December has been a busy month for Test cricket with eight of the 12 full member nations playing at least one match. Using CricViz data, Patrick Noone picks out the most impressive performers of the last 30 days.
There were few signs at the start of the month pointing to what the New Zealand opener would achieve come the New Year. Latham’s first Test in December was in New Zealand’s series-clinching victory over Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, but the left-hander could only contribute scores of four and ten in the 123-run win.
Upon his return to home shores though, Latham found his groove and piled on the runs, 464 of them in total, making him the leading run scorer in December. Against Sri Lanka in Wellington, Latham recorded a career best score of 264* and followed that up with 176 in the second Test in Christchurch.
Latham’s recent form bucks the trend in a year in which openers from all over the world have struggled. To put that into perspective, Latham’s December average is 116.00, the next highest for an opening batsman is Dean Elgar’s 36.00. Latham has also been outperforming himself this month when compared to his career record – he’s played a false shot to just 8% of the deliveries he’s faced, compared to his career figure of 12%.
While New Zealand’s middle order might contain more eye-catching players, it has been the weight of runs from an old-fashioned opener that has put them on course for a fourth successive Test series win.
India’s rock at number three capped off a fine year with two more hundreds at Adelaide and Melbourne as Virat Kohli’s side retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Kohli (four) is the only player in 2018 to have scored more away hundreds than Pujara’s three and it remains a mystery that such a reliable performer in all conditions was dropped just ten Tests ago.
Obduracy is one of Pujara’s main assets and this month he was even harder to dislodge than normal. Across his career, Pujara is dismissed every 111 balls but in December, that figure shot up to 148. To record numbers like that anywhere would be impressive, to do so in unfamiliar conditions against one of the best bowling attacks in the world is nothing short of remarkable.
Australia have tried to bounce Pujara out at times, bowling short 36% of the time, but he’s been equal to it, averaging 79.00 against those deliveries in the current series. And when the quick bowlers have pitched it up, Pujara has averaged a more than handy 44.00.
His series has been a masterclass in patient, high quality run accumulation. With 328 runs, he is the leading scorer in the series and the contrast between Australia’s batting struggles and the calmness with which Pujara has made his runs has been stark.
All the talk before the series against India was about the clash of the two seam attacks, but it’s been Australia’s off-spinner who tops the wicket-taking leaderboard for the home side. Lyon has taken 17 wickets in the first three matches of the series, only four fewer than he managed in the five Ashes Tests last summer. Those wickets have come at an average of 27.11, if he can continue at that rate in the last Test at Sydney, it will be his best performance in a home summer since 2011-12.
However, it’s not just been the wickets that underline Lyon’s importance to this Australian bowling attack. He has also been able to exert more control than ever, limiting the Indian batsmen to boundaries from just 3.42% of the balls he’s bowled, the lowest he’s ever recorded in a home summer.
Lyon’s tactics have been varied in the current series – at Adelaide and Perth he bowled 6% and 10% of balls hitting the stumps respectively, before adjusting his line to see that figure shoot up to 26% in Melbourne.
It has not always been the case that Lyon has had the full backing of Australia’s selection panel and captain but now that the man they call ‘The Goat’ has long established himself as his sides’ number one spinner, he has the confidence to alter his game plan depending on conditions and, more importantly, the skill to succeed with whichever method of attack he chooses.
India’s tearaway quick has been one of the finds of 2018 in the Test arena and his match-winning performance at the MCG capped a remarkable debut year that saw him excel in South Africa, England and Australia.
His nine-wicket haul in Melbourne took him to the top of the wicket-taking list for December with 20 Australian scalps to his name. Bumrah’s unorthodox action and ability to find movement both through the air and off the pitch have made him a nightmare for Australia’s batsmen to play – the right-arm quick has forced the Australians to edge or miss the ball with 24% of the deliveries he’s bowled. It has been one of the best performances by a visiting seamer to Australia; only Chris Tremlett’s 26% in 2011 surpasses the regularity with which Bumrah drew a false shot.
In a fast-bowling attack widely considered to be the best India has ever produced, Bumrah is the jewel in the crown, the X-Factor equally capable of bowling line and length to nick a batsman out as he is to bounce out the tail. His contribution to India’s retention of the Border-Gavaskar trophy has already been enormous, and it would take a brave man to bet against him having an impact in Sydney next week.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.