India’s victory was built on some stunning bowling with the new ball, something we have come to associate with their opponents. Ben Jones analyses a game decided in the first ten overs.
Billed as the latest instalment of one of sport’s greatest rivalries, yesterday’s Asia Cup contest between India and Pakistan ended up as a bit of a damp squib. India recorded the win, by their largest victory margin against Pakistan in terms of balls remaining, and much of the match was devoid of tension or thrill. However, this was all a result of the passage of play which began the match; it wasn’t a game where you could miss the first 15 minutes.
India’s new ball bowling wasn’t blistering (it was slower than Pakistan’s), relentlessly attacking (they drew fewer false shots than Pakistan) or even particularly aggressive. What it was, was immensely accurate, controlled bowling. Yesterday, 48% of India’s seam bowling in the first ten overs was on both a good line and a good length, offering the Pakistan openers no room to breathe.
The opening bowlers weren’t as aggressive as they have been. 13% of Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s P1 deliveries against Hong Kong were full. Against Pakistan, that figure dropped to just 3%. Given that he was finding less swing (0.6° compared to 0.9° in the previous match), he pulled his length back, looking to contain rather than to attack.
Jasprit Bumrah, India’s main new ball wicket-taker in recent times as shown in the scatter above, took a different tack. He actually bowled fuller yesterday than he typically does in the first ten overs (33% of his deliveries were full, compared to his career average of 18%), but targeted the stumps more than usual – normally 12.4% of his P1 deliveries would have gone on to hit the stumps, but yesterday that figure was a remarkable 25%. On a slower, lower pitch than most around the world, Bumrah wasn’t allowing the opening batsmen chance to watch the ball sit up, and batter it to the boundary. He was keeping them on their toes.
For both Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah, their respective strategies bore almost immediate dividends. At the start of the match, Pakistan’s WinViz was 56%. However that strangled start, prompted by the excellent opening overs, had still only reduced that to 54% after two overs. The slow start caused undue panic, pushed Imam-ul-Haq into thinking that he needed to attack immediately, and the unerring accuracy of the Indian seamers meant that no bad balls were there to punish. The wicket of Imam reduced Pakistan’s WinViz to 47%. The imagined run-rate pressure paid for both him and his opening partner Fakhar Zaman, both falling whilst trying to attack good balls. By bowling defensively, limiting the Pakistan openers’ opportunities to score, Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah removed their own need to bowl attacking deliveries.
Imagined or not, that run-rate pressure was not a tool Pakistan’s new ball bowlers could use. Instead, they were forced into bowling ‘attacking’ lines; 73% of India’s seam bowling in the first ten overs was in the channel outside off-stump; for Pakistan, it was 53%. Without the luxury of runs on the board, or the freedom of bowling first, Shinwari and Amir were forced into throwing the ball out wide, trying to draw a loose shot from Rohit Sharma or Shikhar Dhawan. They were forced into trying to make a wicket happen, rather than waiting for the batsmen to make a mistake.
All of which makes Sarfraz Ahmed’s decision at the toss more puzzling. Of course, Pakistan are a bowling side, and general wisdom dictates that you will ideally use your stronger suit in the second innings, but the Dubai pitch was tired. Pakistan’s new ball attack is as incisive as any in the world, and it’s not beyond comprehension that if Sarfraz had opted to bowl first then this match could have been the exact inverse.
Regardless, India will be enormously pleased with the way they smothered Pakistan’s powerful top order. It bodes well for the next phase of their World Cup planning that their style is less reliant on helpful conditions than other contenders, and makes them more of an all-round attack when combined with the wrist-spinners in the middle overs. That’s the template they should follow.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.