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CricViz Review: Australia v India, First Test, Day 1

Ben Jones analyses the key passages from the opening day in Adelaide.

NO SWING, NO PROBLEM FOR CUMMINS

The pink ball is renowned for the way it swings. The spectacle created by the moving ball is a key aspect of the appeal for day-night cricket; openers struggle, seamers find new ball movement galore, and the game changes.

However, as we explored elsewhere on the CricViz blog, that swing tends to be confined to the early stages. More so than the red ball, the pink loses its shine and stops moving, going very straight very quickly.

However, at the start of the day in Adelaide, none of this early movement was anywhere to be seen. In the first 10 overs, we saw just 0.59° of swing, just over half of the 0.93° we generally see with the new pink Kookaburra. Even Mitchell Starc, the king of this format, was struggling to find any of that hooping movement.

It wasn’t for lack of trying either. Starc’s first three overs were extremely full, the fullest he’s ever bowled at that stage of an innings in fact. His opening spell in its entirety was the 11th fullest he’s ever bowled at home, yet it ranked only 52nd in terms of swing. Pitching it up, giving it chance, but nothing was doing.

As this became obvious, Australia switched things up. Pat Cummins is not a natural swing bowler at the best of times, but he is skillful when it comes to extracting movement out of the surface. When he came onto bowl in the 11th over, he kept everything very short, a stark contrast to the early stages, no longer searching for swing. He dried the scoring up, going for just one run in his first four overs. And eventually, the ball which got Agarwal was all about the seam. It moved 1.4° off the surface, back into the opener and through the gate, clattering into the stumps. It was the most movement a Cummins delivery had extracted; it was the second fullest, of the 25 he’d sent down.

PUJARA V LYON

What’s more, Pujara is a man who knows his game, and sticks to it. Against the Australian seamers today, he was more than happy to sit, block, and wait out the tough spells, because that is how he makes his runs. It’s nothing new.

Against spin, he has a similarly proven method – it just happens to be rather more exciting. Pujara is world class at using his feet against the spinners. Across his career, he averages a remarkable 262 when doing so, and only two players – Michael Clarke and Steve Smith – have more runs via that method since 2006, when such things began to be recorded. It’s a key aspect of his game, and the backbone of his superb record against spinners in Test cricket.

As such, today he was just as happy to stick to his method, and danced down to Nathan Lyon 11 times in the off spinner’s opening spell. It’s not the first time it’s happened. More often than not, if Pujara gets chance to come down to Lyon, then he will do, more so than anyone else in the world – 32% of the time, when Lyon bowls to Pujara, the batsman responds by coming down the track.

As well as it being what he always does, there’s a clear benefit for Pujara doing this – it messes with Lyon’s lengths. On average in Australia, just 21% of Lyon’s deliveries are ‘short’, but to Pujara that rises to 29% – today, it rose again to 43%. Pujara’s dancing feet make it harder for Lyon to hit that dangerous length.

And that’s valuable – as the ball which dismissed Pujara showed.

From that good length, Lyon extracted 5.8 degrees of turn (the third most for any ball he had bowled) and 1.2m of bounce, an unplayable combination about which Pujara could do very little, even with the best assistance of the on-field umpire. When Lyon’s allowed to get set on his spot, he’s very, very dangerous, and averages just 22 when finding that good length in home Tests – Pujara coming down the track is accepting that if you can’t play that ball, try to stop Lyon bowling it. Today ended badly, but the wicket was proof of why Pujara needs to do more dancing, not less.

GREEN EASING THE WORKLOAD

Before his debut, there was plenty of discussion surround Cameron Green, and his all-round value. It seems generally accepted that his greater skill is in the batting side of his game than his bowling – his role going forward more Stokes than Flintoff – but on his first day of Test cricket, we saw what he can offer Australia as a genuine fourth seamer.

The accuracy Green managed, despite a nervous no-ball to open his account in Test cricket, was impressive. 75% of his deliveries were on a good line, that threatening channel outside off stump, which was a figure which outstripped both Starc and Hazlewood. Aside from two very full balls down the legside, it’s hard to remember a bad delivery offered up.

His average speed, 136kph, was beaten only by Mitchell Starc, and Tim Paine used Green as something of an enforcer. 48% of his total deliveries across the day were short balls, the most of any Australian seamer full stop, Green’s ball speed and tight lines ensuring that the pressure never relented while the main bowlers took a breather. In seasons past, those overs may have been put into Starc, or Hazlewood, both of whom were fresh and ready for devastating spells with the second new ball late in the day.

What’s perhaps most pleasing for Australia is that he managed to move the old pink ball, finding an average of 0.7 degrees swing after the 20th over – only Starc found more. The versatility which Green offers as a bowler, not simply “an option”, is exciting. The opportunity for Australia to have in essence a luxury bowler, one who can perform a number of different roles while (hopefully) contributing substantially with the bat, could be the final piece in the puzzle in their quest to win overseas.

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Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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