Myth or Fact: Spin Bowlers against Batsman of the Same Arm

By 4 years ago

Some time back during the World T20 and the IPL we saw a greater tendency by the captains to not bowl an off spinner when two right handed batsmen were at the crease. Similarly, the concept was applied to left arm spinners too; they were not given the ball when two left handers were at the crease.

The reason being that these spin bowlers will bowl into the hitting areas (read into the legs) of the batsmen and are more likely to be taken apart for runs. The logic sounds good in theory, but many a times the captains take this practice a bit too far.

The most classic example of this theory was the underwhelming use of India’s premier spinner Ravichandran Ashwin by MS Dhoni in both the World T20 and the IPL. Ashwin was hardly thrown the ball in the middle overs or at the death when two right handers were at the crease and completed his quota of overs in only 8 of the 14 games in the 9th edition of IPL. In the semi final against West Indies at Wankhede, Dhoni reasoned that he didn’t give the ball to Ashwin because there was dew on the ground. But one could see that it was more than that because Jadeja went on to bowl his full quota of overs.

R Ashwin bowls during the India Bangladesh T20 Match ©IDI/Getty Images

Suresh Raina, who played 8 seasons of the IPL under MS Dhoni, showed a similar tendency when he didn’t give Jadeja the ball in the Qualifier 2 against Sunrisers Hyderabad at Kotla because he feared Warner, Yuvraj, Dhawan were likely to take him apart.

Another captain, Gautam Gambhir of Kolkata Knight Riders fell prey to this theory and didn’t play Bangladeshi all rounder Shakib Al-Hasan in the eliminator and dropped leg spinner Piyush Chawla for the last two games which KKR played because he would turn the ball into the mighty left handers which SRH possessed. The dropping of these two players had a massive effect as both the players were handy options with the bat as well and their replacements, Colin Ingram (top order batsman) and Kuldeep Yadav (left arm chinaman) respectively, were adding value to only one aspect of the game.


Now, the question arises, how much of an influence does this theory make to the game? A quality spinner is expected to perform irrespective of the pitch, conditions and the batsman. Surely a spinner can’t be so bad against one type of  batsman that he is not even considered as an option when right handers or left handers are at the crease.

So we decided to dig up the numbers of conventional spinners like Daniel Vettori, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Graeme Swann and Shakib Al Hasan and see if the theory in question is actually that much relevant as captains often make it?

In One Day Internationals:

Against Right handed batsmen

Harbhajan Singh 182 23.65
R Ashwin 80 29.12
Daniel Vettori 222 24.01
Shakib Al Hasan 172 22.41
Ravindra Jadeja 128 22.99
Graeme Swann 66 31.54

Against Left Handers:

Harbhajan Singh 87 34.10
R Ashwin 62 32.19
Daniel Vettori 83 32.31
Shakib Al Hasan 34 30.91
Ravindra Jadeja 19 29.52
Graeme Swann 38 26.89

In List-A Matches (Against Right Handers)

Harbhajan Singh 386 18.13 4.13 26.2
R Ashwin 183 18.85 4.66 24.2
Daniel Vettori 508 14.76 3.71 23.8
Shakib Al Hasan 393 16.02 4.12 23.3
Ravindra Jadeja 290 17.01 4.43 23.0
Graeme Swann 166 14.59 4.14 21.1

Against Left Handers

Harbhajan Singh 181 18.61 4.11 27.1
R Ashwin 123 21.60 4.49 28.8
Daniel Vettori 179 14.97 3.79 23.6
Shakib Al Hasan 73 17.69 4.07 26.0
Ravindra Jadeja 53 13.30 4.17 19.1
Graeme Swann 80 17.36 4.14 25.1

One thing which the stats have shown is that the left arm orthodox spinners have more wickets against right handers than against the left handers. However, the number of wickets shouldn’t be a deciding factor as the number of left handed batsmen is way less than that of the right handed batsmen. So the point(s) of consideration should be the economy rate, average and strike rate of the bowler.

The averages of Vettori, Shakib, Jadeja for lefties in ODIS is nearly of 7-8 runs more than that against that of right handers.  When it comes to List A cricket, the difference in averages is marginal for Vettori, around 1.5 more against lefties for Shakib, and in Jadeja’s case, the average against left handers is 3.5 runs less than that against right handers. The economy rate and the strike rate for Vettori is nearly the same against both, for Shakib the economy rate is nearly same but the average against left handers is again 2.7 runs more than that of right handers.

Jadeja again shows better numbers against left handers with an E.R of 4.17 and S.R of 19.1 as compared to 4.43 and 23.0 against right handers.

Now let’s consider the other set; the right arm off spinners. Now as explained earlier, the number of wickets taken shouldn’t be the parameter to judge the theory in question. So let’s compare the averages, economy and strike rate.

In ODIs, Harbhajan, Ashwin and Swann average 23.65, 29.12 and 31.54 against right handers respectively as compared to 34.1, 32.19 and 26.89 against left handers. Coming to List A matches, Harbhajan has marginal better average against right handers (18.13 compared to 18.61), nearly same economy for both (4.11 for righties and 4.13 for lefties) and again a better strike rate for righties (26.2 as compared to 27.1).

Ashwin and Swann follow the same pattern but the difference between the numbers are more significant. Ashwin averages 18.85 against right handers as compared to 21.6 against left handers, has an economy of 4.66 versus 4.49 for lefties and a strike rate of 24.2 versus 28.8 against lefties. Swann has better numbers than both Harbhajan and Ashwin and averages 14.59 against right handers versus 17.36 against left handers, same economy for both (4.14) and a strike rate of 21.1 against right handers versus 25.1 against the left handers.

The stats show that the theory of not bowling a spinner who bowls into the pads of both the batsmen at the crease, maybe applicable for left arm spinners against left handers, but it’s certainly not the case for off spinners against right handers.

The stats for T20Is are:

Against right handers:

Harbhajan Singh 21 14.28
R Ashwin 33 16.69
Daniel Vettori 23 14.39
Shakib Al Hasan 47 18.57
Ravindra Jadeja 25 21.04
Graeme Swann 37 16.18

Against left handers:

Harbhajan Singh 4 21.50
R Ashwin 17 14.88
Daniel Vettori 15 25.86
Shakib Al Hasan 18 16.72
Ravindra Jadeja 4 20.25
Graeme Swann 14 19.14

Except for Ashwin, the other right handers have better averages when bowling to right hand batsmen which proves their effectiveness. Even in Ashwin’s case the difference is a meagre 1.81 and the fact that his average against both type of batsmen is nearing 15 just underlines how prolific he has been.

Similarly, with the exception of Vettori, all left handed bowlers possess a better average against left handed batsmen. The wickets one would observe are significantly lesser when bowling to left handed batsmen but that can be explained on account of there being lesser left handed batsmen overall than right handed ones.

The conclusion that we draw based on these numbers is that this ploy of holding back a certain spinner, say an off spinner when two right handers are batting or a left arm orthodox when two left handers are batting, doesn’t work all that well when extended over a long stretch.

Consider this example, Kevin Peitersen used to struggle against left arm spinners early on in the innings and often captains used to bring on their part timer left arm spinners to get his wicket like Yuvraj Singh (yes the pie chuker), but once he was set, he was too good a batsman to take such bowlers to cleaners. Therefore, bowling someone like a Yuvraj Singh or Michael Clarke to Peitersen over your prime off-spinner makes no sense when he’s set.

Yuvraj and Peitersen greet each other after India England group match at 2007 World T20. Credits:

While it is a smart move to take when say, one of the batsmen are new to the crease, it makes no sense at say a crucial juncture of the match when the spinner being withheld happens to be your best bowler as well. At any cost you want your best bowlers to have frequent go’s at the batsmen, and by no means you should succumb to a preconceived notion that they cannot be bowled since they will be spinning the ball into the batsmen as per their stock delivery.

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