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Stats Corner: The Killer K's

By Gaurang
February 4 2005

The latest Stats Corner feature takes a look at the "Killer K's", one of the most underrated pace bowling combinations in cricket that seems to be ignored by many cricketing historians and pundits... The old adage is fast bowlers hunt in pairs. The names of some of the deadliest pairs of fast bowlers the world has seen rolls off the tongue of even a novice cricket fan, including: Miller and Lindwall, Trueman and Statham, Hall and Griffith, Lillee and Thomson, Roberts and Holding, Imran and Sarfraz, Waqar and Wasim, Ambrose and Walsh, Donald and Pollock, McGrath and Gillespie among others. One set of names missing from this distinguished list of matched hunters is one of the most underrated pairs of opening bowlers in Test cricket history: The “Killer Ks” of India, Kapil (Dev) and Karsan (Ghavri).

At first glance they do not seem to belong in this distinguished group, but when one analyzes their sheer effectiveness, a different conclusion is reached. The most vital job of any pair of opening bowlers is to provide early breakthroughs. The quicker the openers are back in the pavilion the better the chances are to prevent the opposition from putting up a sizeable total. An early breakthrough also eases the job of the other bowlers who can often then bowl to batsmen new to the crease. Of course merely taking the first wicket or two is not enough and continuing to take wickets through out the innings is also vital.

Until Kapil Dev emerged on the scene in 1978, India often opened its bowling with one genuine opening bowler and one part-timer, or if the pitch even remotely looked like helping spin, with two part-timers. The opening bowlers were there merely to remove the shine for members of India’s legendary Spin Quartet who were supposed to be the wicket takers. A wicket falling to an opening bowler was treated as a rare, unexpected, though always welcome, oddity.

Prior to 1978, Karsan Ghavri or Madan Lal, the two genuine opening bowlers, (though because of their ability with the bat they were looked on to do more than just open the bowling), often opened the bowling with the likes of Eknath Solkar and Sunil Gavaskar, but almost never with each other. The Indian tour of Pakistan in 1978 was the turning point in this arrangement. A combination of their own advancing age and declining fitness, lifeless shirt-front wickets, and a line-up of formidable players of spin, hastened the decline of the Spin Quartet, who were never the force they once were after that series. The mauling they received at the hands of the Pakistani batsmen, none more so than the brutally graceful Zaheer Abbas, meant that India had to seek a new cutting edge to its bowling.

It was at this juncture that the “Killer Ks” stepped into the limelight. Starting with the 3rd Test in Karachi in 1978, Karsan Ghavri and Kapil Dev, shared the new ball for India in twenty seven consecutive Test matches. Over that period of time they captured 192 wickets at a rate of 7.11 wickets per match, while restricting the opening partnership for the opposition to a paltry 28 runs on the average, and dismissing at least one opposing opener with the score in single digits almost one-third of the time, providing India with a readymade solution to the decline of the Spin Quartet.

However, what makes them utterly unique in the history of Test cricket is not that they took so many wickets as a pair, while providing the spinners, including surviving members of the fading Spin Quartet as well as the emerging Dilip Doshi and Shivlal Yadav, with such magnificent support, but rather that they did something that none of the other famous pairs of opening bowlers in Test cricket history ever managed to do.

In the twenty seven consecutive matches they shared the new ball for India, they NEVER allowed a single opening partnership of a hundred runs or more. In fact they never allowed an opening partnership to reach three figures in all the matches where they shared the new ball.

How difficult is such a feat to achieve? It is one of the most difficult feats in Test matches and I can say with a fair bit of certainty that I will never see it being repeated in my lifetime. Lest the reader have doubts, let me illustrate the magnitude of the task any pair of opening bowlers who may seek to emulate the “Killer Ks” has before them and what odds they face.

The legendary pair of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson gave up 128 runs to the Pakistani duo of Sadiq Mohammad and Saeed Ahmed in their very first test opening the bowling together, and gave up another century partnership to Dennis Amiss and David Lloyd of England in their fourth Test together. Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller were helpless in their second test as an opening duo to prevent England’s Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook from registering a century opening stand. Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, after giving up 99 runs in their first Test to Australia’s Ian Redpath and Alan Turner, were unable to prevent the same combination from reaching 148 in the 4th Test that they spear headed the West Indies attack. A generation later fellow West Indians Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh allowed Englishmen Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton to reach 121 before being separated, in what was also their 4th Test leading the atttack. Imran and Sarfraz gave up an opening century stand to the West Indian duo of Roy Fredricks and Gordon Greenidge in their 5th Test together. Others of note include McGrath and Gillespie giving up 147 to West Indians Sherwin Campbell and Wavel Hinds in their 9th Match; Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith surrendering a mammoth 382 to Australians Bobby Simpson and Bill Lawry in their 10th match; Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis unable to separate New Zealanders Mark Greatbach and Blair Hartland before they reached three figures in their 10th match together; and Alan Donald and Shaun Pollock failing to prevent Englishmen Mark Butcher and Michael Atherton adding 179 before being separated in their 13th match leading South Africa’s attack.

And if you assume that it was the later bowlers who provided the break throughs in the case of the "Killer Ks", an analysis of the scorecards shows that except for a handful of occassions, it was one of either Kapil Dev or Karsan Ghavri who made the initial break through. Also contrary to what some people may assume the number of times either bowler provided the breakthrough is roughly equal. Figures of 114 wickets for 2846 runs for Kapil Dev and 78 wickets for 2757 runs for Karsan Ghavri during the twentyseven consecutive matches they opened the bowling, indicates a genuine partnership between the two “Killer Ks”.

Though neither was express in pace, they both swung the new ball, one away from the right hander with natural right arm outswing and one into the right hander with natural left arm outswing. Both also had the ability to cut the ball back in away from the direction of its natural outswing. Both also possessed the ability to surprise the batsman with a well directed and genuinely quick bouncer. It is no wonder that opening batsmen as talented as Geoffrey Boycott, Graham Gooch, Majid Khan, Sadiq Mohammad, Greame Wood and John Dyson, among others found themselves on ocassion unable to answer the searching questions posed to them by the “Killer Ks”.

The bottom line is that Kapil Dev and Karsan Ghavri went their entire career as new ball partners preventing the opposing team from reaching three figures without at least one, and often several wickets already down. This superb achievement is worthy of much more recognition and celebration. The irony of fate was that the “Killer Ks” came just as the Spin Quartet was rapidly declining. Clearly if India had a genuine opening bowling attack along with the Spin Quartet at its peak, India may have enjoyed even more success in Tests than it did during the 1970s and early 80s..

A final sad footnote to the story of the “Killer Ks” is the fact that Karsan Ghavri was a victim of zonal politics and was unceremoniously dumped after India’s tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1980. This was despite the fact that in his last 10 Tests, including the series in Australia against a full strength Australian team led by Greg Chappell, his bowling average of 32.33 was better than his career bowling average of 33.54. Ghavri’s wickets per match ratio was also higher in his last 10 matches, and he scalped 2 of his 4 career five wicket hauls in his last ten matches. Clearly this was not a bowler in decline. However, with Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandip Patil and later Ravi Shastri all indispensible members of the national team hailing from Bombay, Ghavri was the odd man out in the zonal horse-trading which saw successors such as Yograj Singh (father of Yuvraj), Madan Lal and Roger Binny, among others get the nod ahead of him to partner Kapil Dev.

That none of his successors had as long lasting or as successful a partnership with the young but fast maturing Superstar from Haryana as Ghavri did, can be seen as another instance when zonal quotas may have been detrimental to the interest of the national team. Ghavri even moved to represent Saurashtra in an attempt to get back into the zonal equation, but once he was dropped from the Indian team, he never was recalled. He ended his career as the first Indian left arm pace bowler to take over 100 Test wickets. Zaheer Khan recently joined him in that category, though Zaheer’s average and strike rate are not as impressive as that of one of India’s most under appreciated cricketers, Karsan Devji Ghavri.

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