Hosts prevail in battle of tactics | cricketnetwork.com

Hosts prevail in battle of tactics

06 December 2018

The dramatic batting collapse early on day one goes against the message delivered by the visitors' captain

So pervasive and penetrative has statistical analysis of cricket become, it now threatens to render the train-spotting fraternity no more than casual enthusiasts by comparison.

The internet is awash with more 'heat maps' than are available to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They are supplemented by charts that document degrees of swing, as well as quantitative analyses of the complex relationship between where the ball lands and the resultant degree of difficulty in combatting it (once quaintly known as 'line and length').

There are even folks who document how close to the centre of the blade individual batters are able to strike the ball against nominated opponents, at specified venues, in weather conditions that can be applied to the data via a drop-down menu.

And when all of this information is distilled to its essence, it can be forecast with a level of certainty that would embarrass most economists that it's the gap between left and right ear that emerges as a batter's most consistent point of weakness.

For those who require academic footnotes to validate such a thesis, they can cite the first three hours of the opening Domain Test between Australia and India during which the latter were reduced to 5-86, almost exclusively due to deficiencies in mental application.

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The top-order of the world's top-ranked Test team buckled like suburban train lines in Adelaide's 39C heat, victims of a strategy they knew was coming and had purportedly planned against.

India's captain Virat Kohli had acknowledged that, while his team has evolved to be the best-performed at Test level in recent years, they are notoriously poor starters when playing away from home.

In the 10 offshore series India have contested over the past five years, they have emerged victorious in just two of those campaigns' first Tests – against the West Indies and Sri Lanka.

As a consequence, Kohli confirmed on match eve that his men were mindful not to make a tentative start to this tour that looms as their best chance to topple Australia at home, though he added that would not manifest itself in the form of recklessness.

"We are looking to express ourselves, to go out there and be positive – not meaning that we're going to play rash shots," Kohli assured a day out from the Test's start.

Yet by lunch break on the Test summer's first day, Kohli was one of four India batters back in the sheds having surrendered his wicket to a stroke that was, if not rash, then certainly ill-advised and poorly executed.

Australia's early double-strike

The intelligence dossier documenting Australia's bowling plans against their more-fancied rivals was such an open secret it did not need the traditional form of controlled 'leaking' – which previously saw paper copies slid beneath the door of touring journalists' hotel rooms.

Instead, it simply required logging on to a preferred form of social media to find that India's vaunted batters were susceptible to deliveries pitched on a full-length, with a hint of seam movement or swing added for extra menace.

So that's what Australia's quicks duly did, and their opponents obliged by swishing at, and ultimately snicking, balls that a more prudent practitioner (read India's sole batting success for the day, Cheteshwar Pujara) might have contentedly allowed to pass.

Patient Pujara notches gritty century

"We just want to focus on our skills and the things that we need to do right, because we're looking forward to correcting things that haven't gone right in the last two tours that we've been on," Kohli had forecast, referring to their unsuccessful visits to South Africa and England this year.

"We've identified those things, and the guys themselves feel they are at the peak of their skill levels at the moment."

Which doesn't augur well unless they can find further correction, given those guys with the notable exception of Pujara (who delivered a masterclass in disciplined restraint) failed to find a score of 40 between them.

Kohli had specified the first "20-odd" overs as the period when his batters would need to be at their most watchful, because the newish ball's hardness that brought extra bounce on flinty pitches, coupled with the occasional swing it found, would present the greatest threat.

But that emerged as the phase through which India were most demonstrably profligate, in sharp contrast to their captain's sage words.

"It takes character, it takes grinding out tough situations because the Australian team has great skills, especially their bowling attack," Kohli had presciently forewarned.

"They will challenge us, definitely, so we will just have to ride that phase and then capitalise on the sessions that go our way."

The session that went their way was the final one, during which Pujara finally found some reliable support from Ravi Ashwin (25 from 76 balls faced) as the total lifted to 250, which is closer to par than seemed likely after a dire first few hours.

At day's end, Pujara revealed it had taken him two sessions to get a read on the Adelaide pitch, which he assessed as being a little two-paced with the cover of thatchy grass seeing some deliveries skid through while others held-up on the surface.

But that in itself also seemed at odds with Kohli's pre-game plan of summing up their environs quickly, and adapting with similar rapidity in order to avoid the first-Test sluggishness that has afflicted India on recent ventures abroad.

"We don't want to wait to figure out what's happening with the conditions or the pitch, we've got to read it really early and then alter our games accordingly which we've failed to do in the last two tours," Kohli had said.

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The fact that Pujara was able to decipher the shots that he could safely employ, and shelve those that carried obvious risk set him apart in approach as well as in the scorebook, where he currently appears as the only India player to surpass 37.

Australia's strike bowler Mitchell Starc noted this evening that the ploy to bowl fuller lengths at India's top-order was partly informed by cricket-geek data, as well as close scrutiny of footage of their foes' batting.

The knowledge that India's batters like to slap balls on the rise, through the cover region, as can be safely accomplished on lower, slower Indian decks, was aired in Australia's planning meetings and deployed almost flawlessly in the first two sessions of the series.

The other variable in that strategy was the presumption that India's batters would lose patience if offered enough opportunities, and that proved similarly unerring.

It was only during the final hour, as the bowlers tired in the energy sapping cauldron and Pujara's studious application paid dividends, that the momentum perceptibly shifted.

"I think we've planned and prepared really well for this week, and had a lot of vision to look at (on) how India have played here in the past," Starc revealed tonight.

"They (India's top-order) did go quite hard, but I thought we bowled exceptionally well for the first four hours and especially when the ball got softer and stopped moving around.

"The scoreboard never got away from us, we kept pressure on the whole time and Pujara absorbed the pressure quite well and scored a fantastic hundred.

"Their batsmen will probably look at how they got out, again, in Australian conditions but for us, the way we bowled for the first four hours was great."

India Tour of Australia 2018-19

Gillette T20s v India

First T20: Australia won by four runs (DLS method)

Second T20: No result

Third T20: India won by six wickets

Domain Tests v India

First Test: December 6-10, Adelaide Oval

Second Test: December 14-18, Perth Stadium

Third Test: December 26-30, MCG

Fourth Test: January 3-7, SCG

Gillette ODI Series v India

First ODI: January 12, SCG (D/N)

Second ODI: January 15, Adelaide Oval (D/N)

Third ODI: January 18, MCG (D/N)


About the Writer

 @ARamseyCricket
@ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.