If someone had suggested before the start of the India-Australia Test series that Michael Clarke would have serious problems against one bowler in the series, you'd probably have guessed R Ashwin, or Harbhajan Singh, or perhaps Pragyan Ojha. As it has turned out, none of those answers have been the correct one. Against all bowlers other than one left-arm spinner, Clarke has creamed 214 runs in 374 balls, and been dismissed once by them collectively. What should have been a smashing series with the bat has been spoiled by that one bowler, who wasn't even rated highly by Indian pundits till a few weeks ago: against Ravindra Jadeja, Clarke has been dismissed five times in 190 balls, scoring only 72 runs - an average of 14.40.
This week's column examines other instances when one bowler has dominated a top-order batsman in a series, dismissing him five or more times. The table below lists all such instances since the 2001 Ashes, which marks the start of the period over which ESPNcricinfo has complete ball-by-ball data for all Tests. It excludes a couple of instances of lower-order batsmen being dismissed repeatedly by a bowler.
One of the first things that jumps out from the table is the company that Jadeja finds himself in. Almost without exception, the bowlers are top-class, from Muttiah Muralitharan to Shane Warne to Glenn McGrath to Anil Kumble and Brett Lee. Ajantha Mendis hasn't lived up to all the early hype, but in 2008, in home conditions, he was good enough to dominate an in-form VVS Laxman, while for Ajit Agarkar, dismissing Justin Langer five times in a series would have been the highlight of a not-so-impressive international career.
The last column in the table lists the overall series average for that batsman, and in several of these cases, one bowler has ruined the series for him. Ravi Bopara, for instance, scored 16 runs and was dismissed five times by Ben Hilfenhaus in the 2009 Ashes for an average of 3.20, which is the lowest for a batsman who has been dismissed at least five times by a bowler during this period. Against other bowlers Bopara did all right, achieving an average of 44.50, but it wasn't enough to lift his series average to anything near respectable.
Wasim Jaffer's 2007-08 tour of Australia was made miserable by Brett Lee, who allowed him almost no scoring opportunities, and also got him out five times. In 93 deliveries - that's 15.3 overs - Jaffer scored only 18 runs off Lee. The 2001-02 tour of Sri Lanka was similarly miserable for Marlon Samuels (courtesy Muralitharan) and Chris Gayle (courtesy Chaminda Vaas). Murali Vijay has been reeling off big hundreds in the current series against Australia, but on the 2011 tour to the West Indies Ravi Rampaul so dominated him that Vijay averaged 5.40 against him, and was subsequently dropped from the Indian team for 18 months.
There are other cases, though, in which batsmen have made up for the failures against one bowler by scoring runs against others, and finishing the series with reasonable - or even impressive - averages. Laxman's stats in Australia in 2007-08 are a classic example: against Lee, he averaged 10.40, getting out five times for 52 runs, but he made up by scoring 314 for three dismissals against the other bowlers, which lifted his series average up to a respectable 45.75. Clarke's performance in this series runs along similar lines - struggling against one bowler, but dominant against the others, thus ensuring a respectable overall average. Brian Lara's stats were more than respectable in South Africa in 2003-04: despite averaging 20.80 for his five dismissals against Andre Nel, his overall series average was 66.38, thanks to a whopping average of 142.33 against the other bowlers, which included Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock. However, the series numbers didn't look so good for Graham Thorpe (against Sri Lanka in 2003-04) and Yasir Hameed (in India in 2007-08), despite their impressive stats against all bowlers except one.
In the current series, Clarke has been dismissed by Ashwin once, but there have been other series in which a batsman has been out only to one bowler. On the tour to South Africa in 2005-06, Matthew Hayden was dismissed by Ntini in each of the six innings he played. Laxman was similarly dismissed by Mendis in each of the five innings in which he was dismissed in Sri Lanka in 2008, while Ian Bell fell to Murali five times in 2007-08 and was run-out once, which means no other bowler dismissed him in that series.
* Runs and dismissals against other bowlers in that series
For Clarke himself, falling five times to the same bowler in a series is a new experience: he has never been dismissed more than three times by a single bowler in a series. Of the ten occasions when he has been dismissed by the same bowler three times, four have been against England, and as many against India. Rangana Herath is the only left-arm spinner among those ten bowlers.
This series has also dented Clarke's career stats against left-arm spinners: his career average against them has dipped to 41.04, from 47.42 before the series began. When India's home season began, it would have been a fair punt to expect Kevin Pietersen to struggle the most against left-arm spin in India, but he had a reasonable time against them, averaging 33.60 (168 runs, five dismissals). Clarke, reckoned to be one of the finest players of spin going around at the moment, has done much worse.