Ben Jones analyses how the Indian seamers persisted with good, simple plans.
When you get bowled out for 36, there’s nothing really you can do to erase people’s memories. Short of bowling the opposition out for 35 – or succumbing to that yourself – that landmark is always going to stick out. The only way you can move on, is to win, and make the catastrophic part the sort which can be met with a rueful smile. Just ask Ben Stokes.
Or, perhaps, ask Jasprit Bumrah. Because his performance on Day 1 of this Boxing Day Test, and the performance he inspired in the other members of the Indian attack, spoke to a mindset still very much focused on trying to level this Test series. There was no sense in Melbourne today of Indian wheels coming off.
One of the most impressive elements of the Australian bowling performance in Adelaide was that, despite a lack of sideways movement, Cummins and Hazlewood maintained the pressure almost entirely through relentless accuracy. 48% of the deliveries sent down by Tim Paine’s pace attack in that fateful innings were on a good line and length, comfortably above the average for Test cricket.
It’s interesting then, that India copied that blueprint today – and arguably improved it. 49% of the deliveries bowled by Bumrah, Siraj, and Umesh were on that good line and length. Since we started recording such data in 2006, that’s the fourth highest figure for an Indian attack overseas. Bearing in mind that there’s a reason that line and length is continually referred to as “good” – because it averages less than everywhere else – then you can see why India had so much success today.
Bumrah in particular was relentless. His own figure, 56% of his deliveries on a good line and length, was higher than either Umesh or Siraj, and compensated for the fact he found less movement than the others. He’s rarely a big swinger of the ball, but today it was even more noticeable than usual quite how much Bumrah does with so little lateral movement. Across the play, he averaged just 0.8 degrees swing and seam, the least of any seamer on show, but such was his precision and angle of attack that few would argue against him being the outstanding bowler of the day.
Siraj demonstrated that India’s current depth in fast bowling stocks is perhaps greater than at any point in their history. Given the injuries to Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, Siraj is arguably India’s fifth choice Test seamer; at times in the (recent) past that would have been no guarantee of quality, but Siraj’s FC pedigree was obvious. In his first spell, Siraj found 0.5 degrees of swing, a reasonable amount but nothing prodigious. To the naked eye, this is shape, nothing more. Yet in his second spell, he found 0.9 degrees of swing, and sustained that throughout his nine over spell either side of tea. It was a masterful display of swing bowling, the sort you’d expect to see from a wily veteran who’s lost a yard over their career, but not from a debutant still clocking high 130s. The set up to dismiss Cameron Green – five away swingers followed by the ball that comes back in – was a textbook dismissal. It’s no exaggeration to say James Anderson would have been proud.
It wasn’t all down to the pace attack though. Yet again, Ravichandran Ashwin put together spells of high quality and variation, moving up and down through his pace range to get the most out of a helpful MCG pitch. His average spin across the day – 3.8 degrees – is the most he’s recorded in any of the three MCG Tests he’s played suggesting that the surface was offering a touch more assistance than normal. The 11mm of grass left on by the curator seamed to insist that lateral movement would be available from the get go, but it was the bounce as much as anything else. His good length deliveries were bouncing on average 0.74m, the fifth most bounce he’s ever found in an away Test. This turn and bounce allowed Rahane to just leave Ashwin on, holding up an end bowling a tight line with only two men out on the offside, rotating the quicks at the other and keeping them fresh. It was notable that Bumrah’s fourth and final spell of the day was quicker (139kph) than his first (138kph), a victory for both Ashwin’s control and the policy of selecting the extra bowler.
Ultimately, India have plenty left to do if they are to win this Test match. The ferocious spell from Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins at the end of play was a warning shot as much as anything else, and at times you felt Australia almost bowled better in that evening than they did during the Adelaide collapse. If Rahane and co are going to post 250+, and with it gain control of the game, then they will need to have dealt with the ghosts of the first Test. But for now, India have distracted from conversations about their batting fragility by showing yet again what a deep, varied, and high quality bowling attack they now possess. If you don’t like what’s being said about you – change the conversation.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.