CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde examines why India lost the Test series against England.
1) POOR PREPARATION (FOR THE BOWLERS)
Analysis by CricViz tentatively suggests that there is no significant correlation between quantity of red ball warm up balls faced by an away team and their batting average in the subsequent Test series. However, there is a slight correlation between quantity of red ball warm up overs bowled by an away team and their bowling average in the subsequent Test series. One possible explanation for this is that in warm-up matches the quality of opposition players can be quite poor – this is largely irrelevant for bowlers but for batsmen—who are facing the deliveries—it is more significant. India’s bowling was exceptional throughout most of the series but in the first Test at Edbgaston their lines were wide—50% on a good line was their lowest in any Test in the series—and in a low-scoring match even this small error proved costly – a mistake they may not have made with more warm-up overs under their belt than the 94 they bowled at Essex in India’s only warm-up match for the series.
Before the series record UK temperatures in June and July suggested this Test series would be played on dry pitches that would suit India’s spin-preference. However, a combination of inclement August weather and the exaggerated preparation of seam-friendly pitches produced conditions exceptionally suited to swing and seam bowling. Only three series since 2006 have seen greater average lateral movement for pace bowlers (swing and seam) than this series’ 2.07°. The conditions on day two at Lord’s were exceptionally difficult for batting. This has been an outlier series in an era of extreme conditions and has made an already mighty challenge even more difficult.
3) LOSING FOUR TOSSES
When the conditions are already loaded against a team, the toss—with the potential to mitigate those conditions—becomes even more significant. India have been very unlucky to lose all four tosses in the series – a twist of fate which has provided England with a significant advantage in all four Tests but particularly at Lord’s—where they exploited very helpful bowling conditions on day two—and at the Ageas Bowl—where they forced India to bat last on an uneven and spinning pitch.
4) INCONSISTENT SELECTION
The fact that India went 46 Tests without naming an unchanged team makes it clear that they have not been sure of their best team for a prolonged period of time. In the space of four Tests India dropped and then recalled Cheteshwar Pujara—arguably their strongest player against the moving ball; selected Kuldeep Yadav as a second spinner on a green-top at Lord’s; dropped Shikhar Dhawan after one Test and then recalled him at the expense of Murali Vijay and handed a Test debut to a 20 year-old wicket-keeper. India’s inconsistency of selection—particularly with the top-order batting—robbed their team of stability, betrayed a failure to understand the immense challenge posed by the conditions and made it difficult for their players to familiarise and improve in those conditions and against England’s bowlers.
5) KEY INJURIES
Admittedly, India’s selection was complicated by injuries to two key players. Bhuvneshwar Kumar—whose average swing of 1.28° is higher than any of India’s other bowling options—was ideally suited to English conditions but was ruled out after aggravating a back injury in the third ODI. Perhaps more significant was the injury to Wriddhiman Saha who was replaced by Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, who between them scored 64 runs at an average of 8.00. Saha has a good career record against significant swing and seam movement.
6) LACK OF BATTING DEPTH
In a series which saw the ball move enormously through the air and off the pitch the challenge of batting against the new ball was accentuated. Ball-tracking data shows how the ball moved significantly more in overs 1 to 40 than it did in overs 41 to 80. The enormous movement on offer in the first 40 overs should absolve the top order batsmen on either side from harsh criticism – batting in Test cricket doesn’t get much tougher than this.
In these challenging conditions both teams struggled similarly in the first 40 overs of the innings but England—with a deep batting order—were significantly more successful in overs 41 to 80 compared to India, whose inexperienced lower order struggled for form in unfamiliar conditions. It wasn’t necessarily that England batted better than India; it was simply that they had more batsmen – and specifically more batsmen to face the overs where the ball moved less.
The conditions for the fourth Test at the Ageas Bowl—with a dry pitch and clear skies—were conditions that assisted spin bowling and were the most suited to India in the series. Both their batting against spin and their spin bowling—traditionally considered their strength, let them down. Moeen Ali out-bowled R Ashwin and England out-batted India. Ashwin didn’t bowl particularly badly—he maintained control, conceding runs at 2.48 runs per over—but he didn’t bowl a wide enough, attacking, line nor was he as patient as Moeen who consistently hit a similar length. India needed wickets and Ashwin’s tighter line didn’t target the rough outside off stump regularly enough to cause England’s right-handers problems. Ashwin’s match figures of 3 for 124 were not good enough from a veteran of 62 Tests.
8) THE SELECTION OF HARDIK
This is a harsh judgement on a player who averaged 23 with the bat and 25 with the ball in a low-scoring series and was instrumental in India’s only victory at Trent Bridge. However, in a low-scoring series India arguably didn’t need the fifth bowling option provided by Hardik and did need additional batting in the lower-order, particularly after Saha’s injury. However, Hardik’s performance at Trent Bridge where he took 6 wickets and scored 70 runs served as a reminder as to why India keep selecting him and why he is worth sticking with. In this series alone India would probably have been better-equipped with Rahul or Karun Nair rather than Hardik at six; but persisting with a player of Hardik’s clear talents should benefit India in the long-run.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz Analyst @fwildecricket