Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fast Bowling - II

India did not win a Test Match outside the sub-continent between 1986 and 2001. Anil Kumble made his debut in 1990, and as India's premier bowler in the 1990s, was often criticized for his inability to take wickets outside the sub-continent. The essence of that criticism was - He's India's best bowler, how is it that he's not taking wickets overseas? This idea that reputation renders conditions and cricketing constraints redundant is alive and well today. As a result, there are serious observers of the game who think that the batting (Tendulkar, VVS, Gambhir etc.) deserve equal responsibility for India's bad results in England as the bowlers. While the batsmen have not been at their best, here is how I would differentiate between the performance of the fast bowlers and the batsmen in the 3 Tests in England. The batsmen were failing MA examination questions, while the bowlers were failing 8th grade examination questions. Harbhajan Singh faces criticism today that will sound familiar to Anil Kumble.

It is one thing for these players - the batsmen, Harbhajan and Kumble - to accept this criticism and responsibility, but it is quite another for it to be fair, or even reasonable in any cricketing sense. For example, Anil Kumble did as well as India's best new ball pair in Tests outside the sub-continent in the 1990s. Whats more, he outperformed India's 3rd seamer (or, in many cases, 2nd and 3rd seamers) most of the time. Remember, these are conditions that fast bowlers like - wickets with good carry, some seam movement, a realistic threat with the new ball. Look at the support Warne had in Tests outside the sub-continent - McGrath, Lee, Gillespie, McDermott, Reiffel, Hughers, Kasprowicz, Clark and Fleming. Kasprowicz had the weakest record amongst all those bowlers, and he was never a first choice bowler for Australia. He only ever got to play if the first choice bowlers were injured. Compare Kasprowicz to the support bowling that Harbhajan or Kumble have and you get some idea of the kind of pressure they are typically under when they bowl outside the sub-continent (or even in India on the first couple of days of a Test).

Harbhajan Singh has faced intense criticism for his apparent decline since 2006. This period begins for him with a horrible series on featherbeds in Pakistan. He went wicketless for 355 runs at Lahore and Faisalabad in early 2006. In the first of those Tests Pakistan made 680 odd for 6, and India replied with 410/1. In the second, Pakistan made 588 all out and conceded a first innings lead! But even in this period, Harbhajan Singh has done at least as well, if not better than the 2nd and 3rd seamer for India in Tests outside the sub-continent.

Since 2006, other than the mainstays - Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, the following bowlers have played Tests for India - Ishant Sharma, S Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, VRV Singh, Praveen Kumar, Jaidev Unadkat, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, RP Singh and Abhimanyu Mithun. Of these, all except Agarkar have played at least 1 Test for India outside the sub-continent.

Since Anil Kumble's retirement, these bowlers have made up at least half of India's Test Match bowling attack - 2 out of 4 bowlers, if not more.

Individual Records For India's Bowlers In All Tests (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) since 2006
Individual Records For India's Bowlers In All Tests Outside Sub-Continent (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) Since 2006

Individual Records For India's Fast Bowlers excluding Zaheer Khan Since 2006. The Cumulative Record is Shown in the Last Row.

Individual Records For India's Fast Bowlers excluding Zaheer Khan Since 2006 Outside Sub-Continent. The Cumulative Record Is Shown In the Last Row
Summary for India's Bowling Attack. The attack is divided into the mainstays - Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, and cumulative 2nd and 3rd seamers position, and the record of specialist spinners other than Harbhajan Singh since 2006. The Final Row shows the cumulative record of the part timers. These include Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly etc.
Summary for India's Bowling Attack In Tests Outside the Sub-Continent. The attack is divided into the mainstays - Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, and cumulative 2nd and 3rd seamers position, and the record of specialist spinners other than Harbhajan Singh since 2006. The Final Row shows the cumulative record of the part timers. These include Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly etc.
It is a miracle that India reached the World Number 1 ranking in Tests despite the fact that half their bowling attack was a perennially failing experiment. By contrast, in Test Matches that Shane Warne played in against the non-minnow sides, bowlers other than Warne and McGrath took 932 Test wickets at 29.2. They conceded 3.05 per over and took a wicket every 58 balls. Support fast bowlers for Warne and McGrath thus took nearly 1 1/2 times the wickets that Warne took (685) at nearly the same pace (58 balls) and a decent economy rate (3.05).

In Tests that Anil Kumble played against non-minnow teams, Srinath was India's lead fast bowler. The 2nd and 3rd seamers in those Tests, from Venkatesh Prasad and Zaheer Khan to Harvinder Singh and Iqbal Siddiqui, took 561 wickets at 39.571. Support fast bowlers for Kumble and Srinath thus took fewer wickets than Anil Kumble (590) at a slower pace than Kumble (74 balls to Kumble's 68).

India's problem is not Harbhajan Singh, just as it was not Anil Kumble. It is not Zaheer Khan, just as it was not Javagal Srinath. Each of these bowlers had (have) their flaws. Each had his limitations. But they were (are) Test quality bowlers. The same cannot be said for their support. Shane Warne's support fast bowlers did as well as Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath - took their wickets at about 30 runs a piece over a period of 15 years.

Recently, S Rajesh at Cricinfo published an article looking at the West Indies' pace quartets. Only three or four of those bowlers could be classed as great bowlers. But they bowled in a team that never gave the opposition an easy over. Because they set such a high floor, even the occasional off day, as most of them must have had every now and then, didn't hurt that much.

India's lead bowlers have had no such luxury.

The next time you read a story about this England series that talks about an "out of form" Harbhajan Singh, think about this. At least Harbhajan's problem is his form. For Bowler #3 and #4 in India's attack, the standard form is mediocrity.


  1. The Extra Media Hype is not helping Team India. It puts players under immense pressure. Look at Sehwag's return, Sachin's 100th Century, the IPL, and the list goes on. Read how media hype effects player performance @

  2. Well well well! If we go by this articles analysis, poor Swann's bowling stats after 3 Tests look positively shocking and especially for someone who is touted as the 'best spinner' in the world.
    What does it say for Swann that he averaged 80 plus inspite of the sterling support he had?

    The figures of the 'No.1 Spinner' in the world
    73.0 7 321 4 2/88 2/110 80.25 4.39 109.5

  3. I don't think it says much. In these conditions, there's nothing much he can do if batsmen choose to attack him. India's batsmen have been willing to attack him even though they've been under pressure at the other end.

    Typically, in series played in conditions like these, someone like Swann or Harbhajan Singh will just try to hold their own until they get a Test where the conditions suit them. At which point, they take 7-8 wickets for 100-120 runs.

    Swann's gone for 4.4 an over. Against most teams, he would probably concede somewhere around 3.5. In 73 overs, at 3.5, he would concede about 260 runs. So take 4/260, and add 7/100 to that, and you get 11/370... which amounts to a bowling average of about 35. This is par for a good spinner in a Test series in these conditions against batting of this quality....

    The difference between Harbhajan and Swann is that Harbhajan's been around longer - he rarely bowls to a batsman who hasn't faced him before. And, he's been put under pressure by set batsmen far more than Swann has.

    It will be interesting to see how Swann will cope in such circumstances. I think he should do Ok.....

  4. But we cannot have different standards for different spinners can we?
    Poor Harbhajan has been mercilessly pilloried when he has had only ONE bowler (Praveen) who has bowled with sustained control. And yet we have the 'No1 spinner' with some horrific figures inspite of a support cast of bowlers who all average BELOW 25 and yet the silence about this awesome performance is deafening!
    The hypocrisy of some so called experts is astounding.
    If this is Swann's performance in tandem with bowlers who have done fantastically well this 'No1 spinner' would be averaging in the high 100s if he had to bowl with the great 'support' that Harbhajan's colleagues have provided.

  5. Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't Ishant, Sreesanth, RP and Praveen have a better strike rate than Harbhajan during the aforementioned period? And it's not exactly a small difference either. Maybe, just MAYBE, these bowlers would do better if Harbhajan did a better job from his end. Afterall, the support argument can be turned on its head too.

  6. Praveen has played 6 Tests only and is the exception. RP, Ishant and Sreesanth do have better strike rates compared to Harbhajan Singh. But this is true of fast bowlers in general - they are that much more potent. They bowl fewer overs and take wickets more frequent.

    The strike rate for a Test quality fast bowler is anywhere between 45 and 52 (some exceptions like Waqar and Steyn are under 45). Zaheer has a strike rate of 50 outside the sub-continent since 2006, which is about par.

    India's support bowlers don't match the average strike rate for a fast bowler. Harbhajan Singh easily matches the average strike rate for a finger spinner - compare him to anybody - Bedi, Prasanna, Underwood, Gibbs, Tayfield, Laker etc - and a strike rate of 68 - 75 is pretty good.

    Whats more, India's support bowlers don't even keep the runs down. RP Singh has a strike rate of 58 in his 13 Tests - very promising. But he concedes 40 runs in 58 balls on average. Its impossible to win Test Match with this kind of effort.

    Both Ishant and Sreesanth should be performing much better than they are. With their basic gifts - pace, swing, bounce, swing for Sreesanth, and natural inward movement for Ishant, they should easily be able to be Test quality bowlers. But they are not...

    Unless you cannot see that Ishant and Sreesanth bowl 2-3 bad balls in nearly every over, and unless you realize how deeply problematic this is for them to be reasonable Test bowlers, you won't realize just how much of a handicap it is for Dhoni to have them in the Test team.

    Also, my argument wasn't that Harbhajan Singh is somehow as good as Warne - but simply, that Harbhajan Singh does the basics right, and hence, when the conditions are right, is more than a handful, just like Kumble or Srinath or Zaheer or Kapil or Bedi or Prasanna or Chandrasekhar.

    These other guys don't even do that.

  7. Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't Ishant, Sreesanth, RP and Praveen have a better strike rate than Harbhajan during the aforementioned period?
    Correct me if I am wrong, but did you check how much better are the strike rates of England's seamers than Swanns? Compared to the yawning gap that exists in the England squad between their seamers and their spinners, the one in the Indian camp is much better. Not bad for an old, has been spinner to post such figures when you look at the so called No.1 spinner who gets thrashed by a team who can't even cross 300.
    Wonder how this bloke would have performed if the Indian batting had found form. Looks like Swann has been spared a resounding thrashing because of the poor performance of the Indian batsmen.

  8. Watching Lardy boy RP bowl just makes you realise how pathetic India truly is! A man at 25 should be raring to go, instead he is likely to be auditioning for the Michelin man role! With his double chin and triple tummy, he is such cannon fodder, it makes you genuinely sad. But then again, India truly is a third rate nation with horrendous politicians, unimaginable corruption, incredible income inequality levels. Cricket ought to be the least of that miserable country's worries. They ought to worry more about selling out their own culture in favour of a pseudo yankee culture. I quite liked your blog mate. It is a lone voice of reason amongst a sea of one eyed Indian fans, who can see nothing wrong with their beloved overpaid cricketers. I am delighted with the hiding meted out to these jokers in this country and can't wait for England to arrive in India and repeat the dosage again! I have truly never seen more insipid bowling by a so called top test team. My own club team could give these boys a game.