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In the recently concluded  Test series in Australia, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Ishant Sharma together formed a combination the like of which has never been seen in Indian cricket. However, how good were they in the global perspective? Here is an analysis of all the pace bowling combinations who have gone Down Under and made the home batsmen hop.

Also read: How much has the ball dominated the bat last year? 

Just how good were they?

Some facts.

The Indian pacers captured 50 wickets at 23.54 in the recent series.

To find any visiting group of pacemen who captured 50 or more wickets at a better average, we have to go as far back 1978-79 Ashes. That, by the way, was against a weak Graham Yallop-led Packer-depleted side that succumbed 1-5 to Mike Brearley’s Englishmen.

To find a full-strength Australian side against whom visiting pacemen took the same number of wickets or more at a lesser expense, we have to go back to 1911-12. That was the Sydney Barnes- Frank Foster combination, and Barnes bowled a mixture of pace and spin.

(Barnes did impress earlier with Arthur Fielder in 1907-08, although on that occasion their efforts were not better than the Indians. In fact, that man Barnes had done it earlier as well, in 1901-02, alongside Tom Hayward and Gilbert Jessop, as a part of Archie MacLaren’s side. They had taken 30 at 20.43. Barnes was a freak.)  

To put things in perspective, this lot has been more successful in terms of bowling average than the five West Indian sides which visited in 1979-80, 1981-82, 1984-85, 1988-89 and 1991-92. All of these fierce Caribbean fast-bowling combinations did some fantastic feats with the ball. They did run through sides and make the batsmen hop. Yet, the Indian brigade did better.

In fact, the Bodyline pacemen in 1932-33 captured 79 wickets in the five Tests, but they came at 25.53 apiece. The Indian pacemen have done better than them as well.

If we relax the criteria to include 40 or more wickets (necessary to consider 3 Test series), there have been better performances.

Billy Barnes, George Ulyett and William Attewell captured 46 at 19.50, but that was way-way back in 1884-85, when perhaps matches had to be interrupted to let a grazing Apatosaurus pass by.

Richard Hadlee had taken 33 himself at 12.15 in 1985-86, and hence the decent support of  Ewan Chatfield and Jeremy Coney, and the expensive Martin Snedden had had little to do with the extraordinary 44 wickets at 21.34 during the first series win for the Kiwis in Australia.

Alec Bedser and Trevor Bailey had combined well to capture 45 wickets at 21.35 even though the series was a disaster for England.

And finally, even when Dale Steyn failed to deliver in 2016-17, the South Africans did achieve incredible returns of 42 wickets at 21.64. Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada were excellent, but the attack was spearheaded by the man they lost to Kolpak – Kyle Abbott.

The best performing visiting pace bowling units in Australia (at least 40 wickets)

Side

Year

Main Bowlers

Wkts

Ave

Str Rate

England

1884-85

Billy Barnes, Ulyett, Attewell

46

19.950

61.7

England

1978-79

Hendrick, Willis, Botham

71

20.84

55.5

New Zealand

1985-86

Hadlee (and a bit of Chatfield and Coney)

44

21.34

55.2

England

1950-51

Bedser, Bailey

45

21.35

61.0

South Africa

2016-17

Abbott, Rabada, Philander

42

21.64

44.1

England

1911-12

Barnes, Foster, Douglas

86

23.34

52.5

India

2018-19

Bumrah, Shami, Ishant

50

23.54

52.0

West Indies

1984-85

Marshall, Holding, Garner

75

24.01

50.2

West Indies

1979-80

Garner, Holding, Croft, Roberts

56

24.23

53.4

West Indies

1981-82

Roberts, Garner, Holding

50

24.68

61.0

West Indies

1992-93

Ambrose, Bishop, Walsh

74

24.87

60.4

England

1932-33

Larwood, Voce, Allen

79

25.53

50.9

England

1954-55

Tyson, Statham, Appleyard

68

26.04

57.2

England

1936-37

Voce, Allen, Farnes, Hammond

66

26.30

56.7

England

1907-08

Barnes, Fielder

50

26.58

60.9

West Indies

1988-89

Ambrose, Marshall, Walsh, Patterson

72

27.09

56.7

 

The West Indians of 1979-1992 appear 5 times in the top 16. Which is a reminder of the manner in which their pace quartets dominated world cricket. But to find the Indians doing better than all those combinations really says a lot for the current bowling set up. 

However, these numbers are slightly compromised by the not so important support bowlers who also bowled pace. At other times, the support bowlers have also picked up a wicket or two at very low rates in one of two Tests, eventually making the figures look better.

For example, Martin Snedden’s 1 for 111 did take the sheen slightly off the Hadlee brilliance of 1985-86, but John Lever’s 5 for 48 and Chris Old’s 4 for 84 made the work of Hendrick, Willis and Botham even more sparkling. Similarly, Umesh Yadav did not really help the cause of Bumrah, Ishant and Shami from the final figures point of view.

To do away with such inaccuracies, here are the groups of bowlers who have been exceptional.

The performance of visiting pace bowling partnerships(combinations of 2-3-4) in Australia 

Year

Bowlers

Wkts

Ave

Str Rate

1984-85 (*)

Richard Hadlee [just by himself!!!]

33

12.15

30.8

1984-85

Hadlee, Chatfield, Coney

43

15.44

43.85

1950-51

Bedser, Bailey

44

15.45

49.1

1981-82

Roberts, Holding, Garner

42

18.97

48.34

1884-85

Billy Barnes, Ulyett, Attewell

46

19.50

61.71

2016-17

Abott, Rabada, Philander

40

20.30

42.92

1978-79

Hendrick, Willis, Botham

62

21.40

57.23

2018-19

Bumrah, Shami, Ishant

48

21.62

49.57

1992-93

Ambrose, Bishop, Walsh

68

21.90

56.11

1911-12

Foster, Barnes, Douglas

81

22.53

52.81

1954-55

Tyson, Statham, Appleyard

57

22.91

52.36

1979-80

Roberts, Holding, Garner, Croft

55

23.52

51.45

1932-33

Larwood, Voce, Allen

69

23.82

45.59

1984-85

Marshall, Holding, Garner, Walsh

75

24.01

50.16

1936-37

Farnes, Voce, Allen, Hammond

66

24.89

54.83

1907-08

Fielder, Barnes

49

25.57

59.93

1988-89

Ambrose, Walsh, Marshall

60

25.77

57.27

 

From the above table, we gather that Hadlee bowled sides out practically alone. Indeed, the triumph of New Zealand over Australia in 1985-86 was achieved almost singlehandedly by this incredible bowling wizard. The average of 12 and strike rate of 31 is beyond the mortals.

We also come across some really underrated bowling combinations, such as Bedser and Bailey in 1950-51, or the recent trio of Abbott, Philander and Rabada.

The performance of the Indian troika, however, is right there in the midst of all the sterling performances over the years. They are 7th in the all-time list according to average, and 6th in terms of strike rate.

In short, they have been one of the best combinations in the long history of sides visiting Australia.             

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