I belong to the (old) school of thought that says if you want to win a Test match, you first pick up a bowling attack that can get you twenty wickets before picking up the batsmen who can score 500 runs.
So, IMO, a better bowling attack is the one that has a "better" potential to take twenty wickets in a Test.
I made this point during the recent Ashes and showed how England had an edge over Australia in the bowling department and hence were better placed to take wickets. And in hindsight, it wasn't such a bad analysis :-)
Now, our very own "Bhai bhai Ashes" is being billed as the contest between the Pakistani bowlers and the Indian batsmen, thus giving the impression that the Pakistan has a "better" bowling attack than India.
Question is; is it? Lets see...
To determine which is the better, I have analysed both bowling attacks based on their "Wicket Taking Potential" (WTP, to coin my own abbreviation), which is the simple addition of the Wickets per match statistic of their front line bowlers.
I have assumed that the bowling attack for India will consist of Pathan, Kumble, Harbhajan and Zaheer (sorry Agarkar) and Pakistan will go with Akhtar, Sami, Naved and Kaneria.
Also, to get a better spread for analysis, I have determined the WTP based on the records from the last 5, 10, 15, 20 Tests and entire career. (Except in the case of Naved, who has only played in 7 Tests and Pathan, in 18).
Here it is...
As you can see, the Indians, on any given 5 days, can take about 3 more wickets that the Pakistanis thus making them a "better" attack.
Have I missed something here? Ah, yes! While I can chose to ignore part time bowlers like Malik, Shewag, Tendulkar and Yuvraj (ok Ganguly as well), Afridi is too good a bowler to ignore, as India found out at Bangalore last year.
So what does his inclusion do to the Pakistani WTP? This...
Though India still have their noses ahead, the difference becomes negligible. However, the balance now tilts in favour of Pakistan because (again old school thought) a five man bowling attack is better than four.
Now, this WTP analysis ignores an important aspect that also determines the quality of a bowling attack. It is the bowling average (number of runs given per wicket). Needless to say, if both bowling attacks have the same WTP, the one which gives away less runs wins.
I have used the bowling averages to determine the potential runs a bowling attack is likely to give away while taking 20 wickets, i.e. I have multiplied the bowling average with wickets per Test for each bowler, added it for the entire attack and normalised it to twenty wickets (for example, if India gives 340 runs to get 17 wickets, they will give 400 runs to get 20).
So how do both the bowling attacks compare in this department?
So no matter what the pundits say, reverse swing or not, I think the Indian bowling attack is miles ahead of Pakistan.
Having said that, when Akhtar steams in to bowl to Sehwag, all this counts for nothing...
postscript: Sometimes you don't need 20 wickets to win as the Aussies demonstrated today. In fact, this is the 11th time that a team has declared in the 3rd innings of a Test and lost. And the third time when a team has declared both its innings and lost (including the famous famous Cronje game at the centurion when South Africa scored 248/8 and then forfeited one innings along with England, and England scored 251 for 8 to win).