Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day one at the Perth Stadium.
India’s teams selection was interesting. The green pitch and suggestions from the head groundsman that it would have pace and bounce persuaded India to pick four frontline pace bowlers, replacing the injured Ravi Ashwin with Umesh Yadav. Interestingly they also preferred the batting of Hanuma Vihari over the all round qualities and spin of Ravi Jadeja to replace Rohit Sharma. To adjust the balance of the attack so significantly was a big call from India and one that could define the Test. Time will tell whether they made the right call.
BRAVE, SENSIBLE AUSTRALIA
After all the talk about a lively pitch Australia’s decision to win the toss and bat despite their inexperienced and struggling batting was a brave call. But it was absolutely the right one. In 2018 the team who have batted first have won 68% of Tests. Australia have not won any of their last five Tests when they’ve fielded first; they are a team who like to lead the game rather than chase it. They might have been spooked by the pitch but they stayed calm and rightly chose to bat.
INDIA WASTE THE NEW BALL
After not selecting a frontline spinner and therefore without a bowler who could hold an end through the afternoon heat it was important that India utilised the new ball on a green looking pitch. In the first hour India emphatically failed to do that. It didn’t look as if the pitch was doing much but this was a consequence of India’s bowling more than conditions. In the first ten overs the ball seamed 0.95° – significantly more than the average in the first 10 overs of the first innings in Australia of 0.76°.
The problem was India’s lengths. Desperate to make the most of the much-hyped pitch India bowled very full but with both Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah down on pace India were floaty in that first ten overs. After that point they pulled their lengths back and hit a traditional good length far more often and caused Australia more problems. They persisted with these slightly shorter lengths throughout the day.
FINCH’S RECURRING PROBLEM
Aaron Finch battled hard for his fifty but he clearly struggled against balls swinging or seaming into his pads – surviving one review and playing 44% false shots to balls that swung or seamed into him before an in swinger eventually caused his downfall – trapped lbw by the second fullest ball bowled to him. India bowled cleverly to him bowling two away swingers for every one in-swinger, dragging him across the crease before pinning him with the in ducker. Finch’s average against in-swingers in Test cricket is now just 8.25 with four dismissals. Four of his five dismissals to pacers in Tests have been lbw or bowled.
Marcus Harris’ maiden Test fifty was a classic openers innings. He defended balls on a good length and in the channel and left those that were wider but when India over-pitched he latched onto it and drove eight boundaries through the off side.
PITCH COMES TO LIFE
The seam movement on offer in the morning session was notable but not extraordinary. It wasn’t until after lunch that the pitch begun to behave especially unusually and rather than seam movement it was uneven bounce that was most notable. Perhaps as the sun baked the pitch and hardened the early indentations the ball begun to misbehave with some keeping low and some rearing from a length for both pacers and spinners.
In this series India have bowled excellently to Australia’s best batsman, Usman Khawaja. Across three innings he has faced 87.3% dot balls, his highest dot ball percentage in any series. Today this pressure was built up brilliantly by India’s quicks who were rewarded for their persistence when Khawaja threw his hands at the first hint of width and was caught behind.
Kohli places a huge emphasis on physical and mental fitness and the benefits of that were encapsulated by his superb one-handed catch to dismiss Peter Handscomb. CricViz Fielding Impact—which evaluates the value of fielding by considering the difficulty of the fielding event and the run value of the fielding event (which varies according to the batsman)—considered Kohli’s catch to be worth +23.50 runs to India. A dropped half chance for KL Rahul in the slips and a regulation drop by Rishabh Pant contributed negatively to India’s Impact but they still finished with +23.20 across the day.
On a pitch with extreme uneven bounce—some staying low and some lifting from a length—the cut shot is high-risk. Because it is a horizontal bat shot the slightest uneven bounce can be the difference between the middle and edge of the bat. On day one three batsmen—Khawaja, Handscomb and Marsh all fell playing cut shots.
Australia looked to cash in against India’s part-time spinners Vihari and Murali Vijay, attacking 38% of deliveries from them compared to 16% against the quicks. This intent against spin translated into a scoring rate of 4.20 runs per over but has also cost them two wickets. In what might be a low scoring match Australia’s aggression against spin could prove to be a risk worth taking.
HEAD SUCKERED INTO THE DRIVE
Travis Head has not looked comfortable against the short ball in this series. In the second innings in Adelaide Ishant dismissed him with a brute of a bouncer and across the two Tests his false shot percentage on the back foot is 24% compared to 6% on the front foot. India generally stayed away from Head’s strength bowling just 18% full balls and tested him out with a number of well-directed straight bouncers. When India took the second new ball they pushed their lengths up and as soon as Head was given a sighter of a full ball he threw his hands at it and picked out the man on the third man boundary. A good innings ended by a poor shot.
After a poor first spell saw Bumrah take 0 for 22 in six overs overs he returned brilliantly in the rest of the day taking 1 for 19 from his following 16 overs drawing 27% false shots. Bumrah’s natural angle into the right-hander means when he gets even a hint of deviation away he opens up the batsmen forcing them into an S shape and following the ball with their hands. It’s awesome to watch and must be a nightmare to play. Today he drew 18 plays and misses and 16 edges.
This was a day of missed opportunities. India wasted the first new ball when it was seaming around by missing their lengths and allowed Australia to get ahead in the game. India improved as the day went on but Australia threw away their advantage with some loose dismissals. On a pitch that is already misbehaving and is likely to get worse Australia are ahead in this game but their position could have been even better.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket