Are Indian bowlers improving in their performances outside Asia?
Continuous learning without results is as problematic as it sounds, so we try and figure out if the Indian bowlers are improving or not.
Sixty. Six and zero, sixty. That’s the bowling average of Indian bowlers in the ongoing one-day series against Australia. ongoing one-day series against Australia.
These numbers are problematic, considering that Australia fielded a third string bowling attack – and still managed to achieve an average that is ten runs less than that of the Indian bowlers. While the economy rates remain similar across both teams, the fact that the Aussies have been able to take more wickets, keep them ahead of their Indian counterparts by a mile or so.
Out of ten Indian bowlers used in the first four games, only five have managed to pick at least a single wicket. And of those five, Ravindra Jadeja has given away 70 runs for every wicket, while the likes of Barinder Sran and Ravichandran Ashwin have given away 56 and 64 runs respectively for every wicket they have picked. Contrast this with the ten bowlers used by Australia in this series, and one will see the difference – eight bowlers who have something to show on the wicket’s column. John Hastings, Kane Richardson and James Faulkner lead the list while others chip in with healthy economy rates.
So is it about inexperience as many in the Indian team management have said it to be? A response to that would most likely be in negative – Ishant Sharma alone has played four more ODIs than the trio of Hastings, Richardson and Faulkner combined. The second line of argument suggests that it is about the instability surrounding the Indian bowling. While it’s true that India has tried plenty of bowlers post the World Cup in 2011, the core bowling unit has more or less remained the same, with Ashwin and Jadeja as the spinning options, and six to seven fast bowlers who’ve been tried time and again. This is quite similar to the situation any cricketing nation faces immediately in the aftermath of a World Cup, and had it not been for the recent injury of Mohammed Shami, India would have had at least three bowlers who are more or less there in every one-day playing XI.
It thus boils down to whether the bowling unit has evolved over the course of the last five years. Mere addition in the number of games played doesn’t necessarily translate to development if the individuals aren’t improving in their core areas – especially their ability to adapt to overseas conditions and their game to deliver results in demanding circumstances.
Disappointing run outside Asia
In the period following the World Cup win in 2011, outside Asia, India have toured the West Indies twice – once for a bilateral, and once for a tri-series, England, twice, Australia, twice, New Zealand and South Africa, once each. If one is to ignore the two tours to Zimbabwe, the only successful outings that the Indian team has had post June 2011, has been in the tri-series involving Sri Lanka and West Indies in 2013 and the one-day leg of the England tour in 2014. Apart from that, there’s been a Champions Trophy win on pitches that were as non-English as the Irish, and a semi-final finish at the 2015 World Cup, where the tournament format allowed them the luxury to go deep into the tournament.
Remove these two ICC event achievements, and the cupboard lies bare. India have lost to England (3-0) in 2011, failed to make it to the finals of the tri-series involving Sri Lanka and Australia in 2012 (lost four games out of eight), got bamboozled by South Africa (2-0) in 2013, drubbed by New Zealand (4-0) in 2014 and didn’t open their account in the “Mickey mouse” tri-series in Australia ahead of the World Cup in 2015.
In the same period, against top-ranked teams, the best Indian bowler outside Asia (a minimum of ten games), has been Mohammed Shami. Shami has picked 39 wickets at an average of 25.30 and an economy of 5.78. Ishant Sharma is second, with 32 wickets at 28.87. Apart from these two, all others have their bowling average in the early or mid-thirties, and come with economy rates on the higher side. Cases in point would be Jadeja and Ashwin, who, despite taking more wickets than Shami or Ishant, have averages that touch the forties.
Unfavourable economy rates
Giving away runs too easily is a cardinal sin that any bowler can commit. Indian bowlers in the last five years have committed this sin way too many times. A good way to analyse how economically bowlers have bowled would be to see the deviation of their economy rates from the average scoring run-rate in the series. If one is giving more runs in an over than what is being scored at an average, he is clearly not helping matters for his team.
In the one-day series in West Indies in 2011, the average run-rate was 4.80 per over. Only four out of seven Indian bowlers managed to bowl with an economy of less than 4.80. Later that year, against England on English shores, the average run-rate was 5.92. Barring Ashwin and Pravin Kumar, everyone gave away more runs than what was being scored. Similar scenarios followed Team India in Australia 2011/12 (five out of twelve), in South Africa 2013 (two out of nine), and in New Zealand 2014 (four out of ten).
The aberration was the tour to England in 2014, where after a disappointing Test series, the Indians bounced back with a disciplined show in the one-day leg. Besides that odd series, the performances have been poor. Not only have the bowlers erred in length, but they have frequently bowled on to the pads of the batsmen, much to the chagrin of the captain.
One can always say that economy rates of all bowlers used might not be the best indicator, as the number of overs bowled might vary, resulting in disproportionate sample sizes – while that might be true in some cases, over the last five years, almost all Indian bowlers, frontline or part-time figure in the list of those who’ve given away more runs than the average runs scored per over in the series.