Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day four at the Perth Stadium.
The morning session was an attritional, but strangely compelling, two hours of cricket. Across 30 overs Australia added just 58 runs at a run rate of 1.93 runs per over and with just two boundaries. Neither Australia or—more curiously perhaps—India, showed much intent to attack. Australia only attacked an average of one ball per over and India only bowled an average of one full ball per over. India were arguably a touch unlucky—they beat the bat 19 times and found 13 edges, typically in Test cricket that number of false shots translates to 2.66 wickets.
That said, both teams appeared happy to relatively content to settle for a stalemate. For Australia a wicket-less session and 58 runs extended their lead; for India – they managed to keep a lid on Australia’s scoring rate, inching them closer to the second new ball without giving up too much ground. Across the session Australia’s WinViz only increased by 5%.
After the stasis of the morning session the Test exploded into life in spectacular fashion after lunch. In the end it didn’t take the spark of the new ball to light the touch paper; instead it was the pitch—this increasingly battle scarred pitch, cracked and marked by ten sessions of brutal cricket and four days of Australian sun—that ignited the Test once more. In the first over after lunch and out of nowhere a ball from Mohammad Shami spat violently from a length, rearing up towards Tim Paine’s head, who gloved the ball to Rishabh Pant. India’s WinViz twitched into life. 6% to 10%. The very next ball Aaron Finch—returning to the crease after his hand injury—was strangled down the leg side and suddenly with the new ball still one over away Australia were six wickets down and leading by 235. India, 15%.
A snorter from Mohammad Shami then accounted for Khawaja. Lifting from a length and seaming away Khawaja didn’t need to play at it but Paine’s dismissal had a transformative effect on the psychology of the match. Batting was now not just about batting survival but physical survival. Khawaja was compelled to play as much to protect himself as his wicket.
It was then that things really started to get funky. After seeing Paine and then Khawaja succumb to the short ball Pat Cummins was then bowled by a grubber which only bounced 31cm despite pitching within 3cm of the previous ball which bounced 1.13 metres.
When Nathan Lyon holed out—rightfully deciding that attack was the best form of defence—Australia had lost a scarcely believable 23 for 5 in the first hour after lunch. Australia’s lead was 250. India’s WinViz was 27%.
Not for the first time in this series, and probably not for the last, India allowed their position to slip as they struggled to finish off Australia’s innings. With Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc playing 39% attacking shots they flayed 36 crucial runs for the tenth wicket – a partnership which halted India’s charge, reducing their WinViz from 27% to 18%. They still had a chance but it was more remote than it should have been.
Shami finished with superb innings figures of 6 for 56. His post-lunch burst of 4 for 26 will forever have a place in Indian fast bowling folklore. Out of nowhere Shami found something from the pitch to prize Paine from the crease and from then he persistently attacked the same short and good lengths—only pitching 16% of his deliveries fuller than six metres from the stumps and bowling 52% of them shorter than eight metres from the stumps.
Mitchell Starc has rediscovered his radar in this match, particularly when bowling his in swinger to the right-handers. In Adelaide he couldn’t consistently challenge that channel line where it becomes so difficult for the batsman to know whether to play or leave but here he has been spot on – increasing his percentage of channel line in-swingers from 29% to 50%. This accuracy accounted for Murali Vijay in the first innings and in the second it snared KL Rahul who was caught in two minds between playing and leaving and withdrew his shot fractionally too late, gloving the ball down onto his stumps. 37% of Rahul’s dismissals against pace in his career have now been bowled – significantly higher than the global average of 22%.
Starc has been excellent in this Test and his new ball threat has provided Australia a weapon they lacked in Adelaide – twice making key early breakthroughs.
Nathan Lyon’s two wickets—Virat Kohli and Vijay—torpedoed India’s hopes of victory and once again underlined Lyon’s brilliance. In Adelaide on a pitch that took big turn—Lyon found an average of 5.32° across the five days—and big bounce. There Lyon’s threat was to the inside edge of the right-handers’ bat with him bowling for dismissals caught bat-pad at short leg and leg slip. Here in Perth, with less turn on offer—he has found an average of 3.23° across the Test and has instead largely challenged the outside edge of the bat. His dismissal of Kohli was a perfect example of that as he found 1.50° of drift away from the batsman, drawing the shot, only for the ball to hold its line after pitching and take the outside edge. Kohli, like Rahane in the first innings, had played for turn that wasn’t there.
Lyon is a skilled bowler but he’s also an intelligent bowler and that was wonderfully illustrated by his dismissal of Murali Vijay. After putting a silly point in place earlier in the over Lyon tossed one up wider outside off stump. Vijay – now more inclined to attack rather than defend and risk being caught by the close fielder – attempted a booming drive. The ball only turned 1.97° after pitching—not big turn—but it was enough to find the gap between bat and pad that Vijay’s shot—induced by the fielder—had created.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket