Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day four at the Adelaide Oval.
AUSTRALIA MISS A TRICK
Day four resumed with India leading by 165 runs and Australia in desperate need of quick wickets. It was intriguing—and in hindsight most definitely an error—that Australia opted to start the day with Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood and not Nathan Lyon, who had without a doubt been their best bowler until that point. It only took four wicket-less overs for Tim Paine to change his mind and introduce Lyon but his hesitancy had given Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane 15 precious minutes to ease into the day.
Cheteshwar Pujara has defined this match. Australia’s first innings top-top-scorer Travis Head acknowledged in his press conference at the end of day two that he had showed them the way to bat on this pitch by remaining patient and in their second innings Pujara’s teammates followed his example.
Pujara’s performance in the second innings is one that player’s of lesser ability may find hard to replicate. The way he countered Nathan Lyon’s persistent bowling into the footmarks outside off stump with quicksilver footwork was a display of astonishing skill. In the second innings Pujara came down the track to 40 balls from Lyon, but notably this wasn’t the attacking approach it is often considered to be: from those 40 balls he only scored 8 runs. However, coming down the track allowed him to safely negotiate balls pitching in the most dangerous area of the pitch and more significantly disrupted Lyon’s length allowing him to play back to 39 balls – and from those deliveries he scored 28 runs – rotating the strike effectively and relieving pressure. A classic one-two, perfectly executed.
Arguably no player in the modern era has such crisp footwork against spin as Pujara and it was that footwork which allowed him to bat as long as he did in India’s second innings – slowly and surely, bending the shape of the match to his will.
It took 88 balls from Lyon to Pujara in the third innings but eventually the off spinner got his man. Pujara’s footwork had allowed him to control the majority of his engrossing contest with Lyon but a significant adjustment to the field setting early on the fourth day made a big difference to the nature of their head to head. In the 70th over Australia deployed a silly mid off to Pujara for the first time—this simple change made it a lot more difficult for Pujara to come down the track because he risked being caught bat-pad by the close fielder or even run out. Once the silly mid off was deployed Pujara either padded from his crease—which was fraught with danger because it required him to read the degree of spin—or come down the track and smother the ball—which proved immensely difficult. Pujara’s false shot percentage against Lyon almost tripled once the the fielder was put in place.
With Lyon’s 30th ball to Pujara with the silly mid off in place he finally got his man. A wonderful build up of pressure was rounded off with a vicious ball that gripped and turned from the footmarks. Without the silly mid off Pujara may have skipped down but he attempted to pad the ball from his crease and misjudged the turn and bounce, the ball clipping his glove on his way to the short leg. Ashwin pitched 47 deliveries to Pujara in the danger zone around the foot hole which we identified in our day three notes, from those deliveries Pujara only scored 7 runs and was eventually dismissed.
Once Pujara was gone Lyon ran though Australia’s middle and lower order. The silly mid off directly accounted for Rohit Sharma who pouched an inside edge bat-pad. Lyon finished with 6 for 122 – a masterclass of off spin bowling on a turning pitch and against high quality players and due reward for his persistence into the foot-hole.
In the first innings Ashwin earned success by bowling significantly slower than on the 2014/15 tour of Australia where he really struggled. In the second innings it was slower speeds that once against brought him success. Although the percentage of his deliveries faster than 88 kph increased slightly from 30% to 35%, the wickets of Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja were snared with deliveries of 86.23 kph and 86.66 kph respectively.
His dismissal of Khawaja was an excellent piece of bowling. Khawaja had attempted to come down the wicket in Ashwin’s previous over but got nowhere near the pitch of the ball and had a wild swipe. It was clear that having scored just 8 off 42 balls he was becoming restless. Ashwin recognised this and continued to toss the ball up at slower speeds and when he saw Khawaja advancing down the track once more he pulled his length back, Khawaja was unable to reach the ball and his aggressive drive was shanked out to the sweeper fielder who took a good catch. The big wicket of Khawaja reduced Australia’s WinViz from 16% to 5% and leaves India on the cusp of a historic victory.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket