A player’s performance in Test cricket often considered as a measure of potential, especially when the numbers are churned in tough and testing conditions, then those performances stay etched in the minds of the fans forever.
Over the years, the gentleman’s game has witnessed many legends don the whites and daunt the opposition with their style of play, but, they haven’t been able to render the same impact and in most cases, they have been just a shadow of their illustrious career when playing in overseas conditions.
On that note, let us take a look at three legendary Test bowlers who failed to deliver to their potential in India-
Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
Surprising it may sound but in spite of being the only bowler to have scalped a majestic 800 wickets in Test cricket, Muttiah Muralitharan had meager records in the purest format in the Indian conditions. A wizard in the true sense, Muralitharan was someone whom the Test-playing nations found difficult to counter courtesy of his stupendous spin-prowess yet, it was difficult for the bowling genius to tackle the Indian cricketers in their own den, regardless of the spinner friendly conditions offered.
He first toured India back in 1994, scalping 12 wickets in 3 Tests at an average of 35.00 and a strike rate over 71. However, his numbers worsened in the next tour of India in 1997-98, picking merely two wickets post 121 overs of bowling across two matches, averaging 103.67, a strike rate of 242.00, and best figures in an innings being 174/3.
By the time he toured next in 2005-06, he had already cemented his spot among the legends of the game and one of the all-time Sri Lankan greats. Averaging a modest 31.00, the off-spinner grabbed 16 wickets in the three-match Test series with 7/100 as the best figures in an innings.
It is always a challenge for the overseas cricketers to rack up runs in a Test match in Indian conditions. Even some of the finest timers of the red-ball, who possess astounding numbers to back their credibility and are known for their performance in the whites, have had their fair share of struggles when competing against the Indian attack in the subcontinent.
In fact, it has been observed that irrespective of a player’s spin playing ability, it is an excruciating and toiling task to gather runs on the Indian wickets. Shedding light on the same, let us take a look at four legendary Test batsmen who failed to deliver to their caliber and expectations in India-
Ricky Ponting (Australia)
Ponting played a pivotal role during the dominating era of the Australian cricket team, piling up a mountain of runs in his hay days both at home and away conditions. A mighty player who completely annihilated the Indian bowling attack in the Aussie conditions, scoring 1893 runs in 15 matches while averaging a whopping 86.03, he had a torrid run when facing the same in the Indian conditions, most notably, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who dismissed the batting legend on a total of 10 occasions.
It started with the history tour of 2000-01, where Ponting scored 17 runs across five innings at an average of 3.40. He was injured during the initial few games during the 2004-05 Border Gavaskar Trophy, only to return in the final Test at Wankhede to score 11 and 12.
Nicknamed ‘Punter’, the Aussie great had a modest run in 2008-09 series – 266 runs across four Tests at an average of 38.00, including a 123 in the first match at M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru. It was only in his final tour in 2010-11 that he found the scoring formula and aggregated 224 runs in 4 innings, with 3 fifty-plus totals, and an average of 56.00.
For his reputation as one of the most classy yet aggressive cricketers the game has seen, Ponting could amass only 662 runs in 14 matches, averaging under 27.00, with a sole hundred to his name.
Aravinda de Silva (Sri Lanka)
Without an iota of doubt, former Sri Lanka skipper Aravinda de Silva was one of the most technically sound batsmen from the subcontinent and a crisis man for his team on a number of occasions. He is the only cricketer to hammer two unbeaten hundreds in a Test match, a feat that he achieved against Pakistan in 1997. His grit and unwary determination backing his talent and stroke play made him a hard nut for the bowlers in his cricketing days.
Although a proficient cricketer in terms of reading spin and tackling the pace, a tally of 20 Test tons, with five of those against India in the longest format, de Silva had his problems when battling the same attack in Indian conditions.
From his first three tours of India in 1986-87, 1990-91, and 1993-94, the right-hander could amass just 176 runs in total. However, he finished it on a high in his final tour in 1997-98, averaging 75.67 and striking 227 runs in 3 Tests with an unbeaten 110 in the inaugural match of the series in Mohali.
Overall, In 11 Test appearances in India, the former Sri Lankan legend averaged 25.19 and could hoard just 403 runs including a century and half-century.
Graeme Smith (South Africa)
Both as a captain and batsman, Graeme Smith’s contribution to South African cricket is invaluable. Taking over the captaincy at the age of 22 years, the southpaw emerged as one of the greatest openers in the longest format of the game, compiling 9265 runs in 117 Tests at an average of 48.26. What’s noteworthy are his numbers in the final innings of a Test match in a winning cause – most runs (1141) and most hundreds (4) that haven’t been matched since his retirement and thus, they keep him in a league of his own.
However, there’s more to the plot. Despite smashing 28 Test tons in his career and being among the front runners in many Protea victories, the Johannesburg-born couldn’t ram a single hundred against India in their own backyard.
His first tour was in 2004-05, clocked a solitary fifty across two Tests while amassing 155 runs at an average of 38.50. The next was during 2007-08, where he cumulated 246 runs including 2 fifty-plus totals in 3 Tests at an average of 49.20. He was one of the leading run-getters in the series and one would have surely anticipated a similar or perhaps even a better show in the much-anticipated tour in 2009-10, considering the manner in which he was compiling runs in the matches played in between.
As a captain, Smith was near to beating India in their own den during the tour of 2010-11, winning the first Test at Nagpur, but the hosts bounced back in the second Test in Kolkata, courtesy of a Virender Sehwag’s masterclass knock of 165 in 174 deliveries to draw the series 1-1. While as an overseas unit it was a positive tour for South Africa, their skipper, Graeme Smith, had a forgettable run with the willow, registering scores of 6, 4 and 20 and averaging just 10.00 in the series.
All in all, the Protea legend competed in 7 Tests in India and aggregated 431 runs at an average of 35.92, with 3 fifties and a high score of 73.
Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
A man of clutch moments and one of the fearless cricketers the game has ever produced, someone who came down the batting order and unleashed a barrage of sixes and fours at will and snatch the game from the opposition. A strike rate of 81.96 and an average of 47.61 in 96 appearances for the Aussies can give a fair sense of his destruction laying ability in the long format.
Zooming further into the statistics then one can observe the challenges that even Gilchrist faced when batting in India. While he averages over 40 in nine Test-playing nations, his average dipped to 28.50 in India. The southpaw competed in 7 matches on the Indian pitches and scored an exact 342 runs comprising two Test tons.
His maiden tour was during 2000-01, scoring a blistering 112-ball 122 in the first Test at Wankhede and ensuring an Australian triumph. What followed thereafter was a string of single-digit scores of 0, 0, 1, 1 in the three-match series.
Even during the historic tour in 2004-05 where he excelled as a captain with 2 wins in the first three matches of the series and pulled off a herculean Australian triumph, Gilchrists’ numbers with the bat read – 218 runs across 8 innings, an average of 31.14, with a century (124) in the opening match at Wankhede.
However, his potency was tackled exceptionally well by the Indian batters in his final tour of India in 2009-10, especially by Virender Sehwag, who later aggregated a whopping 293 runs in an innings against the Sri Lankan bowling attack at Wankhede. Muralitharan was clobbered for 591 runs in those three Tests and could grab only 9 wickets at an average of 65.67, a strike rate of 101.22, and 4/195 as the best bowling figures.
Overall, Muralitharan played a total of 11 Tests in India and ended up with 40 wickets at an average of 45.45, including 2 five-wicket hauls under his belt.
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James Anderson (England)
Quite easily one could find James Anderson in the list of many All-Time Test XI and whenever there’s a talk of swing bowling, then there’s no better exponent than the Burnley Express.
Anderson, who has made 156 Test appearances and second only to Sir Alastair Cook in terms of the most capped player for England in the longest format, attained a historic feat of 600wickets during the home series against Pakistan amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in the month of August in 2020.
For a player of his caliber who is rated highly by many former and current cricketing greats as the ‘best swing bowler’ that the game has witnessed, and the greatest bowler from England, it is hard to accept that he had a rough time bowling in the Indian conditions.
The 38-year-old had scalped six-wickets at Wankhede in his first tour of India in 2005-06. However, a stress fracture of the back made him unavailable for the entire summer. On his second tour in 2008-09, the right-armer grabbed 4 wickets in 2 Tests, averaged 53.50 and bowled at a strike rate of 109.50.
The subsequent series in 2012-13 witnessed the English cricketer garner comparatively decent numbers, with 12 wickets in 4 Tests at an average of 30.25, including 6 wickets in the third Test of the four-match series at Eden Gardens that England won convincingly by 7-wickets.
In spite of the experience gathered over the years, Anderson couldn’t cut through the Indian batting order during his last tour of India in 2016-17 that England lost by 4-0. He averaged 53.50 and picked 4 wickets in 3 Tests that he played at a strike rate of 118.50.
Overall, he could muster merely 26 wickets in 10 Tests at an average of 33.46, a strike rate of 71.50, and best figures in an innings as 4/40.
Shane Warne (Australia)
Perhaps the very first memory that most cricket buffs have regarding Shane Warne is his famous ‘Ball of the Century’ during the first Test of the 1993 Ashes tour that he dished out to dismiss Mike Gatting at Old Trafford. The delivery and the mode of dismissal holds a deep significance in world cricket as the cricket pundits termed it as the ‘revival of leg-spin’.
Arguably the greatest leg-spinner of all-time, Shane Warne conquered the red-ball cricket with a jaw-dropping tally of 708 wickets in 145 Tests but had a forgettable time when bowling to the Indian batters in the subcontinent. The fact that Indian cricketers find it easy to plunder runs from spinners adversely affected Warne’s statistic when facing them.
The 51-year-old right-armer first toured India during 1998-99, picking five wickets in the first Test in Chennai but couldn’t get the wickets incoming at the same pace in the last two Tests in Kolkata and Bangalore, finishing with 10 wickets in 3 Tests at an average of 54.00 and a strike rate of 100.20.
A similar situation arose during Australia’s next tour to India in 2000-01, wherein the leggie scraped through the Indian lineup picking five wickets in the opening match of the 3-Test series at Wankhede, yet failed to forge with the same momentum in the remaining two Tests.
However, fortunes turned better for the spin-maestro in his final tour of the Indian subcontinent in 2004-05, grabbing 14 wickets in 3 Tests at an average of 30.07, with four wickets each in the first and third Tests at Bengaluru and Nagpur respectively that Australia won by majestic margins.
Considering how big a match-winner Warner was for the Aussies in their golden era, he could affect only 34 wickets in 9 Tests, averaging 43.11, with a solitary five-wicket haul and a 6/125 as the best figures in an innings.