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CricViz Analysis: Australia v India – The Seam Attacks

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 atLord’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 inAdelaide 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 and0.7° 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.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Australia v India, First Test, Day Five

Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day five at the Adelaide Oval.

SHORT BALL USAGE BY INDIA

At the start of day five India had 31 overs remaining with the old ball. With less seam and swing on offer India’s use of the short ball was notable. On day four India’s quicks only bowled four bouncers but before the new ball on day five they bowled 13, using it as a weapon to keep Australia’s batsmen in their crease and most significantly bringing them the wickets of Travis Head.

Ishant Sharma’s bouncer to Head was a brute of delivery. After a sequence of fuller balls the bouncer was an effort ball—139.63 kph, two kph faster than the previous ball and above his match average. The way Ishant pulled his fingers down the left hand side of the ball caused the delivery to rear up from a length. The key though was the tight line: the ball cramped Head for room and gave him nowhere to hide.

BUMRAH’S MARSH SET UP  

After the early wicket of Head the dismissal of Shaun Marsh later in the session dealt a huge blow to Australia’s hopes. Marsh had batted with admirable control and it was fitting that it took a brilliant piece of bowling from Bumrah to prise him from the wicket. An over of tight off stump deliveries set Marsh up before the wicket-ball swung away by 0.73° and nibbled by 0.25° away off the seam to take the edge of Marsh’s defensive push. 

ASHWIN’S BATTLE

After Ashwin’s struggles on his previous tours of Australia his returns in this match, collecting 6 for 149 at an economy rate of just 1.71 represent an enormous improvement. Perhaps as encouraging as his figures was the manner of success which has come from bowling notably slower than on the last tour, suggesting he’s made a big effort to adjust his method to turn his fortunes around. In addition to that Ashwin’s success primarily came against Australia’s top order – five of his six wickets were top four batsmen. 

On day five – although Ashwin remained very economical – he only took one wicket and was unable to seize the match in the manner that a turning pitch suggested he might. Criticism should be tempered though. 

Ashwin maintained the slower speeds that brought him success in the second innings and to the right-handers managed to hit the footmarks outside off stump with 42% of his deliveries, only slightly fewer than Lyon’s 48%. The day five pitch may have helped but by the measure of false shots he improved on his first innings performance from 12% to 15%. 

Admittedly, at times his approach appeared a little erratic—he changed his angle to the left-handers Marsh and Head four times in five overs in the morning session and he appeared less willing than Lyon to consistently aim for the footmark to the right-hander. At times it seems as if Ashwin lacks the patience that bowling off spin in Australia requires.

Yet despite these minor issues he maintained an exceptional economy rate of 1.74 runs per over throughout the innings. At the very least Ashwin fulfilled the role of a holding bowler to perfection, throw in his six wickets and this Test marks significant progress.

AUSTRALIA’S RESISTANCE 

India had waited ten years for a Test win in Australia and in an absorbing afternoon session Australia’s lower order made them wait just a little bit longer. When Marsh was dismissed Australia were still 167 runs adrift of their target and a heavy defeat was looming but it was not until the afternoon session, scheduled to end at 4.10 had been extended by half an hour that Australia finally subsided when Josh Hazlewood was the last man out with Australia just 31 runs shy of their target. Australia’s last four wickets had endured 48.4 overs and their last three wickets 35.4 overs. 

India did not bowl terribly to Australia’s lower-order—they maintained the excellent lines they’d hit throughout the Test but analysis of their lengths relative to the strengths of Australia’s bottom four suggested poor planning. Most clearly, Cummins, Starc and Lyon are all relatively strong against the short ball but India’s quicks bowled a large proportion of short balls to all three of them and certainly didn’t bowl enough full deliveries to Lyon. 

Australia deserve enormous credit though. Cummins, Starc, Lyon and Hazlewood are very strong lower order batsmen with excellent defensive games and could have frustrated many attacks. They had their fair share of luck though—their 22% false shots was well above the global average of 12%. 

Australia may still be searching for their first win under Tim Paine’s captaincy but their fourth innings batting in Dubai (139.5 overs) & now in Adelaide (119.5 overs) are better examples of so-called ‘tough Australian cricket’ than any number of sledges or send-offs.

For India, on the one hand the way Australia’s lower order hung on for so long is a concern and continues their worrying trend of being unable to clean up the tail but on the other it underlines how hard it is to win away Tests—especially in Australia—& that should help guard against complacency in Perth.

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: Handscomb’s Struggles

Ben Jones analyses the ongoing difficulties of Australian batsman Peter Handscomb.

Peter Handscomb is surely on the brink. After another low score, and another scrappy innings, the Australian No.5 looks more and more like a man unable to succeed in Test cricket with his current approach.

Today, he fell prey to a classic bit of seam bowling from Mohammad Shami. Pitching the ball up when they first came together, Shami then drew his length back and surprised Handscomb with a short ball – which the Australian duly slapped to short midwicket.

It was a disappointing dismissal, and one which moved India closer to victory, but more worryingly for Handscomb itself it is not a way that he is supposed to get out. That is not a Classic Handscomb Wicket. If anything, it’s the opposite.

Because Handscomb’s entire technique is built to punish the short ball. 
His high hands and high backlift allow him to rock back and pull the ball confidently, and cut the ball hard. His weight being so far back allows him to play horizontal bat shots comfortably, and that translates through to his Test returns – he averages 58 with the cut, and 45 with the pull. 

He plays so deep in his crease. In Tests, his average impact point against pace is 1.53m from his stumps – the only Australian batsman to strike the ball later, since 2015, is Chris Rogers. For Rogers, the late contact reflected that he was playing the ball under his eyes and playing late, but for Handscomb there’s no such explanation. For him, it reflects an inability to get forward onto the front foot, so everything is played on the back.

What we think of as a Classic Handscomb Dismissal is the pitched up ball on a length, in that channel outside off-stump. Handscomb has repeatedly struggled when bowlers have pushed their length fuller, his back-foot emphasis meaning he can’t transfer his weight forward to stay in control of the shot. Of course, that’s a relatively standard area of weakness, but the degree to which Handscomb struggles is a real problem. There is no question in the mind of the opposition bowlers about where to bowl to him, such is the extent of his weakness. You pitch it up, and wait for him to nick off.

The problem today was that he survived those balls, and got out playing a shot he’s supposed to own. This is the kind of thing that can happen when you’re not in form, when your mind is scrambled, and when you’re overthinking certain elements of your batting. You focus so much on battling your weaknesses that your strengths no longer come as naturally as they once did.

It’s always the way when a player has an unusual technique, as Handscomb does. Their extreme methods give them success coming through the ranks, but they get found out at the top level. They return to the domestic game, where they succeed again, and so the cycle continues. It’s hard to tell whether a player has actually solved their technical issues, or if they are simply in an environment incapable of exposing them.  

Handscomb returned to the Australian side after a solid if not spectacular Shield start, 361 runs at an average of just over 45 representative of a player primed to do very well at domestic level. However, it wasn’t the overwhelming haul of a man in blistering form and feeling completely confident, playing well above his ability level. To compare him to two of his Yorkshire teammates, his return is more like that of Gary Ballance than Jonny Bairstow, two other players with notably unconventional techniques. Perhaps, in order to overcome such pronounced technical flaws, you need the adrenaline of a purple patch. 

Handscomb isn’t there right now. He’s making mistakes against deliveries he needs to be dominating, and while that’s the case, it might be time to give his position to someone in better form, with better experience, or with greater potential. He’ll most likely get one more chance at Perth – he has to take it.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Australia v India, First Test, Day Four

Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day four at the Adelaide Oval.

AUSTRALIA MISS A TRICK

Day four resumed with India leading by 165 runs and Australia in desperate need of quick wickets. It was intriguing—and in hindsight most definitely an error—that Australia opted to start the day with Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood and not Nathan Lyon, who had without a doubt been their best bowler until that point. It only took four wicket-less overs for Tim Paine to change his mind and introduce Lyon but his hesitancy had given Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane 15 precious minutes to ease into the day. 

PUJARA’S MASTERCLASS

Cheteshwar Pujara has defined this match. Australia’s first innings top-top-scorer Travis Head acknowledged in his press conference at the end of day two that he had showed them the way to bat on this pitch by remaining patient and in their second innings Pujara’s teammates followed his example. 

Pujara’s performance in the second innings is one that player’s of lesser ability may find hard to replicate. The way he countered Nathan Lyon’s persistent bowling into the footmarks outside off stump with quicksilver footwork was a display of astonishing skill. In the second innings Pujara came down the track to 40 balls from Lyon, but notably this wasn’t the attacking approach it is often considered to be: from those 40 balls he only scored 8 runs. However, coming down the track allowed him to safely negotiate balls pitching in the most dangerous area of the pitch and more significantly disrupted Lyon’s length allowing him to play back to 39 balls – and from those deliveries he scored 28 runs – rotating the strike effectively and relieving pressure. A classic one-two, perfectly executed. 

Arguably no player in the modern era has such crisp footwork against spin as Pujara and it was that footwork which allowed him to bat as long as he did in India’s second innings – slowly and surely, bending the shape of the match to his will. 

LYON’S MASTERCLASS

It took 88 balls from Lyon to Pujara in the third innings but eventually the off spinner got his man. Pujara’s footwork had allowed him to control the majority of his engrossing contest with Lyon but a significant adjustment to the field setting early on the fourth day made a big difference to the nature of their head to head. In the 70th over Australia deployed a silly mid off to Pujara for the first time—this simple change made it a lot more difficult for Pujara to come down the track because he risked being caught bat-pad by the close fielder or even run out. Once the silly mid off was deployed Pujara either padded from his crease—which was fraught with danger because it required him to read the degree of spin—or come down the track and smother the ball—which proved immensely difficult. Pujara’s false shot percentage against Lyon almost tripled once the the fielder was put in place. 

With Lyon’s 30th ball to Pujara with the silly mid off in place he finally got his man. A wonderful build up of pressure was rounded off with a vicious ball that gripped and turned from the footmarks. Without the silly mid off Pujara may have skipped down but he attempted to pad the ball from his crease and misjudged the turn and bounce, the ball clipping his glove on his way to the short leg. Ashwin pitched 47 deliveries to Pujara in the danger zone around the foot hole which we identified in our day three notes, from those deliveries Pujara only scored 7 runs and was eventually dismissed.

Once Pujara was gone Lyon ran though Australia’s middle and lower order. The silly mid off directly accounted for Rohit Sharma who pouched an inside edge bat-pad. Lyon finished with 6 for 122 – a masterclass of off spin bowling on a turning pitch and against high quality players and due reward for his persistence into the foot-hole.  

SLOWER SPEEDS

In the first innings Ashwin earned success by bowling significantly slower than on the 2014/15 tour of Australia where he really struggled. In the second innings it was slower speeds that once against brought him success. Although the percentage of his deliveries faster than 88 kph increased slightly from 30% to 35%, the wickets of Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja were snared with deliveries of 86.23 kph and 86.66 kph respectively. 

His dismissal of Khawaja was an excellent piece of bowling. Khawaja had attempted to come down the wicket in Ashwin’s previous over but got nowhere near the pitch of the ball and had a wild swipe. It was clear that having scored just 8 off 42 balls he was becoming restless. Ashwin recognised this and continued to toss the ball up at slower speeds and when he saw Khawaja advancing down the track once more he pulled his length back, Khawaja was unable to reach the ball and his aggressive drive was shanked out to the sweeper fielder who took a good catch. The big wicket of Khawaja reduced Australia’s WinViz from 16% to 5% and leaves India on the cusp of a historic victory.

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: Australia v India, First Test, Day Three

Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day three at the Adelaide Oval.

INDIA’S PLANNING EXPOSED

India managed to seal a small first innings lead of 15 but it could have been more were it not for Nathan Lyon’s cameo of 24 off 28 balls. Lyon’s brief innings suggested a lack of planning from India who bowled 38% short balls at him despite his Test average against short bowling being a very impressive 43.33. Against full and good lengths Lyon averages just 9.57. 11 of Lyon’s 18 runs against pace came against the short ball, including an emphatic hook for six off Mohammad Shami – runs that could prove crucial in a low-scoring match.  

TALE OF TWO NEW BALLS

After 15 overs of India’s first innings they were 30 for 3; after 15 overs of their second innings they were 45 for 0. These differing results can be explained by a combination of slightly shorter Australian bowling and more watchful Indian batting. 

The lines bowled by Australia’s pace bowlers in the first 15 overs were almost identical in both innings but in the second innings they pitched just 39% of their deliveries full compared to 47% in the first innings. 

Across the first 15 overs of both innings India’s overall leave percentage was relatively similar but crucially in the very early overs they left more second time around, giving themselves more of a look as they eased into the innings. 

VIJAY & RAHUL CAN’T RESIST 

Early on Vijay an Rahul resisted the temptation to flirt with deliveries outside off stump but their restraint was short lived. Of course, runs still needed to be scored and in both instances there was width on offer but aggression needs to be calculated and both shots demonstrated questionable judgement in this regard. Vijay fell into a simple trap: driving at a wide one angled across him by Mitchell Starc with a packed cordon. Rahul’s shot—a huge booming, drive—was inexcusable. Earlier in the innings he’d nailed a ball on a similar length from Pat Cummins over the off side for six but that delivery was significantly wider than the one which dismissed him. Rahul’s slapped six and his dismissal trying to the same shot encapsulated what a frustrating talent he is. 

CLASH OF KINGS 

Late on day three Lyon became embroiled in an utterly fascinating battle with two of the best players of spin in the world: Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. Bowling from over the wicket Lyon was aiming into a large patch of rough which was on a good length, about half a metre outside off stump. 

Pujara and Kohli adopted different methods to counter Lyon. 

Kohli opted to get onto the front foot to 25 of the 40 balls he faced from Lyon and trust his and hand-speed and supple wrists to smother the turn, working the ball into the leg side 13 times or defending it onto the off side ten times. Recognising the danger of driving out of the rough Kohli only did so twice when on the front foot. On 15 occasions Kohli was able to play off the back foot. 

In contrast, Pujara only played nine of the 57 balls he faced from Lyon off the front foot. Instead he came down the track on 23 occasions and to 12 of those 23 balls he opted to pad the ball away. This method nearly cost Pujara his wicket when he was adjudged lbw only to be reprieved on review when the ball was shown to be bouncing over the top. Pujara’s proactive footwork forced Lyon to occasionally drop short and when he did so Pujara was able to rock onto the back foot. 

This Adelaide pitch is taking big turn and Lyon is a big turner of the ball. A comparison with Ashwin yesterday illustrates this point. 

This sharp turn simultaneously made Lyon dangerous but complicated his task. Perversely the bigger the turn, the smaller the margin of error in terms of line and length.

The challenge for Lyon was one of angles: too straight and the ball would turn down the leg side but too wide and it wouldn’t challenge the stumps; too full and it wouldn’t have time to turn but too short and Pujara and Kohli would have time to adjust. 

This challenge is illustrated by the pitch map below which isolates balls that were too full (fuller than 3.50 metres), too short (shorter than 5.00 metres), too straight (no further than 20cm from off stump) or too wide (wider than 70cm from off stump). This created a danger area of 0.75² square metres which is labelled as ‘Perfect’ in the pitch map. 

The relative success of these different groupings is revealing. When Lyon missed the area he was searching for Pujara and Kohli were able to rotate the strike – particularly when he dropped short. But when he landed in that perfect spot they could barely score and right at the end of the day he was rewarded with the wicket of Kohli, caught bat-pad with Kohli pushing forward by a sharp turning off break. 

Interestingly Lyon only bowled one ball that was considered too wide. Given the amount of turn he was finding it would be very risky for the right-hander to leave or pad the ball purely on line. On day four it could be worth him trying more wide deliveries outside off stump and daring Pujara to continue padding it away. 

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. 

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