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Is India's 2023 bowling attack the best there has been in a World Cup?

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Last updated on 06 Nov 2023 | 05:01 PM
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Is India's 2023 bowling attack the best there has been in a World Cup?

The Men in Blue top the bowling charts in this tournament, in every facet of the game

267/30

These are India’s bowling figures in three matches over the last week. Before October 29, their sixth game of the 2023 World Cup, India had not bowled second. Doing so thrice, they have bowled out the opposition for 129, 55 and 83. A bowling average of 8.9 runs per wicket — India’s bowling right now is an unstoppable force, with no object immovable to them. 

Defending 359, India had Sri Lanka reeling at 14/6 at the 10-over mark. Jasprit Bumrah picked a wicket in his first over and Mohammed Siraj pouched two in his first over from the other end. Mohammed Shami snaffled two more in his first over, the 10th of the innings. 

You can argue it was against the inconsistent Sri Lankan batters but it was a cathartic bowling display, capable of decimating any set of batters under lights.

Only three nights ago, they had England 40/4 in the first powerplay while defending only 230. They coerced Joe Root and Ben Stokes into playing probably one of the most horrible strokes of their decade-long international career. 

This World Cup, Indian pacers average 18.3 runs/wicket. No other bowling attack averages below 25. They have an economy of 4.8. South Africa is the next best at 5.9 runs/over. 

In the games where the conditions have denied pacers early success, the spinners have floored the opposition - as Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja did against Australia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Like the pacers, the Indian spinners also have the best average and economy in this tournament - 20.6 and 4.0 respectively. 

The question arises: Is this the best bowling attack in a World Cup? Or where does it stand in that tally? 

India average 16.2 runs/wicket better than the aggregate of other teams. It is the biggest difference any bowling unit has created in a World Cup. The Men in Blue have at best three more games to go but this difference seems insurmountable for any other team. 

Australia is the only other side to be over 10 runs/wicket ahead of their peers - during their three title wins this century in 2003, 2007 and 2015. 

There were a few similarities in the 2003 and 2007 bowling arsenal of the Aussies - Glenn McGrath as the lead pacer, Brad Hogg as the specialist spinner accompanied by part-time spinners like Andrew Symonds (both editions), Darren Lehmann (in 2003) and Michael Clarke (in 2007). Both squads also had seam bowling all-rounders - Ian Harvey in 2003 and Shane Watson in 2007. 

As change bowlers, there were Brett Lee, Andy Bichel and Jason Gillespie in 2003, and Nathan Bracken, Shaun Tait and Stuart Clark in 2007. 

If 2003 and 2007 were good, their 2015 attack was scarier. It was a cartel of pacers with Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson playing all matches in tandem. The third seamer’s options were James Faulkner, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. In addition, they had Mitchell Marsh and Shane Watson as seam-bowling all-rounders. Australian seamers picked 68 wickets at 18.8 runs apiece. But once again, they had only one spinner, Glenn Maxwell, and he was a part-timer. Xavier Doherty was a non-playing member of the squad. 

In each of these squads, Australia were light on the spin bowling resources but killed the game with their pacers in the first 10 overs. In 2003, they averaged 19.2 runs/wicket in the first 10 overs. The same number for other teams combined was 30.9. In 2007, their bowling average of 14.8 in the first 10 overs was nearly 20 runs better than others. 

However, in a more fair comparison considering the changing nature of the format, Australia were only 4 runs/wicket ahead of the others in 2015. The ball didn’t swing much and Australian pacers were more effective in the middle overs than in the first 10 overs. 

India hit the nail in this regard, creating the biggest powerplay bowling difference in a batter-friendly World Cup this year. In terms of economy, there is a difference of 1.5 runs/over (India: 4.1, others: 5.6)

Hardik Pandya’s injury means India will only have five bowling options in their XI, unlike the champion Australian sides. But India also possess more potent spinners in Jadeja and Kuldeep which has helped the Men in Blue to come back in games with less help for the pacers upfront.

The two have induced a chokehold in the middle overs, derailing the opposition’s progress. Most teams are happy to have one mighty spinner, India have two. 

Only the Australian team of 1999 have created a bigger difference than India with their spinners. However, it was Shane Warne carrying that spin attack, picking 20 wickets in the campaign. The next best was Michael Bevan with one scalp. 

The numbers above indicate that India are right up there with various World Cup-winning Australian squads if not past them. The only immeasurable metric here is Australia achieved those numbers majorly playing away from home. 

Surprisingly, when India won the World Cup in 2011, their average and economy fell below the overall aggregate. Zaheer Khan picked 21 wickets but the fact that Yuvraj Singh was the second-highest wicket-taker for India with 15 scalps tells you about the holes in that bowling attack. The fifth bowler was a problem with Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra not being in the best of form either. 

The 2015 bunch performed beyond expectations. In the tri-series in Australia before that World Cup, India averaged 44.5 as a bowling unit, the worst among the three sides including the hosts and England. In the World Cup, however, India bowled out their opposition every game until they met Australia again in the semi-final. 

In contrast, India headed into the 2023 World Cup as one of the most dominant bowling sides in the competition. They averaged 26.1 between January 2022 and the start of the tournament, the best among all World Cup teams. 

There are a lot of similarities between India’s 2019 and 2023 bowling attack - Bumrah, Shami, Kuldeep, Jadeja and Hardik Pandya, who is now out injured. Mohammed Siraj is an addition in a man-to-man role, replacing Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Siraj was ranked the number one ODI bowler a week before the 2023 edition began. Shami averages 23.9 now as compared to 26.1 at the start of the 2019 World Cup. 

Siraj has not been at his best in this World Cup but that has not hampered India from dominating batting line-ups. In a tournament with an economy rate closing towards six, Bumrah has conceded only 3.7 runs per over while picking 15 wickets in eight matches. Shami has come from the bench to snap 16 wickets in four matches. 

With spinners stepping up when required, India have effectively exhausted the opposition by the 35th over mark, as you would expect great bowling sides to do - not letting the batters stay in the game in the death overs. 

The way India have tightened all the nooses reminds you of the interviews you have heard from the former batters about facing the famous West Indies’ pace quartet of Holding, Garner, Roberts and Marshall. 

“Where will the runs come, if one rests then the other comes to bowl,” is the common consensus. 

You get the same feeling when Shami marks his run-up as the first-change bowler. And then, on a slow track, Jadeja and Kuldeep come on.

It is certainly the most complete bowling attack we have ever seen in Indian colors. And statistically, it can claim the crown of the best bowling attack in World Cup history from the reigning Australian teams. 

“Bowlers win you tournaments,” says an old and largely true cricketing adage. India are on their way to add another example to it. 

*Winner's average: Bowling average of the team that won that edition of the World Cup.

**Stats until Match 37

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