CricViz analysis of the fourth Test between India and England in Mumbai.
Kohli’s major masterclass
According to ball-tracking data this pitch turned more than any other in the series so far with average deviation of 5.04° across the five days and Adil Rashid recording his highest average deviation of the series at 5.90°. Yet despite the extravagant spin Virat Kohli scored 235 (302) including 131 (209) against England’s spinners alone.
Speaking at the post-match presentation Kohli said that his plan was to “get stuck in and spend some time in the middle…the advantage we had was that England had a spinner less and those two guys [Rashid and Moeen Ali] really got tired by the end of it and we knew that bad balls were going to come our way.”
Lo and behold Kohli’s innings was marked by a steady acceleration of scoring rate, indicating that as England’s bowlers tired, he capitalised. Kohli took 111 balls to get from nought to 50, 76 from 51 to 100, 59 from 101 to 150 and 56 from 151 to 200.
The restraint displayed by Kohli early on in his innings was particularly impressive: he spent 46 balls in the 40s and hit just one boundary between his 29th and 133rd ball; his most frequent mode of scoring was to “work” the ball. Rarely can there have been a batsman with Kohli’s range of shots exhibit the stoicism he did here.
As impressive as his patience was his ability to accelerate his scoring rate on a pitch exhibiting sharp turn and bounce. He had clear plans to counter England’s two front line spinners, reading the length quickly and going clearly forward or back.
Against Rashid he looked to get forward and smother the bounce, of which there was plenty, by using his powerful wrists to get on top of the ball. However, he scored 17 more runs on the leg side, against the spin, than he did on the off side, with the spin. This was in part due to Rashid’s inaccuracy in dropping numerous balls short, allowing Kohli to go back and turn the ball away; but it was also due to Kohli’s brilliance, who twice swept boundaries out of the rough well outside leg stump and on occasion used his fast hands and wrists to whip the ball through mid-wicket: he hit six of his eight Rashid boundaries on the leg side.
Against Moeen who bowled no delivery other than an off break for the whole match, Kohli was more inclined to go back and use the depth of the crease to adjust to the turn and bounce, before working the ball away on the leg side. Kohli scored 65% of his 49 runs against Moeen on the leg side with 30 of them coming in singles; the bounce and turn on offer discouraged Kohli from driving away from his body with the ball spinning back in and he played just eight scoring shots on the off side against the off spinner.
England’s spinners out-bowled
The most impressive thing about Kohli’s innings, on a pitch offering such severe turn and bounce, was its duration. However, although some of that can be attributed to Kohli’s brilliance it was also due to England’s inability to maintain pressure and bowl wicket-taking balls. Yet again they struggled to bowl consistent lengths, over-pitching 11% of their deliveries compared to just 6% for India.
As well as bowling inaccurately, this match shed more light on the gulf in skill and intelligence between the two sets of bowlers. While our system categorised 100% of Moeen deliveries as off breaks, 7% of Ravichandran Ashwin’s deliveries were classed as variations (carrom balls and top spinners). Furthermore, Ashwin’s interview after play on day one illustrated the thought that goes into his bowling, the likes of which we are yet to hear from England’s spinners.
Of course, it did not help that England missed numerous chances in the field, but it was perhaps more telling that they created as few as they did on a pitch as helpful as this.
Kohli, and Murali Vijay (strike rate 48.22) and Jayant Yadav (50.98), were able to play with the patience they did largely because they knew that bad balls would eventually come, and possibly that unplayable deliveries would be few and far between. For England against better bowlers and especially in their second innings when the pitch was more worn, such a mindset was lined with far greater risk. Unless in possession of the most resolute of defences, as demonstrated by Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed in Vizag perhaps, against India’s supremely accurate spinners on wearing pitches, attack, albeit calculated and highly skilled, is arguably the best form of defence.
Joe Root demonstrated this in his second innings when he scored 40% of England’s runs from 33% of their deliveries.
Root’s counter-attack was largely insulated against risk by excellent shot selection and clever wristwork and footwork. In his innings he hit six boundaries against the spin, all into areas with no fielders: three v Jadeja, swept through the vacant mid-wicket region and three v Ashwin, two driven through the covers when he had come down the pitch and one reverse swept through backward point. Kohli, in leaving the gaps, was asking Root to hit the ball there; Root, supremely skilled, diminished the risk with intelligent cricket.
When sweeping full balls v Jadeja, with no men out, Root only needed to make a good connection for the shot to be in his favour. He committed wholly to attack each time and made sure, on all three occasions, that he rolled his wrists over the ball on impact, allaying the chance of a top edge were the ball to bounce more than expected. Against Ashwin, Root’s footwork down the pitch ensured he met one ball on the full and smothered the spin of another. For the reverse sweep he stayed tall, and kept his hands high, allowing for adjustment to extra bounce, and again, he committed to the shot.
Root’s innings will not be remembered like Kohli’s, and nor should it, it needed to be longer, but for 112 deliveries England’s number three played an innings of the very highest quality.