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Who is the best spinner in the world?

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Since the departure of the golden trio of Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble, the debate has been on for some time as to who is the best spin-bowler in the present day and age.

This piece’s motive is just that - to ascertain, using plain statistics, the best tweaker operating in the longer format of the game currently, and to identify which form of spin has been creating the most headaches for batters across the planet.

Ravichandran_Ashwin_India_cricketTo start with, we look at the overall figures of spin-bowlers since January 1, 2013 till the conclusion of the England-Sri Lanka Test series. Bowlers who’ve played a minimum of 10 Test matches in the specified time frame have been considered and the figures have been structured in ascending order of bowling average.

Spinner

Matches

Wickets

Average

Strike Rate

R Ashwin

20

113

21.48

46.3

R Jadeja

15

65

23.06

59.2

Y Shah

12

76

24.17

48.4

R Herath

26

125

29.97

64.4

S Ajmal

12

56

30.30

73.4

K Williamson

30

21

32.19

61.3

M Hafeez

18

23

32.52

63.2

N Lyon

36

136

33.69

61.5

G Swann

10

43

34.09

61.3

JP Duminy

17

25

34.80

58.1

 

India’s spearhead Ravichandran Ashwin has, by far, the best figures – both in terms of strike rate and bowling average. His teammate Ravindra Jadeja and Pakistan’s Yasir Shah are a close second and third respectively.

Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath has played the most number of matches among the subcontinental spinners, but his striking ability isn't quite up there. Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal’s case is somewhat similar as he hasn't picked wickets for fun either.

Kane Williamson (New Zealand) and JP Duminy (South Africa) are, surprisingly, among the ten most efficient spinners, while Nathan Lyon, already Australia’s most prolific off spinner of all time, is eighth on the list.

Now, we look at stats away from home (since January 1, 2013). Spinners who’ve played a minimum of 10 Tests (and a minimum of 20 wickets) away from home have been considered. Pakistan's matches at UAE have been considered as home games for them and therefore, none of their spinners make the cutoff of 10 away Tests. For all other teams, UAE has been taken as an away venue.

 

Spinner

Matches

Wickets

Average

Strike Rate

R Ashwin

10

41

30.92

57.8

N Lyon

20

69

35.20

63.6

R Herath

13

44

40.86

84.7

M Craig

11

40

45.95

68.1


This is where the class of Nathan Lyon becomes apparent. He's been absolutely sensational over the last couple of years - be it home or away. The difference between his home and away averages is very little - confirming his position as an ace. To be able to achieve that despite playing almost a majority of his Tests on Australian highways is remarkable.

R Ashwin, who is heavily criticised for his overseas performances, has actually done quite well in the given period - comfortably ahead of Lyon.

Rangana Herath and the Mark Craig are others among the top 4 - but Herath’s strike rate is very poor, and Craig is very expensive compared to the rest.

All in all, R Ashwin and Nathan Lyon, both offies, are the best spinners in the world right now, followed not-so-closely by Rangana Herath.

Stats say Ravindra Jadeja is the second-best tweaker overall with 65 scalps at 23, but his numbers are somewhat skewed due to his feats at home. Yasir Shah and Saeed Ajmal's case is also similar - they have hardly played away from their newly adopted home in the UAE.

Now since it’s established that Ashwin and Lyon are the two best spinners in the business, we comparethe numbers of the two in different regions of the world (since January 1, 2013) to just try and decipher as to which of the said two inches ahead of the other (regions where a sample for both players is available have been considered).

 

In India

Spinner

Matches

Wickets

Average

Strike Rate

R Ashwin

10

72

16.11

39.80

N Lyon

3

15

37.33

50.80

 

In Asia

Spinner

Matches

Wickets

Average

Strike Rate

R Ashwin

14

98

16.68

39.80

N Lyon

5

18

37.33

50.80

 

In Australia

Spinner

Matches

Wickets

Average

Strike Rate

N Lyon

16

67

32.14

59.3

R Ashwin

3

12

48.66

111

 

In England

Spinner

Matches

Wickets

Average

Strike Rate

N Lyon

8

25

30.29

61.2

R Ashwin

2

3

33.66

71.0

 

One cannot simply declare that Ashwin is better than Lyon solely because of his prettier overall figures. A safer assumption is that on helpful surfaces, Ashwin wins the battle with his wide repertoire of deliveries; whereas Lyon does just as good, if not better, job on benign surfaces by integrating more body into his action.

What we can also establish is the fact that classical off spin is the dominant form of spin bowling in the world right now. Leg spinners may be the trending force in white-ball cricket, but in Tests, they are nearly non-existent - Yasir Shah is the sole flag-bearer, with the Kiwi Ish Sodhi and England’s Adil Rashid still finding their feet in international cricket. Even a pro like Amit Mishra has been reduced to a third-choice tweaker, at best, for India.

Off spin is only bound to grow world-over with the likes of Moeen Ali (Oh Yes!), Mark Craig,  Simon Harmer and Dane Piedt climbing up the ladder.

 

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