CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde identifies why India won in Australia & why it matters.
INDIA WON MORE TOSSES
A hugely significant reason for India’s win in Australia was their success at the toss. India won just one of the eight tosses in South Africa and England but won three of the four tosses in Australia.
Since the start of 2017 toss winners (60%) have won roughly the same proportion of Tests as home teams (59%): in other words home advantage equates to toss advantage. The large majority of the time toss winners elect to bat first, get ahead in the game and build an unassailable first innings lead from which the chasing team cannot recover. This is exactly what happened in each of the first three Tests and would almost certainly have happened in Sydney had rain not forced a draw.
The only Test India won in South Africa came when they won the toss; the only Test India won in England came when England won the toss but elected to field first and the only Test India lost in Australia came when they lost the toss.
There were many cricketing reasons behind why India beat Australia but luck at the toss was also a very significant factor.
INDIA WERE BETTER WITH BAT AND BALL
Using CricViz’s Expected Analysis which assesses the quality of bowling based purely on ball tracking data alone it is clear that India outperformed Australia with bat and ball.
According to Expected Analysis we expected India’s bowlers to average 28.00 runs per wicket and Australia’s to average 30.80 which suggests India bowled marginally better than Australia.
In reality Australia’s bowlers averaged 34.69 and India’s bowlers averaged 25.90 which means India’s batsmen exceeded our expectations based on the balls they faced from Australia by +3.89 runs per wicket and Australia’s batsmen under-performed based on the balls they faced by -2.10 runs per wicket.
India were the better team in both departments and were deserving winners.
GULF IN FIRST CLASS BATTING PEDIGREE
A central reason for India’s better performance with the bat was the huge gulf in first class batting pedigree between them and Australia. Before the start of the series only one Indian batsman had a lower first class average than the Australian batsman with the highest first class average. Of course, add in Steve Smith and David Warner, with first class averages of 57.27 and 48.63 respectively and this is a different story.
A discrepancy in first class averages is often apparent between Australia and India but the gulf for this series was at historic levels. India’s first class averages were exceptionally high and—more importantly given this was a series played in Australia—Australia’s were exceptionally low. Indeed the four biggest differences between the first class averages of Australia’s top seven and their opponents’ top seven in a Test match all came in this series.
For the Boxing Day Test India’s top seven averaged 49.98 or better in first class cricket coming into the Test, that is the second best of any team ever; only in Don Bradman’s final Test have the top seven of a Test team all entered the match averaging more than 50 in first class cricket.
The vast difference in first class pedigree was clearly apparent. While Australia’s highest score was 79 India had three different centurions and a total of five hundreds. India’s batsmen defined matches where Australia’s couldn’t.
A significant factor India’s batting strength was their decision to select six frontline batsmen and a wicket-keeper in all four Tests—a decision enforced by Hardik Pandya’s injury but one that they didn’t reverse even after Hardik became available. Hardik is a talented and developing Test batsman but he is not yet a batsman of the calibre of Rohit Sharma or Hanuma Vihari who took his place in the team.
The contrasting performances of the top orders was significant given the comparative ability of each team’s lower orders. In India’s series against England the dominance of England’s lower order in a series when the top orders generally struggled was a key difference between the two teams. In this series the strength of India’s top order and the weaknesses of Australia’s minimised the importance of lower order batting.
INDIA HAD BETTER DEFENSIVE BATTING (AGAINST PACE)
More specifically a fundamental difference between the two teams’ batting was their defensive games against pace bowling. Across the series 64% of overs were bowled by the quicks and across the series India’s batsmen proved far more effective at resisting Australia’s than Australia were of India.
India were led by Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in this regard. Pujara averaged 152 defensive shots per dismissal against pace while neither Kohli—across 130 shots—nor Rahane—across 77 shots—were dismissed playing a defensive shot against pace. Mayank Agarwal’s 104 defensive shots per dismissal was also excellent. The only Australian batsmen who could match these levels of solidity were Marcus Harris with 129 defensive shots and no dismissals and Tim Paine with 87 defensive shots and no dismissals.
INDIA NEGOTIATED THE BOUNCE
One of the biggest challenges associated with playing in Australia is negotiating the extra bounce in the pitches. A comparison of Australia and India’s batting against pace by bounce shows that as expected for a subcontinental team—although the margin was very large—India outperformed Australia against balls that bounced at stump height but more interestingly against balls that bounced above the stumps India managed to return better figures than Australia – the first time in the CricViz database than an Asian team has achieved this feat in Australia.
INDIA’S QUICKS OUTPERFORMED AUSTRALIA’S
India’s bowling prowess was the product of their pace bowlers. The spinners on each side matched each other in terms of Expected Average but India’s quicks won the battle with their contemporaries.
INDIA GO TOE-TO-TOE WITH AUSTRALIA’S QUICKS
In every metric except average speed India’s pace bowlers out-performed Australia’s.
MORE OLD BALL SWING
The phase of the innings in which India’s quicks most clearly dominated Australia’s was with the old ball – specifically overs 41 to 80. In this period India averaged 23.62 runs per wicket while Australia averaged 42.50.
The foundation of India’s dominance in this period of the innings was the amount of swing they found with the old ball.
INDIA’S FOOTWORK AGAINST SPIN
Another key difference between the two teams was their contrasting methods against spin. Although the conditions didn’t greatly assist spinners the quality of spin bowlers in the series was high and negotiating their overs safely was a key factor in innings building, especially with the pace bowlers posing such a threat from the other end. Across the series Australia averaged 29.40 against spin while India averaged 36.57.
While India appeared to have clear plans to counter Nathan Lyon, either skipping down the track to the pitch of the ball or getting a big stride forward to hit him off his length, Australia either didn’t have such plans or were unable to execute them against India’s spinners.
Key to batting against spin is getting well forward or going well back and minimising interception points between two and three metres from the stumps within which batting averages in Test cricket drop to 29.46 compared to 72.54 further forward or further back than that.
A comparison of the interception points against spin shows how Australia intercepted 59% of deliveries in the danger zone compared to just 49% for India. The global average is 57%. India, as you’d expect from a subcontinental team, were superb against spin; Australia were mediocre and against a team with a pace attack as good as India’s they couldn’t afford to give up ground to the spinners as well.
WHY THIS WIN MATTERS
India’s series win in Australia is so significant because it represents the triumph of this Indian team in unfamiliar conditions – a victory which not only secures their legacy as a truly great Indian team but one which confirms them as the undisputed number one ranked Test match side, not merely in the rankings but in the harsher eyes of those who know away series victories are what separate great teams from the merely good.
India started 2018 as the ICC’s number one ranked Test team having dominated for a number of years in Asian and Caribbean conditions. Therefore—with away series in South Africa, England and Australia—2018 represented a once in a generation opportunity for this Indian team to extend their dominance to shores traditionally seen as their final frontier: before this year India had only ever won three series in England and none in South Africa or Australia. The extent of this opportunity was heightened by the strength of India’s pace attack: so often their weakness and downfall in conditions that assisted quick bowling, India’s rise to number one – even in home conditions – was supported by one of the strongest pace attacks in the world. Between the start of 2016 and the end of 2017 despite India playing all of their Tests in Asia or the Caribbean they had the second best pace bowling average in the world. As they embarked on their epic away odyssey anything less than a series win in one of the three would be seen as a monumental missed opportunity.
However, in South Africa and England, despite playing some excellent cricket and challenging far better than the eventual scoreline suggested, India were unable to achieve the away victory that would define this team’s legacy. Heading to Australia the pressure on India to secure that elusive victory—already intensified by the absence of Smith and Warner—was greater than ever. For this excellent Indian team it was now or never.
Australia being without their best two batsmen made India’s task easier but India’s record in Australia—just five Test wins in 44 Tests—was indicative of the size of the task facing them. Conditions in Australia are so different to those in India, most notably the bounce, that Indian teams have always struggled to adapt. With or without Smith and Warner – winning in Australia is among the most difficult tasks in cricket. Australia’s batting may be weak but their bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon is among the finest in modern Test match cricket.
It is important to remember that India won this series without their first choice wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha (although he has been eclipsed by Rishabh Pant), without their first choice spinner Ravi Ashwin in three of the four Tests, without one of their first choice openers: Prithvi Shaw, without their premier all rounder, Hardik Pandya, and without Ishant Sharma in Sydney. The Test in Sydney, with major contributions from Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav underlined the depth of India’s spin attack while the domestic form of the likes of Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer is indicative of the depth of batting talent in the country.
India will be disappointed not to have taken more away from South Africa and England but this win in Australia will absolve those defeats—missed opportunities though they were—and it will lay the foundation for the next step for Kohli’s team. India now have a run of Test series against weaker opposition in more familiar conditions; this Indian team are already laying claim to be one of the greatest Indian teams of all time, if they can continue to dominate at home that accolade will be beyond doubt and they will begin to be considered one of the greatest Test teams from any country.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket