Saturday 24 December 2011

So How Good is Zaheer Khan really?

Many people, myself included have said that India are rely on a good performance from Zaheer Khan in order to do well in Australia.

So I thought I'd look at his career, and see how well he's actually done.

Over his career he has averaged 31.78 which puts him 208th out of the 448 bowlers to have bowled more than 450 overs in Test cricket. This is somewhat underwhelming, putting him in the same region as Daryl Tuffey and Andre Nel. While both of these were good bowlers, they were hardly player that you expect to regularly win their team a series.

But Zaheer has had a couple of distinct disadvantages, but also one advantage.

1. India don't have a huge quantity of quality pace bowlers, so he was possibly picked before he was ready, and had to play when he was out of form, rather than in for example South Africa or England where a player has to be bowling very well to just make the side.

2. India play a large quantity of their cricket in Asian conditions, which are not suited for pace bowling.

3. Zaheer Khan has not had to bowl against Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Ghambir or Laxman. India's batsmen have tormented bowlers from outside South Africa over the last 10 years.

So to fully assess his ability, we need to filter the results.

Here are some indicators of where he fits in:

Pace bowlers in Asia, 2008-2011 (min 500 deliveries)

DW Steyn94621.3038.5
M Ntini51524.6048.0
KMDN Kulasekara82226.2248.4
Junaid Khan31226.5854.5
SR Watson91928.6868.1
A Flintoff2729.4272.0
Z Khan207829.4853.5
IE O'Brien41429.6451.2
R Rampaul31029.7059.7
Aizaz Cheema31133.4558.0
I Sharma236834.6662.6
KAJ Roach51334.7654.3
Umar Gul124135.8560.3
T Thushara72036.5560.3
CS Martin51437.4272.4
M Morkel92437.5066.9
TA Copeland3637.83108.0
DJG Sammy81538.4675.6

All pace bowlers outside of Asia (min 500 deliveries)

NameMatchesWicketsAverageStrike rate
VD Philander32412.3721.7
JDP Oram71718.0561.7
DAJ Bracewell31619.2537.8
WPUJC Vaas21219.7543.6
TT Bresnan83421.8245.0
DW Steyn2413321.9639.5
CT Tremlett73624.2247.2
RJ Harris62424.5044.6
RJ Sidebottom125024.6253.4
ST Finn104625.4138.4
Mohammad Asif125525.5051.5
SR Watson203525.7448.1
P Kumar62725.8159.6
Z Khan62526.5650.1
JM Anderson4117426.9752.9
DE Bollinger114527.0050.1
Mohammad Amir114527.1753.0
CB Mpofu31227.7551.5
M Morkel249528.2550.8
B Lee104928.3852.9
SR Clark103328.5160.9
KM Jarvis31329.6949.6
MG Johnson3515230.0252.1

All bowlers last 2 years (minimum 450 overs)

NameMatchesWicketsAverageStrike rate
DW Steyn158320.4438.0
Mohammad Amir73322.3345.7
Z Khan115322.7142.4
TT Bresnan83822.9248.5
SR Watson173323.6650.3
JM Anderson199223.6849.5
CT Tremlett73624.2247.2
P Kumar62725.8159.6
M Morkel156126.0850.1
Saeed Ajmal126526.8162.2
ST Finn125026.9241.4
Mohammad Asif83327.3655.1
GP Swann229128.4157.0
SCJ Broad175929.0861.3
R Rampaul103129.8363.5
FH Edwards83229.9047.3
Abdur Rehman104530.7373.6

Away games against Teams other than India, Bangladesh or Zimbabwe (min 150 overs bowled)

NameMatchesWicketsAverageStrike rate
Mohammad Asif125525.5051.5
P Kumar62725.8159.6
Shakib Al Hasan83526.5156.0
DW Steyn104727.8948.2
Mohammad Amir145129.0956.2
PM Siddle114029.5556.6
Saeed Ajmal146830.5168.6
Z Khan93330.7854.6
GP Swann125531.1466.5
M Morkel124431.2257.6
BW Hilfenhaus103731.3559.6
JM Anderson155731.5459.3
DL Vettori82932.1774.9
Danish Kaneria83634.3358.0
Abdur Rehman83434.3882.8
SCJ Broad133534.6575.4
MG Johnson207035.1460.0

We can see that he is near the top, but not at to top for most of these measures. He has certainly shown that he can do well. The most interesting thing for me here though is how well Praveen Kumar has done. He may well be a big loss in this series. Given that Ishant does not even figure in the last 3 tables, it is not unreasonable to expect that India are very reliant on Zaheer.

The final stat I want to look at is influence that a player having a good day has on his team. This is a difficult thing to measure, as a bowler can bowl really well (like Peter Siddle at the 'Gabba) and create so much pressure that loose bowling at the other end gets wickets. However I've looked at bowlers who have taken 5 wicket bags in 5 or more matches in the last 5 years, and seen the impact they have had on their team.

To quantify this I have used football scoring (3 points for a win 1 point for a draw) for matches, and found what percentage of available points a team has got over that time, and then in matches where each player has taken a big haul of wickets, and finally I have divided them. As a result we find out how much better the team does when this bowler performs than when they don't.

Name5wi in Match5wi w-l-dTeam w-l-dInfluence
DL Vettori72-1-46-14-61.55
DW Steyn97-1-112-8-71.53
Z Khan53-0-217-11-131.41
Harbajhan Singh53-0-217-11-131.41
GP Swann107-0-318-9-111.40
JM Anderson75-0-220-9-121.38
MG Johnson74-2-117-14-91.24
FH Edwards61-3-23-14-141.12
Shakib Al Hasan91-8-01-12-21.00
HMRKB Herath62-2-28-7-121.00

We can see that Zaheer has a significant influence on his team. This is perhaps why we are expecting India to be reliant on Zaheer Khan. It will be intriguing to see how he performs.


  1. Not to mention, he has fought injury concerns throughout his career...

  2. I think that there are not many fast bowlers who haven't had significant times off injured. I can't think of the last quick bowler who played 6 years without missing a few tests through injury. Perhaps McGrath managed it at some point in his career, but even he missed about 20% of the tests that Australia played in his career.

  3. While going through those lists, the one thing that hit me immediately was Zaheer Khan's strike rate over the last 2 years - 42.4. Only 2 bowlers in that list have better strike rates - Dale Steyn (who has had 9 Tests in that period in South Africa) and Steven Finn (all his Tests in that period have been at venues known to assist pace bowling, save perhaps one at Adelaide).

    In contrast, only 3 of Zaheer's Tests in that period were outside the sub-continent, which includes the Lord's one where he hobbled out after just 13.3 overs. While we know that he's become effective at working the batsmen over, that strike rate over the last 2 years show that he's also very efficient at it. It's a big thing to work the batsmen out so quickly in the sub-continent.

    Mykuhl, to know the true value of Zaheer Khan, you should maybe try an analysis checking that numbers of other pacers in the team in his presence and in his absence. And then try and compare if other premier bowlers of recent times like Steyn and Anderson have the same effect on their peers. The slight problem here is that I don't remember Steyn and Anderson missing out on too many Test matches. But nevertheless, an analysis of the effect of Zaheer Khan on other Indian pacers (particularly Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth) will definitely be an interesting read!