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Analysis

Trial by spin

Slow tracks, knee-high balls, a steady diet of spin - these are some of the conditions England will probably have to conquer to walk away with their second consecutive series victory in Pakistan

S Rajesh
S Rajesh
10-Nov-2005


Danish Kaneria: all set to turn it on against England © Getty Images
Slow tracks, knee-high balls, a steady diet of spin - these are some of the conditions England will probably have to conquer to walk away with their second consecutive series victory in Pakistan. Going by the stats from the previous series between the two teams in Pakistan, in 2000-01, England will have to face plenty of spin - in the three Tests then, nearly 72% of the overs they played were from spinners - but if England play them as well as they did then, they might even manage to replicate last time's result. In 459.3 overs of spin that Pakistan bowled in that series, they only managed 30 wickets - that's one every 92 balls. Pakistan's fast bowlers - Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Abdul Razzaq - were even less effective, though, with 11 wickets in 183 overs, a strike rate of 100 balls per wicket.
In fact, England's spinners did much better, taking a wicket every 82 balls, despite that inspired selection called Ian Salisbury, who toiled 69 overs for a solitary wicket. Ashley Giles's 17 scalps came at a strike rate of 64 - an encore will do just fine for Michael Vaughan's men. Giles's stats in the subcontinent make for impressive reading too: 49 wickets in 13 Tests at 32.
Eng & Pak bowlers in the 2000-01 series
Overs Wickets Average Strike rate
England fast bowlers 302.4 23 37.30 78.96
England spinners 259 19 33.95 81.80
Pakistan fast bowlers 183 11 42.64 99.80
Pakistan spinners 459.3 30 34.93 91.90
The spinner that England will probably have to look out for the most is Danish Kaneria. His journey as Pakistan's latest legspinning hope began in that series, and in these five years he has travelled plenty of miles, with his reputation burgeoning as quickly as his wickets tally - not only has he shown the ability to bowl long spells accurately without flagging, he has constantly been adding more weapons to his arsenal too. In his last ten Tests, beginning with the home series against Sri Lanka, Kaneria has nabbed 60 wickets at 31.47. In these matches, he's also bowled a not insignificant 580.4 overs - that's 58 overs per Test.
Despite England's reasonably sound performance against spin last time, Pakistan will probably still plump for slow bowling as their chief weapon in the forthcoming series: they do have a fiery pace attack, but with concerns of fitness, form and attitude hovering over many of them, spin might be a safer recourse. And the stats prove that subcontinental pitches and spin bowling has proved to be an irresistible combination to get at England's batsmen over the years. In the last 20 years, bowlers ranging from the inimitable Abdul Qadir to Iqbal Qasim to Saqlain Mushtaq have performed significantly better against England at home than against allcomers everywhere. Kaneria is an exception - in 2000-01, his four wickets came at an exorbitant 54.25, but then those were early days for him.
Pak spinners at home v Eng
Home Tests v Eng Wickets Average Career ave
Abdul Qadir 9 61 19.56 32.80
Saqlain Mushtaq 3 18 23.94 29.83
Iqbal Qasim 6 20 26.40 28.11
Tauseef Ahmed 4 10 29.40 31.72
Other subcont. spinners at home v Eng
Home Tests v Eng Wickets Average Career ave
Muttiah Muralitharan 7 45 20.31 22.23
Anil Kumble 6 40 21.40 28.38
Harbhajan Singh 3 13 24.54 28.25
Traditionally, though, Pakistan's fast bowlers have done pretty well at home - the placid pitches haven't come in the way of some matchwinning performances. As the table below shows, most of Pakistan's great fast bowlers over the last 20 years have a better home record. Among the current crop, Shoaib Akhtar has almost identical home and away averages.
Pak fast bowlers home and away
Bowler Home Tests/ Wickets Average Overseas Tests/ Wickets Average
Imran Khan 38/ 163 19.21 50/ 199 25.76
Waqar Younis 33/ 162 20.30 54/ 211 26.07
Wasim Akram 41/ 154 22.23 63/ 260 24.45
Shoaib Akhtar 15/ 62 24.61 21/ 82 24.90
Shabbir Ahmed 5/ 23 26.39 4/ 23 21.26
Sarfraz Nawaz 27/ 81 33.17 28/ 96 32.41
Mohammad Sami 6/ 17 48.94 15/ 41 46.20
The Pakistan fast bowlers' ability to bowl reverse swing also helps them get plenty of bowleds and lbws. Shoaib leads the way with 58% such dismissals - among all bowlers with at least 100 Test wickets, that is the highest percentage. And not far behind is Waqar Younis, with nearly 57% such dismissals.
Bowled & lbws by Pak fast bowlers
Wickets Bowled + lbw Bowled + lbw %
Shoaib Akhtar 144 56 + 28 58.3
Waqar Younis 373 101 + 111 56.8
Wasim Akram 414 102 + 119 53.4
Imran Khan 362 95 + 81 48.6
Sarfraz Nawaz 177 45 + 33 44.1
Mohammad Sami 58 16 + 8 41.4
Max bowled and lbws (min 100 Test wickets)
Wickets Bowled + lbw Bowled + lbw %
Shoaib Akhtar 144 56 + 28 58.3
Sonny Ramadhin 158 62 + 29 57.6
Brian Statham 252 102 + 42 57.1
Waqar Younis 373 101 + 102 56.8
Ray Lindwall 228 98 + 31 56.6
Maurice Tate 155 59 + 25 54.2
Wasim Akram 414 102 + 119 53.38
The last time England played a series in Pakistan, Darren Gough's ability to swing - and reverse-swing - the ball brought him plenty of success - an encouraging sign for Andrew Flintoff. Equally, it also paints a dismal picture for the hit-the-deck type of fast bowler. Caddick took just three wickets in three Tests, at an exorbitant 94 apiece, and a wicket every 190 balls. That doesn't augur well for Steve Harmison, another bowler who depends more on bounce than swing for his wickets.
The table below indicates which type of bowlers have the best record in Pakistan since 1995. There isn't much to choose between the fast bowlers and the spinners, with the faster only very marginally in front in terms of averages - 31.94 to 32.35. The left-arm fast bowlers have performed much better largely due to the presence of Wasim Akram in that category: Akram has taken 63 of the 132 wickets, at 21.15 apiece.
In Tests in Pakistan since 1995
Bowler type Overs Wickets Average Strike rate
Left-arm fast 1299 132 27.85 59.06
Legbreak 1870 183 30.74 61.31
Right-arm fast 5701 542 32.94 63.11
Offbreak 2343 189 33.32 74.37
Left-arm spin 1147 92 33.55 74.83
What should also give England more cheer - despite the misfortune of the last few days - is that unlike India and Sri Lanka, the two other subcontinent giants, Pakistan don't seem to relish playing at home - in their last 12 series in their own backyard (excluding the Asian Test Championships), they have won just four, one of which was against Bangladesh. During this time, they have lost to South Africa, Australia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, England and India.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the data he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan, manager (operations) of Cricinfo.