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CricViz Review: First Test, Day 2

Ben Jones looks at the key passages on the second day in Adelaide.

India’s Tail Not Wagging (Again)

Day 2 began with a flurry of wickets, as India’s tail collapsed in the face of some hostile bowling. It was a frustrating passage for their supporters, who would have still have been harbouring hopes of scrapping up to 300. As it was, three wickets in 25 balls saw them bundled out for just 244, the last three pairs adding just 11.

Those supporters will have been used to this spectacle though. Since the start of 2018, when India’s sequence of three high profile overseas tours began, their last three batsmen have averaged 8.7 runs per dismissal away from home. That doesn’t sound great, and it isn’t – only Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe have less resistant lower orders. If you look just at overseas Tests, then only Bangladesh are worse. 

This isn’t a fatal flaw; India have had success in this time, and even their failures cannot be lay solely at the door of tail-end batting – that would be absurd. However, in low scoring Tests, as this may prove to be (and as we saw in South Africa and England), the ability for your bowlers to scrap and add 20% to your total is very, very useful. For now, it’s an ability India’s bowlers don’t have. It’s no coincidence that the one tour of that big three which they did win was in Australia, the highest scoring of the three destinations.

India’s Reliable New Ball Strategy

India didn’t actually take many new ball wickets in 2018/19, despite the series win. The first 10 overs of each innings saw just two pace wickets for India all series, one each for Bumrah and Ishant. Part of this was a concerted effort to keep things tight, and at time to bowl cross seam and look for reverse-swing.

They pursued a similar tactic here today. In the opening 9 overs – until Mohammed Shami entered the attack – only one ball bowled from Umesh and Bumrah would have hit the stumps (though another would have clipped), offering very few drive balls, and rarely bowling that pitched up attacking length. In contrast to Mitchell Starc on Day 1, who bowled one of his fullest spells ever at home (in vain, as we discussed last night), India bowled just 15% full deliveries compared to Australia’s 44% in the same period. They found about 10% less swing, and around 40% of the seam, but that was not the goal – they limited Australia to just 12 runs in the first 10 overs, hanging tough, before striking in their second spells, another key feature of the last tour. In particular, this is true of Jasprit Bumrah, who averaged 52 in opening spells in Australia going into this Test, but just 15 in his second spell, and he duly struck, dismissing Wade with the first ball he bowled which would have hit the stumps, then accounting for Burns in a similar manner shortly after. Patience with the new ball, then aggression as it starts to show signs of age – it worked last time, and India backed their template once again.

Australia’s Slow ‘Progress’

Matthew Wade rather surprised plenty of onlookers today with the cautious approach he took to his innings, scoring just 8 runs from his first 50 balls – only three times this century has an Australian opener made fewer runs inside their first 50 balls faced. He wasn’t alone. This innings was quite something from Australia, as a display of slow scoring, as Burns and Wade, then Labuschagne and Smith, stoically occupied the crease without causing too many palpitations in the scorer’s box. At the 40 over mark they were just 79-4, their lowest score at that stage of an innings since 1999.

There was a fundamental absence of intent. They had attacked just 12.9% of the deliveries India had sent down; since we began recording such statistics (2006), there have only been three instances of Australia attacking less at that stage of a home Test innings. To an extent, a product of good Indian bowling, but equally, Australia took a very particular approach. Our Expected Wickets model – which looks at ball tracking data – suggests that on average the balls India bowled in that time would have taken 4.8 wickets, so Australia had in some ways done well to limit the damage. However, those same balls would on average have led to 119 runs, so Australia’s go slow approach had saved them a slender portion of their wickets, and a considerable amount of runs. An understandable strategy from Australia, but they didn’t have the ability to resist the Indian attack.

India’s Ropey Catching

For all the joy for Indian fans today, there was still cause for concern. The two obvious dropped catches off Marnus Labuschagne – by Bumrah and Prithvi Shaw – plus a contentious one through the cordon earlier in his innings, could have seen Australia limited even more than they were. Tim Paine was also dropped hooking to the main in the deep, Mayank Agarwal placed there specifically for that plan – and he went on to make yet more crucial runs.

What’s even more concerning for India is the fact this isn’t new. Since the start of 2018, they are dropping roughly one in four chances that come their way in Test cricket, among the worst records in the world. For one of the highest profile sides in the world, with huge resources, to be falling below the required standard for fielding seems unacceptable.

Paine’s Counter-Attack

Tim Paine gets a great deal of praise for some of the more intangible cricketing qualities (captaincy, glovework, media relations), but has often struggled to deliver substantial, crucial innings with the bat. Today was rather different. His 73* (99), which began with his side 79-5 and staring down the barrel of a vast first innings deficit, is perhaps his finest Test innings. Initially alongside Marnus Labuschagne, then with the tail, Paine was able to match consistent counter-attacking intent with control. His attacking shot percentage may have only been a slightly above average 29%, but he was expertly busy and rotated the strike constantly; 47% of his shots were rotating strokes (the most of any batsman), and his dot-ball percentage (65%) was lower than all barring the tail-enders who accompanied him. By the end of his knock, which naturally built towards some ugly, ungainly swipes with a nervous Hazlewood at the other end, Paine’s false shot percentage had risen to 15% – roughly the Test average – but for much of the day had been around 10%, mixing it with the likes of Pujara and Kohli, while demonstrating rather more willingness to score. He left the field stranded without the chance to reach his century but his work was done, Australia not having avoided defeat but at least having given themselves a solid chance of recovering, and taking a crucial series lead.

***

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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