Warne the king in the Emerald Isle

Warne was the best practitioners of a particular style of bowling that posed a lot of questions to the batsmen, confused and outwitted them.-GETTY IMAGES

For a leg-spinner, success in Sri Lanka has been few and far between. Australia’s Shane Warne (48 wickets) tops the list, followed by Anil Kumble (30 wickets) of India. By G. Viswanath.

Thirty-eight leg-spinners have bowled on Sri Lankan soil in Test matches, and on top of the list is the redoubtable Shane Warne. The Australian was one of a kind and a clever practitioner of the art of leg-spin, which the legendary Prince Kumar Ranjitsinhji described in his 1897 treatise, ‘The Jubilee Book of Cricket’, as “artificial rather than natural, and is much more difficult to produce than off-break.”

Warne played nine Test matches in Sri Lanka, from 1992 to 2004, and took 48 wickets at an incredible average of 20.46. Recently Pakistan’s Yasir Shah took 24 wickets at an impressive 19.33 in three Test matches.

On his first tour of Sri Lanka, Warne was at the receiving end, his three wickets in two Tests costing 52.67. The Aussie came into his own in the subsequent three tours; in fact, he captured 26 wickets at 20.04 in three Test matches of the 2004 series.

For a leg-spinner, success on Sri Lankan soil has been few and far between. India’s Anil Kumble, with 30 wickets in nine Tests (played between 1993 and 2008) at 44.63, is the second best.

Warne and Kumble were the best practitioners of a particular style of bowling that posed a lot of questions to the batsmen, confused and outwitted them. Yet, the two leg-spinners were different, with the Australian stealing the thunder with his sleight of hand that conjured up a variety of deliveries accompanied by flight and accuracy. Warne teased and tricked the Lankan batsmen to win five Test matches for Australia in Sri Lanka.

The other leg-spinners who have demonstrated their wares with some success in Sri Lanka are Zimbabwe’s Paul Strang (16 wickets in 6 Tests at 28.75), Pakistan’s Danish Kaneria (15 in three Tests at 27.40) and Mushtaq Ahmed (17 in 6 Tests at 40.53). For the home team, Upul Chandana has taken 17 wickets in 11 matches at 50.24. In all, 25 of the 38 leg-spinners who have bowled in Sri Lanka have taken 229 wickets at 39.72, and of these only 105 came in a winning cause.

Visiting teams have rarely placed their faith on a leg-spinner in Sri Lanka, with Warne, Kumble, Kaneria and Shah being the exceptions. For Australia, besides Warne, Stuart MacGill (two Tests) has also bowled in Sri Lanka. Others who have bowled leg-spin in Sri Lanka are: Alok Kapali and Mohammad Ashraful (Bangladesh), Nathan Astle (New Zealand), Shah, Mushtaq Ahmed, Kaneria, Abdul Qadir, Younis Khan, Azhar Ali, Shahid Afridi, Ahmed Shehzad and Imran Farhat (Pakistan), Jacques Rudolph and Imran Tahir (South Africa), Dinanath Ramnarine, S. Chanderpaul and R. Sarwan (West Indies), Paul Strang, Adam Huckle, H. Masakadza, Murray Goodwin (Zimbabwe) and Chandana, Somachandra de Silva, Kaushal Lokuarachchi, Asoka de Silva, Chamara Silva, Malinga Bandara, Kithuruwan Vithanage, Sanjeeva Weerasinghe, Roshan Guneratne and Seekkuge Prasanna (Sri Lanka).

The first Indian leg-spinner to bowl in an official Test in Sri Lanka was Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. He went without a wicket (0 for 90 and 0 for 27) at the P. Sara Oval in September 1985. Sairaj Bahutule played one Test in 2001 and his one wicket came for a pricey 101 runs. Sachin Tendulkar bowled 10 overs in 12 matches and conceded 22 runs. So Kumble remains India’s best leg-spinner in Sri Lanka, and the second best is Amit Mishra, who took four wickets (1 for 140 in 42 overs and 3 for 47 in 17.2 overs) in the third Test of the 2010 series that India won by five wickets.

India’s success rate with off-spinners in Sri Lanka has also been dismal. The selectors have chosen Ravichandran Ashwin, who has not played a Test match in Sri Lanka, and Harbhajan Singh, who has taken 25 wickets at 46.92 in nine Tests (from 1999 to 2010), for the upcoming tour.

Virender Sehwag has the best figures with seven wickets in six matches at 32.00. Harbhajan’s best effort came in 2008 when he took 16 wickets at 28.13 in three Test matches. The spinners’ poor performance explains India’s modest overall result against Sri Lanka: 18 played, four won, six lost and eight draw. When compared with the spinners, the performance of the Indian seamers is slightly better with Zaheer Khan (18), Kapil Dev (16), Venkatesh Prasad (14), Chetan Sharma (14), Ishant Sharma (13), Manoj Prabhakar (12), Jawagal Srinath (8) and eight others accounting for 120 wickets at 38.86 apiece.