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CricViz Analysis: India’s Fast Bowling Superiority

Ben Jones analyses how the Indian seamers have trumped their Aussie counterparts, and retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

India aren’t supposed to win like this. India aren’t supposed to rock up overseas, and outbowl the opposition in home conditions. If they do, it’s certainly not supposed to happen in Australia. Yet over the last three weeks, that is exactly what has happened.

By almost every metric available, India’s fast bowlers have been better than Australia’s. India’s seamers have found more swing than Australia in this series. They have found more seam. They’ve bowled more balls on a good line and length. They’ve bowled more balls that would have hit the stumps. They’ve drawn more false shots, and taken more wickets at a better average. Presumably, they’ve also run quicker to the team bus, kept their bedrooms tidier, and kept their shoes cleaner. We don’t have the data for that.

This isn’t a poor attack that India have outperformed. Australia’s attack is still probably the finest in the world, and that is not a slight against Jasprit Bumrah and co. Yet the Indians have found 19% edges or misses in this series, compared to Australia’s 16%. They have been better than their hosts, and to outperform such a team in home conditions, is a genuinely historic achievement.

What’s more, their excellence has been specific, and pointed in the right direction, their planning sophisticated and effective. In individual moments each of them have shown considerable nous and intelligence – as documented on this site a few days ago – but they have arrived in Australia with a plan for how to dismiss every Australian batsman.

Peter Handscomb can’t play deliveries on his stumps (he averages just 11.75 against them in his career). India pressed on that bruise. 18% of the deliveries Handscomb faced from the seamers would have hit or clipped the stumps, the highest figure for any batsman on either side, barring Mitchell Marsh.

They knew that keeping Usman Khawaja quiet would be tough, but they banked on their ability to maintain pressure; 61% of the balls he faced were in the channel outside off-stump, more than any other Australian batsman. He’s responded to that pressure by averaging 27.83 and scoring at 1.96rpo, the slowest scoring rate for any series where he’s played more than once. India’s seamers have ruthlessly culled the weak elements of Australia’s batting line-up, and diminished the strong elements.

Every single member of that central Indian pace trio have found more seam movement than every Australian bowler. In a country where seam movement is the main weapon available to the fast bowler, that is a huge area in which to dominate. India have beaten Australia at their own game.

They have had their bad moments. The first session at Perth arguably cost them that Test, and throughout the series the only moment when they’ve not been able to match the home side has been with the new ball in their hand. As the innings has progressed, India have looked after the ball better than the opposition.

They’ve managed to do this by finding more reverse-swing. Tim Paine’s men have only been able to find 0.44° of swing in overs 41-80, while the tourists have found 0.6°. That is a considerable difference, and on flat pitches like the one in Melbourne, it can be a decisive one. India have maintained their threat throughout the innings, their depth, skill and stamina coming through in the most effective manner possible.

The sense is that this is a bowling attack hitting their peak. 2018 has been the year that India’s seamers dominated all before them; it is, without question, the finest year of fast bowling that Indian Test cricket has ever seen, and this Indian attack is outstanding. They end 2018 with 179 wickets; they’ve never taken more in a calendar year. They also end with a bowling average of 23.70; only three times in their history have they averaged less, and in those years they took 43, 9, and 7 wickets. Their achievements this year have gone far, far beyond those before them.

In a sense, this may be an unsustainable level of brilliance. This series, Jasprit Bumrah has found an edge or a miss every four balls. For bowlers who’ve bowled as many balls as Bumrah, that’s the fifth best series performance ever in the CricViz database (2006-present). The highest figure was Mohammed Shami in England this year, with 26.2%. A testament to their depth – they haven’t played the wonderful Bhuvneshwar Kumar once, in either England or Australia – but also a sign that these are outlier performances. Nobody could sustain them.

Alternatively, you could say there’s room for them to improve. Bumrah still hasn’t quite worked out how to bowl with the new ball in Test cricket, averaging 50.75 in the first ten overs of the innings compared to 18.27 from then on. That itself is an outlier – there is surely no chance that a player of Bumrah’s ability cannot increase his returns during the period when all other seamers find it easiest to take their wickets.

Kohli’s individual brilliance and force of personality insist that in Test cricket, batsmen are your defence. They lay the foundations, and ensure you don’t lose. Then, when that is established, the bowlers set about trying to win it. Kohli and Pujara have lead the way in building that platform, and they should receive ample praise for the work they have done. They surely will given that, as a cricketing culture, India is rarely less than keen to lavish praise on the run-makers.

Yet if India do win in Sydney, or the inclement weather in New South Wales takes us to a drawn final Test, then it will be because of the attack dogs Kohli has had pulling at the leash throughout the tour. The teams that come to Australia and win are the ones with immense bowling attacks. South Africa with Morkel and Steyn, England with Anderson and Broad backed up by the powerful support of Bresnan and Tremlett. Seamers who succeed Down Under win series for their sides; Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma could be about to enter the pantheon of all-time greats.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.


CricViz Analysis: Bumrah’s Perfect Over

Ben Jones analyses Jasprit Bumrah’s brilliant pre-lunch spell to Shaun Marsh.

Given the moment, given the match, given the series, this was one of the great overs.

With the final six balls before the interval, Jasprit Bumrah delivered a sequence of deliveries that left bowling coaches quivering, Indian fans ecstatic, and Shaun Marsh plaintively looking around him, wondering where on earth the ball had gone.

His confusion was understandable, because Bumrah had sent down one of the great slower balls. Bowled at just 111kph, it swooped under Marsh’s bat like a seagull diving into the water to catch its prey, timing its descent to perfection. Bang on target, the ball thudded into Marsh’s pad, the only thing preventing it from cannoning into middle-stump. It was superb.

However, the context of the delivery made it even more impressive. The way the ball related to the rest of the over, the way it functioned as part of a broader, more sophisticated assault on the Australian No.4, is where its true beauty exists.

Obviously, the variation of speed was key. Every ball before the final, fatal delivery was above 139kph, Bumrah turning up the heat and pushing Marsh back into his crease, setting him up. Marsh may have left four of those five balls, but that sort of pace sustained across an over is bound to get into a batsman’s head. This made the eventual deceleration all the more effective; the sixth delivery, the wicket ball, was 34kph slower than the fifth. It was the sort of pace-change that leaves you with whiplash.

The pace was fundamental, but it was accompanied by canny control of lateral movement. Bumrah was completely on top of his wrist position, and subsequently the seam position, and used it as another means of setting Marsh up for his demise. All of those first five deliveries were away-swingers, even the second delivery was tight into the off-stump, but the final ball swung back into the left-hander. It swung 1.3°, more than any other delivery in the over. In other words, it moved in an unexpected direction, to an unexpected degree. Marsh really was out of luck.

It was an over constructed so perfectly, with such precision, that it felt almost cinematic. It may not have had the numerous play-and-misses that often define classic overs, but make no mistake – this was pretty much as good as fast bowling gets.

This shouldn’t be surprising, given that the brilliance of Bumrah is now well established. In this series, Bumrah has drawn an edge or a miss once every four deliveries. Sure, it’s a series that has been played on some tasty surfaces, but his biggest contribution has come on the flattest wicket of the lot. He has extracted every last bit of movement from every pitch he’s played on, and that is worth a huge amount to captain, coach, and spectator.

We should give credit where it’s due. India’s selectors get a hard time, and generally for good reasons; they have made numerous mistakes which have cost India numerous matches, and their legacy is unlikely to be a positive one. However, the selection of Bumrah was a masterstroke. He bowls with a short run-up, a jerky action, and had relatively little first-class experience when promoted to the Test side. All three are the sorts of reasons we hear thrown about as reasons for not picking an unorthodox player, but rather than running scared from their maverick, India’s selectors brought him into the fold. His presence in the side just gives India that little bit of spark, those skills honed in tight white-ball finishes coming to the fore in the longer, less structured form of the game. India’s selectors backed Bumrah to put those skills to use, and to find a way to succeed. He’s repaid their faith, and then some.

By contrast, Australia haven’t shown quite the same willingness to trust their white ball ‘specialists’. The promotion of Aaron Finch suggests they aren’t absolutely averse to the idea, but he has been shoe-horned into the side playing in a position he doesn’t occupy for his state. That smacks of a whim, a gut-feel selection not built from knowledge or assessment. What’s more, Finch is a fairly orthodox batsman in terms of technique. The white ball batsmen who get chances are the ones who look a bit like the men already in the Test team.

Let’s take the example of Glenn Maxwell. He has a better Shield average than Finch and Travis Head, yet they are the ones to have been given chances in the Test side. Maxwell has a strong case to feel aggrieved with the way he’s been treated by the selection process, given that at times it feels as if his flair and invention in limited overs cricket distracts from his qualities in the red-ball form. His impressive average and his effectiveness as an attacking but substantial Shield batsman are ignored because he does not look like a first-class cricketer. On a day when an unorthodox cricketer devastated Australia’s middle order, the hosts’ reliance on more traditional performers, regardless of the soundness of their record, feels a little old-fashioned. As has been discussed on this site previously in greater detail, Australia’s reluctance to picking players at the extremes (Matthew Renshaw representing the opposite end of the spectrum to Maxwell, but still an atypical talent) is not serving their best interests, and will harm them going forward.

This may feel like two different discussions, but they really aren’t as distinct as they seem. The slower ball that Bumrah bowled today was a brilliantly executed skill, but a skill right out of the death overs of an ODI. That sort of inspiration and genius is valuable in all forms of the game, and India’s willingness to embrace Bumrah’s oddity and unorthodoxy, in order to benefit from those same traits, has taken them to the brink of victory in this Test and this series. Perhaps if Australia were more willing to do the same, we would be saying the reverse.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Cheteshwar Pujara’s 106 (319)

Ben Jones analyses a 481 minute masterclass from India’s brilliant No.3 batsman.

In high-scoring Tests, the opportunity to impact the game over a short period of time becomes the privilege of the bowlers. A few quick wickets become far more impactful than a quick 40 (50), the latter a brisk drop in the ocean while the former may have stopped 150-200 runs. On these sort of surfaces, your influence as a batsman is tied to how long you’re out in the middle.

Cheteshwar Pujara understands this better than anyone. He doesn’t bowl, and he’s a mediocre fielder; when he’s stood in the middle, with a bat in his hand, that is when he makes his contribution. He makes it count.

So, on a slow low surface in Melbourne, the Indian No.3 set about ensuring he would last longer than everyone else. On the first day, he batted through until stumps, and for much of Day Two it felt like he may repeat the feat, lingering around the day after Boxing Day, like a distant family member who stays for yet another round of leftovers, refusing to go home.

Pujara batted with caution, security, and control, and it was devastatingly effective. This was the slowest scoring rate he has ever recorded in a Test century, trundling along at just 1.99rpo. In part, this was due to the pitch; in part due to the tactics employed by Paine; but mainly thanks to Pujara being Pujara. This was simply the rate at which he wanted to make his runs.

Because his scoring rate was a deliberate choice; there was no intent to score more quickly. He attacked just 9.3% of the deliveries Australia sent down to him, again the lowest ever figure he’s recorded during a Test century. This was the most restrained century ever produced by a man known largely for his restraint.

He almost refused, point blank, to score any runs when the bowlers got it right. On a pitch where the Australian seamers have had to strive for any movement or pressure they have found, rebuffing the traditionally good deliveries by just dead-batting them, or even just letting them go by, was Pujara’s attempt to further depress the home bowlers. It worked perfectly.

Some might infer this as having ‘lacked intent’. But Pujara did show intent. He intended to stay at the crease and bat, and bat, and bat.

Because this wasn’t a pitch on which you could force the pace. It was a pitch where opportunities to score rarely came, and when they did they needed to be maximised. Pujara did just that. On Day One, Pujara played 22 attacking shots; just one of them saw him play and miss. This was a canny, clinical display of shot selection and execution, from a man blessed the ability to judge exactly which balls to go after, and to go after them with aplomb.

India have shown admirable willingness to take their time on this pitch, and on this tour in general. To tweak an old phrase, they have shown a willingness to risk drawing the Test in order to win it. When Pujara arrived at the crease (after Vihari’s blockade), WinViz gave the draw a 31% chance. As he left the field, it stood at 64%. India’s own WinViz chances had fallen slightly, from 32% to 28%, but Australia’s chances had been decimated. The hosts still have a slim hope of finding a route to victory, but it’s neither obvious nor easy. Pujara had blocked it off.

Indeed, the spirit of Pujara has wandered across into his teammates during their time in Australia. As a team, India defended 34% of the deliveries they faced. Only once in the last 18 months have they exceeded that. This pitch had a very specific set of challenges, and the Indian batsmen showed they were able to face them down.

India’s captain has been batting in the mould of the man above him in the order. This series, Virat Kohli has played an attacking shot to just 11.7% of the deliveries he’s faced. That’s the lowest figure he’s ever recorded, in any series, ever.

For Pujara, the figure is less obvious. He’s attacked 13.4% of his deliveries, just his fifth least attacking series – albeit his least attacking in series where he has faced 400+ deliveries. But the point isn’t that he’s been exceptionally defensive, but rather that he’s been exceptional in defence, and has brought his team – and his skipper – round to his way of thinking.

It is true that these runs have been made on a helpful surface. In the last three years, the longest innings by touring batsmen have all come in the Boxing Day Test, the curator in Melbourne offering a welcome gift during this festive period. But we could still see an Australian batting lineup fail to find the right tempo for these conditions, to get stuck like Vihari or look frenetic like Jadeja. There is still significant skill in making big runs in these conditions.

India are crawling, edging, delicately prodding their way to a series win in Australia. For a side full of white ball chargers, that is a notable feat of restraint. Perhaps Pujara doesn’t deserve the credit for making them play in this manner – he appears to be a reserved character, a quiet voice in a dressing room with several loud ones – but he has certainly shown them a different way. If India win this series, it will go down in history as a victory for Kohli’s captaincy, but they will have done it by learning from their No.3, not their No.4.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: The MCG Pitch

Christmas is about tradition. For some, it’s about the ritual of church; for others, it’s about setting off on familiar journeys, undertaken only once a year, but every year; for a select few, it’s about cauliflower. Everyone, to some degree, has their set of traditions for the festive period.

However, a worrying new tradition has been the wringing of hands over the Boxing Day Test. The Melbourne Cricket Ground has developed a worrying reputation for producing slow, attritional cricket, a reputation it can’t really deny. In the past four years, it’s seen just 12% false shots, the lowest for any Australian venue. The surface has varied, from spongy and dull all the way through to rock hard and dull. It has often produced tedious cricket. Today, frustratingly, was just that.

Neither batsman nor bowler could get moving. The 70,000 people at the MCG saw just 11% of deliveries bowled either drawing an edge or a miss, and a scoring rate of less than 2.5rpo. The combined lateral movement (that is to say, swing and seam) that Australia’s seamers found on Day One was 1.04°, the second lowest figure they have managed in the first innings of a Test match since 2012. In that time, they’ve toured the UAE, Bangladesh, and numerous other countries where the ball moving through the air or off the pitch is a rare sight indeed, but this trumped them all. The collective skill of that celebrated pace trio, Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood, couldn’t get the pitch to say a single word back to them. The best in the business were blunted.

The effect was that, denied their usual weapons, Australia had to go in alternative directions. Tim Paine turned to Nathan Lyon before an hour had passed, the off-spinner brought on to bowl the earliest spell of spin bowling in an MCG Test since records began. The seamers began to search for alternative plans, and deserve a certain degree of credit for doing so; they realised quickly that bowling full wasn’t a wise idea (across the day, full balls went at 5.09rpo, compared to 1.76rpo for all other balls), and so pulled their lengths back. In the first 30 overs, 32% of deliveries were pitched up, but that dropped to 19% for the rest of the day. Across the day as a whole, 47% of Starc’s deliveries were short balls. It’s rather instructive that the only time in his career that he’s bowled more short deliveries in the first innings of a Test was in the UAE earlier this year. These were not ‘Australian’ conditions, and Australia were having to adapt accordingly.

These pitches tend to attract criticism because they produce attritional cricket, a spectacle that some could describe as dull. The criticism tends to focus on the fan experience. However, it is worth contemplating what impact this has on the men in the middle.

Australia’s best bowler today was Pat Cummins. He was admirable in his application, digging the ball in time and time again regardless of the lack of response. It’s typical really; Cummins doesn’t have the furious random whirl of Starc, nor the reassuring metronome of Hazlewood. Instead, he is a bowler of considerable skill and intelligence, but most notably one of serious versatility. Today, he realised that he had to bowl stump to stump, and keep the batsmen playing, and he executed the plan well. His bowling was relentlessly accurate. 46% of Cummins’ deliveries today pitched on a good line and length; that’s the highest figure he’s ever recorded in a Test innings. His average speed was 142.16kph – only once in his career has he averaged more than 143kph. This was Cummins bowling as quick as ever, but with more accuracy than he’s previously managed.

There was also no desire to give the Indians any width. 5.5% of Cummins’ deliveries were wide outside the off-stump, the third lowest figure he’s managed throughout his career. This was an accurate, sharp spell of bowling that attempted to throw the pressure back on the batsmen, ignoring the conditions and focusing on what was unrelated to the pitch – the speed out of the hand, and where the ball was bowled. Cummins controlled the controllables, adapted his game, and succeeded.

Versatility can be a negative though. It can be a blight on your career development, asked to perform an ever wider array of roles without getting the chance to hone and refine your skills in one. To be versatile, to be effectively versatile and not get spread too thinly, is damned hard. People take liberties.

Australia need to be careful. Three years ago, a dead pitch at Perth almost forced Mitchell Johnson into retirement halfway through an over. The MCG will take a lot of stick for this surface, and it’s deserved, but the effects on these bowlers will last longer than the brief window of column-criticism that will come. Pat Cummins has already lost too many years to injury, years where the cricketing public was deprived of watching a bowler with the potential to be among the world’s best. He has the skill and willingness to bowl like he did today, on pitches like this, but he may not have the physical capability to do it for very long. Never mind the spectacle, never mind The Brand of cricket in Australia. Pitches like this will exhaust their bowlers, shorten careers, and damage the game.

This is why the booing of Mitchell Marsh wasn’t just rather rude, but ill-informed. Apart from the fact that Peter Handscomb was almost unselectable in his current form, Australia knew what was waiting for them at the G. They knew this pitch was sluggish and slow, as if having overindulged on second-helpings of turkey. Having a fifth bowler was essential on this track – even with one, there was a danger of Tim Paine having to overbowl his pace trio. Marsh was the pragmatic choice on a day where pragmatism was an absolute necessity.

In their 89 overs today, Australia’s attack were a cat without claws pawing away at a mouse, intended aggression softened into something almost comedic. Through no fault of their own, they were docile, and unthreatening. India did play with care and precision (though it is tough to gauge exactly how tough it was to survive), and we should always restate the caveat that you can’t truly judge a pitch until both teams have batted on it. However, there is little evidence to refute the idea that despite all the pre-game hype, this was another ‘traditional’ Melbourne pitch – and that’s one Christmas ritual that we’d rather ended this year.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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