India’s Spin Conundrum

In the past 12 months, India have played 14 different spin attacks in ODIs – but which has been the best? Ben Jones examines the data to try and find out.

One of the hallmarks of Virat Kohli’s tenure as Indian ODI captain has been a constant changing of team selections from game to game. This persistent and largely successful squad rotation policy has meant India have played with 14 different spin bowling units over the last year, giving multiple appearances to Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Ravi Ashwin, Axar Patel, as well as one match each for Yuvraj Singh and Washington Sundar.

It has yielded positive results for the team overall; since February 2017, only England have a higher win percentage than Kohli’s India, and no side has taken more ODI wickets with spin.

However, with a World Cup just over a year away, the captain and the selectors will be eager to establish the most balanced attack from the available options, and to give that unit time together to find the form which can carry India to victory at Lords’ in 2019. With that in mind, we’ve examined the data to suggest which spinners, what kind, and how many, should comprise India’s ODI spin attack.

WRIST-SPIN

Firstly, the need to select a wrist-spinner is clear. India’s win percentage goes up by 20% when they include at least one leg-break bowler, either left-arm or right-arm. As the graphic below shows, the collective average of the spin attack more than halves when a wrist-spinner plays, and their strike rate drops by 30 balls. In the five matches in the last year where India haven’t played a wrist-spinner, they’ve only taken eight wickets.

 

Thankfully for Indian fans, they have two credible wrist-spin options, in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Indeed, the emergence of Kuldeep over the last 12 months has been remarkable, as the graphic below illustrates. With the second lowest economy, and the lowest strike rate, Kuldeep has established himself as an attacking bowler who does not concede runs, gold-dust in all forms of cricket, and is arguably the most pivotal member of any potential Indian attack.

 

VARIETY

Meanwhile, maintaining variety in the attack is essential. Just as India win more matches when selecting a wrist-spinner than when they don’t, they win more matches when they select at least one finger-spinner, either an off-break bowler or a left-arm orthodox.

Again, India have a plethora of talented finger-spinners who could make the team, from the more red-ball focused Ravi Ashwin to the all-rounder Kedar Jadhav, who’s been preferred in recent times. As such, there is no reason for India to try and keep a balanced attack, one which includes both finger-spin and wrist-spin.

TWO-SPINNERS V THREE-SPINNERS

 

So, having established the necessity to include at least one of both kinds of spinner, the next most pressing question is how many of this talented crop of Indian bowlers can you select. In this last 12 months, India have played with just two spin bowlers in 14 ODIs, whilst they have selected three in 15 ODIs. The strike rate and bowling average is lower for two-man spin attacks; the economy is lower for three-man attacks. Crucially however, India’s win percentage is higher when three spinners take to the field.

This general trend is reflected when we look at the individuals involved in these attacks, and the relative successes they have had. Of the combinations which have played more than once together, the spin unit which has brought the highest win percentage is Kuldeep, Jadhav and Chahal, who’ve won 100% of matches when they’ve played together.

(A side note: the unit which produced the outstanding statistical display of the last 12 months does also fit these criteria. India played the West Indies in June 2017, and selected Ashwin, Jadhav and Kuldeep. The trio took 7-69, with a wicket every 17 balls giving them the lowest strike rate for any spin combination – but the trio have never played together again. Clearly this is largely down to the side-lining of Ashwin in ODI cricket, but the point stands that India’s mass rotation does occasionally allow strengths to fall through the cracks.)

 

All in all the evidence suggests that the Indian selectors should persist with the balancing act of trying to get Kedar Jadhav into the team. India are better when he plays alongside Chahal and Kuldeep, and are generally better when three spinners are selected. Kuldeep and Chahal inclusion allows them to tick the wrist-spinner box, and they are a (relatively) proven unit in international cricket.

However, if they were able to maintain enough batting depth, an attack of Kuldeep, Chahal and Axar Patel could be a fascinating option. In the last year, Patel has been more economical than Jadhav and has a better bowling average, and his inclusion satisfies the need for a finger-spinner. The number of options available to Kohli and the selectors is vast – but one of these two bowling attack would serve them best in their hunt for World Cup glory.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz. @benjones_13

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