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India vs Pakistan — how key players raised their levels during crunch matches

Yuvraj Singh averages nearly 43 in matches against Pakistan © Getty Images
Yuvraj Singh averages nearly 43 in matches against Pakistan © Getty Images

As India take on Pakistan in yet another derby encounter in the ICC World T20 2014 tournament on Friday, Arunabha Sengupta tries to see how key players from both sides have raised their games during these crunch matches.

The day of yet another derby, another battle between two eternal rivals, another showdown to overshadow all sporting contests.

India-Pakistan games seldom fails to grip and pump the beating heart till it echoes with the roars of the stadium; with the ebb and flow of fortunes on the ground; with each thwack of the willow and the rattle of the stumps; with the thud of the ball landing in the wicket-keeper’s gloves; of each step of the bowler as he runs in and each tap of the bat on the pitch as the batsman waits.

Like any other epic encounter between two great foes, perusal of the form book is useless. The analysis of the records of the players of the two teams yields questionable predictions, too prone to go awry.

These are not matches that follow the laws of nature. The tides in the affairs of men are overridden by the electric atmosphere. The tension, the pressure, the enormity of the occasion often combine to produce unexpected results.

Down the decades, India-Pakistan encounters have not generally followed results exactly correlated to the potential of the teams, the trend of recent results achieved by the two sides. For these matches, the slate of the recent past is wiped clean, what remains are the age-old history and the taut nerves of the current conflict.

In these crunch matches, certain key players scale up to play out of their skins and more often than not this goes on to make all the difference.

How have the players of the two teams scaled up while facing each other in these high-voltage encounters?

Unfortunately, we do not have a big enough sample size for analysing Twenty 20 Internationals. India has met Pakistan on just five occasions in this format, won three matches, lost one and triumphed in the bowl out of the tied group match during the ICC World T20 2007. The confrontations have been so infrequent that huge cohorts of players have departed the scene. The very few that have appeared in all the matches include Gautam Gambhir and Shoaib Malik, men who are not in the current scheme of things. Analysis with such scant data will not really yield anything meaningful.

However, some useful insights may be derived about the historical face-offs by looking at the One-Day Internationals (ODI), where the rivalry of the two teams tend to be the most colossal clashes in the  history of sport — not just cricket.

Let us see how key players of both the sides have raised their games for these crucial matches.

India versus Pakistan ODIs – the way Indian batsmen have raised their games

Indian batsmen

Career

Against Pakistan

Scaling up for Ind-Pak

Runs

Ave

Str Rate

Runs

Ave

Str Rate

Diff in Ave

Diff in SR

Yuvraj Singh

8237

36.28

86.98

1285

42.83

92.31

18.05%

6.13%

MS Dhoni

7872

52.83

88.67

1208

60.4

90.82

14.33%

2.42%

SK Raina

4596

35.35

91.35

436

39.63

80.14

12.11%

-12.27%

V Sehwag

7995

35.37

104.44

1071

34.54

102.58

-2.35%

-1.78%

RG Sharma

3427

35.69

78.61

311

34.55

78.14

-3.19%

-0.60%

R Dravid

10768

39.15

71.18

1899

36.51

67.17

-6.74%

-5.63%

NS Sidhu

4413

37.08

69.72

862

34.48

69.74

-7.01%

0.03%

SR Tendulkar

18426

44.83

86.23

2526

40.09

87.49

-10.57%

1.46%

M Azharuddin

9378

36.92

74.02

1657

31.86

67.68

-13.71%

-8.57%

SC Ganguly

11221

40.95

73.65

1652

35.14

71.82

-14.19%

-2.48%

V Kohli

5634

52.16

89.87

1285

42.83

92.31

-17.89%

2.72%

A Jadeja

5359

37.47

69.8

892

28.77

65.68

-23.22%

-5.90%

G Gambhir

5238

39.68

85.25

549

28.89

83.3

-27.19%

-2.29%

From the above table, it is apparent that historically only three major Indian batsmen managed to raise their in these India-Pakistan matches. And curiously, all the three are batsmen of the current generation.

Among them Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni seem to relish the challenge and beef up their averages considerably, strike rates marginally. Alongside them Suresh Raina has made only 436 runs against Pakistan at a scoring rate perceptibly less than his career strike rate, but he has got those runs at an average of nearly 40 in contrast to the mediocrity of 35 that dogs his career.

However, the rest of the batsmen have poorer records in these crunch matches, many considerably so. In most cases, average and strike rate both take a severe beating – the primary examples being Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja. Among the others, even the acknowledged greats of ODI cricket have managed just about decent to average records against Pakistan. The panic that often seemed to affect the Indian batting in the encounters of the previous decades is quite perceptible from the table. Surprisingly, even among the new Indian players,  Gambhir and Virat Kohli have been far from their best in the Pakistan games.

This is in contrast to the results we get when we look at the Pakistani batsmen. A glance at the table below will demonstrate exceptionally scaled up performances by some batsmen who otherwise boasted rather ordinary careers. Malik and Salman Butt did not have great ODI numbers. Neither did more accomplished names like Younis Khan and Aamer Sohail. But their performances against India are quite extraordinary by comparison.

And of course, some greats like Javed Miandad, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Zaheer Abbas took their games to a totally different level when they played India, boosting their averages and also moving the scoreboard along a lot quicker, and that really helped the Pakistan cause in that era when they dominated their arch rivals. Except for Rameez Raja, the performance of no major batsman hailing from the previous eras actually dropped against India.

We do find Misbah-ul-Haq’s record showing a negative trend against India, but while his average goes down his strike rate leaps up to alarming regions. The same happens to a lesser extent for Mohammad Yousuf.

One can perhaps safely say that Pakistan batsmen have indeed done a better job of rising to the occasion than their Indian counterparts over the ages, at least till the early 2000s.

India versus Pakistan ODIs – the way Pakistani batsmen have raised their games

Pakistan batsmen

Career

Against India

Scaling up for Ind-Pak

Runs

Ave

Str Rate

Runs

Ave

Str Rate

Diff in Ave

Diff in SR

Shoaib Malik

5490

32.67

78.28

1634

49.51

89.19

51.55%

13.94%

Salman Butt

2725

36.82

76.28

992

52.21

83.15

41.80%

9.01%

Aamer Sohail

4780

31.86

65.50

958

41.65

69.62

30.73%

6.29%

Javed Miandad

7381

41.70

67.01

1175

51.08

72.44

22.49%

8.10%

Younis Khan

7014

31.88

75.36

1245

38.90

86.63

22.02%

14.95%

Saeed Anwar

8824

39.21

80.67

2002

43.52

90.58

10.99%

12.28%

Inzamam-ul-Haq

11701

39.53

74.20

2403

43.69

78.55

10.52%

5.86%

Ijaz Ahmed

6564

32.33

80.30

1533

35.65

79.30

10.27%

-1.25%

Zaheer Abbas

2572

47.62

84.80

612

51.00

97.14

7.10%

14.55%

Saleem Malik

7170

32.88

76.41

1534

34.08

77.00

3.65%

0.77%

Mohammad Yousuf

9554

42.08

74.91

1430

38.64

82.75

-8.17%

10.47%

Misbah-ul-Haq

4527

44.38

73.97

474

36.46

87.94

-17.85%

18.89%

Rameez Raja

5841

32.09

63.31

666

23.78

58.52

-25.90%

-7.57%

What about the bowlers?

Whereas the difference between batsmen of the two nations makes the story abundantly clear, the bowlers require a closer look.

The first feature to notice is that unlike the batting department which is more or less balanced across the nations, Pakistan bowlers in general have enjoyed much better careers. Hence, Maninder Singh, by improving his bowling average by nearly 21% against Pakistan just about manages to draw level with Saqlain Mushtaq who operates 12% below par in these matches. Similarly, greatly improved performances by Kapil Dev and Venkatesh Prasad do not quite get them to the level of the less than optimal performances of Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar. Most often, even a Pakistan attack well below its best has had the edge over an Indian bowling line-up performing beyond their benchmarks.

If we look at the past, Roger Binny and Maninder Singh have performed really well in Indo-Pak matches, but Kapil Dev’s frequency of wickets have come at the cost of his economy.  However, Ravi Shastri, Madan Lal and Chetan Sharma have suffered big time in these matches, neutralising most of the good work.

Down the years, we see that while Prasad  and Anil Kumble improved their bowling significantly in these games, Javagal Srinath, Irfan Pathan and Asish Nehra saw their  economy rates suffer badly, while Ajit Agarkar was quite atrocious. In recent times, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh have both had very poor outings with the ball against the arch enemy.

India versus Pakistan ODIs – the way Indian bowlers have raised their games

Indian Bowlers

Career

Against Pakistan

Scaling up for Ind-Pak

Wkts

Ave

Eco Rate

Wkts

Ave

Eco Rate

Diff in Ave

Diff in ER

RMH Binny

77

29.35

4.58

12

21.08

4.32

28.18%

5.68%

A Kumble

334

30.83

4.29

54

24.25

4.29

21.34%

0.00%

Maninder Singh

66

31.30

3.95

21

24.80

3.91

20.77%

1.01%

BKV Prasad

196

32.30

4.67

43

28.90

4.66

10.53%

0.21%

A Nehra

155

31.60

5.21

26

30.15

5.93

4.59%

-13.82%

N Kapil Dev

253

27.45

3.71

42

26.50

4.21

3.46%

-13.48%

M Prabhakar

157

28.87

4.27

20

29.50

4.51

-2.18%

-5.62%

J Srinath

315

28.08

4.44

54

30.68

5.04

-9.26%

-13.51%

RJ Shastri

129

36.04

4.21

24

39.70

4.53

-10.16%

-7.60%

IK Pathan

173

29.72

5.26

34

34.00

5.37

-14.40%

-2.09%

AB Agarkar

288

27.85

5.07

32

36.15

5.40

-29.80%

-6.51%

S Madan Lal

73

29.27

4.05

10

38.80

3.69

-32.56%

8.89%

Z Khan

269

30.11

4.95

28

40.85

5.64

-35.67%

-13.94%

C Sharma

67

34.86

4.94

7

51.85

4.99

-48.74%

-1.01%

Harbhajan Singh

255

33.52

4.29

14

57.21

4.88

-70.67%

-13.75%

As far as the Pakistan bowlers are concerned, we find some incredible improvement on the part of Aaqib Javed and Naved-ul-Hasan, while Imran Khan and Saeed Ajmal have become even greater with the ball. In these matches even Azhar Mahmood was transformed from ordinary to more than useful with a decent average and superb economy rate. Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram  and Shoaib Akhtar were perhaps slightly less potent than normal in taking wickets, but they always became a wee bit more stingy in giving away runs. And while Saqlain Mushtaq shows a 12% downturn, it is because of his exceptional overall average of 21.78, which makes his 24.38 against India less brilliant in comparison but brilliant nonetheless.

Pakistan Bowlers

Career

Against India

Scaling up for Ind-Pak

Runs

Ave

Eco Rate

Runs

Ave

Eco Rate

Diff in Ave

Diff in ER

Mushtaq Ahmed

161

33.29

4.26

24

22.66

4.97

31.93%

-16.67%

Aaqib Javed

182

31.43

4.28

54

24.64

4.45

21.60%

-3.97%

Naved-ul-Hasan

110

29.28

5.57

33

23.69

5.68

19.09%

-1.97%

Azhar Mahmood

123

39.13

4.62

32

31.75

3.91

18.86%

15.37%

Saeed Ajmal

182

22.24

4.14

21

18.19

4.12

18.21%

0.48%

Imran Khan

182

26.61

3.89

35

22.25

3.85

16.38%

1.03%

Waqar Younis

416

23.84

4.68

37

24.48

4.62

-2.68%

1.28%

Wasim Akram

502

23.52

3.89

60

25.15

3.73

-6.93%

4.11%

Shoaib Akhtar

241

24.70

4.75

41

26.78

4.59

-8.42%

3.37%

Saqlain Mushtaq

288

21.78

4.29

57

24.38

4.52

-11.94%

-5.36%

Shoaib Malik

141

36.36

4.54

22

42.31

5.38

-16.36%

-18.50%

Abdul Razzaq

268

31.53

4.67

35

39.85

5.05

-26.39%

-8.14%

Mohammad Sami

121

28.52

4.94

21

37.85

6.04

-32.71%

-22.27%

Abdul Qadir

132

26.16

4.06

16

38.43

4.74

-46.90%

-16.75%

Umar Gul

173

28.70

5.15

19

44.68

5.97

-55.68%

-15.92%

Shahid Afridi

376

33.91

4.62

38

59.21

5.03

-74.61%

-8.87%

Modern medium pacers in Umar Gul and Mohammad Sami do have their figures spoilt in these matches, and that is consistent with the improved performances of the Indian batsmen during the last few years. However, most interesting are the cases of the three leg-spinners in the list, Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed and Shahid Afrifdi.

Qadir’s ODI record is quite brilliant for a spinner, but the Indian batsmen have always played him extremely well. Mushtaq became a pointedly more wicket taking bowler against the Indians, but his economy  rate suffered a lot, indicating that the batsmen backed themselves to take risks against him – perhaps tired of being relentlessly pinged by the pace attack. The worst affected is perhaps Afridi, whose numbers are quite pathetic against Indians.

In conclusion, one can perhaps say that :

  • In the past Pakistan batsmen have raised their performances in these clashes more successfully than the Indians
  • Some Indian bowlers did scale up from time to time but their efforts were generally neutralised by other bowlers getting severe stick in these matches
  • Some Pakistanis metamorphosed into much better bowlers against India while several greats have more or less turned in decent performances
  • Indians have attacked the Pakistan leg-spinners, and have been immensely successful against Qadir and Afridi
  • The modern day Indian batsmen seem to have shrugged off the past baggage and have dominated some of the current day Pakistan bowlers

We cannot really conclude from this that the upcoming game will be a well-balanced thriller, but there are enough reasons to expect one.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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