Jon Holland took a battering in Dubai, as Pakistan racked up a strong first innings total. Ben Jones analyses how for Sarfraz’s side, this was the result of a plan coming together.
If you’re a spinner, in an Asian Test, you’re going to have to bowl a lot of overs. That’s a given. But you’re also expected to be the main threat, to be the containing option, to lead the attack. For touring spinners, from nations where they are usually the second or third change, it’s a sudden thrust into the limelight that can be hard to cope with.
Indeed, Jon Holland has not coped well with being thrust. Stood out in the glaring sun of Dubai, he has dealt with a tough situation badly. His first innings figures of 1-126 make for grim reading, and are historically at the bleak end of the scale – only three spinners have conceded more runs in the first innings of a Dubai Test (one them, incidentally, being Nathan Lyon in 2014).
The issue for Australia was that Pakistan made a concerted effort decided to take Holland apart. It was a clear strategy to attack the second spinner, to try and hit him out of the attack, as shown by the difference in attacking shot percentages between batsmen facing Lyon and those facing Holland.
What’s more, the strategy was effective. No bowler drew fewer play-and-misses than Holland did, doing so with just 1% of his deliveries; no bowler had a higher economy rate in the innings; no bowler conceded more runs.
Pre-series, Pakistan have clearly identified that Holland is a bowler they can bully, by coming down the track and hitting him off his length. They came down the track to 14% of his deliveries, compared to 9% for Lyon and an average of just 6% for all spinners in the UAE. Down they came, time after time, scoring 58 runs just with that option, shimmying down and hitting him straight back where the ball came from.
In this regard, you have to credit Pakistan’s research staff. Holland hasn’t played a huge amount at the international level, but his record against charging batsman is exceptionally poor. Indeed, no spinner since the start of 2015 has a worse bowling average when batsman come down to them. It’s an excellent option that Pakistan have exploited emphatically.
Arguably what’s the most impressive thing about the execution of the plan was that they continued to attack Holland even after Azhar Ali had fallen to him. After Azhar holed out to Starc at the very end of Day One, we could have seen the Pakistan batsmen go back into their shell, but eleven times more they charged down the pitch, refusing to be cowed by the dismissal. It’s one thing devising a plan, following it to the letter then abandoning it once it appears to fail, but it’s quite another to keep going, to trust in the methods and the research, and succeed once more.
Holland didn’t help himself, of course. He bowled far, far too full, with a whopping 46% of his deliveries pitching full of what would be considered a “good” length for a spinner, well above Lyon’s figure of 33%. By pushing the ball so far up, he removed any sense of doubt in the Pakistan batsmen’s mind. He also only varied his pace within a range of 12kph, compared to Lyon’s 20kph. It is harsh to measure Holland against his more illustrious teammates, but within this context the difference in class between the two Aussie spinners was clear. Lyon’s figures seem harsh; Holland’s almost seem to flatter.
Regardless, Pakistan’s ability to take apart Australia’s second spinner has limited the effect of the tourists’ stronger performances. Peter Siddle’s valiant bowling of 29 overs, taking three wickets with an astonishingly good economy of just 2rpo should have been the backbone to a strong bowling performance for the team as a whole, but the pressure was only ever at one end. If Tim Paine is going to marshal his side into competing in this series then he needs to find a way of building genuine pressure at both ends, and that means helping Holland find a way of negating the charging Pakistanis. They need to get it sorted before the next Test – or ideally before the second innings.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.