effective, but Agarkar , I think, has an impressive record against some of the top left handers like Chris Gayle, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchirist, Simon Katich, Sanath Jayasuriya, Marcus Trescothick, etc. who otherwise have tormented India without him.

  • sk12 on November 23, 2012, 6:39 GMT

    I remember Jimmy Adams of WI tormenting Ind in 1993 (i think), dont think he scored so much ever again..

  • on November 23, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    You need to also check if left handers are more effective against India in India alone (not away). I think Indian bowlers find it hard to get left handers out in India than right handers. But, i may be wrong would be interesting to see that.

  • on November 23, 2012, 10:59 GMT

    Missed the name of another left hander who have scored lot of runs against India - Saeed Anwer

  • on November 23, 2012, 12:50 GMT

    What about Jimmy Adams? I remember he gave us a hard time in the early 90s (1993 I think it was) seldom getting out. What is his average against India versus his career average?

  • sifter132 on November 24, 2012, 3:30 GMT

    Nice figures - thank you :) But one criticism I have is that they really tells us nothing about how effective India is against left handers CURRENTLY! Since 1990 incorporates a massive amount of different bowlers, what about a breakdown of the last 2-3 years?

  • rajnish.sinha on November 24, 2012, 6:18 GMT

    actually, since 1990, left handers have considerably done well against india. every single team has better average for left handers than right handers. a ratio of say, 1.15 may appear not that big but is actually the difference between an average of 45 and 51 which is quite significant. also, since right handers avg better since 2000 than since 1990 (which includes since 2000) and also since 1980 (which includes since 1990), it says the problem might significantly have been there but only in 1990s. would be interesting to see kumble's figures against right handers and left handers and if that might be biggest reason for the difference in the 1990s.

  • on November 26, 2012, 13:54 GMT

    Did someone forget to mention Gary Kistern? Another left hander who tormented India regularly and also became its most successful coach bringing about successful transitions in Gautam, Suresh and upto an extent Yuvraj.. India sorely miss someone like him..