From June 1932 till September 2016, India have played 499 Tests. They’ve won 129 Tests, lost 157, drawn 212 and tied 1.
From a series perspective (where the real picture emerges), not considering one-off Tests, India have played 139 Test series, winning 52, losing 59 and drawing 28.
It is not a great record.
Still, India was the only side in the world to not lose a single home Test series in the 1990s (an often underestimated accomplishment). And since 2001, India had many notable triumphs, which ultimately culminated in the number 1 Test ranking on ICC’s scale, an honour they held for about 20 months.
So, in this instalment, we look at India’s highest impact bowlers who have played in 84 years of Indian Test cricket. The similar batting exercise is here.
This exercise is not necessarily about who were better bowlers – the rankings do not convey that. They are more about who affected their country’s cricket history more; sometimes it will be about time and place, sometimes about talent, sometimes just being lucky to be in a better team.
When Kumble took 12 wickets (of the 16 to fall) in the final Test at Sydney in January 2004, Australia saved the match by the skin of their teeth, with a famous last Test innings by Steve Waugh. If India’s other bowlers had contributed just a little more, if the wicketkeeping was a little sharper in that innings, India would have won their first Test series in Australia. And Kumble would have registered a
This list is strictly speaking about the impact of each bowler within the context of every match played, and every series that match was a part of. We are just auditing cricket history as it unfolded here, that’s all, not making judgement calls as to who was better.
NOTE: We have taken 50 Tests as the minimum – a number roughly based on the correlation between
HIGHEST IMPACT BOWLERS
|Number||Name||Matches||SDs||Top/Middle Order Wickets Tally Impact||Lower Order Wickets Tally Impact||Failure Rate (in %)|
Minimum Test matches: 50 (Exception: Prasanna, because he played just 1 match less)
All Impact numbers between 0 and 5
Impact numbers of only Tests with 2 completed innings included.
1) Anil Kumble (Bowling average 29.65)
India’s accomplishment of being the only unbeaten Test side in home conditions throughout the 1990s decade has perhaps not been given enough credit (only 4 teams have accomplished that after the second World War). Anil Kumble was the main reason why India did that, as the highest impact bowler in the world in that period, with 6 of his 9
2) Harbhajan Singh (Bowling Average 32.46)
Whether it was big match temperament or just the good fortune of playing in a strong side, Harbhajan’s 4
3) Bishan Singh Bedi (Bowling Average 28.71)
Quite simply, the most difficult Indian bowler to score runs off, by a huge distance. Kumble, who is next on
4) Bhagwath Chandrasekhar (Bowling Average 29.74)
He was a prolific wicket-taker (second only to Kumble when it comes to Top/Middle-order wickets) who struck panic in batting line-ups when he found his groove (second-highest Pressure Building Impact after Kumble). The big occasion also seemed to bring out his best more than his other illustrious partners – he has 2 SDs, including the legendary one against England at the Oval in 1971 when his 6-38 destroyed the home team. In fact, when it comes to away conditions, he remains India’s highest impact spinner till date. Though considered a “mystery bowler” who reportedly did not himself know what was going to bowl next, and therefore tagged “erratic” right through his career (explained by his low
5) Kapil Dev (Bowling Average 29.64)
After an era heavily dominated by spin (when the likes of Gavaskar used to open the bowling), came Kapil Dev. Between late-1978 (when he debuted) and early-1982, Kapil Dev was the second-highest impact bowler in the world, after Dennis Lillee. In that period, India won four consecutive series at home and Kapil Dev produced
6) Zaheer Khan (Bowling average 32.94)
7) Erapalli Prasanna (Bowling average 30.38)
An exception on this list as he played just one Test shy of 50 but eminently worthy of being in this company. Despite being the third-highest impact spinner in that famous trio (with Bedi and Chandrasekhar), he was considerably higher impact than the other competing off-spinner of the time (S. Venkataraghavan, who actually played more Tests than him). Compared to the most successful off-spinner in Indian cricket (Harbhajan Singh), Prasanna relied more on flight and guile rather than bounce, which actually helped him take a higher proportion of top/middle-order wickets than Harbhajan; he also broke more partnerships than him. Bowling with those other two legendary bowlers would have also reduced his impact (given how often a bowler yields the benefit to another bowler when a strong bowling unit hunts in pairs). Even though Chandrasekhar is deemed to have been the erratic, eccentric and les consistent bowler, it is interesting that Prasanna had a slightly higher failure rate than him. Unlike the other two, however, he did not register an
8) Ishant Sharma (Bowling average 36.51)
After the oohing and aahing when Ishant Sharma spectacularly beat and then dismissed Ricky Ponting in 2008, came the hemming and the hawing when his fans were asked to justify his ridiculously high bowling average (38), even after 51 Tests (till December 2013). When Ishant was not doing well, he gave away runs and his ghastly 41% failure rate in that period is fittingly indicative of that. But when Ishant was good, he was not just spectacular but also highly effective. Since December 2013, his failure rate has dropped to 37% (in 19 Tests, till September 2016) and he has been India’s second-highest impact bowler after Ashwin and the sixth-highest impact in the world. He has two SDs, which is the same as Zaheer Khan (in 20 fewer Tests) – both significant overseas SDs, in West Indies (2011) and Sri Lanka (2015). His recent form suggests he has turned a corner and if he can continue his upward swing, he can also expect to rise on this list.
9) Javagal Srinath (Bowling average 30.49)
He made his debut as India’s fastest bowler in 1991 and certainly seems to have fulfilled his potential as no Indian pace bowler took a higher proportion of top or middle-order wickets than he did. He was a genuine wickettaker, and his 31% failure rate suggests he wasn’t inconsistent either. Curiously though, none of his big performances came at a crunch time during a series; he does not have a single
10) S Venkataraghavan (Bowling Average 36.11)
As a 19 year-old in his debut series against New Zealand in 1965, Venkataraghavan took 12 wickets in the only deciding Test of the home series. Given New Zealand’s not-so-impressive away pedigree then, this is not marked as an
HIGH IMPACT BOWLERS WHO PLAYED LESS THAN 50 TESTS
These are the highest impact Indian bowlers who don’t make the all-time list as they don’t fulfil the criteria of 50 Tests. Those with SDs in fewer Tests do have their numbers skewed but the critical point to remember is that an
R Ashwin is nicely set up to be an all-time great bowler if he continues his current run. He has four SDs in less than 40 Tests (three as a bowler) and a low failure rate of 18%. Given that this Indian team potentially has the firepower to compete with any team anywhere, that may happen spectacularly in the future.
Narendra Hirwani had one of the greatest debuts in Test history when he took 16 wickets against West Indies – the best Test side in the world, on an underprepared pitch at home. The performance drew the series, and so was an
Pragyan Ojha is perhaps one of the most sparkling underutilised talents in Indian cricket. His 7 wickets in the final Test in Sri Lanka in 2010 (not a single lower-order wicket in that) helped India draw the series and thus was an
Praveen Kumar is another huge waste for Indian cricket. He played just two Test series registering an
L Balaji’s performances against Pakistan suggested a very promising bowler – first in the deciding Test at Rawalpindi in 2004, for which his 7 wickets registered an
Dilip Doshi was one of the main reasons (the other being Kapil Dev) why India was dominant in home conditions between 1979 and 1983 – during which period Doshi played 33 Tests. He had made his debut at the age of 32, thanks to the predominance of the spin-trio in India cricket then, especially Bedi, whom Doshi resembled the most. Allegedly, his career ended because of his uneasy relationship with Sunil Gavaskar (as a curious aside, it was Doshi who introduced Gavaskar to a lady who was to become his wife.)
Vinoo Mankad was one of India’s two great all-rounders. Unlike Kapil Dev, he was ambidextrous; despite batting right-handed, he bowled left-arm orthodox spin. His failure rate of 36% was high for a specialist bowler but not for an all-rounder who also opened the Indian batting for almost half his career. The only
Arshad Ayub’s three highest impact match performances of his career came back-to-back in a 3-Test series against New Zealand at home in 1988 (that India won 2-1) – only the second series of his career. Those 21 wickets in the series also included an
Ravindra Jadeja’s unerring accuracy helps get wickets as well keep the scoring down – a lethal combination, especially in conditions at home. He is among India’s highest
Venkatapathy Raju was an essential member of the bowling attack, led by Kumble, in that 1990s decade when India remained undefeated (in a series) at home. In fact, between February 1993 and February 1998, if we do not account for
Subhash Gupte was deemed to be the best leg-break googly bowler of his time and his high proportion of wickets reflects that amply. His series tally of 27 Test wickets (second-highest; just one less than Alf Valentine’s) in the 1952/53 West Indies tour was his most noteworthy moment though he produced some sterling performances against Pakistan, New Zealand and England in home conditions too.
Ghulam Ahmed was part of India’s first trio of spinners with Mankad and Gupte, his right arm off-spin a handful on pitches which assisted him. His highest impact performances in Tests – 7 wickets at Leeds against England and 10 at Eden Gardens against Australia could not prevent losses. Predictably, given how little the Indian team won in those days, he does not have an
Maninder Singh had two excellent years in 1986 and 1987. In England, he helped India change the momentum of their recent history and of that match with highly restrictive bowling (1-45 in 30 overs and 3-9 in 21 overs) – he is among the six highest
S Sreesanth is a talent India should rue wasting, whether he brought it upon himself or not. His propensity to pick up wickets was remarkable; in fact, he has the second-highest Top/Middle-order Wickets Tally Impact (after Srinath) when it comes to pacers in Indian Test history (min. 20 Tests). His 16 wickets in the first two Tests in South Africa in 2006 (the first of which brought India their first ever Test win in South Africa) is a very special career highlight to have.
Irfan Pathan, ditto. For a man who bowled Adam Gilchrist with a yorker in his second Test that reminded people of Wasim Akram, or beginning a Test in Pakistan with a hat-trick, Pathan was a special talent whose dramatic falling away is one of the mysteries of the modern game. He was wicket-taking, restrictive and didn’t have that bad a failure rate (31%, same as Srinath, though in far fewer Tests) to discard him altogether. Could he have got a longer rope?
Venkatesh Prasad, who made a fine pairing with Srinath at times, unfortunately had a much higher failure rate of 39% in his 33 Tests. His two highest impact performances – 10 wickets at Durban, and 8 wickets at Barbados both came when India lost.
Ajit Agarkar’s failure rate of 62% in 26 Tests suggests he got a far longer rope than he should have in Tests, probably because of how well he did in ODIs. Still, the one performance of note in his career (6-41) was a momentum-changing performance against Australia in their backyard in 2003.
Karsan Ghavri was a fine foil to Kapil Dev and had some notable moments in home-series in the late 1970s. His contribution to a historic 1981 win in Australia was 8-0-10-2 but that included Greg Chappell off the first ball, which is the first time India smelt victory in that match. His failure rate of 45% in 38 Tests was never likely to give him a long run but for a while he was a sureshot in the team.
Manoj Prabhakar, despite a memorably mean swinging yorker, hardly ever played the leading role with the ball, but put in plenty of useful support performances. His failure rate of 47% suggests that he wouldn’t have stayed in the side for long on his bowling alone. He also opened the batting in 23 of the 39 Tests he played.
HIGHEST IMPACT BOWLERS ON INDIVIDUAL BOWLING PARAMETERS
(MIN. 50 TESTS)
Top/Middle Order Wickets Tally Impact – Kumble, Chandrasekhar, Bedi
If we go below 50 Tests, then Ashwin comes out on top, followed by Ojha.
Lower order Wickets Tally Impact – Kumble, Harbhajan, Chandrasekhar
If we go below 50 Tests, then Ojha and Raju follow Bedi.
If we go below 50 Tests, then Prasanna (49 Tests) comes up on top for India.
If we go below 50 Tests, then Ojha (with a failure rate of 17%) and Ashwin (18%) are the most consistent Indian bowlers.
HIGHEST IMPACT BOWLING PERFORMANCES
(IN A MATCH CONTEXT)
These are the highest impact bowling performances in a match context, not innings, regardless of what happened eventually in the respective series.
NOTE: Often, a bowling performance with a higher wickets tally will have less impact than one with a lower wickets tally. That has to usually do with the difference in values between top/middle-order wickets and lower-order wickets. Sometimes, it has to do with the context of the match (for example, coming back from a first innings deficit) and sometimes even with the restrictive value (
1) Vinoo Mankad– 8-52 & 5-79 v Pakistan, Delhi, 1952.
2) ND Hirwani – 8-61 & 8-75 v West Indies, Chennai, 1988.
3) Ravindra Jadeja– 5-30 & 2-26 v South Africa, Delhi, 2015.
4) R Ashwin– 6-31 & 6-54 v New Zealand, Hyderabad, 2012.
5) Anil Kumble – 4-75 & 10-74 v Pakistan, Delhi, 1999.
6) Pragyan Ojha– 5-45 & 4-120 v England, Ahmedabad, 2012.
7) Harbhajan Singh – 7-133 & 8-84 v Australia, Chennai, 2001.
8) Zaheer Khan – 4-59 & 5-75 v England, Nottingham, 2007.
9) R Ashwin – 5-32 & 7-66 v South Africa, Nagpur, 2015.
10) Anil Kumble– 3-98 & 7-63 v Pakistan, Kolkata, 2005.
Jasu Patel’s famous 14 wickets in a 1959 performance against a strong Australian touring side (who won the series, despite this loss) in Kanpur, just misses this list, because after conceding a 67-run lead, the low scoring match was turned around by the Indian batting (Contractor, Baig, Borde, Kenny and Nadkarni), before Patel came into the act as he got a decent 225 (on that pitch) to defend.
Javagal Srinath’s 13 wickets against Pakistan in 1999 also narrowly misses this list. India lost the match despite a tremendous start.
Vinoo Mankad’s 8-52 (in 47 overs) and 5-79 (24.2 overs) against Pakistan in the series-opener in Delhi tops the list despite the fact that some other performances had a higher wickets-tally. For example, it is higher impact than Hirwani’s sensational debut performance against the West Indies (16 wickets) because although the leg-spinner had a higher Wickets Impact he was taken for aplenty in both the innings. Mankad, on the other hand was highly restrictive in the first innings which gave him a very high
Harbhajan Singh’s 15-wicket haul in Chennai is not higher in impact primarily because Australia had piled up a reasonably big first-innings score thus negating the off-spinner’s Wickets Impact in that innings.
The inclusion of Jadeja’s performance here will shock many as he only picked up a total of seven wickets in the match and yet makes it among the top three bowling performances in Indian history!
But if we carefully analyze his performance in the context of the match we will see that it has rightfully earned its place. South Africa were bowled out for 121 in reply to India’s 334. Jadeja picked up 5 (including 4 top-middle order wickets). From here it was downhill for South Africa and the writing was on the wall. Thus, this performance by Jadeja in the first innings dictated the play and the ultimate fate of the match and as such has a very high impact. But Jadeja wasn’t done just yet. India did not enforce the follow on and set the visitors an improbable 481. South Africa again crumbled to the spin of Ashwin and Jadeja. The latter played a support role in the second innings but was highly restrictive conceding just 26 runs in 46 overs (very high
Similarly, Ojha’s haul of just 9 wickets against England in Ahmedabad is a surprise inclusion on this list too. He picked up five wickets in the first innings (including three top/middle order) dictating the course of play and ultimately the result of the match – this gave him a higher impact.
All but one of the top 10 bowling performances are by spinners – again indicating the dominance of spin in Indian cricket. And not surprisingly then, that all these (nine performances by spinners) are in India.
The only away performance on the list is by the sole pacer on the list – Zaheer Khan.
HIGHEST IMPACT BOWLING PERFORMANCES
(IN A SERIES CONTEXT)
These are the highest impact bowling performances in a series context. That is, the performance came when the player’s team was either level or behind in the series, and the final series scoreline was decided by that match – where this high impact performance came.
1) ND Hirwani – 8-61 & 8-75 v West Indies, Chennai, 1988.
2) Anil Kumble – 4-75 & 10-74 v Pakistan, Delhi, 1999.
3) Harbhajan Singh – 7-133 & 8-84 v Australia, Chennai, 2001.
4) Zaheer Khan – 4-59 & 5-75 v England, Nottingham, 2007.
5) Harbhajan Singh – 7-123 & 6-73 v Australia, Kolkata, 2001.
6) BS Chandrasekhar – 2-76 & 6-38 v England, London, 1971.
7) BS Bedi – 2-66 & 4-38 v England, Chennai, 1973.
8) MH Mankad – 3-52 & 5-72 v Pakistan, Mumbai, 1952.
9) Arshad Ayub – 4-55 & 3-36 v New Zealand, Hyderabad, 1988.
10) Harbhajan Singh – 3-64 & 5-59 v South Africa, Kolkata, 2010.
Again, Zaheer Khan’s performance is the only one by a pacer. Chandrasekhar’s performance joins him in the away performances though.
Two significant performances in Australia – Kapil Dev’s 5-28 in 1981 and Ajit Agarkar’s 6-41 in 2003 (both were famous wins for India) do not make this list because both involved lower-order wickets and also an indifferent first innings performance, thus reducing their impact in the respective matches.
Arshad Ayub’s stunning series performance against New Zealand at home in only his second Test series climaxed with this performance in the deciding Test, which he helped India win. Bizarrely, he was to play just 6 more Tests in 2 more series after this.
Mankad’s performance against Pakistan in the Delhi Test, the first in a five-Test series, was the highest impact Test bowling performance ever for India when matches are seen in isolation (the first list). When the larger context of that series is considered, however, Mankad produced another high impact performance two Tests later in Mumbai which was series-defining because, with the series scoreline reading 1-1; winning that Test gave India a decisive lead as the last two Tests ended in draws. Therefore, this performance replaces the Delhi performance on the list when series context is applied.
Such is the role of context.
Impact Index team
Caricatures- Vasim Maner
Note: This piece was updated in September 2016 prior to the start of the India-New Zealand Test series.