Muttiah Muralitharan and Monty Panesar have been hogging the headlines this past week, but there has been another spinner who has been making all the right moves during this period. First, he was appointed captain of the Zimbabwe team, at just 21 years of age, and he then celebrated that with what has now become the norm, bowling tight ten-over spells in each of the first three one-day internationals against Bangladesh.
In a bowling line-up which is generally all over the place, Prosper Utseya is the one reliable factor, bowling his ten overs with Scrooge-like parsimony: in 42 matches, he's gone for more than four-and-a-half an over only nine times, and in his last six ODIs, his economy rate is a staggering 2.45 per over. In the ongoing series against Bangladesh, Utseya averages 3.16 runs per over, while none of the other bowlers have gone for less than four. As the table below shows, Utseya's economy rate is the second-best among all spinners in the history of ODIs who have played at least 40 matches and bowled 1500 balls. The only bowler who has done better is Pakistan's Akram Raza, who played 49 matches in the late 1980s and early `90s, a period when one-day cricket still hadn't become the frenetic run-fest it has today.
Utseya's spell of ten overs for 22 in the third ODI has allowed him to sneak ahead of even Muttiah Muralitharan in the economy-rates stakes. His numbers, though, are bolstered by the kind of opposition he has played against: 15 of his matches have been against Bangladesh (8), Bermuda (2), Canada (1), and Kenya (4) - in these 15 games, he concedes just 3.09 runs per over. Take the minnows out of the equation, and the runs-per-over stat goes up to a much higher, but still respectable, 4.38.
Utseya's problem so far has been his inability to take wickets - in 42 matches he only has 27 of them, at an average of 50.25. Both his excellent economy rate and his lack of wickets can be partially explained by his support cast - with the rest of the attack strictly ordinary, the optimum strategy for opposition batsmen is obviously to take fewer chances against him, ensure that they don't lose their wickets to him, and attack the other bowlers for runs. With Zimbabwe not expected to enter the Test scene for a while, Utseya might have to wait a bit longer to test himself against the best in a version that will give him a better chance to get among the wickets. (Click here for Utseya's career summary.)
Murali's ten-wicket routine
The best spinner in the world, meanwhile, continues to do what he does best - spin his team to yet another victory. Muttiah Muralitharan haul of 10 for 172 was his third successive haul of ten or more wickets in a match - he had earlier taken ten-fors in Edgbaston and Trent Bridge in the last two Tests against England. Another ten-wicket haul in the second Test against South Africa, and Murali will equal his record of ten-fors in four consecutive Tests - he had earlier achieved that feat in matches against India, Bangladesh and West Indies in 2001-02.
In fact, Murali is the only bowler to have achieved a hat-trick of ten-wicket nabs twice. Only one other bowler has even managed it once - Clarrie Grimmett, the Australian legspinner, achieved the feat in three consecutive Tests versus South Africa. As it turned out, those matches turned out to be Grimmett's last three Test appearances.
Winning in style
Over the last week, two Test matches were played, both ended decisively, and in both games, the winning side triumphed by an innings. It was unusual, simply because neither of those games involved the minnows - England trounced Pakistan at Old Trafford, while Sri Lanka broke record after record in demolishing South Africa.
In the current decade, innings victories have become more commonplace, but only because Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have been playing plenty of Test cricket. Of the 70 matches involving them which have produced a result, 40 have been decided by an innings, that's a whopping 57%. In matches involving the other teams, though, that figure comes down significantly, to only 20% - that's only one in five matches - which is why the results over the last week were such a surprise. The table below shows the decade-wise innings victories, as a percentage of all wins achieved in the decade.
The team which has won by an innings more often than any other in the last two decades is, not surprisingly, Australia - 26 out their 106 wins since 1990 have been by an innings (24.5%). India's percentage during this period is even better (11 out of 35 - 31.4%) indicating that when they win, they win big more often than other sides. South Africa and Pakistan have recorded 11 innings victories during this period as well, but both have won far more often than India - 53 for South Africa, 44 for Pakistan. West Indies, on the other hand, have managed only seven, with just one of those coming in the 2000s, another sad indication of how much their cricket has regressed: in their pomp of the 1980s, they had ten innings victories out of 43 wins. England's rout of Pakistan was their fourth innings win of the decade (they have won 33 times overall in the 2000s), while Sri Lanka's 17 wins this decade has included five victories by a margin of more than innings.