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The India v Australia Test series has been set up for the remainder of the rubber quite beautifully thanks to Australia’s comprehensive win in the Pune opener.
India began by losing the toss on a dry, excessively spin-friendly surface, but after bowling Australia out for 260, the hosts’ WinViz moved up to just shy of 80%. This looked reasonably justifiable given the Indian batsmen’s renowned prowess in their home conditions and, it appeared, no obvious match-winning spinner in the Aussie ranks.
But the extraordinary events of day two: India all out for 105, Australia 143-4 for a lead approaching 300, turned the match unexpectedly and decisively. WinViz had moved in one way only during that second day, and by the end of it Australia were 88%.
There was to be no twist in the tale on Saturday as the slow left-armer Steve O’Keefe once again proved Australia’s hero. He took his second six-wicket haul of the match and Australia won by 333 runs without recourse to days four or five. O’Keefe had cobbled together 14 wickets from his first four Tests. Now he has 26 from five and presumably heads to the Bengaluru Test this coming Saturday with a rare old spring in his step.
For every bit as brilliant as Australia were in Pune, India were very, very poor. The first thing they got wrong was the wicket, for this was a virtual dustbowl, full of cracks and loose clods of earth being dislodged from the opening exchanges. It is detrimental rather than helpful for India’s chance to play on tracks like this, and after the events of last week we surely won’t see another one like it for a long time.
The pitch held out for about an hour before the first signs of excessive turn and bounce emerged, but when the opportunity came, India did not bowl or catch as well as Australia did when it was their turn in the field.
Of the 40 wickets that fell in the match, 30 went to the spinners, of which all but three were to good-length deliveries. In other words, 67.5% of wickets were off good-length balls bowled by spinners. But, how often were the five spinners in the match finding a good length?
Interestingly, all of them radically improved their lengths in the second innings. But it is notable how poor Jayant Yadav’s control was in the first innings, while the most dramatic improver was Nathan Lyon (56.0%-87.6%, reflected in figures of 1-21 and 4-53 respectively).
This table shows the % of each spinner’s deliveries on a good length, in the first innings (first row) and second innings:
Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are skilful enough to regularly bowl well over 70% of deliveries on a good length but it was a clear failing that they didn’t manage that until the second innings.
Incidentally, perhaps the reason why good-length deliveries were so much more effective for the spinners is that batsmen were pretty much looking to play back all the time and read the turn off the wicket. To do so against good-length spin bowling as opposed to back-of-a-length bowling is that much tougher.
Though the game was ebbing away from them by the time India started dropping catches in the second innings (Steve Smith three times, Matt Renshaw once), these failings served to drain the last vestiges of hope for the Virat Kohli’s men.
One thing I want to look at in this match is the issue of luck. Some Indian fans were most insistent that Australia’s batsmen were more fortunate than India’s, and when covering day one for CricViz I did find myself looking up how many times players were missing or edging the ball without being dismissed.
So here is another simple table showing the percentage of balls edged or missed by the batsman in each innings who survived the most balls.
Perhaps there is some credence then in the theory that the cricketing gods did not look particularly favourably on India. However the old adage of “making your own luck” rings true to some extent. Notably, there were those dropped catches by India already detailed; in addition Yadav contrived to bowl David Warner on the first morning with a massive no-ball and there were plenty of questionable tactical decisions made by Kohli, not least the decision to take the new ball on the first evening against the free-hitting Mitchell Starc.
I would be reasonably confident that India can do the minimum required to come back and win the series now. It won’t be easy. They can do no worse than draw one and win two of the remaining Tests so pitch preparation will be vital. It would clearly be dangerous to replicate Pune again and lose the toss, while any wickets that are too flat and bring the draw strongly into the equation must also be avoided. If you’re following the Indian team from India, and are considering getting involved in cricket yourself to improve your fitness, check out other sports and how they could be more financially beneficial. For example you could look at these Cheap Gear Cycles in India to see how cycling could be an affordable form of exercise as well as a useful part of your daily routine.
Whatever they say in public, Australia will certainly be unusually bullish about their chances. But Steven Smith’s leadership skills will surely be tested if India mount a strong response in Bengaluru this coming weekend. India need to improve sharply in all departments of their game – but they certainly have the capability to do so, and WinViz is sure to start in favour of the the home team on Saturday.
CricViz analysis of the third Test between India and England in Mohali.
CricViz analysis of the second Test between India and England in Vizag.
Wide turn stymies spinners
This was a difficult pitch to read with ball-tracking data indicating that it took significant turn from the second day onwards and by the third day was taking more turn on average, 5.14 degrees, than the pitch in Dhaka did at the same stage, 5.09 degrees. The graph below shows the rate at which the pitch turned as the match progressed. However despite this significant deviation only 21 wickets fell in the first 380.1 overs of the match and only when eight fell in the last 69.2 overs did the scorecard begin to reflect the amount of turn on offer.
The critical difference between this pitch and the one in Dhaka was that the extra grass on this pitch held it together far better and for longer meaning in Rajkot the sharpest turning deliveries predictably pitched in worn areas of the pitch, whereas in Dhaka balls spun big unpredictably from previously compact areas of the pitch that were broken up by the impact of the ball.
The nature of this pitch meant that the sharpest turning deliveries pitched well outside the line of the stumps, nearer the bowler’s foot holes, as illustrated by the pitch map above. Naturally more of a threat is posed if balls turn big from within the line of the stumps. 41% of the 58 deliveries that turned more than eight degrees but did pitch within the line of the stumps were bowled in the fourth innings when the pitch was most worn.
England’s spinners improve; India’s get worse
Speaking after the match England’s coach Trevor Bayliss suggested that their spinners had improved their control of length. Ball-tracking data shows this not to be the case with England’s length percentages remaining almost exactly the same as in the Bangladesh series. What they did improve however was their line, illustrated by the pitch map below: they maintained tighter groupings and conceded runs at 3.36 runs per over compared to 3.63 against Bangladesh as a result.
India’s spinners meanwhile bowled with less control than against New Zealand, as illustrated by the pitch map below. This was the flattest of the four pitches India have played on this season and England’s first innings was the longest they have been in the field in a home Test since they played England in Kolkata in 2012. In these less helpful conditions Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja struggled to maintain the exceptional groupings they managed against New Zealand.
England’s best spinner in this match was Adil Rashid who took match figures of 7 for 178. Rashid displayed significant improvement in his control of line and length from the Bangladesh series, illustrated by the pitch map below.
In this Test Rashid landed 60% of his deliveries in a two metre range between four and five metres from the batman’s stumps, in the Bangladesh series that figure was just 46%. The principal improvement came in bowling fuller: against Bangladesh he dropped 14% of deliveries shorter than six metres from the batsman’s stumps, in Rajkot that figure fell to just 9%.
England commit forward and back
It is perhaps too soon to pass judgement on England’s batsmen against spin given that this pitch did not break up and turn as both pitches in Bangladesh did and as they are expected to do more in the rest of this series. However, England’s four centurions, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes and Alastair Cook, as well as debutant Haseeb Hameed showed really encouraging signs with their footwork against spin. None of Root, Moeen or Stokes played a single shot with footwork categorised as “no movement” in their hundreds suggesting that they committed clearly to going forward or back, which is critical to playing spin well, while Cook played just 28 out of 290 balls in the match as such and Hameed just 12 out of 259.
You would not have required an expert knowledge of cricket to make the visual observation that the wicket prepared for Bangladesh’s historic Test win over England was a raging “bunsen”. The pseudo-Cockney slang term (bunsen burner = “turner”) indicates a wicket particularly conducive to spin, and traditionally alien to cricketers brought up in English conditions.
What was less usual about this particular surface was that it turned from the word go and did not deteriorate as such. CricViz ball-tracking data shows England debutant Zafar Ansari was getting deliveries to turn a whopping 11 degrees on day one. The most successful bowler in the match by some distance – Mehedi Hasan, who brilliantly captured 12 wickets – was peaking at between nine and 10 degrees deep into the final session.
The BatViz slider on the CricViz app provides further evidence to support this theory. Rather than showing a gradual move towards maximum difficulty, it reveals fluctuations throughout the course of the match.
And that’s really what made the Test match quite as fascinating as it was: three big partnerships, one of 170, one of 100 and one of 99 (by England’s ninth-wicket pair, no less) and yet modest totals of 220, 244, 296 and 164. If ever there was a track where batsmen had to get themselves in before finding any confidence then this was it.
What was surprising was that only one spinner in the match consistently caused problems, and that was Mehedi – the man who turned 19 in the short window between the Tests. A fairly conventional off-spinner in style, he would have been delighted to find himself up against four left-handers in the England top six – and by bowling round the wicket to them he worried the outside edge of their bats with the one that turned a lot, and the stumps with the one that didn’t turn so much.
His first wicket in the match was the key one of Alastair Cook, and it came early. The six balls in Mehedi’s first over had turned between 3.7 degrees and 6.9 degrees. The six in his second varied even more widely, turning between 2.7 and 7.3 degrees. Cook had faced 10 of those 12 deliveries and was on strike again when Mehedi bowled the first ball of his third.
This one turned the least of all of Mehedi’s deliveries up to then, just 1.7 degrees. You may have heard commentators at the time mentioning the ball “skidding on”. Well that’s partly becuse the ball didn’t bounce particularly high either – 55cm from a pitching position five metres from the stumps. A considerably fuller ball in his previous over had bounced higher. With variable bounce and variable degree of spin to account for, there was much in favour of high-quality spin even against the most watchful batting and Cook was a gonner – lbw after a successful review by the Bangladesh team.
Even good right-handed batsmen were prey to Mehedi’s variations. Jonny Bairstow, statistically England’s best batsman in 2016, had survived for almost an hour when also falling lbw to the young man from Khulna. This one was pitched 58cm shorter than the ball he had trapped Cook lbw with but bounced even less and Bairstow, playing off the back foot to give himself time to assess the degree of spin, was unable to adjust to the low bounce.
The most important wicket of all for Mehedi was Cook in the second innings. England were by now in deep trouble at 127-4 needing 273, but with their captain still there on 59, an in-form partner in the shape of Ben Stokes and a capable tail to come the beast had not yet been slain.
“I always wanted to do well whenever I got the opportunity. I didn’t really think it would be this series. It could have been any time in the next year or two. I wanted to come into the national team with a strong mentality so that I could perform well” – Mehedi
This delivery was again at the perfect in-between length. On another pitch Cook might well have played back to it, but perhaps wary of the manner in which he had fallen in the first innings, he came forward and looked to push runs into the off-side. But this was a slower one from Mehedi and it turned a fair bit, not too much as Cook would have missed it and the delivery would have been wasted but at 6.2 degrees of spin it was just right, slightly more than the average spin achieved by Mehedi through the match, and enough to locate a thick outside edge – and for the man at silly point to complete a fine catch.
Mehedi’s consistency of length was so important. He bowled 78% of his deliveries in the match on a good length, so was constantly provoking doubts in English batsmen. As for England’s spinners, they fell well short of this, particularly in the first innings where they collectively sent down just 40% of deliveries on a good length (Moeen Ali the best of a very poor bunch with a 50% ratio). And that really says it all: when you’re a slow bowler there is no substitute for being able to exert control over your opponents – just think back to the halcyon days of Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. Mehedi had it; England’s spinners did not.
There is a footnote to this blog and it concerns the value of picking a talented young player unexposed to the rigours of hard-toil professional cricket across multiple formats. Mehedi is the first teenager ever to take 19 wickets in his first two Tests.
England are famously reluctant to pick teenagers for Test cricket. One of the most remarkable stats I found during the Dhaka Test was that in all, only five teenagers have ever represented England in Test cricket. Bangladesh, who began playing Tests more than a century after England, have had 26.
And another thing: when given their head, talented youngsters have tended to do well in the bowling department. Three bowlers took 50 Test wickets as teenagers, and you may well have heard of them: Waqar Younis, Daniel Vettori and Mohammad Amir.
Bangladesh have produced four of the most productive teenage batsmen ever, including England’s nemesis Tamim Iqbal, in a list headed overall by a certain Sachin Tendulkar, who amassed 1,522 runs before turning 20.
India 316 (Pujara 87, Rahane 77, Saha 54*, Henry 3-46) and 263 (Rohit 82, Saha 58*, Boult 3-38, Henry 3-59, Santner 3-60) beat New Zealand 204 (Bhuveneshwar 5-48) and 197 (Latham 74, Jadeja, 3-41, Shami 3-46, Ashwin 3-82) by 178 runs
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