33. Second Innings Specialists

"Second innings Shami" might be a meme, but he is not the only current Indian fast bowler who excels in the second innings

Mohammed Shami is famous for being a “second innings specialist”. Time and again, in the second innings of Test matches, Shami has taken a bagful of wickets. Some party-poopers have pointed out that he has taken a similar number of wickets in the first and second innings of Tests, but a cursory look at statistics such as bowling averages or strike rates show that Shami is indeed far better in second innings than in the first.

Incredibly, he’s not the only fast bowler in the current Indian Test team to have numbers lop-sided in favour of second innings. The difference in Umesh Yadav’s bowling averages between the first and second innings surpasses even Shami’s. Ishant Sharma’s difference is also not so far behind. Among the current Indian fast-bowling regulars, only Jasprit Bumrah has similar numbers in both the first and second innings, and that’s because he’s a monster at that.

For good measure, even India’s current spinners are better in the first innings than the first.

Among current fast and fast-medium bowlers (based on ESPNCricinfo’s classification), Umesh Yadav has the highest difference between first and second innings averages - his second innings average is 11.5 lower than the first. Shami is in third position, with England’s Chris Woakes slotting in between (we’ve only considered bowlers who have bowled at least 1000 balls in each of the first and second innings. Also we’ve only considered bowlers with a bowling average in each innings under 40. This is to exclude part-timers).

Australia’s Peter Siddle has, among current fast bowlers, by far the worst difference in averages between the first and second innings. After him there are three Kiwis, all of whom are playing in the ongoing Test against England - Colin de Grandhomme, Neil Wagner and Tim Southee. I was surprised to see Wagner’s name at this end of the list because I’d somehow assumed he was very good in the second innings. The numbers suggest otherwise!

The story with strike rates is pretty much the same, except that by far the bowler with the biggest difference in first and second innings strike rates is West Indies captain Jason Holder. Siddle and de Grandhomme again bring up the rear. For the sake of completeness, here is the table.

Have Indian fast bowlers always been better in the second innings than the first, or are we at a unique point in time when India’s fast bowling attack is full of bowlers with such numbers? We will restrict our analysis to bowlers classified by ESPN Cricinfo as “fast” or “medium”, and those who have bowled at least 1000 balls each in the first and second innings of Tests.

The first thing to notice is that there have only been 19 fast and medium Indian bowlers in all time (including Dattu Phadkar, who also bowled offspin) who have bowled at least 1000 balls in first and second innings of Tests.

Secondly, India has always had fast bowlers who have been better in the second innings than in the first. However, the top three on the list (Agarkar, Ghavri and Madan Lal) make it to the top only because they were utterly rubbish in the first innings of Tests. And if we leave them out, we are at an unprecedented time in terms of having three fast bowlers who are so much better in the second innings than in the first.

Finally, look at Jasprit Bumrah’s numbers. Hopefully the conditional formatting makes them stand out. It is early days in his career, and he is currently injured, but please stare at those numbers for a minute at least, and look at them in the context of the numbers around them.

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