Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day two at the Adelaide Oval.
History suggests India’s total of 250 was well under-par. Of the 16 teams to have scored between 200 and 299 in the first innings in Adelaide only four of them have gone onto win the match. India needed to bowl well to keep themselves in the match.
INDIA OPT FOR A DEFENSIVE STRATEGY WITH THE NEW BALL
The early wicket of Aaron Finch—dragging on a drive shot—might have encouraged India to pitch the ball up but it didn’t. Despite finding more swing (1.06° v 0.74°) and more seam (0.72° v 0.54°) than Australia did in the first 20 overs of the innings India only pitched 27% in the full length range compared to 40% for Australia. Had India scored more than 250 they might have been encouraged to bowl a fuller length and attack, but with a small first innings total India opted for a more patient strategy. This was not without risk: if Ravi Ashwin couldn’t unlock Australia’s middle order India would have wasted the new ball.
After India’s defensive approach with the new ball the pressure was on Ashwin to deliver and he did exactly that. This was arguably one of the best days of his career in away conditions.
It clearly helped that Australia have four left-handers in their top six: Ashwin averages 19 against lefties compared to 31 against right-handers—but there was more to this performance than that. Compared to his last tour of Australia where he averaged 48.66 Ashwin demonstrated clear and significant evolution to his bowling. The signs were there in South Africa and England—where he bowled notably slower and notably fuller than on his last visits—and he continued with that method today, earning the wickets of Marcus Harris, Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja with full, flighted deliveries.
Ashwin’s excellence against the left-handers was unsurprising but today he was also very impressive to the right-handers. Ashwin expertly mixed his lines and lengths in a way that stifled the scoring with great effect. When bowling short and good lengths Ashwin generally bowled a straight line and with a leg slip and short leg in place this forced the batsmen to play cautiously to ensure they didn’t glove a ball to one of the close catchers. Ashwin mixed this straighter defensive line with more attacking fuller and wider deliveries, aiming for a patch of rough created by Mitchell Starc. Australia’s right-handers resisted the temptation to drive against these balls, knowing that if one gripped and turned they could be bowled through the gate. Australia’s reluctance to attack those wider balls created a stalemate – Ashwin may not have taken a right-handed wicket but he maintained an economy rate of just 1.09 runs per over.
AUSTRALIA GET STUCK V SPIN
Australia are not regarded as particularly strong or confident players of spin and a comparison their shot selection compared to India’s shows this to be the case. While India played rotating shots against Lyon 49% of the time Australia only played 30% against Ashwin. India scored at 2.83 runs per over against spin while Australia could only manage 1.62 runs per over – a crucial difference in what is proving to be a low-scoring match.
BUMRAH’S HANDSCOMB SET UP
After Ashwin’s three wickets a battling partnership between Peter Handscomb and Travis Head was beginning to become problematic for India when a clever piece of bowling broke the deadlock. Handscomb’s attempted late cut looked like a soft dismissal, and it wasn’t a great shot, but Bumrah deserves some credit. For the wicket-ball he subtly adjusted his release point coming 20cm tighter on the crease which induced the shot from Handscomb. However, Bumrah’s high-arm action and natural angle into the right hander meant the ball was too tight to cut and Handscomb could only edge behind.
INDIA MAINTAIN CONTROL
This was an attritional day of cricket. While Ashwin toiled away from the River End India rotated their pace bowlers from the Church End. Analysis of ball tracking data shows just how disciplined India were, maintaining a very high proportion of their deliveries on a good line and length. This accuracy stifled Australia who only played 16% attacking shots, well below the global average of 22%, which contributed to a scoring rate of just 2.17 runs per over.
Ball has dominated bat across the first two days of this match despite conditions being relatively benign. The pitch has helped the spinners but there’s been relatively little assistance for the pace bowlers. Of the 12 wickets to fall to pace only two players (Tim Paine and Pat Cummins) have been dismissed playing a defensive shot while ten have fallen to batsmen looking to score. In the absence of extravagant lateral movement the pace bowlers have bowled with discipline and control. Cheteshwar Pujara and Travis Head aside, the batsmen from both teams have lacked the patience to play a long innings.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket