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CricViz Analysis: Australia v India – The Seam Attacks

Patrick Noone compares the performances of the two seam attacks after India came out on top in Adelaide.

The match was billed as a battle between two great seam attacks – arguably the two best in the world – and it did not disappoint. All six of the quick bowlers had an impact on the match, with each picking up at least two wickets as 25 of the 40 wickets in the match fell to pace.

With the new ball, India’s seam trio were more accurate than their Australian counterparts, with each of them bowling a higher percentage of deliveries on a good line and length. Ishant Sharma was the most accurate of all, a phrase that would have been unheard of not long ago; as recently as 2016, Ishant bowled just 36% of his new ball deliveries on a good line and length. To have registered a figure as high as 56% in this match is as clear an indicator as any of the improvement that he has made as a Test bowler.

However, what is also clear is that Ishant’s reinvention has made him a more versatile bowler. As he showed on Day Five with his dismissal of Travis Head, he is capable of cranking it up and getting batsmen out with vicious bouncers – Ishant had not taken a wicket with a ball as short as that (11.2m) since he bounced England out atLord’s in 2014. To have bowlers who are able to extract wickets from nowhere in benign conditions is the difference between this India seam attack and those that have gone before it.

The conditions inAdelaide did not offer the seamers a great deal of assistance, with the 0.57°of both seam and swing the lowest seen at Adelaide Oval since 2009. Ishant massively outperformed the average in this match, finding 0.8° of swing and0.7° of seam movement. That was significantly more than every other seamer in the match and only serves to emphasise the size of the task Australia’s batsmen have in facing this Indian seam attack.

As a collective, it was not just their new ball accuracy that defined India’s quicks. This match saw them record the fastest average speed (141.58kph) that any Indian pace attack has recorded in a SENA country Test since records began in 2006. Coupled with the fact that 48% of the balls they bowled were on a good line and length– another all-time high – it is no surprise that this attack has been talked of as the best that India has ever produced.

Australia’s seamers were actually a fraction quicker (142.59kph) than India in the Adelaide Test, but were let down by their relative lack of accuracy with 37% of their deliveries landing on a good line and length. Mitchell Starc was the quickest of all the bowlers on show, with an average speed of 145.14kph throughout the match but his length was erratic. He was unable to nail his trademark yorker with any consistency, pitching only 29% of his deliveries fuller than 6.25m from the batsman’s stumps, the sixth lowest figure he has ever recorded across a Test match.

When he did get it right, Starc was as impressive as ever, picking up three wickets from full balls and two from short balls. It was when he resorted to bowling line and length when he was at his least effective, though he was at least able to keep the run rate down when he bowled in that area. Australia would arguably be better served to use Starc as an out and out strike bowler, encouraging him to bowl either very full or very short in short bursts to maximise his effectiveness.

India have drawn first blood in the series, clinching victory in Adelaide by 31 runs, but the battle between the two seam bowling attacks is far from over. The first Test showed that there is in fact very little between the two sides in that department. Despite India’s win, Australia’s quicks recorded a better economy rate (2.49 compared to India’s 2.69), a higher dot ball percentage (80.2% compared to India’s 77.8%) and the difference in the percentage of false shots drawn was minimal with India recording 17.9% to Australia’s 16.5%.

The home side can therefore perhaps consider themselves a little unlucky to be going to Perth 1-0 down, given the respective performances of the two pace attacks. For Australia, it is a matter of making minor tweaks, such as a clearer definition of Starc’s role that could make a major difference. At this level, it does not take much to shift the balance from one side to the other and Australia could yet find a pitch at the new stadium in Perth a touch more to their liking.

Meanwhile, India will be overjoyed with the way that their seamers hit the ground running at Adelaide Oval. During the recent series in England, a lack of preparation was blamed for India being unable to perform at their best during the early part of the tour. The contrast in Adelaide was stark: this is a bowling unit who have clearly defined roles and the ability to execute them in foreign conditions. They have variation, movement and pace that will cause Australia problems throughout the series. If the hosts weren’t sure if India could match them before the series, there will be no doubts in their minds now.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Handscomb’s Struggles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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