Patrick Noone compares the performances of the two seam attacks after India came out on top in Adelaide.
The match was billed as a battle between two great seam attacks – arguably the two best in the world – and it did not disappoint. All six of the quick bowlers had an impact on the match, with each picking up at least two wickets as 25 of the 40 wickets in the match fell to pace.
With the new ball, India’s seam trio were more accurate than their Australian counterparts, with each of them bowling a higher percentage of deliveries on a good line and length. Ishant Sharma was the most accurate of all, a phrase that would have been unheard of not long ago; as recently as 2016, Ishant bowled just 36% of his new ball deliveries on a good line and length. To have registered a figure as high as 56% in this match is as clear an indicator as any of the improvement that he has made as a Test bowler.
However, what is also clear is that Ishant’s reinvention has made him a more versatile bowler. As he showed on Day Five with his dismissal of Travis Head, he is capable of cranking it up and getting batsmen out with vicious bouncers – Ishant had not taken a wicket with a ball as short as that (11.2m) since he bounced England out at Lord’s in 2014. To have bowlers who are able to extract wickets from nowhere in benign conditions is the difference between this India seam attack and those that have gone before it.
The conditions in Adelaide did not offer the seamers a great deal of assistance, with the 0.57°of both seam and swing the lowest seen at Adelaide Oval since 2009. Ishant massively outperformed the average in this match, finding 0.8° of swing and 0.7° of seam movement. That was significantly more than every other seamer in the match and only serves to emphasise the size of the task Australia’s batsmen have in facing this Indian seam attack.
As a collective, it was not just their new ball accuracy that defined India’s quicks. This match saw them record the fastest average speed (141.58kph) that any Indian pace attack has recorded in a SENA country Test since records began in 2006. Coupled with the fact that 48% of the balls they bowled were on a good line and length – another all-time high – it is no surprise that this attack has been talked of as the best that India has ever produced.
Australia’s seamers were actually a fraction quicker (142.59kph) than India in the Adelaide Test, but were let down by their relative lack of accuracy with 37% of their deliveries landing on a good line and length. Mitchell Starc was the quickest of all the bowlers on show, with an average speed of 145.14kph throughout the match but his length was erratic. He was unable to nail his trademark yorker with any consistency, pitching only 29% of his deliveries fuller than 6.25m from the batsman’s stumps, the sixth lowest figure he has ever recorded across a Test match.
When he did get it right, Starc was as impressive as ever, picking up three wickets from full balls and two from short balls. It was when he resorted to bowling line and length when he was at his least effective, though he was at least able to keep the run rate down when he bowled in that area. Australia would arguably be better served to use Starc as an out and out strike bowler, encouraging him to bowl either very full or very short in short bursts to maximise his effectiveness.
India have drawn first blood in the series, clinching victory in Adelaide by 31 runs, but the battle between the two seam bowling attacks is far from over. The first Test showed that there is in fact very little between the two sides in that department. Despite India’s win, Australia’s quicks recorded a better economy rate (2.49 compared to India’s 2.69), a higher dot ball percentage (80.2% compared to India’s 77.8%) and the difference in the percentage of false shots drawn was minimal with India recording 17.9% to Australia’s 16.5%.
The home side can therefore perhaps consider themselves a little unlucky to be going to Perth 1-0 down, given the respective performances of the two pace attacks. For Australia, it is a matter of making minor tweaks, such as a clearer definition of Starc’s role that could make a major difference. At this level, it does not take much to shift the balance from one side to the other and Australia could yet find a pitch at the new stadium in Perth a touch more to their liking.
Meanwhile, India will be overjoyed with the way that their seamers hit the ground running at Adelaide Oval. During the recent series in England, a lack of preparation was blamed for India being unable to perform at their best during the early part of the tour. The contrast in Adelaide was stark: this is a bowling unit who have clearly defined roles and the ability to execute them in foreign conditions. They have variation, movement and pace that will cause Australia problems throughout the series. If the hosts weren’t sure if India could match them before the series, there will be no doubts in their minds now.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.