The next instalment in our new series where we compare two legendary cricketers from the same generation. Rather than necessarily settle the debate on who is ‘better’, this series attempts to illustrate who had a greater say in dictating his country’s cricketing fortunes. Along the way, you may also find a few facets of these players that are not necessarily discussed in conventional media.

This week we compare two of India’s greatest spinners.


Anil Kumble vs Harbhajan Singh

  A comparison of spin bowlers in Test cricket


PARAMETER Anil Kumble Harbhajan Singh Maximum or
Highest (100%)
Number of Tests 132 103 Shane Warne (145)
Wickets Taken 619 417 Muttiah Muralitharan (800)
Bowling Average 29.65 32.46 Muttiah Muralitharan (22.72)
Percentage of team wickets taken 30.71 26.26 Muttiah Muralitharan
Bowling Impact 83 60 Muttiah Muralitharan
Top-Middle Order Wicket Impact 82 66 Muttiah Muralitharan
Economy Impact 35 35 Lance Gibbs
Bowling Impact in wins (min. 20 Tests) 86 53 R Ashwin
Impact at Home (min. 25 Tests) 68 49 R Ashwin
Impact Away (min. 20 Tests) 52 38 Richie Benaud
Impact in India (min. 10 Tests) 69 49 R Ashwin
Impact in Subcontinent (min. 15 Tests) 71 48 R Ashwin
Impact in Eng/SA/NZ/Aus (min. 10 Tests) 36 28 Bobby Peel
Failure Rate (min. 50 Tests) 22% 30% Muttiah Muralitharan (16%)
Number of Series-Defining performances 7 (once every 19 Tests) 4 (once every 26 Tests) Muttiah Muralitharan (10)
Number of high impact performances 24 (once every 5.5 Tests) 11 (once every 9 Tests) Muttiah Muralitharan (45)
Most dominant period in career March 1998 – November 1999 March 2008 – February 2010 n/a
Number of years as highest impact bowler 4
(1993, 1998, 1999, 2007)
0 Anil Kumble – 4
(1993, 1998, 1999, 2007)
Muttiah Muralitharan – 4 (2000, 2001, 2003, 2006)
Highest impact bowler in a match 41 17 Muttiah Muralitharan
(51 in 133 Tests)
Highest impact bowler in a series 15 (in 46 Test series) 6 (in 44 Test series) Muttiah Muralitharan
(25 in 61 Test series)

1) All parameters from ‘ Bowling Impact ’ till ‘Impact in Eng/SA/NZ/Aus’ are expressed on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the maximum for any player in Test history in that parameter. A player’s impact in a particular parameter is then expressed as a percentage of it.
Example: Lance Gibbs has the highest Economy Impact in Test cricket history. So he denotes 100 for that parameter. Anil Kumble’s and Harbhajan Singh’s Economy Impact are then expressed as a percentage of Lance Gibbs’ Economy Impact .
2) From ‘Bowling Average’ till ‘ Economy Impact ’, a minimum of 50 matches is considered as qualification. For all other parameters, the qualification is mentioned alongside.
3) Only spin bowlers have been considered for this comparison.



Anil Kumble is the highest impact bowler in India’s Test cricket history (min. 50 Tests). Harbhajan is second, but his impact is a whopping 28% lower than Kumble’s.

Kumble is also the sixth-highest impact bowler in the history of Test cricket after Muttiah Muralitharan, Dennis Lillee, Malcolm Marshall, Shane Warne and Richard Hadlee, while Harbhajan is not even amongst the twenty-five highest impact.

Kumble is India’s biggest series-winner and the second greatest series-winner in Test history after Muttiah Muralitharan. This is his true legacy to Indian and world cricket.

Harbhajan stands out for the timing of his big-match performances – against four top-notch opposition teams at home (three against South Africa and one against Australia).

Kumble is the highest impact bowler in home conditions in Test history after R Ashwin and Muttiah Muralitharan (min. 25 Tests). He was the highest impact bowler in the world in the 1990s and his contributions were pivotal to India’s unbeaten home-series run in that decade.

Although Harbhajan came into his own in the famous 2001 home-series against Australia, it is interesting that his best period came between March 2008 and February 2010 when he was the highest impact bowler in the world.


Conventionally and even through the Impact sieve, Kumble outshines Harbhajan in almost every parameter. He was the more prolific wicket-taker, more consistent and the more emphatic big-match player.

In a country that hero-worships batsmen, it is ironic that Kumble is not only the highest impact bowler but also the highest impact player in its Test cricket history.


Nikhil Narain
Illustrations: Vasim Maner