Fact checking: The best spinner in Mr. Chappell’s fantasy world

In a recent article praising the performance of the Indian Under-19 team in the recently concluded World Cup, Ian Chappell made a statement which goes as follows: “spinner Harmeet Singh ….. that would right now place him as the best spin bowler in any Test side bar England”. The indirect implication of this statement is that Graeme Swann is the presently the best spinner in the world.

The claim is certainly intriguing, indirect however it may be, coming from an eminent ex-Cricketer of the stature of Ian Chappell. Let us verify whether Mr. Chappell’s claim is true or not. Although he wrote this article in the context of ODIs, my guess is that he was referring to Swann as the best spinner in both the Tests as well as the ODIs.

To refute Mr. Chappell’s claim, albeit in a more direct fashion, I will provide just two figures, both of which are quite self-explanatory.


Economy rate versus average for bowlers in 2011-2012 ODIs


Strike rate versus average for bowlers in 2011-2012 Tests

In each figure, we show only those spinners with a minimum of 15 wickets in years 2011 and 2012. The red lines correspond to the overall average statistics for the spinners in this period. In both the cases, there are quite a few spinners who are better in both economy and average (in the case of ODIs), or strike rate and average (in the case of Tests). In particular, Saeed Ajmal not only dominates Swann in both the formats of the game, he also has more wickets than Swann. This can also be clearly seen using the player comparison tool for Ajmal and Swann in ODI and Test formats.

So perhaps Mr. Swann is indeed the best spinner today, but only in the fantasy world of Mr. Chappell. In the real world, Swann is certainly a good spinner, but there are also much better spinners than him in both the formats of the game.

5 thoughts on “Fact checking: The best spinner in Mr. Chappell’s fantasy world”

  1. Shashi,

    Although, I don’t quite agree with Ian Chappel about Swann but this analysis, of the performances too, is very objective. If you closely look at the test matches played by Ajmal, you will find that most of the tests played by him over the last 2 year have been on spin friendly pitches. Not taking any credit away from Ajmal, but just some food for thought.

  2. Arkid, agreed that Ajmal has played on more spin friendly tracks. However, Chappel’s statement clearly implied that Swann is the best spinner today. If that is indeed the case, then Swann should have been outstanding in terms of all the statistics. That is clearly not the case.

    Even Warne played most of his matches on the not-so-spin friendly tracks of Australia, but there is no doubt that he was the spinner of his time. The same cannot be said about Swann.

  3. Shashi,although the objective analysis you have made here is correct, i want to put some thing different here – Chappel’s statement can’t be refuted completely in many-world theoretical concept in physics, where there needs not be an absolute true statement for all. It might be that some of the latent parameters that he considered while making such assessment about Swann’s relative bowling performance could not been included in the above statistical analysis, not because of your mistake,rather due to the ‘incompleteness’ nature of mathematics.

  4. Dipayan Chakraborty

    Can we dig into this further by working on Arkid’s comment & normalising for ‘Spin-freindliness’ of the wickets ? I don’t have a formula for this, but we can think of creating an index by looking at

    1. % of wickets taken by spinners as compared to fast bowlers in each stadium
    2. Economy rates / strike rates of spinners vs fast bowlers at each stadium

    Taking a mean & SD of some of these metrics , we can create an index for spin/pace friendliness . The averages & strike rates could potentially be adjusted using a normalising factor.

    This is just a thought & came to me as I went along reading the article. Nice job. The various facets of cricket like pitch, nature of oppositions (Swann would love to bowl at England given their frailty against spin) , is what makes cricket related discussions so enjoyable and ‘resistant’ to pure number based objective reasoning :-). Just saw the link to your site on analytics India mag, and I think am going to be spending a lot of time here.

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words, Dipayan.

      It is definitely possible to create a “Spin Friendliness” index for venues. We have already done an analysis on the effect of venue on scoring rate, you can find that here: http://www.cricmetric.com/blog/2012/07/the-effect-of-venue-on-scoring-rate-in-odis/ .

      Normalizing the performance of players based on an index developed in the proposed fashion will be quite interesting. That is a good topic for another blog post 🙂


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