Ahead of the first Test between India and Australia at Adelaide Oval tomorrow, Patrick Noone looks at how the characteristics of the venue might affect the match.
The first Test between Australia and India will be the first red ball match hosted at Adelaide Oval since India’s last visit in 2014. Since then, three day/night Tests have been played at the South Australian venue against New Zealand, South Africa and England, with the hosts prevailing on each occasion.
After the first of those matches, many believed that the pink ball and the floodlights helped to provide the seam bowlers with more swing than they could ordinarily have expected. Ball-tracking data bore out that perception, with the fast bowlers in that 2015 match between Australia and New Zealand finding an average of 0.79° of swing, far higher than the 0.59° that was on offer the previous year.
However, Adelaide Oval has reverted to type with 0.59° and 0.60° of swing on average in the two matches featuring South Africa and England, respectively. Therefore, apart from the 2015 anomaly, recent data would suggest that there is little difference between the pink ball and the red ball at this venue.
As such, India will know what to expect and seven of the eleven players who featured in their last match at Adelaide Oval are in the squad this time around. The 2014 clash was Virat Kohli’s first match as Indian Test captain and he made his mark on the game with twin hundreds, albeit in a losing cause.
That match took Kohli’s tally to three hundreds at Adelaide Oval after his 116 there in 2012 and the Indian skipper is ninth in the list of runs scored by visiting players, despite playing just two Tests there.
Kohli will likely climb the list and will have his sights set on becoming just the fourth visiting batsman to score 500 runs at Adelaide Oval, cementing the venue as his favourite overseas ground.
The bad news for Kohli and India is that the quality of Australia’s bowling attack will undoubtedly make runs hard to come by for the visitors. Plenty has been written already about the Big Three of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood but Adelaide Oval is where the latter two in particular come into their own. Of seamers to have taken ten wickets or more there, Starc and Hazlewood are fourth and fifth in the list of best averages at Adelaide Oval.
Adelaide Oval is Starc’s favourite ground in terms of bowling average while Hazlewood has only has a better record at Bellerive Oval in Hobart.
Meanwhile, the batsmen on both sides will have to counter the spin threat from Nathan Lyon and either Ravichandran Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja. Adelaide Oval is traditionally seen as one of Australia’s most spin-friendly venues with 33.8% of all balls ever bowled there delivered by spinners. Of the main Australian Test venues, only the Sydney Cricket Ground (34.6%) has seen a higher percentage of spin bowling.
The SCG is also the only Australian ground to have seen more average turn than Adelaide Oval’s 3.9°, however, the apparently encouraging conditions for spinners has not translated into a particularly impressive record for slower bowlers over the years. In fact, spinners at Adelaide Oval average 42.76, the second highest for Australian venues and the fifth highest overall.
Despite that record, fielding two spinners at Adelaide Oval is not an alien concept. New Zealand did so as recently as 2015 when Mark Craig and Mitchell Santner both featured for the Black Caps, but India should be reluctant to pick both Ashwin and Jadeja in the lineup for this Test.
However, India will have to be wary of the threat posed by Lyon on this ground. Australia’s off-spinner bucks the trend of spinners’ performances on his former home ground. His 37 wickets at Adelaide Oval are the second most for a spinner behind Shane Warne’s 56 and Lyon’s strike rate is better than any spinner to have taken 20 wickets or more there. Lyon can also boast the best bowling average for any spinner since the Second World War; with only Clarrie Grimmett, who played his last Test in 1933, ahead of the off-spinner on that metric.
India of course know exactly how threatening Lyon can be at Adelaide Oval, having been on the receiving end of a 7-wicket haul from him in the fourth innings of the 2014 Test. Lyon took 12 wickets overall in that match and sealed victory in a game that India were in with a chance of winning right up to Day 5.
India failed to capitalise on the position they were in on that occasion, meaning they found themselves on the back foot in the series and were unable to redress the balance. They will know they cannot afford to let such moments slip again if they are to finally emerge victorious from a Test series in Australia.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.