CricViz Analysis: Australia’s Middle-Order Collapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: India’s New Ball Mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CricViz Analysis: Optus Stadium

Patrick Noone looks ahead to the 2nd Test in Perth and what conditions India and Australia can expect at the new venue.

The 2nd Test will be a trip into the unknown for both Australia and India as the Optus Stadium in Perth hosts its first ever Test match. The new ground has only staged one First Class match, last month’s Sheffield Shield clash between Western Australia and New SouthWales. That match was a low-scoring affair with NSW’s first innings total of261 the highest of the match as the visitors prevailed by 104 runs.

Perhaps more pertinently, 32 of the 40 wickets in that encounter fell to seamers. There has been talk ahead of the 2nd Test that the pitch at Optus Stadium is uncharacteristically quick and bouncy by drop-in pitch standards and that conditions are reminiscent of the WACA Ground, the current ground’s predecessor in Perth.

The fact that Jhye Richardson, one of the quickest bowlers on the Australian domestic circuit, took match figures of 11-105 in the Sheffield Shield match surely bodes well for the fast bowlers for both sides. That, coupled with the fact that 14 of the 24 wickets to have been taken by seamers in the two ODIs hosted at Optus Stadium have been from balls shorter than a good length, suggests that this is a venue where seamers can cause batsmen discomfort.

The data from the most recent of those two ODIs – Australia’s defeat to South Africa in November – suggests that this is avenue with plenty of pace and bounce. The quick bowlers found an average 93cm of bounce from good length balls, more than any ODI in Australia since 2015 and the 11th highest of any match in our database (2005-present).

Of course, that match featured some of the fastest bowlers in world cricket so it is perhaps no surprise that the likes of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Kagiso Rabada were able to find so much life in the pitch. However, even Marcus Stoinis, whose average speed is 130kph, was able to find 90cm of bounce from good length deliveries, compared to his career average of 84cm.

India’s top six have largely struggled against balls bouncing to that extent with only Ajinkya Rahane able to say he has mastered playing that kind of delivery. That said, it is a similar story for Australia. Though they collectively have a better record than India, Usman Khawaja’s formidable record is something of an outlier and in the cases of Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris and Travis Head, they are yet to be dismissed but it can be said that none of the trio have been tested on bouncy surfaces having only played in the UAE and at Adelaide last week.

So we can expect the pitch at Optus Stadium to be quick and bouncy, but what about the movement on offer? In terms of deviation off the pitch, the South Africa match featured 0.65° on average, with Rabada extracting the most average movement (0.73°). Only one ODI match hosted in Australia in 2018 featured more average seam movement than the Perth fixture, and the red Kookaburra typically finds more deviation than its white counterpart.

We can therefore expect there to be plenty of assistance from the pitch in terms of seam movement, in addition to the pace and bounce on offer. If the seamers are able to find more than 0.75° on a regular basis – and it is a reasonable assumption that they will, based on the data available – the records of the respective top six batsmen suggest that Australia have a slight edge over India when facing balls that move to that extent. Collectively, the hosts average four runs more than their Indian counterparts and Virat Kohli is the only visiting batsman who averages more than 20 against the seaming ball.

The evidence suggests that, if conditions in Perth are as we expect, Australia will find the pitch much more to their liking than the one they lost on in Adelaide. There is enough to suggest that the hosts can come roaring back into contention with a win at Optus Stadium to leave the series beautifully poised at 1-1 with two matches to play.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.


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 at Lord’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 in Adelaide 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 and 0.7° 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.


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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