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CricViz Analysis: Did MS Dhoni cost India?

On a day when India lost in surprising fashion to Australia, Ben Jones assesses the impact of the Indian keeper’s controversial knock.

Obviously, Rishabh Pant should be in this Indian ODI side.

It confounds onlookers from around the world that a player of such outrageous talent, a player so closely aligned with what a 2019 white-ball batsman is supposed to look like, is not deemed worthy of a spot in a side with a notoriously soft middle order. The broader question of whether MS Dhoni should be in this side ahead of Pant is relatively moot.

There is little cricketing logic behind the reason to retain the veteran over the younger, more explosive wicket-keeper batsman. Dhoni is a more accomplished gloveman, but in the age of 350 chases, a middle order rammed full of players able to clear the rope is far more important. Dhoni hasn’t scored at over 4.2rpo against spin in ODIs for almost four years. Rishabh Pant scores faster than that in Test cricket.

However, the question of today’s innings deserves a bit of focus, away from the fanfare and hyperbole about the decline of an ageing great. Because this was a peculiar day of cricket. Few would have agreed that Australia had enough runs at the end of their innings; few would have anticipated the clatter of wickets that fell at the start of India’s. But for many, the defining question of the day is: did Dhoni cost India the game?

After Ambati Rayudu’s wicket fell, and Dhoni arrived at the crease, WinViz gave his side an 18% chance of victory. India had been left unbalanced as a result of the off-field issues surrounding Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul, and thus were left with an unusually long tail bolted onto their rather too usual weak middle order. It was a passage of play that called for caution, and Dhoni delivered.

When he left, dismissed LBW by debutant left-armer Jason Behrendorff, WinViz fell to 12% for the visitors. Dhoni walked off with his side in a worse position than when he arrived. By this measure, it would be fair to argue he had lost India the game.

Yet the ball before he was dismissed, his partnership with Rohit had lifted WinViz to 24%. Sure, his own role in the partnership had been the significantly more junior, despite his own immense experience, but at that moment, regardless of the pace of his scoring, his contribution (combined with Rohit’s) had increased India’s chance of winning this game. It was a chance that was increasing with every over, slowly creeping up as the sun went down over the SCG’s pavilion.

There’s a lot of talk about gambling in this form of the game. Playing your natural game, backing yourself, it’s all bound up in the language of a carefully calculated wager between yourself and the opposition. You throw everything at the bowler and hope that your eye, and your luck, are in. But in a way, what Dhoni did today is more of a gamble. For one, a long bad innings will attract more criticism than a short bad one, because it has so much more time to gather in intensity, for people to grow ever angrier. In the last decade, only two innings from Indian batsmen of 96 balls or longer have been slower than Dhoni’s today. One was Rayudu against Zimbabwe in 2016 (3.1rpo), and the other was Dhoni himself against the West Indies in 2017. This was, on the surface of it, a long, bad innings.

Equally, it may be a generous interpretation to suggest this was entirely a strategic choice. Outside of the death overs, the average player in this match played 34% attacking strokes, while Dhoni himself played 32%. He wasn’t attacking significantly less than the average; he was trying to up the rate, but was unable to.

And increasingly, that’s been the story for the Indian legend. In 2013, Dhoni’s attacking strokes scored at 11.04rpo in ODI cricket. In 2018, they scored at 7.43rpo. His ability to execute those attacking shots has decreased significantly, however much the intent and drive to play them remains.

Ultimately though – did his innings actually cost his side? Well, at CricViz we use a white-ball performance analysis metric known as Impact, which calculates how many runs any individual player contributed above or below that which the average player would have done in any given match. It is ideal for answering questions exactly like this one.

As you can see, Dhoni’s Batting Impact in this match was 0.7. He neither significantly added anything the average player wouldn’t have, nor cost his team substantially. For all the furore on either side of the debate, for all the heat in the conflicting arguments, Dhoni had a negligible impact on the match today. Without question, other players on both sides had a greater impact – both in a positive and a negative sense.

Another player may have done better, another player may have done worse. It still feels tough to suggest with any conviction that India are better off selecting their veteran keeper over their youthful bolter, but it is equally hard to suggest that today Pant would have certainly made the difference. He is a talent that needs to be incorporated into this side as quickly as possible, but today was an example of why that should come at the expense of Karthik or Rayudu, not Dhoni.

Either way, India will be hugely frustrated to have lost this match, to a side that is by almost all measures significantly worse than them. Even from this position, it would be a huge shock were India not to claim victory in the series. Perhaps Dhoni will play a part in a victory this series, perhaps not. Regardless, today was not the day to finish the former captain’s epitaph.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Australia’s ODI Decline

As Australia prepare to take on India in the first of three ODIs on Saturday, Patrick Noone looks at how the World Champions have stalled since their 2015 triumph.

When Steve Smith worked a ball off a good length from Matt Henry to the square leg boundary, the MCG erupted and Australia were crowned World Champions for the fifth time in their history. At that moment, the host nation were ahead of the curve in the 50-over format; despite the subsequent retirements of Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke, it felt as though they were leaving behind a young, vibrant side that had plenty of success ahead of them.

They had the big-hitting batsmen at the top of the order in Aaron Finch and David Warner – only losing finalists New Zealand recorded a faster run rate in the first ten overs in that tournament. The middle order engine room of Smith, Clarke, and Shane Watson kept things ticking over ahead of the mercurial all-round talents of Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner. In Mitchell Starc, they possessed the best death bowler in the world while the future looked bright with the young talents of Mitchell Marsh and Pat Cummins, fringe players who nonetheless played their part on the way to the final, seemingly ready to step in to replace the outgoing old guard.

On the eve of the ODI series against India, things have not quite worked out the way they should have done. Australia have slipped to sixth in the ICC rankings, their lowest position at the start of a calendar year since 1984. Coincidentally, that was one of only four years since rankings were first recorded in 1981 that India started the year ahead of their opponents in the rankings.

It is a somewhat crude measure, with the ICC rankings far from a perfect indicator of a team’s performance, but it is one that illustrates Australia’s sharp decline in the 50-over format. And while Australia have stagnated since that triumphant night in Melbourne, other teams, including India, have overtaken them. The gap between the two sides in terms of ranking positions has never been more heavily in India’s favour at the start of a year and Virat Kohli’s side will be smelling blood ahead of the upcoming series.

Australia’s fall from grace in ODI cricket has been stark and brutal. In the 18 months up to and including the 2015 World Cup, Australia won 29 matches in the format; in nearly four years since winning the tournament, they’ve won 28. Of course, retirements to some key players did not help, but Australia’s efforts to replace them have too often been misjudged, ill-advised and polluted by a lack of clear thinking as to what the team should look like.

Faulkner, the man of the match in the World Cup final has fallen out of favour and not played an ODI for over a year. Maxwell, the batsman surely most suited to playing ODI cricket in the manner required to succeed in 2019, has been in and out of the side for reasons seldom relating to form and ability. Batsmen who have made their name in the Big Bash League such as D’Arcy Short, Chris Lynn and Travis Head have come into the side with mixed results, none able to truly nail down a spot in the starting XI for one reason or another.

Australia have played 63 matches since the World Cup, using 42 different players in that time. Four teams have fielded more players in that time – West Indies, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – but all of those teams have played more matches than Australia, besides West Indies. And when you find yourself jostling for position with West Indies in the inconsistency stakes, it’s probably a sign that something isn’t quite right.

Ironically, despite all the changes in personnel, one of the fundamental problems for Australia’s batting has arguably been that they haven’t changed enough in terms of approach. That they have been left behind in the fast-moving world of limited overs cricket, persisting with a ‘brand’ of cricket that delivered positive results in 2015 but is no longer fit for purpose at the elite level in 2019.

Their approach to batting in the first ten overs is one that other teams have simply been able to replicate and carry off with greater success. In the span between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Australia attacked 34% of the balls they faced during that phase of the innings, while the average for all other teams was 31%. Since the 2015 World Cup, Australia have upped that figure slightly to 37%, but the difference now is that that matches the global average. The rest of the world has caught up and, as a result, Australia no longer retain the edge they once had.

Intent is one thing, but what has been more of a worry for Australia from a batting perspective is the frequency at which they’ve scored hundreds. While their overall run tallies have been reasonable – the average first innings winning score since the World Cup is 289; Australia have averaged 282 in the first innings in that time – their rate of individual centuries has plateaued while other countries’ has increased dramatically.

While Australia still rank in a healthy position in terms of their century rate since 2015, a feature of their batting that used to set them apart from many is no longer applicable. Between 2011 and 2015, only five sides including themselves could boast a century rate between 10 and 20 innings. Since then, five teams have increased their century rate to a greater degree than Australia and, as a result, they find themselves in a cluster of teams capable of scoring hundreds with similar regularity. It is not that Australia have become a bad team overnight, merely that they have been treading water while the chasing pack are leaving them in their wake.

While Australia rightly go into the India series as rank outsiders, they will welcome back the rested fast-bowling trio of Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins ahead of this year’s World Cup. There is also the small matter of the returns of Steve Smith and David Warner before that tournament. On the face of it, adding those five players will surely improve things but the post-World Cup malaise began while each of them were featuring regularly. It might have got worse in their absence, but the point is that their return does not represent a magic bullet that Australia can rely upon to guarantee success.

How much longer will the peculiar feeling of stasis around the team go on for? How heavily will they have to lose against India before someone recognises that a change of approach is required? It was an issue that England experienced after their miserable 2015 World Cup campaign; an insistence on playing the way they always had, falling behind as other teams blazed a trail past them. They have since reinvented themselves and become the leading lights in ODI cricket while Australia have found themselves sleepwalking towards similar World Cup ignominy. Only time will tell if they are capable of rousing themselves between now and next May.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Who Should Australia Pick?

Ben Jones considers who the Australian selectors should be 

calling ahead of the Sri Lanka series.

In the coming days, Australia are expected to announce their Test squad for the home series against Sri Lanka. As a series in isolation, it shouldn’t represent the toughest challenge for Tim Paine’s side, but the Tests will be as much about finalising Ashes preparation as they will be about victory in Brisbane and Canberra. Because Australian batting is in a bit of a state.

Two of their last three series have seen no centuries from Australian batsmen, and the collective batting average they recorded in 2018 is the lowest for any calendar year since 1978. India were better than them in pretty much all departments throughout the four match series, but ultimately the series was lost in the final two Tests with the Aussies unable to respond to India posting substantial first innings totals. Broadly, the batting was to blame.

And it’s because of this that the team Australia choose for the Sri Lanka series is a big deal. With the potential addition of Steve Smith and David Warner, this side will form the guts of the touring party for next summer’s Ashes. True, the conditions at the Gabba will be rather different to the greentops England will prepare at Edgbaston and Old Trafford, but this is as close to a rehearsal as Australia will get. They need to get it right.

Some players will be retained. Marcus Harris has the highest average of  any player to appear more than once, and has generally shown a level of control at the crease that suggests he can maintain his moderate success, and improve on it. Tim Paine has had a decent summer – though perhaps his rise has been overstated given what preceded him. There is little case for him remaining in the side from a cricketing perspective, but he seemingly has the backing of the players, and in a disrupted period for the side that has significant value. Usman Khawaja is one of very few senior players in that side, and whilst his form dipped briefly in this series, he is clearly a good player.

But the others’ places should be up for discussion. Travis Head may have top scored but an average of 33.85 is not substantial. Shaun Marsh failed to step up when younger, less experienced teammates needed him to. Peter Handscomb’s technique is still questionable. They are not out of contention, but their place should not be assumed.

The question of who to replace them has been a hot topic in the past weeks, and one phrase has come up time and time again. Many have complained that ‘nobody is banging the door down’, the selectors frustrated that they can’t simply call upon batsmen averaging 75 over three Shield seasons.

But if a player is performing in this manner then, frankly, a selector’s job is all but unnecessary. Picking a player in that sort of form doesn’t require any skill or judgement. Weighing up relative strengths when a player has weaknesses as well is quite literally the job. To suggest that a player must present a perfect case before they are allowed into the team is perverse. Particularly when that team has won just one of their last nine Test matches.

Sure, no player is banging down the down, but plenty are knocking pretty damned hard. You’ve just got to know what you’re listening out for – and that’s where data can help.

So many names have been bandied about in the past few weeks that it pays to keep an open mind, so let’s start with a big pool of candidates. Our shortlist of 24 Sheffield Shield players possesses a wide variety of skills and experience; there are classical red ball performers in there, T20 specialists, youngsters and veterans. We’ve then looked at their data for the last three Shield seasons, including this current season, to try and work out the merits of their case for selection. The data we have included extends beyond the raw numbers of runs and averages (though they are included), offering a more in-depth assessment of each player’s relative quality.

Welcome to the CricViz selection meeting.

Runs and Balls Faced

Firstly, let’s look at the most basic statistic available – how many runs these chaps have scored since the start of the 2016/17 Shield season. It’s a measure which rewards those to have been consistent across a prolonged period of time, accumulating runs not in clumps or purple patches but just as standard. It penalises players to play international cricket of any form, given those matches eat into the Shield season.

Of course, it’s not all about runs – as Australia have seen in this series when bowling to Cheteshwar Pujara, occupying the crease is key. The ability to face lots of deliveries is just as important as being able to score off them.

If we rank each player on our shortlist by their position in these two charts, then average out their ranking, then we can make an overall ranking. Kurtis Patterson was ranked 2 for runs scored, then 1 for balls faced, so his average ranking is 1.5. Thus, our table looks like this.

Batting Averages and Dismissal Rates

Of course, runs and balls faced only measure some things. They measure quantity, but not always quality, and focusing just on that area unfairly penalises international players, whose commitments with Australia mean they miss out on matches. So of course we consider batting averages.

We can also look at the average length of innings for all of our players. The average dismissal rate takes the number of balls faced and divides it by dismissals – what you’re left with is a good measure of a batsman’s ability to occupy the crease over time.

When we factor in the rankings for Batting Average and Dismissal Rate, our list changes.

False Shot Percentage

The way that a batsman makes his runs is also important to consider. If a player is edging or missing the ball a lot, they could be riding their luck with an average of 40, whilst a player with an average of 30 could be suffering a run of poor fortune.

We can try to understand a bit more of what’s going on by looking at false shot percentages. This measures what percentage of a batsman’s deliveries does he miss or edge – essentially, a measure of control. The average false shot percentage for top-order players in Shield cricket is 13%, so anything below that is a sign of quality.

When we add in these rankings, our selection table looks like this:

Average Comparison

Sometimes, averages aren’t always indicative of a player’s quality. If you play exclusively on friendly wickets, or in high-scoring games, there is a reduced value to your runs. As a result, it’s helpful to compare how a player has done relative to other batsmen who’ve played in the same game.

For instance, George Bailey has averaged 38.88 in Shield cricket over the past three seasons. Moises Henriques has averaged 42.18. But the average for all top seven batsmen in games where Bailey’s played was 32.53; for Henriques, that figure is 37.25. This shows that generally the pitches Henriques have played on have been more batting friendly, whilst Bailey has overperformed compared to others in the games he’s played. Bailey has averaged 6.35 more runs per dismissal than everyone else in his matches, whilst Henriques just 4.93 more. Henriques has averaged more, but Bailey’s been worth more.

We can find this figure for all of our contenders, and get a better picture of when they have made their runs.

When we add this to our table, the list looks like this:

Consistency

It’s important to be able to play a wide range of bowling if you are to succeed in Test cricket. Often players can have exorbitant FC batting averages against either pace or spin, hiding a weakness against the other, and while players will always have a preference for a certain style of bowling, consistency across the game is a valuable asset.

When we add this to our table, it looks like this:

Conclusion

The CricViz selected five batsmen for the series against Sri Lanka would be: Joe Burns, Kurtis Patterson, Will Pucovski, and Matthew Wade, with Peter Handscomb as the spare.

It’s a mixture of a list. Pucovski and Wade are at different ends of their careers, representing both youth and experience. Handscomb has already been in and out of the Test side, whilst Patterson has never played an international match of any sort. This isn’t about “putting faith in youth”, or “trusting experience”. It’s about trying to take a more objective look at every player, and ignore irrelevant factors. This is a middle order picked on weight of runs, control, ability to perform in tough conditions and against all kinds of bowling. Those are pretty solid criteria.

It also has the benefit of being a relatively exciting group. Pucovski’s youth is alluring, and the story of Wade’s return alongside the man who replaced him is an interesting one. Patterson’s status as a relative unknown to those on the international stage makes him an interesting prospect; Burns is so clearly the best batsman in domestic cricket that giving him the opportunity to prove that is filled with anticipation.

Of course, this is just a suggestion. Data offers just one perspective, and this should not be read as a foolproof means of selecting talent. It’s important, as always, that these sort of assessments interact with cricketing judgement, in order for both perspectives to have the best chance of getting the decisions correct.

Equally, you can read this article and think that certain metrics should be worth more. Perhaps you think pure runs should be worth more than false shot percentage. Perhaps you think the opposite. There is scope to make this broader, or more specific, weighting certain skills ahead of others, but for now, this will do.

Regardless, Australia really do need to get this correct. Sri Lanka have some very talented batsmen, and if Langer et al take a wrong step then they could be punished both now and then again in England. It’s a hugely significant moment for the Australian selectors; will they get it right?

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Australia’s Century Problem

Ben Jones analyses how Australia’s batsmen are failing to make the most of their starts, and reflects on their lack of centurions.

Getting in and getting out. Across all levels of cricket, it’s seen as the greatest crime that a player can commit. Having done the hard work, surviving those first 30 deliveries where you’re getting your eye in and adapting to the conditions, to throw it all away when in the groove is seen almost as a misuse of privilege. It’s ungrateful. You had it all, and you squandered it.

This summer, Australia have been squandering opportunities left, right and centre. It may not feel like it, given the ever-increasing dominance of Virat Kohli’s Indian side, but this series has been a parade of Australian batsmen coming to the crease and fighting through the tough period, only to then fall away once the threat has supposedly diminished. In their entire history, Australia have never seen more batsmen dismissed having faced between 30 and 100 balls (max four matches). More than at any other point in their history, Australian batsmen are getting in, getting set, then getting out.

This is demonstrably a worrying trend. This summer Australia have not made a single red ball century and as such, have found it difficult to make truly imposing totals. No batsman has been able to act as the backbone of the innings, standing tall as the maypole around which the others can dance. An Australian batsman has faced 200+ balls in an innings just once. India have done so six times.

This insubstantial element to their batting has come to define their batting of late. In the whole of 2018 they made four individual centuries. The last time they made fewer was in 1996 when they managed just two, but then they played just five Tests. In years where they’ve played at least 10 Tests, they have never registered a lower total. Australia’s inability to go on and make centuries has plagued them.

Indeed, the absence of centurions stands out, because for so long Australia had a plentiful supply. In every Test series they played between September 2010 and March 2018, one of their batsmen made a century. That’s 26 consecutive series. Unless someone passes 100 in the second innings of this Test, then Australia will have gone century-less in two of their last three series.

It’s a problem evident in Shield cricket as well. In the 2017/18 season, the average Shield game saw 1.42 centuries; since 1990, only one season has seen a lower number of centuries-per-match. At both the international level and the domestic level, the last 18 months has seen a clear reduction in batsmen going on and raising the bat.

With regards to the specific struggles of this series, this could be a direct result of the quality and depth of the Indian attack. Jasprit Bumrah has been the standout performer for the tourists, but those at the other end and in support have been almost as impressive. Barring Hanuma Vihari in the Perth Test – which was a unique situation, due to the surface the game was being played on – there has rarely been a tangible weak link in the tourists’ attack. Opportunities to accelerate after that tough opening period have been few and far between.

Equally, for all the talk of flat pitches, the bowling on both sides this summer has been as dangerous as it ever has been in recent years. Using CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model, we can use ball-tracking data to calculate the likelihood that any given delivery will take a wicket, then translate it into the ‘expected’ dismissal rate for any given spell, bowler, or match. The 2018/19 summer has seen an expected dismissal rate (xDR) of just 52.8, the lowest for any of the last seven Australian summers. Conditions at the MCG may have been less than ideal for exciting cricket, but the average delivery faced in this Test series has been significantly more likely to take a wicket than in previous years. A jaffa will still get you, whether you’ve faced 10 balls or 100 balls.

This isn’t simply a question of the performance in this series, but it is where they’re being given their most high-profile airing. Good bowling in tough conditions is a challenge to overcome, not a free-pass to failure.

There are plenty of skilled batsmen to work with in Australian cricket. Not as much as in the past, sure, but there are talented players who, with good coaching and improvement from experience, could be effective Test players. Some of those players are in Justin Langer’s team, some aren’t.

Whoever they are, they need to be coached to play with the appropriate level of aggression, to strike a balance between intent and caution. 58% of Australia’s dismissals in this series have come from attacking shots – between 2010 and 2015, just one of Australia’s series saw a higher proportion of dismissals come in that manner. For whatever reason – and there will be plenty of theories flying around – Australia are getting out playing attacking strokes more than they have done previously. That needs to be addressed.

This is where the coaching staff really earn their dollars. Players who can’t face 30 balls without being dismissed are probably beyond saving; players who regularly go beyond it probably don’t need the help. It’s the way that coaches work with guys in the middle that really reveals their skill, the specificity of their expertise. Tweak this, and you’ll improve. Tweak that, and you’ll find things easier. That’s where a mentor can really make a difference at this level.

Australia are going to need it. In tougher conditions like those they’ll encounter in the Ashes next winter, set batsmen making big contributions can define low-scoring series. They need to improve in that area, fast, if they are to compete in England.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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: 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.