CricViz Analysis: David Warner at No.3?

Australia’s selectors have intimated that the controversial batsman may bat at first-drop; Ben Jones analyses their options.

Australia don’t arrive at the 2019 World Cup in the best of nick. Whilst series wins against India and Pakistan have boosted their confidence after a dreary year, they are still one of the least formidable Australian sides of the modern era. They will go into their opening game against Afghanistan having won just 48% of their matches in the previous 12 months; that’s their worst record ahead of any tournament in the modern era.

This isn’t a poor Australian team – their attack is too talented to say that – but rest assured, it isn’t a strong Australian side either. Their batting is a touch under-powered, and their spin attack could be shown up on flatter wickets. If they get to the semi-finals, they will have performed well, and should be pleased with their efforts.

Of course, that isn’t really the Australian way. Even back when India were touring last winter, commentators and writers were looking at ways to fix the ODI side, and what was curious (to an outsider) was how they didn’t speak about simply improving the side, but about picking a team that could ‘actually win the World Cup’. The tone was of revolution, not evolution; settling for respectability is not, at least in the broad-brush world of national stereotypes, part of the Australian sporting psyche.

As such, Australian fans, pundits and coaches are willing to be a bit radical, to try and steal a march on their rivals by pulling an unusual move. This has manifested most obviously in the discussion around the reintegration of David Warner. Returning from his ban, the batsman should slot in at the top of the order, his natural home and where he’s made his substantial reputation. Yet this has been questioned.

After all, those Australian wins in the UAE and India came with Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch at the top of the order, forming a solid opening partnership that built platforms, time and time again, for other players to come in and move the score from defendable to genuinely competitive. Beating India in India is a serious achievement, and the combination of Finch and Khawaja was hugely influential in that result. To disrupt that partnership by bringing Warner back would, so the argument goes, be a significant mistake.

If Warner were to return to the top of the order, it would be Khawaja who would make way, given that Finch is not as versatile as his current partner. The Victorian has batted 105 times in ODIs, and 103 of those innings have been in the opening pair; Khawaja on the other hand is used to batting in the middle order, in both ODIs and Tests. Pushing against this, eloquent cases have been made for Khawaja holding onto that opening berth, cases that have largely focused on how his personal record opening the batting is significantly better than when not. Khawaja averages more runs per innings when opening, and he scores those runs more quickly. It’s hard to refute that he prefers batting in the opening pair.

One of the potential reasons for this is that Khawaja starts slowly. Whilst a very elegant batsman when he’s in form, he does not have a particularly wide range of easy release shots, and can get bogged down; he also lacks the power to just go hard and frighten captains into putting the field back, easing any early pressure.

The consequence of all this is that, when batting in the middle order, Khawaja scores more slowly off his first 20 balls than any other Australian.

When opening the batting, he can get away with these slow starts. He has more gaps to hit in Powerplay 1, getting better value for the attacking strokes he does play, but also crucially he has more time to play with. A slow start is not fatal to Australia’s chances, because there is time both for him to catch up, or for others to recover. When he arrives in the 25th over, bats slowly for 10 overs and then gets out, he’s significantly damaged the team effort. Opening doesn’t so much maximise the effect of Khawaja’s strengths, but rather minimise the negative effect of his flaws.

So, in that sense, there is a lot to be gained from Khawaja opening. There could also be unexpected benefits, not just in keeping Khawaja at the top of the order, but of batting Warner at three. Australia don’t have many good players of spin in their side; only three Aussies average 50+ against spin since 2015, and David Warner is one of them. Putting him lower in the order could help them in the middle overs, when more spin is bowled.

It’s not necessarily that Warner has a wide range of devastating techniques to counter spinners. He does sweep effectively (averaging 32 but scoring at 8.6rpo), and rarely uses his feet to the spinners (coming down just 7% of the time, less than the 9% average for Australian ODI batsmen since 2015), but the primary strength in Warner’s game against spin is his elimination of risk. He scores at less than a run-a-ball, but he does so extremely securely.

Since the last World Cup, Warner is almost twice as secure against spin than he is against pace. It is rare that a spinner is able to find the edge of Warner’s bat; in part due to the periods of the innings when he faces them, but also because his technique is watertight against them. Even when facing spinners in Powerplay 1, Warner gets out every 39 balls, compared to every 41 against pace.

So, there’s the logic behind why you may want to drop Warner down the order to No.3. His strengths cover a weakness of this Australian side – moving him to three is appealingly simple, and potentially gets the best out of another player.

However, it feels a bit like overthinking. Warner appears to have been the first person ever to get worse while he’s not been in the team. English all-rounder Liam Dawson’s reputation grew from competent cricketer to a Ponting-Murali hybrid when he wasn’t selected for the initial World Cup squad, and it’s not a new phenomenon. Players left out always feel more enticing, a silver bullet that can return to the side and cure all the ills of the XI. It’s more appealing than waiting for good players, already in the team, to start being good again. Yet Warner has suffered the opposite fate. People have rapidly forgotten how good he is.

Since the last World Cup, no Australian has a higher average Impact with the bat than Warner. His Impact (+11.1) is more than double the next best batsman, Matthew Wade, whose +4.6 figure is rendered yet more obsolete by the fact he’s not even in the World Cup squad. There is no question, no modicum of doubt, that Warner is Australia’s best batsman.

Since that 2015 tournament, Warner has made 2296 ODI runs, at an average of 56.00, and has chalked up 10 centuries. Every one of those runs, each of those centuries, was made opening the batting. To look at this batsman, who has proved over a long period of time – not just in two series over the last six months – that he is the beating heart of the ODI side, and suggest that the place he has forged that reputation is, perhaps, not best suited for him, is perverse.

In truth, the calls for Warner to drop out of the opening pair are as likely to be fuelled by the controversy of the last year, as they are by cricketing judgement. Moving him away from his preferred position feels like a form of contrition, a statement from the powers that be that you don’t just get to slot back in as you were, no questions asked. There is probably a fair bit of weight to that argument. If that’s what matters most, then it makes sense.

However – it isn’t what matters most. Australia are one of six teams who can win the World Cup, but they are only just in that bracket. England have enough world class batsmen to drop Alex Hales because he was becoming a distraction; Australia don’t have enough world class batsmen to in any way limit Warner’s effectiveness. Make your statements in the press, present his reintegration in whatever manner you wish, but when the cricket starts, Warner is Australia’s star player and should be treated as such.

The actual radical option, in this curious situation, is to return to the status quo. Warner should open the batting – if he does, Australia give themselves a puncher’s chance.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: England’s Reserve Spinner

Ben Jones analyses who will be back-up to Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.

So, there we have it. England have played their last ODI before the World Cup begins, an emphatic win over Pakistan in Leeds to complete a 4-0 series victory. In most respects, their preparation for the biggest summer of cricket we’ve ever seen has been perfect. All of the top six batsmen have had a hit, looked in good form, and three of them have made tons; Jofra Archer’s assimilation into the side has been swift and successful, potentially solving issues at both the start and end of the innings; and the team has looked slick, fielding well and solving problems, recovering from whatever minor slip-ups have befallen them.

There are, however, two questions to answer. England name their final World Cup squad on Tuesday, confirming the fifteen men who, barring injury, will be spear-heading the hosts’ attempt to bring the trophy home, on home soil. You would suggest that, barring a trip on the stairs or dropping a bottle of aftershave on their foot, 12 of those names are locked in. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Liam Plunkett, James Vince – these 12 players are near certainties to be confirmed.

From there, some decisions have to be made. The selectors need to fill out the remaining spots with – you would think – three from Joe Denly, Mark Wood, Tom Curran, and David Willey, and Liam Dawson. We’ll deal with the question of the seamers elsewhere; for now, let’s address the issue of the reserve spinner.

Firstly – they do need one. Whilst the World Cup pitches aren’t going to turn substantially (though an average deviation of 2.8° since the 2015 WC is only just below the Global Average of 3°), England do need to protect the strategy which has brought them so much success. 34% of their overs at home since the last World Cup have come from spin, a figure it would be impossible to replicate with only one man capable of bowling spin of some kind. Moeen Ali has suffered from side strains in recent times, injuries that can rule you out for varying degrees of time; whilst a serious one could see you sidelined for the duration of the tournament, but a twinge could be healed rather more quickly, and as such England would be reluctant to replace Moeen in the squad without serious consideration. If such a strain for Moeen was enough only to rule him out of one or two matches, then England would require either Joe Root to step up and bowl out, something he’s done only twice in ODIs, or for a backup spinner to come in. Both of those options have their pros and their cons, and Root’s bowling is perhaps undervalued in international cricket, but the sensible, pragmatic option is to have someone in the squad capable of bowling 10 competent overs. A backup is necessary.

As it stands, the man in possession of that role is Joe Denly – but he’s not had a good few weeks. One wicket in three matches against Ireland and Pakistan reflects poorly on his ability to trouble international batsmen, even if an economy rate of 5.45rpo doesn’t suggest he can be dispatched with ease. According to CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model, the balls that Denly has bowled since returning to the side would, on average, bring a wicket every 64 balls. That is the worst record of any spinner to bowl in ODIs in the last year (min 5 overs). It is very difficult to make an argument for Denly to be the third best spinner, for the best ODI side in the world.

What will worry England’s selectors just as much is the erratic nature of Denly’s bowling, his technique seemingly affected by the pressure-cooker environment of international cricket. He’s bowled six full tosses since returning to the side; Adil Rashid has only bowled seven in his last three ODI series combined.

Of course, it’s fair to say that England have handled his selection less than ideally. A man catapulted back into international contention by an excellent all-round performance with Kent in the Royal London One-Day Cup, Denly is not the ridiculous choice some have painted him as. He made a lot of runs, and was instrumental in Kent’s success. However – his form with the ball was just that, a golden streak of form. He is a top-order batsmen who bowls spin who, out of nowhere, had a perfect period with the ball; 40% of his domestic List A wickets came in a stretch of 44 days during last year’s domestic season. That is not something you should be able to say of a top level bowler.

Equally, Denly has not been given a fair opportunity. Every England player to play at least three matches in a series since the last World Cup either faced or bowled more balls than Denly did this series; regardless of what you think, it’s hard to say that he’s had a proper chance to make his case. Denly has bowled just 66 balls since his return; wicket Probability is a very helpful guide, but that is not enough bowling on which to judge a bowler. At Bristol, Eoin Morgan rightly withdrew him from the attack after one over, in order to win the match. It maintained England’s winning form, and for that reason you cannot fault him, but it robbed England’s coaching staff of the chance to see more of him. Denly is a leg-spinner, after all, and despite being a part-time bowler he is still likely to show the pros and cons of that bowling technique. Sure, he didn’t land three of his first five deliveries, but he beat the bat with his sixth. Had this been a young wrist-spinner, being blooded into the first team, Morgan would never have withdrawn him from the attack, and would have instead played the numbers game, accepting that this is a high risk approach from a high risk bowler.

It hasn’t been handled as deftly as it could. However, the overwhelming evidence is that Denly is not capable of being England’s backup spinner in the World Cup.

If it’s not Denly, then who?

There are the aggressive, radical options. Matt Parkinson has been a crucial part of Lancashire’s white ball strategy in the past few seasons, and would have gained valuable experience in the BBL this winter had he not suffered an injury. Only one spinner (Nathan Sowter) has taken more wickets than him in the last two seasons of the RLODC. Likewise, Mason Crane has shown an ability to turn the white ball considerably, and does have brief (if unsuccessful) international experience. If introduced into the England set-up over the last 12 months, these might not even be seen as radical options, but rather more obvious ones given the skill of these young bowlers – but you can’t throw young leg-spinners into the intensity of World Cup cricket without sussing them out in less pressurised environments first. It wouldn’t be fair to them, or to the captain managing them.

No, it’s Crane’s Hampshire teammate who has made the most consistent case to be involved. Liam Dawson – the last spinner not called Joe, Adil or Moeen to play for England – would be the obvious choice. He has taken 25 List A wickets in the last two domestic seasons, at an extremely healthy economy rate of just 4.38rpo, whilst bowling as part of a successful Hampshire side. The direct comparison with Denly’s bowling is also rather stark; in the last two seasons, Dawson has more wickets, a better average, a better economy rate, and a better strike rate than his Kent counterpart.

What’s more, Dawson’s insertion into the side would still give England the variety they value so highly. If he were to replace Moeen, England maintain the finger-spin/wrist-spin balance; if he replaces Rashid, they still have two spinners taking the ball in opposite directions.

There is little between the two in terms of their all-round contribution either. Dawson’s List A Batting Average (33.00) is only a smidgen below Denly’s (35.97); both Denly and Dawson have recorded positive Fielding Impact figures in international cricket. The overall effect they have on the XI with their ‘secondary’ skills is almost exactly the same, meaning that the key distinguishing factor between them is their bowling. Dawson’s bowling is better, period.

Of course, it is necessary to acknowledge that England have got almost every decision spot on in the last four years. The handling of Alex Hales’ issues was criticised by some, but the decision to remove him from the squad has given James Vince vital time in the middle, clarifying his role as the next cab of the rank in terms of top six batsmen. Eoin Morgan, Trevor Bayliss, and the ECB as a whole have built the best ODI side England have ever seen, a side that is the best in the world, and one of the best purely batting line-ups in the history of the format. That does not happen by accident, and they deserve enormous credit.

Denly’s selection is a blot on their copybook, but one that is amplified by the fact it comes just before the biggest moment in English cricket’s modern era. The scrutiny over every detail in selection is a new thing for England’s white ball sides – before now, it’s rarely felt that it mattered. These tweaks to the squad matter, because everything is feeding into what English cricket needs to be the perfect campaign. Bringing Dawson into the XV gives England a better chance of winning the World Cup; let’s hope that the selectors make the right choice today. There’s a lot riding on it.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Jos Buttler – Best of the Rest?

Ben Jones looks at how England’s ODI juggernaut has reached new heights.

Virat Kohi is the best ODI batsman in the world, and has been for some time now. That isn’t in question. But ever since he got the Test captaincy, Kohli has also been consistently labelled the most ‘important’ cricketer in the world. So the story goes – as long as this handsome, chiselled genius takes Test cricket seriously, he will keep people interested in the oldest form of the game. Such is the power of Indian cricket, that anyone who can hold its attention is the most important in the game. Matches are won, matches are lost, but Kohli runs this joint.

Well, for the first time in a long time, that crown might be on the move. A World Cup and an Ashes in England this summer, a once in a lifetime occurrence, and there is a core of around five players likely to play a substantial role in both: Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, and Jos Buttler. These men are the core of the England’s cricketing summer. Yet within that group, one man stands out. Buttler is the most talented player of that five, the core of the core, the most thrilling. And right now, he is arguably the most important cricketer in the world.

***

On Saturday, in the aftermath of yet another destructive century from his wicket-keeper, Eoin Morgan spoke of Buttler having “a gear that not many of us have”. It’s true; even amongst this crop of explosive English batsmen, Buttler seems capable of going further, hitting harder, and scoring more quickly than his peers. When trying to hit a boundary, Buttler scores at 10.75rpo, faster than any other established England batsman; Buttler’s top gear is just faster than anyone else’s.

Then again, this isn’t anything new. Buttler has always had that gear. Even back in the day when England were much, much worse at ODI cricket than they are now, Buttler could always come in and raise spirits, hammering the ball about to lift England’s score to only slightly sub-par. Back then though, he always had flaws; target him with the ball spinning away, either from a leg-spinner or a slow left-armer, and he would struggle, both to score and to survive. He was always susceptible to a Mankad, though that rather more charming flaw still remains.

What Buttler has added to his game now is a level of consistency, to go with his ferocity. At this moment in time, he has no weaknesses. Since the last World Cup, he averages over 40 against every one of the five main bowling types, and matches this with a scoring rate of better than a-run-a-ball against each of them. As a captain you might have a bowler of great quality that you fancy to limit Buttler’s scoring, or dismiss him, but there isn’t an obvious kind of bowler to turn to. The much talked-up use of ‘match-ups’ doesn’t really work against Buttler.

Of course, he’s better against some deliveries than others. Imagine a team purely of Jos Buttlers; if you were bowling at that team in an ODI, a team of only Buttlers in the form he’s been in for the last four years, you would concede 376-7. Not bad, you’d have to say. However, such is his brilliance at dispatching full pitched deliveries, that if you played a team of Buttlers facing nothing but full balls, you’d have them seven down again by the end of the innings, but in the meantime, they’d have wracked up 531.

There’s only one Jos Buttler – for bowlers, that’s probably a good job.

What Buttler – and the people around him – have started to perfect, is the application of his talent. He’s always had all the shots, but improving his shot selection, and thus his shot success, has been crucial. Since the World Cup, Buttler scores at 10.75rpo with attacking shots. The only batsman in the world who can better that is Rohit Sharma, but whilst the Indian’s strokes score more quickly, they’re less secure. Buttler is dismissed every 41 attacking shots; Rohit, 36.

This new-found breadth to his game, and the way he’s refined his attacking skills, mean that Buttler is easily utilised in all areas of the innings, his ability straining against that more traditional idea of ODI batsmanship. His role in this England side isn’t just that of the archetypal finisher. England have identified that he can move up the order, off the back of a bright start by Roy, Bairstow and Root, allowing Buttler more time to just tee off with limited downside if he fails.

Since the last World Cup, Buttler has batted 74 times in one-day internationals; 57 of those innings have been at No.6, his normal position, the one on the teamsheet before a ball is bowled. Yet when he receives a promotion into the top five, his numbers soar. His average rises from 44.59 to 71.81, his scoring rate from 6.85rpo to 9.15rpo, and he makes a century every 4.25 innings. England deserve considerable credit for judging when to promote him, because his success rate in such a high-risk, high-octane role is remarkable. Trevor Bayliss, the support staff, and Eoin Morgan, have repeatedly got the call right about when to send Buttler in early.

Of course, from another angle, giving Buttler the most time possible to express himself does make very straightforward sense. You can see in his recent record that one of the primary limits placed on what Buttler can achieve, is what the other team can achieve. In the last four years almost exactly the same whether batting first or batting second, the difference between the two is not his input, but his scoring rate. Yet what a difference it is.

Given the blank canvas of setting a total, unencumbered by the other team’s effort, Buttler shoots for the moon and, more often than seems possible, he finds the target. Six of his seven centuries have come in the first innings of matches, showing that if his efforts aren’t cut off by England having reached the target, then he’s going to town.

Yet even with this new breadth to his game, Buttler is a finisher at heart – the death is where he comes alive. From the 41st over onwards, Buttler scores at almost 11rpo. Since the World Cup, that is 2rpo faster than the next quickest death overs hitter. Sure, he’s jumping from a more solid base than many others on that list – England rarely fail to give him a platform to work from – but he has no right to be that much better than everybody else. The rate at which he accelerates in those final overs is stunning, lifting England’s totals above 350, above 400, above what any others have achieved before them.  

In those last 10 overs, you can see the effect that Buttler has on opposition teams. You can see, in the bowler’s eyes, in the captains’ floundering, that trying to limit Buttler in this period is a fool’s errand, because when Buttler is in that zone, there is nowhere you can bowl to him. He scores at frightening rates all around the field, his technical excellence such that even his slowest scoring area – cover – still sees him score at 9rpo.

Typically, this sort of analysis would now show a graphic, with high strike rates against all deliveries, apart from a lower scoring spot against the well-executed yorker. It would reaffirm that even though yorkers are tough to get right, and go the distance if they go wrong, they are still the best option to this explosive player if you get them right. For most batsmen, the perfect ball stops them in their tracks. It does not stop Jos Buttler. When he hits full speed, the only option is to get out of the way.

All of the above is explanation for why Jos Buttler is, right now, the best ODI batsman in the world not named Virat. The destructiveness he achieves with such startling regularity is not something we have seen from an Englishman before, and it’s not something we’ve often seen from anyone. He has, Since the World Cup, 19 men have made more runs than Buttler; eight men have made more runs at a better average than Buttler; nobody has made more runs, at a better average, quicker than Buttler.

Nobody.

However, it’s not an explanation for why he has so rapidly become the most important cricketer about. To understand that, you need to watch him bat. You need to see the way he transforms, as the bowler releases the ball, from a tousle-haired heartthrob into a ruthless agent of chaos. You need to see how different he is to everyone else.

Joe Root is a gorgeous ODI batsman, playing chanceless knocks with a calm assuredness that few in the world can match. Jonny Bairstow is arguably the finest opener in the world right now. Ben Stokes is, well, Ben Stokes. The point of difference with Buttler is that, for all the practice hours, all the training that he’s put in, you still get the sense that Buttler is discovering new things he can do. When he backed away at Southampton at the weekend, and tennis-shot flat-batted a bouncer to the rope, he looked a little shocked. We all did too, of course, but Buttler was as surprised as the rest of us. His particular type of ability is accessible to anyone – nobody could watch him ramp a 90mph bowler for six into the Taff last summer, and fail to be awestruck. He is obviously, aesthetically, physically incredible.

Sometimes you need a breakthrough single, a louder, sparkier effort that presents a case to the world and invites it to get involved. This summer, the summer of all cricketing summers, Buttler is English cricket’s lead single, the one they are throwing at the radio, plastering across billboards, the one they want you to hear because they know that, after hearing that, you’ll hunt out the album.

Cricket in England isn’t at some terrible moment in its history, but it has been given an opportunity that no previous generation has ever had; the two events that non-cricket people have heard of, are happening in England, in one summer. Buttler has an audience this summer, an audience that shown the right thing, will fall in love with the game. Buttler is the right thing – and he’s the most important cricketer in the world.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Hardik Pandya’s Batting Resurgence

The way Hardik Pandya holds the bat is strange. His hands are set much higher up the handle than most batsmen, and when his wrists whip through a shot it can often look as if the bat is about to burst through his hands, and fly off away from him. It clearly aids his explosiveness, helping him get extra leverage against deliveries that others would hit along the ground, but it also lends a certain frisson to his batting, a sense of danger. At times in the last few years it has felt like Hardik’s grip on his own career was just as loose. At times, it’s felt like all his potential was slipping through his fingers.

***

18th June 2017. The Champions Trophy Final is taking place, South London filled with India and Pakistan fans flocking towards The Oval, preparing to see cricket’s fiercest rivalry appear on a worthy stage. Less than two years later, and the story of how that day unfolded is already a familiar one, how Fakhar Zaman and Mohammed Amir shocked the World No.1s, and blew India away. Two magnificent individual performances gave the men in green the title, as well as the most keenly fought bragging rights in world sport.

But the best innings of the day wasn’t played by a man in green, but in blue. The 76 (43) that Hardik played was remarkable. Innings are typically spoken of as being “constructed”, but none of those 43 shots gave the sense of a man building anything. This was pure destruction. Hardik was decimating the attack, tearing down Pakistan bowlers one by one. Planted in the minds of the most optimistic Indians, and pessimistic Pakistanis, was a sense that something special was happening. The potential for this game to have a final twist was there.

Then of course, it ended. Run out by Ravi Jadeja, Hardik flounced back to the pavilion in visible discomfort and anger. It was understandable. Here was a 23 year old in the biggest match of his life, sensing greatness, at however great a distance, then it was yanked away from him.

Yet those detached from the heat of the situation could see something else. With a sense of perspective, it was clear that here was a talent truly announcing itself on the global stage; this was the final match of one tournament, but this young man was clearly on a serious trajectory. The next world tournament that rolled around would surely be in his sights. Hardik Pandya had arrived.

Has that been the case?

In short, no. India head into the World Cup as second/joint favourites, and are correctly regarded as a brilliant side. However, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who sees Hardik as one of the “defining” players of this side. In ODI cricket last year, he averaged just 13.60 with the bat. He may ‘balance the side’, get through overs and help the overall structure of India’s line-up, but that is a dramatic collapse.

From the Champions Trophy onwards, he’s passed 50 twice, never passed 100, and averaged 23.30. On that June day back in 2017, Hardik stood up and told the world he was the next superstar in line. He hasn’t said it since. His Average Batting Impact since then is almost exactly zero, suggesting that the average player could have offered everything that Hardik has offered with the bat.

It’s not hard to pinpoint the issue. Just as he showed when clattering Imad Wasim over long-off two years ago, Hardik can decimate spin – but he’s crumbled against the seamers. A recent average of 41.80 against the former is dragged back down to earth by an average of just 17.13 against the latter. Those are humbling numbers.

It’s infected his game across the board, and has lead to a very strange 12 months or so for the young man. Some blamed India’s Test losses in South Africa on his presence. In England he starred with the ball at Trent Bridge, but struggled to make an impact with the bat, and fell through the cracks as India, again, came up short overseas. Personal controversy has seen him miss matches, and lose the support of some fans and commentators. In Hardik’s absence from the touring party going to Australia, Kohli’s side made history. Many predicted that Hardik’s ascension to international cricket would be instrumental in India’s all-format supremacy; in fact, the supremacy came without him.

However, in the last few weeks, Hardik’s loose grip on his career has tightened, if only metaphorically – because he’s having one of the great IPL seasons with the bat. 355 runs, considering he’s coming in late in the innings, is astonishing. His scoring rate, 11.96rpo, is well and truly elite. In the history of the competition, this storied tournament that’s seen all of the greats appear on its stage, only one man has scored 200+ runs in a season at a faster rate. The only batsman to ever outperform Hardik in this regard is Andre Russell, this season.

The effect that Hardik has had on Mumbai Indians’ batting has been immense. This season, his Batting Impact of 9.3 is the second best of anyone on show. Again, he’s trumped by Russell – but being the best of the rest is an impressive achievement in this scenario. Hardik is finally bringing his talent to bear on a major tournament and making a tangible, obvious difference to his team.

It’s come out of nowhere. Nothing in Hardik’s performance over the last 12 months have suggested he was ready to ascend to these new heights, and while there have been some changes to his game since the start of this tournament, they have been more qualitative than strategic. This season, Hardik has attacked a higher proportion of his deliveries this season than he has ever done before; he has also played a false shot to a lower proportion than ever before. To match increased aggression with increased security is impressive. Few could do it.

Encouragingly, he has maintained this excellence against all bowling types. He’s averaged 48.40 against pace, and 56.50 against spin, scoring at more than 11rpo against both. The imbalance we’ve seen in his ODI batting has not been evident in his T20 form. There has been some substantial improvement in all areas of his game that has left him a more complete batsman.

However, rather than some silver bullet that has solved his ills, Hardik’s improvement seems to be more down to various elements falling into place. Before this year, at various points, he has shown ability in all facets of batting. In 2015 – his debut IPL season – he recorded an Attack Rating of 198, remarkably high. In 2017, he managed to record Timing and Power Ratings of 133 and 142 respectively, but was unable to match it with the naked aggression he showed when he first burst on the scene. This year, he’s brought it all together; an Attack Rating of 199, a Timing Rating of 149 (his highest ever) and a Power Rating of 147. It’s the first time that every aspect of Hardik’s batting has come together and clicked. And my, how it’s clicked.


His improvement could equally be a result of what has gone on around him. Mumbai weren’t exactly a rabble last year, but they weren’t exactly on their game; this year, they are clearly an improved team. Specifically, they have been getting off to better starts – their dismissal rate in the Powerplay (36) is the best they have ever recorded in an IPL season. Hardik has been able to launch his fireworks from a solid platform, and it’s hardly a surprise that they’ve gone further and burned brighter than before.

India’s decision to omit Rishabh Pant from their World Cup squad leaves a vacancy that needs to be filled – the guy who goes berserk at the death. Hardik may still not quite have the temperament to bat at No.4 in ODI cricket, but he can certainly take the late-order hitting role. His role in the World Cup is going to resemble his Mumbai Indians role rather closely, arriving in the final overs and trying to smack a tired attack over the rope. On the evidence of this IPL, you’d have to say he’ll do well.

If Hardik couldn’t bowl, people would appreciate his batting far more. It would be spoken of in similar tones as people speak of Pant’s – stylish, flawed, but recognised. His versatility, his ability to contribute in all areas of the game, has meant that in the area where he can contribute the most, he goes underappreciated. He’s a man who has made a Test century on debut, who can almost match Rohit Sharma for power and swagger, if not yet in material returns.

So in a way he’s gone full circle, from prodigy to the doldrums and back again. June 9th, almost exactly two years since he last did so, Hardik will walk out to bat in an ODI at the Oval. A lot has happened since then. There is still a gulf between how Hardik Pandya presents himself to the world, and how the world judges him. Yet if the runs he’s made in IPL 2019 – and the way he’s made them – say anything, it’s that the gulf is closing.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

IPL Season Preview: Royal Challengers Bangalore

Freddie Wilde previews the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Last season: 6th

A late run of victories took RCB to the brink of qualification and a win in their last match of the season against Rajasthan Royals would have been enough to finish in the top four. However, they lost and ultimately finished sixth on Net Run Rate. This was probably a fair reflection on a season marred by death bowling struggles, inconsistencies in selection and an over-reliance on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers.

Personnel Changes

RCB have made a number of changes to their squad from last season. Before the auction they released Brendon McCullum, Chris Woakes, Corey Anderson and Sarfaraz Khan, traded Quinton de Kock to Mumbai Indians and Mandeep Singh to Kings XI Punjab in exchange for Marcus Stoinis coming in to the squad. Star batsmen de Villiers and Kohli were retained along with all the all rounders and the majority of the bowling attack. At the auction RCB spent the bulk of their purse on three players: the exciting all rounder Shivam Dube, rising star batsman Shimron Hetmyer and the local batsman Akshdeep Nath. RCB also picked up South African wicket-keeper batsman Heinrich Klaasen for just Rs 50 lakh.

Squad Summary

  • Total players: 24
  • Numbers of overseas players: 8

Squad Composition

  • Openers (1): Devdutt Padikkal
  • Middle order batsmen (5): Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Milind Kumar, Himmat Singh, Shimron Hetmyer
  • Wicket-keepers (2): Parthiv Patel, Heinrich Klaasen
  • All rounders (7): Moeen Ali, Colin de Grandhomme, Marcus Stoinis, Prayas Ray Barman, Akshdeep Nath, Gurkeerat Singh, Shivam Dube
  • Wrist spinners (1): Yuzvendra Chahal
  • Finger spinners (2): Washington Sundar, Pawan Negi
  • Pace bowlers (6): Kulwant Khejroliya, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mohammad Siraj, Tim Southee

Strengths

Star-studded batting

De Villiers is the best T20 batsman in the world and Kohli is one of the most consistent, together they have formed the bedrock of RCB’s batting for half a decade and will continue to do so this season. Hetymer is an exceptional talent and will join de Villiers and Kohli in a potentially fearsome triumvirate, Klaasen is also a dangerous T20 basman. On their day they RCB be hard to stop, particularly at the batting-friendly Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Spin bowling

Chahal, Washington and Negi has the potential to be a strong spin trio. Chahal has been a consistent performer in the IPL for many years now. RCB need Washington to replicate his brilliant debut season, not his first season for RCB where his struggles robbed the team of a controlling finger spinner and a potential all rounder.

Powerplay bowling

Umesh, Southee and Coulter-Nile are all dangerous new ball bowlers. The earlier wickets are taken the more valuable they are and last season Umesh was a revelation for RCB, making regular breakthroughs in the first six overs – helping RCB to the equal best Powerplay strike rate of all teams of 20.1 balls per wicket.

Weaknesses

Indian batting depth

Aside from Kohli RCB’s Indian batting is alarmingly light. This was a problem for RCB last season with Indian players other than Kohli averaging 17.11 runs per dismissal. Since then they have traded Mandeep, their second highest Indian run-scorer last year, to KXIP and made no significant Indian additions to the batting other than Nath who remains unproven at IPL level. The experienced Parthiv will be carrying considerable responsibility.  


Squad balance

Having used three overseas spots used on all rounders and spent a large proportion of their budget on batsmen RCB’s squad is unbalanced. They have a number of bowling options but their first choice attack is unclear while their batting appears to be heavily reliant on de Villiers, Kohli and Hetmyer.

Death bowling

Death bowling was one of RCB’s major problems last season – their economy rate in the last five overs of the innings of 11.86 was by far the worst in the competition. This season they will be strengthened by Coulter-Nile who missed last with injury but Umesh, Southee and Siraj are inconsistent defensive bowlers and they may struggle to contain runs towards the end of the innings once again.


Key Player: Virat Kohli

RCB’s reliance on Kohli cannot be overstated. Their failure to bolster the Indian batting leaves him with huge responsibility to anchor the innings and provide stability to the big hitters around him. His captaincy will also be put under pressure, particularly in the death overs where he lacks options.

Best XI

1) Moeen

2) Parthiv+

3) Kohli*

4) de Villiers

5) Hetmyer

6) Dube

7) Washington

8) Coulter-Nile

9) Siraj

10) Umesh

11) Chahal

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: Cheteshwar Pujara – A Batsman Transformed?

CricViz analyst Ben Jones assesses whether the success of India’s No.3 is due to a technical change, or just their class shining through.

Edgbaston, 2018. It’s not quite as evocative as the date which preceded it by 13 years, but for Indian cricket, it could come to be as prestigious a moment.

On the 1st of August, India dropped Cheteshwar Pujara.

They opted to pick KL Rahul, the swaggering talent of half-fulfilled wonder, ahead of their hard-knock proven No.3. It was a staggering decision, one that left the press box and the stands aghast. One senior journalist in the room, when the decision was announced, exclaimed “where the **** is Pujara?”. It was a sentiment shared by many. Even now, it feels like a bizarre decision, and that may have cost India that Test. They lost it by 31 runs. Rahul made 17 runs in the match.

Yet if you proffer this opinion, that the decision to drop Pujara was a catastrophic error, you will be met with resistance from many who insist that the dropping was the best thing to ever happen to him. They insist that he changed his technique as a result of the dropping, altering the issue that had prevented him from completely dominating away from home in the way he had in India.

It’s fair to offer this. Since being dropped, and then subsequently returning for the following Test at Lord’s, Pujara has faced 2,035 deliveries, more than any other batsman in the world. He’s faced more deliveries and made his runs at a better average than his captain.He has become a colossus, ascending to a level others have been unable to match.

So, it feels appropriate to ask the question: has Pujara actually changed anything?

The first thing to isolate is that the problem for Pujara, an untrusted tourist, was that people didn’t think he could play the moving ball away from home. Whilst this isn’t completely borne out in the data, the numbers do point towards a clear issues against pace – specifically, an issue against good length deliveries from seamers.

This feels so incongruous, considering the caricature of Pujara. He is a wall, a Dravidian descendant who can bat for days – surely his resistance can’t be undone by the most basic of things, the ball on an awkward length? How can a man so solid average less than the 20.79 that top seven batsmen have averaged against those deliveries in the last two years? Yet the data suggests that, despite our impressions, this has been a flaw.

Equally, since the the Birmingham rejection, that record has altered significantly. His career average against pace in SENA countries (28.89) has risen to 37.33. It’s not huge, but it’s allowed him to dominate.

He has improved against all lengths, more solid in all areas, but most crucially he’s improved against those good length balls.

There are a number of things one could do to counter this kind of issue. You could bat more or less out of your crease, in the manner of Virat Kohli. The Indian captain has taken to striking the ball on average 2.2m away from his stumps during this series, whilst others like Ajinkya Rahane have opted to make the most of their back foot strength and sit deep. However, Pujara appears to have done neither.

An alternative option is that he’s playing the ball into different areas. If the batsman is looking to score in alternative areas of the field, and is succeeding, then that points to a change in technique. Across his career, Pujara has typically been heavy scoring behind square. That trademark cut, underrated in its aesthetic beauty and its ability to make you catch your breath, allows him to batter the seamers through backward point.

If we compare that to how Pujara has gone in these last two away series, has that changed?

Barely. These are minor alterations, the sort of small changes that are the result of an edged four here, a skewed drive there. Nothing has changed here. Pujara is still Pujara.

So if the issue in the South Africa series – the one that preceded being dropped – was the way he played pace, and he hasn’t changed when or where he’s hitting the ball, then how has he changed his intent?
In South Africa, he averaged a jot under 20, and struggled against the marauding seamers, let loose on hard, spitting pitches, but how did he respond? Has he run scared? Has he come out all guns blazing?

Below is Pujara’s batting record in SENA countries, across his career.

Since being recalled Pujara has attacked balls on his stumps less and attacked balls outside off stump more. He has, generally, been very aggressive off his pads, but cautious outside off stump, but this pattern has changed in that last six months. It is a tweak, an alteration in intent which hasn’t seen him score more heavily through off (as we’ve seen), but an alteration nonetheless.

So what we’re seeing here is a man who has slightly increased his intent in one area, whilst slightly decreasing his intent in another. It is a man who has changed his modus operandi marginally, but has certainly not thrown his previous game away. This is unequivocally not a man transformed.

And so, it’s fair to push back. Pujara has not become a different player since being removed from the side in Birmingham – he has simply regressed to the mean.

This is a phrase that, for better or for worse, has become associated with analytics. Leave things be, we say, and everything will revert to the norm. Leave Stuart Broad in the Test side, and he will take wickets. Keep Jose Mourinho, and he will win games. It is an instinctively and emotionally difficult argument to take, and it is easy to throw it back in the faces of those who throw it in yours. But is is valid, and it is important.

Because it’s simply a new version of an old idea. “Form is temporary, class is permanent”. Pujara will go to bed tonight with a Test batting average of 51.07. Of those to play 20 Tests in their career – the standard, accepted line where a sample becomes reasonable – just 32 men in history have managed to better Pujara’s record. Here before our eyes is a great of the game, a player of such skill and substance that only a generous handful of those before him could compete.

Yet he isn’t trusted. Perhaps this is an aesthetic issue, though I’ve made my personal position clear. Perhaps it is a broader issue, his status as a man untethered to an IPL franchise leaving him with fewer hardcore supporters than others in his homeland. Perhaps it’s simply that, aware of the crop of wonderful players at their disposal, India’s selectors erred on the side of youth and aggression.

But history will suggest that their decision was wrong. If Pujara plays in Birmingham, India may win that Test. They may remain faithful to a victorious side, and decide against including Kuldeep on the greentop at Lord’s. They may ultimately defeat an England side strong in spirit but low on confidence, and then arrive in Australia not with a point to prove, but with a supremacy to affirm. The history of Indian cricket could well have been oh so different.

Yet ultimately, this is just another microcosm. Pujara is a great, a great who will transcend any of these series, and anybody who doesn’t acknowledge this is wrong. And yet, as Day One turns into Day Two across the harbour in this famous city, India are content. They have assumed a dominant position in their most important Test of the 21st century, their overnight WinViz an assured 66%. At this most crucial of moments, they are in control of their destiny. For that, they can thank Chesteshwar Pujara: unassuming, unchanged, immoveable.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: December Players of the Month

December has been a busy month for Test cricket with eight of the 12 full member nations playing at least one match. Using CricViz data, Patrick Noone picks out the most impressive performers of the last 30 days.

Tom Latham

There were few signs at the start of the month pointing to what the New Zealand opener would achieve come the New Year. Latham’s first Test in December was in New Zealand’s series-clinching victory over Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, but the left-hander could only contribute scores of four and ten in the 123-run win.

Upon his return to home shores though, Latham found his groove and piled on the runs, 464 of them in total, making him the leading run scorer in December. Against Sri Lanka in Wellington, Latham recorded a career best score of 264* and followed that up with 176 in the second Test in Christchurch.

Latham’s recent form bucks the trend in a year in which openers from all over the world have struggled. To put that into perspective, Latham’s December average is 116.00, the next highest for an opening batsman is Dean Elgar’s 36.00. Latham has also been outperforming himself this month when compared to his career record – he’s played a false shot to just 8% of the deliveries he’s faced, compared to his career figure of 12%.

While New Zealand’s middle order might contain more eye-catching players, it has been the weight of runs from an old-fashioned opener that has put them on course for a fourth successive Test series win.

Cheteshwar Pujara

India’s rock at number three capped off a fine year with two more hundreds at Adelaide and Melbourne as Virat Kohli’s side retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Kohli (four) is the only player in 2018 to have scored more away hundreds than Pujara’s three and it remains a mystery that such a reliable performer in all conditions was dropped just ten Tests ago.

Obduracy is one of Pujara’s main assets and this month he was even harder to dislodge than normal. Across his career, Pujara is dismissed every 111 balls but in December, that figure shot up to 148. To record numbers like that anywhere would be impressive, to do so in unfamiliar conditions against one of the best bowling attacks in the world is nothing short of remarkable.

Australia have tried to bounce Pujara out at times, bowling short 36% of the time, but he’s been equal to it, averaging 79.00 against those deliveries in the current series. And when the quick bowlers have pitched it up, Pujara has averaged a more than handy 44.00.

His series has been a masterclass in patient, high quality run accumulation. With 328 runs, he is the leading scorer in the series and the contrast between Australia’s batting struggles and the calmness with which Pujara has made his runs has been stark.

Nathan Lyon

All the talk before the series against India was about the clash of the two seam attacks, but it’s been Australia’s off-spinner who tops the wicket-taking leaderboard for the home side. Lyon has taken 17 wickets in the first three matches of the series, only four fewer than he managed in the five Ashes Tests last summer. Those wickets have come at an average of 27.11, if he can continue at that rate in the last Test at Sydney, it will be his best performance in a home summer since 2011-12.  

However, it’s not just been the wickets that underline Lyon’s importance to this Australian bowling attack. He has also been able to exert more control than ever, limiting the Indian batsmen to boundaries from just 3.42% of the balls he’s bowled, the lowest he’s ever recorded in a home summer.

Lyon’s tactics have been varied in the current series – at Adelaide and Perth he bowled 6% and 10% of balls hitting the stumps respectively, before adjusting his line to see that figure shoot up to 26% in Melbourne.

It has not always been the case that Lyon has had the full backing of Australia’s selection panel and captain but now that the man they call ‘The Goat’ has long established himself as his sides’ number one spinner, he has the confidence to alter his game plan depending on conditions and, more importantly, the skill to succeed with whichever method of attack he chooses.

Jasprit Bumrah

India’s tearaway quick has been one of the finds of 2018 in the Test arena and his match-winning performance at the MCG capped a remarkable debut year that saw him excel in South Africa, England and Australia.

His nine-wicket haul in Melbourne took him to the top of the wicket-taking list for December with 20 Australian scalps to his name. Bumrah’s unorthodox action and ability to find movement both through the air and off the pitch have made him a nightmare for Australia’s batsmen to play – the right-arm quick has forced the Australians to edge or miss the ball with 24% of the deliveries he’s bowled. It has been one of the best performances by a visiting seamer to Australia; only Chris Tremlett’s 26% in 2011 surpasses the regularity with which Bumrah drew a false shot.

In a fast-bowling attack widely considered to be the best India has ever produced, Bumrah is the jewel in the crown, the X-Factor equally capable of bowling line and length to nick a batsman out as he is to bounce out the tail. His contribution to India’s retention of the Border-Gavaskar trophy has already been enormous, and it would take a brave man to bet against him having an impact in Sydney next week.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

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

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

AUSTRALIA MISS A TRICK

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

PUJARA’S MASTERCLASS

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

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

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

LYON’S MASTERCLASS

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

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

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

SLOWER SPEEDS

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

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

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket

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

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

INDIA’S PLANNING EXPOSED

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

TALE OF TWO NEW BALLS

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

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

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

VIJAY & RAHUL CAN’T RESIST 

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

CLASH OF KINGS 

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

Pujara and Kohli adopted different methods to counter Lyon. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. 

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

Sarfraz Ahmed’s 94 on the first day in Abu Dhabi was crucial in keeping the hosts in the game. Ben Jones analyses another classic counter-attack from the Pakistan skipper.

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