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ESPNcricinfo's stats editor S Rajesh looks at the stories behind the stats

A new high for overseas spinners in India

England's spinners took 39 wickets in the four-Test series in India, which is more than what any overseas team had managed in the last 30 years

S Rajesh

December 21, 2012

Comments: 22 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Swann had Sachin Tendulkar caught at slip, India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata, 4th day, December 8, 2012
Graeme Swann has a Test average of less than 32 in every country he has played in, except Australia © BCCI
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Immediately after India's series defeat against England in Nagpur, MS Dhoni said, somewhat bafflingly, that batting and pace bowling were the key differences between the two sides. Obviously they were important factors - England's batsmen were far more patient, organised and resilient than the home team's, and their pace attack, led by the skilful James Anderson, made much greater impact than India's - but the way England's spin duo bested India's slow bowlers was probably the biggest surprise of the series.

Against batsmen who were supposedly at their best against spin, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar did huge amounts of damage - England's spinners picked up 39 wickets at 28.61, at a strike rate of 64.5 balls per wicket. Against batsmen who were supposedly iffy against slow bowling, especially in the subcontinent, India's spin contingent, led by Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin, managed 43 at 40.62, with a strike rate of 90.5 balls per wicket. (In their previous home series, against New Zealand, the Indian spinners had taken 31 wickets in two Tests, averaging 15.93 at a strike rate of 37.8.) As far as beatings go, this was a pretty comprehensive one, and given the amount of bowling done by spinners in the series, this difference in wicket-taking ability was the decisive one in the series.

It was highly unusual too, for overseas spinners to have so much success in India. Since the beginning of 2000 and before the start of this series, overseas spinners had averaged 46.12 runs per wicket in India; the only country in which they averaged more was in Australia (49.14). During the same period, India's spinners averaged 30.49 runs per wicket at home, second only to Sri Lanka's 25.27. In 59 Tests, India's spinners took 644 wickets, more than twice the tally of the overseas ones (295).

In this series, though, the roles were reversed: Swann and Panesar churned out the kind of numbers that the Indians normally do at home, while Ojha, Ashwin and Co performed like touring spinners usually do in India.

Home and overseas spinners in each country between Jan 2000 and Nov 14, 2012
Host country Tests Hosts - wkts Average Strike rate Away - wkts Average Strike rate
Sri Lanka 67 690 25.27 58.9 345 43.89 84.2
India 59 644 30.49 67.0 295 46.12 84.8
Australia 73 334 33.43 65.2 266 49.14 84.9
England 89 246 36.00 71.5 311 40.32 76.4
Pakistan 32 199 37.38 76.8 167 41.85 81.4
New Zealand 51 164 41.40 89.6 185 34.35 74.0
West Indies 64 243 41.95 93.5 353 32.93 69.3
Zimbabwe 25 93 43.12 85.3 140 30.11 71.5
South Africa 64 127 43.40 84.4 228 37.41 72.6
Bangladesh 38 255 43.94 86.6 314 23.50 48.5

England's overall spin stats were among the best by any team in India ever, and certainly the finest in recent - and even not-so-recent - memory. Only three times have spinners from an overseas side taken more wickets in a series in India, and all of them were in five-Test series. It's quite conceivable that had there been another Test in this series, Swann and Panesar might have equalled or exceeded the current record.

The three instances when an overseas team took more wickets in a series with spin in India were all before 1970, which puts into perspective this effort by Swann and Panesar. Also, the others among the top eight (see table below) were all in five-Test series. The earlier record in a series of less than five Tests was 33 in three Tests by England in 1933-34, in what was India's first series at home. In the last 25 years, no overseas team had taken more than 29 spin wickets in a series in India - England exceeded that number by more than 30%. (Click here for the team-wise list of most wickets by overseas spinners in a series in India since 1970.)

Most wickets taken by overseas spinners in a series in India
Series Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
England in India, 1961-62 5 49 33.24 88.3 2/ 0
England in India, 1963-64 5 48 39.22 117.1 2/ 0
Australia in India, 1969-70 5 41 24.34 75.7 3/ 1
Australia in India, 1959-60 5 39 19.69 66.8 2/ 0
England in India, 2012-13 4 39 28.61 64.5 3/ 1
England in India, 1951-52 5 38 31.76 70.8 2/ 0
England in India, 1972-73 5 37 32.35 84.5 0/ 0
Pakistan in India, 1986-87 5 35 36.85 82.6 2/ 0

Thanks to England's performance in this series, their overall spin stats in India are the best among all touring teams since 2000. In 12 Tests in India during this period - spread over four series - their spinners have taken 75 wickets at 35.49. Most of the good work, though, was done in this series: in eight previous matches, they'd only taken 36 wickets at 42.94, at a strike rate of 90. Those were more like the average performances by overseas spinners in India; this time, though, they turned it around completely.

Most of the other teams have struggled with their spinners. Pakistan is the only other team with a bowling of less than 40 and a healthy wickets-per-Test rate. Sri Lanka have relied on their spinners too, but they've gone for plenty of runs too. South Africa have had plenty of success in India during this period, but they've relied almost entirely on their fast bowlers.

Team-wise stats for overseas spinners in India since Jan 2000
Team Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
England 12 75 35.49 76.8 4/ 1
Pakistan 6 42 37.66 70.1 2/ 0
Australia 13 63 41.26 69.6 3/ 1
Sri Lanka 6 48 45.72 77.3 2/ 0
New Zealand 7 38 48.34 96.5 1/ 0
South Africa 9 24 51.87 95.7 1/ 0
West Indies 6 26 57.34 102.4 0/ 0
Zimbabwe 4 18 61.66 117.0 1/ 0

These performances by Swann and Panesar have also lifted them pretty high in the all-time list of wicket-takers among overseas spinners: both have 28, which puts them in joint ninth position. Derek Underwood and Richie Benaud are on top with 54 and 52 wickets at averages of less than 27, but the two modern spin giants, Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne, both average more than 43.

Highest wicket-takers among overseas spinners in India
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Derek Underwood 16 54 26.51 78.0 1/ 0
Richie Benaud 8 52 18.38 56.7 5/ 1
Muttiah Muralitharan 11 40 45.45 86.2 2/ 0
Lance Gibbs 9 39 23.38 76.0 3/ 0
Shane Warne 9 34 43.11 81.0 1/ 0
Danish Kaneria 6 31 39.58 71.1 2/ 0
Daniel Vettori 8 31 44.77 102.7 2/ 0
Iqbal Qasim 10 29 33.86 87.0 2/ 1
Ashley Mallett 5 28 19.10 64.0 3/ 1
Graeme Swann 6 28 28.96 61.3 1/ 0
Monty Panesar 8 28 38.25 81.4 2/ 1

Swann remains England's leading spinner, but Panesar's recent form should make him a certainty whenever the team opts for two spinners. Since returning to Test cricket at the beginning of this year, he has taken 33 wickets in six Tests at 26.03. He has also averaged almost 62 overs per Test, and his economy rate of 2.31 has given England plenty of control in the field.

Swann, meanwhile, continues to improve hi record in different conditions. He now has an outstanding record in Asia - 73 wickets in 13 Tests at 25.97. Breaking up those numbers country-wise, he averages 28.96 in India, 25.25 in Bangladesh, 22.18 in Sri Lanka, and 25.07 in the UAE. (Click here for his career bowling summary in Tests.) Australia is the only country in which his bowling average exceeds 32 (39.80 in five Tests). He'll surely get another opportunity to improve those numbers as well.

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

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Posted by Dubious on (December 23, 2012, 11:43 GMT)

Wow, Richie Benaud's record in India is truly remarkable.

Posted by ZeroBlack on (December 23, 2012, 2:52 GMT)

I do not think that nos of wkts taken, is a fair criteria as if one plays more matches it's likely that he will end up with more wkts. (shane warne 34 in 9tests, so 3.77 wkts per test)...but if we see Saqlain's stats...3 tests, 6 innings, 24 wkts, (so 8 wkts per test match) avg: 20.95 SR: 46.9 I believe by not mentioning Saqlain in this article, Rajesh dropped the ball.

Posted by big_al_81 on (December 22, 2012, 18:04 GMT)

@ Stuart online. You're right, stats alone don't prove the case, the whole of reality and every single observer of these matches confirm that England's spinners were the best, not only in India but they're also the best in the world along with Ajmal. As others have pointed out, it was only feeble and rusty batting that lost them the series 3-0 in UAE. The series was actually a very close one, although I have no quarrel with the overall result because England got what their batsmen deserved which was a series loss. @liz1558 - that's a great suggestion as with Swann and Monty plus Anderson, Finn and probably an on-form Broad we'd have a great chance of winning the home Ashes comfortably. We'd probably need to select differently for the away series though. Should have enough batting with Prior at 6 and Broad and Swann at 7 and 8 to get the runs too. Don't think it's very likely though. Anyway, all hail our great spin twins and yes, Benaud was pretty handy back in the day...

Posted by Ragav999 on (December 22, 2012, 17:59 GMT)

@atirakeel: Pak may have won the test series 3-0 but the gap between the two sides was not as great.There were no huge innings defeats or 300 run losses that were suffered by England in the UAE series. Indian batsmen failed as a group in 2nd and 3rd tests which can happen to any team that is not legendary. We observed the SA team struggling to hold their own against in the 1st 2 Tests in Aus and also in the previous home series in SA. Neither is SA as superior compared to England as they demonstrated in England recently.

We can conclude that the top 4 - 6 test playing nations are so closely matched that any series result is possible depending on the form of the players, a bit of luck, pitch & weather conditions, injuries etc.

Posted by Sportz_Freak on (December 22, 2012, 17:45 GMT)

On a totally side note, I was shocked to see that Murali has a worse record in India that Warne. That would mean that he has an awful record in two countries - India and Australia.

Posted by bored_iam on (December 22, 2012, 17:41 GMT)

@liz1558: Haha, that could be one helluva surprise for the Aussies! Lyon vs Monty-Swann! :-D On current form, Monty+Swann are only comparable to Ajmal+Rahman(+Hafeez). India's spinners since the retirement of Kumble, have lost direction. But give them time, Ojha seems capable, Ashwin needs guidance tho.

Posted by   on (December 22, 2012, 12:21 GMT)

@aitrakeel , it was purely because of high quality spin , england players had no clue what to do againt ajmal n then on the other hand it was Abdul Rehman n then M hafeez too

Posted by Stuart_online on (December 22, 2012, 9:24 GMT)

I'm still not sure the stats alone prove the point that England spinners were better. Indian spinners had a worse average and worse strike rate. Better Eng batting or better Eng bowling ? Indian spinners did take more wickets, but maybe just because the Indian pace men were so poor. And by the way, Benaud's stats for wickets per match and 5WI are stunning !

Posted by VillageBlacksmith on (December 22, 2012, 5:57 GMT)

@optic... Could not agree more, well said, it was a magnificemt reply (by all but esp Monty and Swanny) to being 1 nil down in totally alien conditions, with a new captain and especially after the string of failures vs spin in UAE & SL. Add in bcci playing silly over England's preparation and it was a formidable achievement to come back and win the series so easily. It shows excellent camaraderie in the Eng dressing room and an encouraging strength in depth in the squad. With a couple of selection tweaks this team could def be heading back in the right direction again. A great result.

Posted by Optic on (December 22, 2012, 0:52 GMT)

@Gopinath Agrahara Bet you wasn't saying that 1-7 in India's line up are 'atrocious players of test cricket' after you won the first test & particularly at home. Don't know why you need to say that tbh especially when talking about playing spin bowling which is what we're talking about here. The likes of Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar have monstered spin bowling for years, particularly at home and then add Pujara & Kholi to them and that's a very good top 5 against spin. Tendulkar may not be the player he was but he's still a good batsmen. It's that just this time England had 2 bowlers who kept the pressure on through line & length, drift, variation & spin, they out did to India what India usually do the opposition in India. Maybe that top 7 isn't quite as good as before but to not give Swann & Monty their full dues is wrong imo but tbh it's no surprise they performed so well, they've were magnificent in the UAE & Sri Lanka but the batting let them down.

Posted by mikey76 on (December 22, 2012, 0:29 GMT)

@atirakeel. Simply put Pakistan had far superior spin bowlers in Ajmal and Rehman and the wickets in the UAE were unique in the way the ball skidded on as compared to your typical subcontinental wickets that just turn slow and keep low. Eng just didnt adapt, they found the adjustment a lot easier in India.

Posted by Optic on (December 22, 2012, 0:26 GMT)

@ atirakeel I do think Ajmal and Rehman are a cut above the Indian spinners as a duo. Saying that they didn't need to improve their batting against spin a great deal imo because they all could play against it, we've seen the likes of Cook & KP hit tons in SC. Also the fact that KP and a few others found themselves well out of form in the UAE didn't help and since then they've obviously been tirelessly working on it. Just because they haven't come out & said so it's pretty well known in England that they've been hard at work improving technique since the UAE. By rights if they'd have batted half decently they should have won 2 tests, so with plenty of practice, you can see why they won in India. Something that's been forgotten about is before the UAE, England hadn't been in the subcontinent in 4 years, so it wasn't a surprise they struggled to adapt. Tbf England play spin very well in England, they've smashed just about every visiting spinner around the last 4 years.

Posted by Natx on (December 21, 2012, 23:55 GMT)

Look at the average and strike rate from Richie Benaud. Considering those days Indians had more world class spinners than medium pacers or swing bowlers and facing a foreign spinner would be bread and butter to them. Quite outstanding. Shame that Warnie couldn't match it though he is considered by many as the best leggie the game has ever seen.

Posted by   on (December 21, 2012, 23:08 GMT)

Interesting to see the real master Saqlain missing from the bottom of the table.. although I guess he took 27 wickest in JUST 3 matches in 1998-1999... Correct me Rajesh if I am wrong!

Posted by liz1558 on (December 21, 2012, 22:31 GMT)

The problem for them both is that spin is an afterthought in Tests in England, so we will only appreciate the wizardry in subcontinent tours. The ECB, if they were willing to take a calculated risk, could make a neat trick and produce turning wickets this summer - the Ausies would be completely flummoxed.We've got the bowlers to exploit the conditions, and it would make a seriously refreshing change for a couple of years.

Posted by atirakeel on (December 21, 2012, 18:40 GMT)

Hi Rajesh, and all the ESPN Cricinfo editors. I would like to raise a question, and it would be great if one of the writers can actually write an article on this topic: Why did England lose 3-0 to Pakistan yet won in India? Did they improve their batting against spin so much in this short period of time that they went ahead and won the series? It would be great if you guys could highlight the key differences e.g., may be the DRS? quality of spin? quality of batting? pitches? etc. Thank you !!

Posted by mikey76 on (December 21, 2012, 14:59 GMT)

Just more proof if any was needed of Swann's class. Over a third of his wickets have been taken in Asia. If he stays fit then 400+ test wickets is a formality.

Posted by   on (December 21, 2012, 13:07 GMT)

@ zain29...you are right about Saqlain .Mind you he got out some of the remarkable players of spin rahul,Azhar,ganguly and of course the then Sachin. But I don't attribute this success to English spinners as much as it is made out to be.The current crop are atrocious players of test cricket.This includes everyone from No 1 to No7. Only Ashwin showed some way.Look at how our youngsters are tuned to club cricket.While he was having a chat in pune T20 match,Rahane mentioned that its a home ground for Yuvi. And of course the match was not being played in PCA mind you.So when a budding youngster speaks,it sums up the story for Indian test cricket ---RIP.ICC can ban test cricket in India.

Posted by zain29 on (December 21, 2012, 11:49 GMT)

Rajesh I think you should review the 98-99 3 Test series of Pakistan in India. If memory serves me right, in that series Saqlain picked up 20 wickets with contributions from Mushtaq and Afridi as well (Saqlain had 4 five wicket hauls ; and 2 10/for in a match). My rough guess is that in that series the Pakistani spin contingent picked up 27-29 wickets. Although Swann & Paneasar's performance is by far the most remarkable by a spin duo in India ; the one by the Pakistani trio is also worth a mention (or atleast a foot-note) for a more thorough historical perspective.

Posted by Rowayton on (December 21, 2012, 10:19 GMT)

Warne and Murali might have higher averages in India than Swann and Panesar, but they had to bowl against much better teams, even if some of the names are the same. Agree with Nutcutlet's view though. Like good English spinners I have seen back to Titmus and Allen they (S&P) bowled the same accurate testing stuff for hour after hour. Only Kohli and Dhoni in the last game batted against them with the same professionalism.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (December 21, 2012, 7:48 GMT)

Bowling without gimmicks - just good, old-fashioned virtues of line, length, subtle variations, patience, and above all, the one crucial quality that lifted England's players above India's in all respects: discipline. India seems to have been mesmerised by the questionable virtues of T20 cricket, specifically the IPL (that ironically depends on an influx of foreign mercenaries to give it its mass appeal). There are no virtues required in T20 cricket that transfer to Test cricket, except alacrity & fitness in the field. Here again, India seems to understand this in T20, but not in TC. This is the second decade of the 21st Century, not the 1960s! It should not be a question of having top-class fielding in one rather than the other. It can, and should, exist in both!

Posted by HatsforBats on (December 21, 2012, 5:58 GMT)

Swann & Monty are good bowlers and they are better than India's spinners, pretty simple really. I don't think there is a person in the world who doesn't enjoy watching Monty play. India are right now (and have been for the last 18 months) little better than awful. Cricket boards should be lining up to tour; get some revenue and pad the players stats!

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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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