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CricViz Analysis: Fixing India’s Batting Order

As far as the Second Test was concerned, the end was there in the beginning. The defining pair of the match was the first one to the take to the field, Marcus Harris and Aaron Finch defying their inexperience at Test level and making a decisive contribution of 112 runs with their opening partnership. On a lively Perth wicket, India never truly recovered from falling behind in that first session; the bowlers may have got the glory, but Australia’s openers deserve significant credit.

Which is something that cannot be said for India’s openers. Lauded before the series as part of this famed batting line-up, they have failed comprehensively amidst, failures only partially obscured by the heroics of the men below them. The performance of KL Rahul and Murali Vijay has been substantially below what India have needed.

Yet realistically, did anyone expect differently? For a visiting side with the finest middle-order in the world, India’s opening pair is a vast gaping weakness. In 2018, only West Indian and Bangladeshi openers average less than India’s. That is not good enough, and something needs to change.

Make no excuses – India have to win this series. If they end 2018 without an away series victory, with this group of players, at this age, with their captain in this form, there is a strong argument that it’s the biggest missed opportunity for a generation. For any team.

So the selectors – and other decision-makers – need to step up, and take a bold decision. Not to pick a youngster, an easy decision disguised as a brave one. To strengthen their weakness, they need to break-up their greatest strength.

Cheteshwar Pujara needs to open the batting.

On the simplest of levels, Pujara averages 116 as a Test opener. That’s a rather basic fact, but it’s a persuasive one. But the real guts of the argument for promoting India’s stalwart No.3 come in the detail. No.3 batsmen come in different guises, from the fluent counter-attack who prefers to launch off the shoulders of the giants ahead of him, to the dogged opener forced from his natural home. Pujara may have established his marvellous reputation at No.3, but he is a classic case of the latter. Pujara is not a player you fear getting exposed against the new ball, and for good reason – his record against the new ball is extremely good. He averages 55.08 in the first 20 overs of Test innings; his dismissal rate in this period is 126.3. It’s a quirky image, but it does rather pleasingly suggest that if he faced every single delivery in the first 20 overs of the innings, more often that not he would remain unbeaten. Probably not best to try and test that theory, but it demonstrates his excellence.

What’s more, it’s a record which compares very favourably to India’s current opening batsmen.

Of course, this could be skewed by the fact that Pujara has often been arriving at the crease slightly later. Those first few overs are the real white-hot danger period for batsmen, when bowlers have zero fatigue, full of optimism. Yet Pujara’s record in those first few overs stands up yet again.

What’s more, Pujara appears to relish coming in right at the start of the innings. When arriving at the crease in Overs 10-20, he averages 47.30; when he arrives in those first 10 overs, he averages 49.90. That record soars when he arrives after the 20th over (averaging 55.7), but that hasn’t been happening an awful lot of late. Get him in early, and watch him control the situation.

On top of this, we can look beyond Pujara’s records just in the period of the new ball; we can look at their record in the specific conditions created by the new ball. So far in this series, the first 10 overs of the innings has seen Australia average 0.75° of swing, and 0.68° of seam. That is the challenge that needs to be met right now, so let’s examine India’s batting records against those sorts of deliveries. Outside of Asia, against balls swinging that much or more, Pujara has emphatically the best record of the three potential openers.

Equally, when we look at their records against balls seaming more than 0.68°, we can see that again Pujara is the standout, albeit by a slimmer margin. Without question, Pujara is the finest of these three players at negotiating lateral movement, regardless of whether that movement is coming off the pitch or through the air.

Promoting Pujara to the opening spot is clearly beneficial, but it does necessitate change. One of the openers needs to stand aside, and quite frankly right now, you could justify dropping either of them. Neither have convinced for long stretches in 2018. However, for plenty of reasons, Rahul is the right man to make way.

Four years ago, Rahul announced himself to the world. Swaggering, handsome, and with a double-shot of genius in his drink, India appeared had unearthed a superstar, a turbo-charged Laxman to sit at the top of the order for the upcoming decade. Yet in reality, that hasn’t been the case. Whilst he has intermittently produced wonderful innings (this summer’s innings at The Oval one of the finest at that storied and historic ground). It’s a sad truth, but it’s a clear one.

He has shown obvious, frustrating technical issues. Outside of Asia, Rahul has struggled significantly against pace. That is what’s holding him back.

What’s more, it’s a very clear aspect of pace bowling which vexes him. Outside of Asia, he averages 35.14 against full balls, 12.09 against good length balls, and 146 against short balls. Pitch it up, and he’s in trouble; that is not what you want from a Test match opener. However, in the middle-order, when bowlers have lost a little zip and the ball is older, Rahul may find himself facing less of those pitched up deliveries. He may find that bowlers are less eager to throw him full deliveries when the ball is 60 overs old, rather than brand spanking new. Demoting him could free him up to play expressively and with reduced risk.

The thing is, you can’t just throw away a player of Rahul’s talent. As much as India do have a crop of world-class batsmen coming through, now is not the time to blood the kids, in the biggest Test series of the year, away from home, against a voracious Australian attack. Shubman Gill and his contemporaries will have their time, but it’s not right now. Yet Rahul is too talented to fall out of this team, and this is where selectors need to use their skill and discretion, to recognise that just because someone fails in one context, they won’t necessarily fail in another.

By moving Rahul down the order, to either No.5 or No.6, you emphasise his strengths and, to an extent, negate his weaknesses. He is an excellent player of spin, and a combination of Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, and Rahul would be a great counter to Nathan Lyon. They all have solid records against spin and could allow the stronger players of pace to blunt Australia’s trio of firebrands. This move would have the dual benefit of strengthening the top order whilst not significantly weakening the middle order. It’s the sensible option. Will India’s selectors take it?

Of course, the elephant in the room is the knock-on effect this could have on India’s No.4. Virat Kohli looked at his imperious best at Perth, and any disruption to his performance could be disastrous for India’s chances in this series. Instinctively, people will be cautiously warning against promoting Kohli to No.3, given that he averages 19.14 in the six innings he has played in that position. But Kohli is a remarkable player, more than capable of meeting the challenge of sliding up the order. For that table against the swing, Kohli’s figures are an average of 48.95 and 85 balls-per-dismissal. He is capable of taking on this new role, if Pujara does vacate his spot.

India are such a vibrant team. They have all bases covered, and covered with a vibrancy and flair that every team in the world should be jealous of. They have all the resources they need to win this series, they just need to reshuffle. Neutralise Australia’s new ball bowling, get Kohli in earlier, and unleash Rahul on a tired attack – these are tweaks, but they could be vital ones.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: India’s selection costs them in Perth

CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde examines how India’s selection cost them in Perth.

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CricViz Analysis: Kohli and Lyon’s Rivalry

Ben Jones analyses the ongoing battle between the stars of the Indian and Australian sides.

Gather round children, and let me tell you the fable of The Goat and The King. Nathan Lyon – The GOAT – is the best spin bowler in the world. Virat Kohli  – The King – is the best batsman in the world.

Down the years, they’ve come together several times, old foes reunited. No bowler has dismissed Kohli more often than Lyon in Test cricket. Many have tried to remove the Indian captain from the crease, but only a few have succeeded.

Interestingly, both have had the better of the battle when out of their comfort zone, away from home. In India, with surfaces far more welcoming than the ones on which he’s learned his craft, Lyon has got at Kohli; in Australia, where Indian batsman are fated to fail the moment they experience any success in Asia, Kohli has dominated Lyon. In line with the conditions, perhaps, but topsy-turvy nonetheless.

The defining feature of their battle has always been subtlety. There have been false shots 9% of the time, slightly less than Kohli’s overall average of 10%, but he’s attacked 22% of Lyon’s deliveries, less than his average against spin in general. The King slows down when Lyon comes on. Unlike his other great rivalry, with James Anderson, there’s no naked aggression when these two come together at the crease. It demands close attention, but it deserves it. When these two come together, the game slows down, the match pauses, and we all lean in.

And for good reason. Because when greatness meets greatness, it’s worth watching.

The punch and counter-punch between the two in Perth over the past few days has been compelling. In the first innings here, Kohli played Lyon superbly. He had a clear tactic – he would happily play against the spin into the vacant area in front of square on the off-side, simultaneously taking on the field and received wisdom, in one fell swoop. It only yielded 14 runs, but the rest of Australians right-handers only mustered 15 combined. This was a tactic only Kohli felt he was able to execute, and he did it with aplomb.

On top of this, Kohli backed himself to manipulate Lyon, and send similar deliveries to different parts of the field. Blessed with those supple wrists, the Indian skipper has the technical ability to whip balls into leg from wide outside off, and the quick hands to force straighter deliveries away into off. It reduced the effectiveness of that wider line, because Kohli could hit them into leg if he wished. Lyon was on the ropes, the Indian only forced from the field by a dubious catch at the other end.

So, as Kohli’s tactic had worked, Lyon changed his. In the second innings, he came out and bowled straighter, acknowledging that the approach hadn’t worked. In the first innings, 11% of the balls Lyon bowled to Kohli had been wide outside off; not a single one in the second innings was on that line.

The ball which dismissed him today wasn’t a ripper. He was finding just 2.4° of spin, around 20% less than he found to Kohli in the first innings. It wasn’t showy or particularly demonstrative in its brilliance, in its deception. It crept up on you and only revealing itself as excellent on closer inspection. They do say dogs look like their owners.

The wicket-ball was more notable for the drift Lyon had imparted on it. 1kph slower than the previous delivery, it looped ever so slightly more, with 1.5° of movement away from the outside edge of the Indian captain. That was 50% more than the previous delivery Lyon had bowled to him. These are tiny margins, tiny differences, but they say a grain of sand is enough to completely destroy a computer chip. Delicate systems are corrupted by fine changes. The King had middled the previous shot; this one, he edged.

It was the seismic moment in the match. India’s chances of victory with WinViz were 13% as Lyon ran up to bowl the delivery, but by the time Kohli crossed the boundary rope it was 3%. India’s finest batsman gone, removed by Australia’s finest bowler. It was the sort of encounter that is supposed to decide Test matches, and on this occasion, it had.

Yet the rivalry between these two is starting to rise above individual Test matches, perhaps even above individual series. These are two all-time greats, repeatedly doing battle, over and over, in contests that have spilled over into aggression and intensity unlike other less high-profile contests. Their personal rivalry is coming to define the broader battle between these two teams.

Part of the joy of it is that these are such conflicting figures, in terms of their standings. Kohli’s greatness has been destined, pre-ordained for seemingly decades; Lyon has had to sustain it for years before anyone truly acknowledged his. Kohli holds the prime position, No.4 all-format gun batsman – Lyon is an off-spinner, the least immediately cool of any cricketing role. Of course, these contrasts only amplify the greatness of this rivalry in a cricketing sense, but they give it a sparkle.

The moral of the tale, if there is one, is that there’s room for different kinds of greatness. The prince, born to lead, can grow into a compelling genius, adored by millions. But there’s room for the goat, the man clinging onto the edge of the game, more survivor than leader. Today, it went Lyon’s way, and at Melbourne it may go the other way. After one innings without a ton, it feels like Kohli’s due another. But when he walks out to bat, if the ball is soft, we know who Tim Paine will be tossing the ball to.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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

Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day four at the Perth Stadium. 

STALEMATE 

The morning session was an attritional, but strangely compelling, two hours of cricket. Across 30 overs Australia added just 58 runs at a run rate of 1.93 runs per over and with just two boundaries. Neither Australia or—more curiously perhaps—India, showed much intent to attack. Australia only attacked an average of one ball per over and India only bowled an average of one full ball per over. India were arguably a touch unlucky—they beat the bat 19 times and found 13 edges, typically in Test cricket that number of false shots translates to 2.66 wickets.

That said, both teams appeared happy to relatively content to settle for a stalemate. For Australia a wicket-less session and 58 runs extended their lead; for India – they managed to keep a lid on Australia’s scoring rate, inching them closer to the second new ball without giving up too much ground. Across the session Australia’s WinViz only increased by 5%. 

EXPLOSION

After the stasis of the morning session the Test exploded into life in spectacular fashion after lunch. In the end it didn’t take the spark of the new ball to light the touch paper; instead it was the pitch—this increasingly battle scarred pitch, cracked and marked by ten sessions of brutal cricket and four days of Australian sun—that ignited the Test once more. In the first over after lunch and out of nowhere a ball from Mohammad Shami spat violently from a length, rearing up towards Tim Paine’s head, who gloved the ball to Rishabh Pant. India’s WinViz twitched into life. 6% to 10%. The very next ball Aaron Finch—returning to the crease after his hand injury—was strangled down the leg side and suddenly with the new ball still one over away Australia were six wickets down and leading by 235. India, 15%. 

A snorter from Mohammad Shami then accounted for Khawaja. Lifting from a length and seaming away Khawaja didn’t need to play at it but Paine’s dismissal had a transformative effect on the psychology of the match. Batting was now not just about batting survival but physical survival. Khawaja was compelled to play as much to protect himself as his wicket.

It was then that things really started to get funky. After seeing Paine and then Khawaja succumb to the short ball Pat Cummins was then bowled by a grubber which only bounced 31cm despite pitching within 3cm of the previous ball which bounced 1.13 metres.

When Nathan Lyon holed out—rightfully deciding that attack was the best form of defence—Australia had lost a scarcely believable 23 for 5 in the first hour after lunch. Australia’s lead was 250. India’s WinViz was 27%. 

CRUCIAL RUNS

Not for the first time in this series, and probably not for the last, India allowed their position to slip as they struggled to finish off Australia’s innings. With Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc playing 39% attacking shots they flayed 36 crucial runs for the tenth wicket – a partnership which halted India’s charge, reducing their WinViz from 27% to 18%. They still had a chance but it was more remote than it should have been.

SUPER SHAMI 

Shami finished with superb innings figures of 6 for 56. His post-lunch burst of 4 for 26 will forever have a place in Indian fast bowling folklore. Out of nowhere Shami found something from the pitch  to prize Paine from the crease and from then he persistently attacked the same short and good lengths—only pitching 16% of his deliveries fuller than six metres from the stumps and bowling 52% of them shorter than eight metres from the stumps.   

STARC’S RADAR 

Mitchell Starc has rediscovered his radar in this match, particularly when bowling his in swinger to the right-handers. In Adelaide he couldn’t consistently challenge that channel line where it becomes so difficult for the batsman to know whether to play or leave but here he has been spot on – increasing his percentage of channel line in-swingers from 29% to 50%. This accuracy accounted for Murali Vijay in the first innings and in the second it snared KL Rahul who was caught in two minds between playing and leaving and withdrew his shot fractionally too late, gloving the ball down onto his stumps. 37% of Rahul’s dismissals against pace in his career have now been bowled – significantly higher than the global average of 22%. 

Starc has been excellent in this Test and his new ball threat has provided Australia a weapon they lacked in Adelaide – twice making key early breakthroughs. 

MAGNIFICENT LYON 

Nathan Lyon’s two wickets—Virat Kohli and Vijay—torpedoed India’s hopes of victory and once again underlined Lyon’s brilliance. In Adelaide on a pitch that took big turn—Lyon found an average of 5.32° across the five days—and big bounce. There Lyon’s threat was to the inside edge of the right-handers’ bat with him bowling for dismissals caught bat-pad at short leg and leg slip. Here in Perth, with less turn on offer—he has found an average of 3.23° across the Test and has instead largely challenged the outside edge of the bat. His dismissal of Kohli was a perfect example of that as he found 1.50° of drift away from the batsman, drawing the shot, only for the ball to hold its line after pitching and take the outside edge. Kohli, like Rahane in the first innings, had played for turn that wasn’t there. 

Lyon is a skilled bowler but he’s also an intelligent bowler and that was wonderfully illustrated by his dismissal of Murali Vijay. After putting a silly point in place earlier in the over Lyon tossed one up wider outside off stump. Vijay – now more inclined to attack rather than defend and risk being caught by the close fielder – attempted a booming drive. The ball only turned 1.97° after pitching—not big turn—but it was enough to find the gap between bat and pad that Vijay’s shot—induced by the fielder—had created. 

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: Australia’s Middle-Order Collapse

Ben Jones analyses a day where Australia fought through the tough times, then threw away the initiative.

India’s bowlers will be relieved. At the end of Day One, it appeared briefly that their loose new ball display had cost their side heavily. Inaccurate and down on pace, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah wasted the weapons available to them on a lively surface, and Australia got off to a strong start. Today, they more than made up for it.

With the new ball on Day Three, India bowled so much better today than they did on Day One. They were quicker, finding that extra yard of pace that can force mistakes, and they were more accurate. They actually found less swing and seam movement than they did on the opening morning, but the effectiveness of what they did find was maximised by the regularity with which they hit that good line and length. They did more with less.

What’s more, they were getting results – of a kind. They produced more false shots with their new ball spell than anyone has done in the match so far. A reflection of the degrading surface to an extent, but also testament to the fact that India had improved significantly from the first innings. Yet they went wicketless in those overs, despite this increase in Australian mistakes. It’s a cruel aspect of high-level sport that sometimes your luck deserts you when you most deserve it, and when you most need it.

The turning point of the day was the injury to Aaron Finch. Hit on the finger by a sharp delivery from Shami, the opener was in clear anguish, and was forced from the field. However, in some respects Finch brought the injury on himself, a judgement it’s more comfortable to make now he has been cleared of any serious injury. He was batting so far out of his crease (2.5m away from his stumps), the danger of the Indian seamers was clearly heightened. It was a mistake that might not have cost him his wicket, but it cost him his place at the crease.

Without his partner at the crease, Harris was visibly less comfortable. He added just 12 more runs after the break, and looked to have been affected by a blow to the head. His mind maybe still scrambled, he left a straight ball from Bumrah that clipped the off bail. It’s the immediate instinct to blame the batsman in such a scenario, but Bumrah clearly plays trick on batsmen in this regard; it’s the third time he’s dismissed a batsman playing no shot, more than any other bowler in 2018. He does something that others don’t.

Just as India were taking their foot off the gas, as the Test was drifting away from them, Australia contrived to collapse. Harris’ wicket brought about a worryingly limp capitulation from those below him in the order. Shaun Marsh has been a resident at last chance saloon for so long now that the reception on his arrival resembles something out of ‘Cheers’. For so long, his weakness outside off-stump has held him back from reaching that top level, and it’s an ailment not showing any signs of being cured by experience. In 2018, against pace deliveries in the channel outside off-stump, Marsh averages 9.40. For a batsman challenged to step into Steve Smith’s shoes at No.4, that is simply not reflective of necessary application or ability. He didn’t get a ripper of a delivery – according to Wicket Probability, it had just a 2.4% chance of dismissing him – but instead played a loose shot at a crucial moment. His place may be under threat.

Soon after, an equally familiar scene unfolded, as Handscomb’s technical issues continued. Against deliveries from seamers that would have hit or clipped his stumps, Handscomb averages 5.80, being dismissed LBW/Bowled on eight occasions in Test cricket; the groans of frustrated recognition  rang loud around the Perth Stadium as he was struck on the back leg by Ishant, gone again. Against an attack as deep as India’s, it’s hard to see how a player with such a specific, pronounced flaw can survive, let alone thrive.

Travis Head was dismissed by the second widest ball he faced. In the five overs previous to his dismissal, India’s xDR was 84.9. There was no pressure building from the bowlers, only from the scorecard and, perhaps, in the mind of the South Australian. To be dismissed playing at such a loose delivery was, yet again, an error of judgement from a man well set at the crease. The ball which dismissed him had just an 0.8% chance of taking a wicket. Australia were doing India’s work for them.

This is the truth of it; in this passage where Australia collapsed, India weren’t pushing. There was none of the vim and vigour of before the break, the atmosphere more patient than anticipatory. Indeed, Harris’ dismissal marked a clear decline in quality from the Indian bowlers, which Handscomb, Marsh and Head duly compensated for with rash shots. When Kohli’s bowlers were firing, they got nothing, and when they fell away, they got the luck.

Matches turn on luck; luck turns with time. Australia could, and should, have escaped in this evening session, away into the long grass of a sizeable lead and an unchaseable target. But they failed to make the most of their early good fortune, and instead tosses the advantage back to India. The hosts are still the favourites, but the visitors are still in the game – but only just.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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

Freddie Wilde’s analytical report from day three at the Perth Stadium. 

NATURAL VARIATION DOES FOR RAHANE 

Day three got off to the perfect start for Australia who removed Ajinkya Rahane with the fourth ball of the day. The wicket was the result of natural variation which saw the wicket-ball spin less than Lyon’s match average which meant Rahane played inside the line and could only get an outside edge to first slip. Rahane making this misjudgement was understandable – Lyon is a big spinner of the ball and doesn’t have an intentional arm ball. Rahane expected the ball to turn more than it did. The wicket was also reward for Lyon’s accuracy: on day two he bowled 75% of his deliveries on a good length without reward.  

KOHLI PLAYS AGAINST THE SPIN

The focus of Kohli’s masterful innings was largely on how he played the quicks, not because Lyon wasn’t bowling well (he was) but because Kohli remained in near-total control against the off spinner, playing just 8% false shots, while he was more obviously tested against the pacemen, playing 18% false shots. 

Kohli’s approach against Lyon saw him calmly rotate the strike with an ease that betrayed the difficulty of the shots he was playing. Kohli played 69% rotating shots against Lyon – up on his career average against spin of 43%. With the quicks bowling brilliantly from the other end Kohli made a conscious effort to be more proactive against Lyon.

When Lyon dropped short Kohli was able to rock onto the back foot and work the ball into the leg side. But when Lyon got his length right Kohli was forced onto the front foot and from here he had just two scoring shots: the work and the drive. Both shots involved him expertly rolling his wrists over the ball on impact to smother the turn and pick gaps. The work for the leg side and the drive for the off side. 

A comparison of Kohli’s scoring areas against the rest of India’s right-handers against Lyon showed how Kohli was the only Indian player brave enough—and perhaps good enough—to drive against the spin and through the off side. Kohli’s skill in being able to play on the off side as well as the leg side enabled Kohli to continued to rotate the strike and alleviate pressure in a way that the rest of India’s right-handers could’t. 

INDIA’S LOWER ORDER FOLD

When Kohli was controversially caught India still trailed Australia by 75 runs. A streaky cameo of 36 from Rishabh Pant helped reduce that deficit but India’s numbers 8 to 11 contributed just eight runs and faced just 46 balls between them. By comparison Australia’s numbers 8 to 11 added 35 runs in the first innings and faced 85 balls between them. After England’s lower order significantly out-performed India in the series earlier this year, it looks as if the same thing is going to happen in this series as well. 

Although we are only one and a half Tests through the series Australia’s 8 to 11 area already pulling away from India’s. India’s lower order may not face 449 balls in the series; Australia’s have already faced that many. 

INDIA DROP THEIR CHANCE

After conceding a first innings lead India needed to take early wickets and in the first ten overs they certainly deserved to. In those ten overs India bowled a significantly higher proportion of balls on a good line and length than in any innings of the Test so far and they did so at a high pace, while finding decent swing and seam. 

The quality of India’s bowling was reflected in Australia’s false shots count of 20 – typically in Test cricket a wicket falls every 12 false shots. By that measure they deserved to have India at least one wicket down after ten overs and possible two. Although they were unlucky that more edges didn’t go to hand if they’d held onto the one that did—a Marcus Harris edge off Ishant Sharma—then they would’ve had their wicket. But Pant was wrong-footed and the catch was shelled by Cheteshwar Pujara at first slip.

AUSTRALIA LET INDIA BACK IN

After Australia survived the opening burst the match seemed to be slipping away from India but a combination of luck and poor batting let them back in in the evening session.

India continued to bowl fairly well—although according to Expected Wickets their threat diminished through the session—but three of Australia’s four dismissals, and perhaps Aaron Finch’s injury, could be explained by poor batting. 

Finch’s injury can partly be attributed to bad luck but by batting 2.50 metres outside his crease, further than anyone in the match – even Kohli, Finch was risking injury against a fast attack. Having only recently taken a blow to that same finger in a practice match the decision to stand so far out was slightly foolhardy. 

Harris’ dismissal looked bad – bowled leaving a ball, but the brilliance of Jasprit Bumrah – who got the ball to move in and out from similar areas, absolves Harris of any significant blame. 

The same cannot be said of Travis Head – slashing at a wide delivery and caught at third man for the second time in the match; or Shaun Marsh – attempting a high-risk cross batted pull shot on a pitch with uneven bounce; and Peter Handscomb – pinned lbw after being trapped on the crease following a severe lack of footwork.

According to WinViz Australia remain 74% favourites but had they been tighter in the evening session this match could be beyond India by now.  

Freddie Wilde is an CricViz Analyst. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: Australia v India, Second Test, Day Two

A lot has been said about the new Perth Stadium. It’s been criticised for being soulless, a homogeneous bowl as far removed from the romance of the WACA as one can imagine. In some respects, it’s a fair assessment – the sheer size of the place makes it almost impossible to fill – but today it played host to a stunning day of Test cricket. For a day at least, the Perth Stadium was a furnace. 

For the first two hours, nothing could have gone better for Australia. Their tail had wagged, lifting them to a healthy 326, and when asked to take wickets in the short session before lunch, their quicks had responded. With the last ball before the interval, Mitchell Starc had produced an absolutely sublime delivery to remove Murali Vijay. Full, swinging in and beating the straightest of bats from the Indian opener, it was a statement delivery from a bowler who looked below par at Adelaide. According to CricViz’s Wicket Probability, on average it would take a wicket every nine balls, making it the third most dangerous delivery bowled in the match so far. To produce that to an opening batsman just before lunch is the opening bowler’s dream. There was a tangible sense around the Perth Stadium that this match was hotting up.

After the break, Josh Hazlewood removed KL Rahul with another full swinging ball, another moment of excellence from the Australian seam attack, but it was the defining moment of the day for a reason less pleasant than they’d hoped. It brought Virat Kohli to the crease.

Australia have publicly acknowledged a willingness to bowl full and straight at Kohli early on, to try and expose a weakness outlined on this site before the series. It was in evidence today, Paine’s bowlers keeping an extremely tight line to the Indian skipper. In the first 30 overs, Kohli’s first 50-odd deliveries, just 6% of the balls he faced from the seamers were wide outside off-stump. Three of the first ten he faced would have hit the stumps. Australia weren’t playing a waiting game. They were at him, and up for the fight.

But so was he. Four boundaries in his first ten balls did nothing to turn down the heat. In those two overs, India’s WinViz rose by 6%, which feels like a lot, but you’d be hard pressed to find a single Australian fan watching those shots that didn’t feel their heart sink as the ball flew to the boundary. It was a statement that directly countered Starc’s opening wicket. If you come hard at us, we’ll go hard at you. It took 30 deliveries, and 45 minutes, before Kohli played a false shot. It was remarkable.


Kohli was making his usual choice to bat out of his crease as a means of negating lateral movement, but he was doing it to an almost comical degree. His average strike point to the seamers across this series is 2.16m away from his stumps. In the CricViz database (2006-present) no visiting batsman has ever batted further down the track in an Australian Test series. To do that, when the opposition are all bowling over 140kph, is bordering on ridiculous. This attack is arguably the fastest Australia have ever fielded, and Kohli is walking towards them. He is on a different level to everyone else right now.

At the other end, it was a different story. Pujara may be known for his resolute defence, but that was being tested – to a serious extent. In the ten overs after lunch, he played 24% false shots. Cheteshwar Pujara, the second coming of Dravid, was edging or missing every four deliveries. That doesn’t happen very often.

Australia’s seamers were gambling again, bowling 43% of their deliveries full, not getting drawn in by the pace and bounce of the surface. Pujara averages over 50 against the short ball in the last 18 months away from home – the danger area, even on this pitch, was right up in his half, and Australia barely moved from it. Yet somehow he survived, clinging on by his fingernails, scoring at just 1.58rpo in the session. He went in undefeated at tea, and that was all that mattered.

Because his presence meant that Australia were were forced into a tactical withdrawal against Kohli. Faced with India’s No.4 racing along as if wearing a blue shirt rather than a white one, Australia knew they had to take a backwards step. After tea, 25% of their bowling to Kohli was wide outside off, playing on his patience rather than challenging his technique directly. His scoring rate fell to 2.62rpo, but just as importantly he was only playing 10% false shots, the average for all others in the Test being 19%. He was slower, but considerably more solid.

What India managed to do, particularly after Rahane replaced Pujara in the middle, was pick precisely the right moment to attack. Kohli in particular was exceptional in this regard, refusing to get drawn into loose shots with unclear foot movement. He and Rahane scored almost all of their runs when the Australian attack erred too short or too full. They were exceptional.

Truthfully, Tim Paine could hardly have asked more from his bowlers. They performed superbly. Their Expected Wicket Sum (according just to the ball-tracking data) was 8.09 – i.e. if they had bowled the deliveries they bowled today to the average Test batsmen, they would have taken eight wickets rather than three. Of course, there is nothing average about Kohli, nor Pujara, nor Rahane. This was a day where Australia threw everything at India’s middle-order, the real guts of India’s team, and India saw them off.

What’s so thrilling is that this afternoon was when the Test could have fallen away. There has been a tendency to bemoan how modern batting sides have no grit, no ability to fight their way back into a Test match in the face of run pressure. But that’s exactly what happened today. When Vijay and Rahul were both back in the dressing room, India’s WinViz stood at just 19%. As Kohli and Rahane walked off this evening, it stood at 47% – the tourists were ahead, marginally. That passage of play wasn’t just enthralling as a raw spectacle; it could have turned the Test match.

Yesterday may have been the first day of five-day cricket here at the new ground, but today was the day Test cricket really arrived at the Perth Stadium. Grounds aren’t christened with opening ceremonies, ribbon-cuttings or off-field pomp, they’re christened by sessions like we had this afternoon, with passages of play that people go home and tell their friends about, mythologise about to those who dipped out, and missed it. New grounds need time to bed in just like new players, and just like new players, if we give them time to create memories, we might all just fall in love again.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Australia v India, Second Test, Day Two

Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day two at the Perth Stadium.

NO BUMRAH

India’s decision not to open the bowling with Jasprit Bumrah at the start of day two was peculiar. On day one Bumrah was clearly India’s best bowler, drawing a higher proportion of false shots and having a higher Expected Wickets sum than any of India’s bowlers. 

It was also strange to see Umesh Yadav not start on day two. Since the start of 2017 Umesh has the best record of India’s pace bowlers in this match against the lower order. Umesh’s extra pace is an asset against tail end batsmen. 

Eventually Kohli turned to Bumrah and Umesh and as soon as he did the wickets begun to fall but not before Australia had survived the first hour and added 29 invaluable runs. 

PITCH IT UP 

In the first hour on day two India opted for a short ball tactic to Tim Paine. Given Paine was dismissed pulling in Adelaide and only averages 15 playing the shot in Test cricket it was a legitimate tactic but with movement in the pitch and a relatively new ball at their disposal India arguably persisted with that short ball tactic a little too long. It wasn’t until after drinks that India started bowling a more consistent good length and they were immediately rewarded with four wickets falling in 5.3 overs – two to good length balls and two to full length balls. 

PACE BEHEADS INDIA 

The first ten overs of the two first innings could scarcely have been more different. On day one Australia calmly ticked over without losing a wicket but on day two India were reduced to 8 for 2.

Interestingly India and Australia bowled almost identical lengths in the first ten overs. 

In addition to that India actually found significantly more movement in the air and off the pitch than Australia.

The key difference between the two teams was pace. Australia’s average speed was 5 kph faster than India’s with the large majority of their deliveries faster than 140 kph. 

So while India’s attacking full lengths were floaty and lacked snap; Australia’s were the opposite: fizzing and sharp. It was a small but crucial difference between the two teams and it produced very different results. 

KOHLI COUNTER ATTACKS 

After Vijay and Rahul had been dismissed Australia’s WinViz surged to 79%. With the ball swinging and seaming there was blood in the water and sharks circling as Cheteshwar Pujara was joined at the crease by his captain Virat Kohli. India were trailing by more than 300 and their two best batsmen were at the crease. The match was on the line. 

With four sumptuous shots Kohli changed the entire feeling of the occasion. Hazlewood was attacking – bowling very full and straight and Kohli seized the chance to counter-attack, twice driving through the off side and twice working the ball through mid wicket. Kohli’s four boundaries increased India’s WinViz by 6% – the comeback was on.  

Kohli’s clinical attack of Hazlewood forced Australia to retreat. The field dropped back and Hazlewood was replaced in the attack by Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc replaced by Nathan Lyon.

AUSTRALIA REGAIN CONTROL 

Cummins has a stunning head to head record against Kohli having dismissed him twice before today and maintaining an economy rate of 1.55 across 77 balls. He was the perfect man to help Australia regain control after Kohli’s counterpunch and he—alongside Nathan Lyon—did that brilliantly in the afternoon session. 

By bowling a line outside off stump Cummins played on Kohli’s patience but Kohli was equal to the task – putting his attacking shots away.

Meanwhile from the other end Lyon maintained an exceptional grouping outside off stump. As in Adelaide, Pujara used his feet to counter the spin while Kohli used his wrists and as in Adelaide it worked excellently. Lyon plugged away with unerring accuracy but he couldn’t find a way through.

In an enthralling passage of play, with Cummins testing Kohli’s patience, Lyon testing both Pujara’s footwork and Kohli’s wristwork, Australia choked India’s scoring, restricting them to just 17 runs in 18 overs, but crucially they couldn’t find the breakthrough. India went into the tea break at 70 for 2 in 32 overs, Pujara and Kohli had increased their WinViz to 32%. 

FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE

After the tea Australia’s pressure accounted for Pujara, strangled down the leg side by a wayward delivery from Starc. Pujara’s wicket opened the door to Australia once again but for the second time in the day India fought fire with fire. Rahane attacked eight of his first 22 balls and raced to 23 not out including an audacious upper cut off Starc for six. For the remainder of the session Rahane dropped his tempo down but his intent had lifted the immediate pressure on India once more. 

CLINICAL KOHLI 

In Kohli’s innings so far he has displayed exquisite judgement of length. He remained watchful against good and short lengths but has latched onto anything over-pitched. 

OUTRAGEOUS SKILL

The skill on display in the afternoon and evening session—from both teams—was exceptional. Australia’s pace bowlers bowled quickly, accurately and moved the ball fractionally more than the global average on a pitch that has displayed uneven bounce and Lyon’s grouping to the right-handers was exemplary. Despite this challenge against four world class bowlers Kohli and Rahane somehow stayed control, each only playing 11% false shots – significantly below the global average of 15%. 

According to Expected Wickets (xW) Australia bowled well enough to take 8.09 wickets today but because of how brilliantly India batted they only lost three. Australia barely gave India an inch but under immense pressure—chasing the game—India have simply been too good. Today was a day of cricket rare in its excellence. 

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: India’s New Ball Mistakes

After an intriguing first day at the new Optus Stadium, Ben Jones analyses India’s new ball bowling, and wonders what could have been.

Pitch-hype has generally fallen flat in recent times. One loses track of how often a surface is photographed the day before a Test, green as the outfield, before going on to play as true and slow as any other. Well, for once, the pitch delivered on its pre-match promise. All day, the Indian bowlers were able to get something from the pitch, be it lateral movement or spitting bounce, but the movement was particularly clear with the new ball. The pitch that the new stadium’s curator had promised was what we were given. But India didn’t make the most of it.

When Tim Paine won the toss and chose to bat, there was a general sense that this was an aggressive call, designed to show that Australia were uncowed by the pitch or the Indian attack. It was certainly brave, but it may have been fool-hardy; unintentionally, Paine handed India a gem of an opportunity to get stuck into a limp, unproven Australian batting line-up. Conditions were ideal. India squandered them.

In the opening ten overs, there were above average levels of both swing and seam available, but India could not get their collective radars working. With the ball moving through the air and jagging off the pitch, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah were unable to find the right areas, and test the Australian batsmen. Just 31% of India’s deliveries in that first 10 overs were on a good line and length – at Adelaide, that figure was 54%. It doesn’t matter whether the ball is swinging round corners, if you get your pitchmap wrong, then you’re not going to get the best from the conditions.

The issue was that they bowled extremely full. More than half of their deliveries were pitched up, anticipating the extra bounce that the surface might offer, trying to compensate and allow LBW and bowled to remain viable options for dismissals. Again, this may have worked, but their individual paces were down, diminishing their effectiveness – both Ishant and Bumrah’s opening spells were 4kph slower than their equivalent at Adelaide. The tense finish there, combined with a quick turnaround, may have taken the edge of their bowling, and without it, those pitched up balls were floaty half-volleys.

As a whole, the attack did self-correct. For the rest of the session, every other delivery was bang on that good line and length zone. They were much improved, and whilst they didn’t get the rewards they may have liked, the pervasive sense of frustration was gone. India were bowling well but not getting the luck. Their Expected Wicket Sum up until drinks was 1.55, suggesting that regardless of the overall lack of intensity, they were still bowling wicket-taking deliveries. But India’s attack is comprised of four top-class quicks – they’re going to bowl some serious deliveries, if you give them an hour on a lively pitch. They should be striving for more.

Later in the day we saw clear evidence that Kohli agrees. Shami was given the second new ball, an acknowledgement from Kohli that his first choice openers had got it wrong first time around, with Bumrah banished from the frontline of the attack. Whilst such a demotion will always feel like a pointed dig at an individual, it reflects poorly on the selection of the Indian side. Setting up a team is always a work of anticipation, and you’re always rolling the dice on what the conditions are going to be, and it will be rare that a captain goes through an entire Test match without some slight twinge of regret over their decision. “He’d have bowled well on this” must be up there with the most frustrating thoughts a captain can have. Without wishing to force Kohli into such negative thoughts, it was hard to watch Ishant and Bumrah spraying the ball around without thinking that Bhuvneshwar Kumar would have been the perfect fit for such a surface. When the pitch is doing so much, accuracy can be lethal, and few are as accurate as Bhuvi. The closest bowler to him in this quarter is Shami, and that is who Kohli turned to as things went wrong.

The question of Bumrah is difficult to answer. He has developed a reputation, in his short Test career, for being better in his second spell than his first – whether this is something related to the new ball will become clearer as his career progresses, but it is an issue. In the first 20 overs of Test innings, Bumrah averages 41.83; after that, he averages 21.34. He is a wonderfully talented bowler, replete with idiosyncrasies in both his run-up and his action, and is a serious threat. But perhaps for now, he needs to be coming on first change.

So, a frustrating day for the visitors, but you could argue that the hosts will still feel this was a missed opportunity. At one point today, Australia’s WinViz reached 61%. With Marsh and Head batting together, they had the chance to really run away from India, putting a seriously strong score down on a pitch that has shown early signs of uneven bounce would have been potentially match-winning. Instead of slow accumulation, edging further ahead, Australia played a series of loose shots and gave India a lifeline. On a surface like this, a score of 260-4 at stumps would have represented an almost impregnable position. Australia took their foot off the opposition’s throat, and India escaped. If they can keep Paine’s side to under 300, then they may still feel there’s a win to be had here in Perth. If they can’t get one, then they’ll be looking back on those first ten overs with significant regret.

CricViz Analysis: Australia v India, Second Test, Day One

Freddie Wilde’s analytical notes from day one at the Perth Stadium. 

INDIA’S BALANCE 

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. 

PATIENT HARRIS

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. 

KHAWAJA PRESSURE 

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 CATCH 

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. 

COSTLY CUTS 

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. 

SPIN INTENT 

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. 

BRILLIANT BUMRAH

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.  

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES 

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