Zaheer Khan vs Javagal Srinath: A statistical comparison
With flat and dry pitches favouring spinners, India have never been friendly to fast bowlers and as such, have failed to produce too many world-beaters in the class of Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath and Curtly Ambrose. That said, India have had their fair share of talented seamers, none better than Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan.
Both stormed into Indian cricket circles and were noticed for their extra yard of pace and intelligent bowling. After the retirement of Kapil Dev, India sorely missed a good fast bowler. Javagal Srinath announced his arrival soon enough and formed a potent opening bowling combination with Venkatesh Prasad. He went on to play for India till 2003, the final three years of which coincided with the emergence of another highly talented seamer, Zaheer Khan.
The left-arm seamer arrived during a time when the Indian attack looked one-dimensional. With Ashish Nehra and Zaheer in the fold, all of a sudden, India had two left-arm seamers alongside the experienced Srinath. The trio took India to the finals of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, exceeding the expectations of fans back home. Srinath retired after the World Cup and Zaheer took over the mantle. By the time he was finished, he was India's second highest wicket-taker amongst fast bowlers in Tests behind Kapil Dev.
Comparing Srinath and Zaheer involves matching players from two different eras. The two have a lot in common including the manner in which they arrived and how they both assumed the role of a mentor towards the fag end of their career. Here we do a statistical comparison of two of the greatest fast bowlers India have ever produced. (We are not taking T20s into consideration as Srinath never played in one).
#5 Overall Record
Zaheer and Srinath are India's second and third highest wicket-takers among fast bowlers in Test cricket. With 311 wickets in 92 Tests, Zaheer trumps Srinath although the latter played only 67 Tests for his 236 wickets. What set Zaheer apart was his understanding of the game. His strike rate is even better than Kapil Dev's. Srinath, on the other hand, was an out and out pace bowler from the start.
Zaheer announced his arrival in ODI cricket in the 2000 Champions Trophy when he bowled some searing yorkers, something Indian bowlers were not known to do. His smooth and effortless action combined with a sharp bouncer and yorker made him a potent weapon in ODIs, especially at the death. He added the knuckle ball and a variety of other slower balls to his armoury later in his career and they all served him well when he spearheaded India's attack in the 2011 World Cup triumph.
Srinath was equally important in India's ODI plans during his career and his second stint in international cricket saw him have a fantastic 2003 World Cup in South Africa where he acted as a mentor to a group of young Indian seamers.
#4 Record in away matches (in opposition home)
Indian pace bowlers have never had much success outside Asia, however, this trend began to change during the time of Zaheer. This is evidenced by Zaheer's impressive performances in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa. He has 207 wickets in 54 Tests outside India with 134 of them coming outside Asia at a strike rate much better than Srinath and Kapil Dev, both of whom struck at 70+.
He has six five-wicket hauls in the format outside Asia with a wickets/Test ratio of 3.83, the best among Indian fast bowlers.
Srinath, however, has a much better ODI record outside India, and Asia in general, with 88 wickets in 62 ODIs outside India at an average of 25.58. Zaheer, meanwhile, has 110 ODI wickets outside India but these have come in 82 matches at an average of 30.96, worse than his overall record and record at home.
Three of Srinath’s seven four wickets hauls and one five-wicket haul have come in away ODIs.
#3 Record at home
Both Srinath and Zaheer have played as many as 38 Tests in India with the former recording 108 scalps at an average much better than his career average, while Zaheer has 104 wickets at a much higher average.
Although Srinath played during a period when India had ample slow bowling options, he was often the frontline seamer in India's Test team. It was a similar case with Zaheer, with him often being the lone seamer in dry, deteriorating Indian tracks. However, he had a lethal weapon called reverse swing which aided him in his hunt on unfriendly home surfaces.
Zaheer's ODI record in India is also not very impressive with 96 wickets in 67 matches at 30.12. He, however, recorded his only career five-wicket haul in India. Srinath's numbers at home aren't comparable to his Test numbers as he has 103 wickets in 80 games at an average almost similar to Zaheer's.
He has however recorded two five-wicket hauls, against England and Sri Lanka respectively, in home ODIs. However, considering India's weak bowling attacks in ODIs in those times, Srinath's numbers are pretty good. He even finished with more wickets than Zaheer in ODIs despite his career being one year shorter.
#2 At neutral venues in ODIs
Both Zaheer and Srinath have impressive numbers in neutral venues with the former recording 78 wickets at 26.34 including three four-wicket hauls. Srinath also boasts impressive numbers and has 124 wickets in 87 games at 27.77.
He has 4 four-wicket hauls in neutral venues and a strike rate of 36.6, his best among home, away and neutral matches. Although it is rather unfair to compare the stats of two bowlers from different eras, there is little doubt that both of them have been phenomenal forces for India during their careers. Comparing the economy rates would, however, be redundant given that Zaheer played in an era of T20s where run making is at a different level.
#1 Record in World Cups
Although Srinath has a much better ODI record than Zaheer, the left-arm seamer's biggest accomplishments were his exploits in the two ODI World Cups in 2003 and 2011. In 23 World Cup matches, Zaheer has 44 wickets at 20.22. He is the fourth highest wicket-taker in World Cups. Although Srinath has 44 wickets too, they have come in 34 games at a strike rate much poorer than Zaheer's.
Srinath was India's spearhead in three consecutive World Cups - 1996, 1999 and 2003 - but his best came with Zaheer by his side in 2003 in South Africa where India raced to the finals before succumbing to an outstanding Australian performance at Johannesburg.