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Stats Analysis

Harbhajan Singh demolishes Australia singlehandedly

No bowler has ever taken a bigger share of his team's wickets than Harbhajan did in that epic series in 2001

S Rajesh
S Rajesh
22-Mar-2020
Coming into the 2001 home series against Australia, Harbhajan Singh had taken all of 21 wickets from eight Tests, at an average of 38.57, and he hadn't played a Test in more than 15 months. Then came that series - which finished on this day 19 years ago - that changed his life: 32 wickets in three Tests, including 28 in the last two, a series win against the marauding Australians, and a place in Indian cricketing greatness in one of the best series of all time.
Usually a series win against such formidable opposition needs a collective effort from the bowlers, but Singh managed it singlehandedly: while he took 32 wickets, the next best was a measly three each by Zaheer Khan and Sachin Tendulkar. That means Singh took 10.7 times as many wickets as the next highest wicket-taker for India in the series. In a series of three or more Tests, that is easily the best ratio ever. George Lohmann comes in next, for his 35-wicket haul in South Africa way back in 1896. The next best for England in that three Test series was five wickets, by Sammy Woods and Christopher Heseltine.
Australia's Ray Bright took 15 wickets in three Tests in Pakistan in 1980 - a series in which the next highest was three (by Dennis Lillee and Greg Chappell) but unlike the previous two efforts, this one was in a losing cause, as Pakistan won the series 1-0. Incidentally that was also Lillee's only series in India or Pakistan - his three wickets came at a cost of 303 runs and an average of 101.
Seventeen years after Lohmann dominated South Africa, Sydney Barnes repeated the dose, taking 49 wickets in four Tests in 1913-14, with the next best wicket-taker taking only ten. More recently, Richard Hadlee (in Australia) and Muttiah Muralitharan (in England) were similarly dominant.
Harbhajan's 32 wickets in the 2001 series came out of a total of 49 wickets taken by the Indian bowlers. While his 32 wickets came at an average of 17.03, the other Indian bowlers collectively took 17 at 63.24. That, in a nutshell, captures the difference between Singh and the rest of the Indian attack in the series.
In percentage terms too, Singh's 65.3% is the highest proportion of team wickets taken by a bowler in a series of three or more Tests, though on this attribute the gap between him and the rest isn't as large: both Bright and Muralitharan took around 65% of their team's wickets (excluding run-outs) on the tours to Pakistan and England.
Overall, Singh's 32-wicket haul is the fourth largest in a series of three or fewer Tests. Three bowlers - Lohmann, Barnes and Hadlee - have taken more, but in terms of impact, it is arguable if any bowler has shaped a series scoreline like Singh did in that epic in 2001.
With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats