Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins
After reading such names, any batting lineup would be tensed and feel the heat even before facing them. Starc’s aggression, Hazlewood’s nagging and incisive line-and-length and Cummins’ raw pace generated a lot of hype among critics and fans all around the world. Especially, the brilliant Ryan Harris rated the current Australian attack better than 2013-14. He said, “(Josh) Hazlewood’s probably doing the job that I did, and he’s quicker than me and gets more bounce”.
“You’ve got Starc, who can definitely do a Johnson role, and you’ve got (Pat) Cummins – so you’ve probably got an extra bit of pace.”
But after the first day of first Test at Brisbane; Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins failed to live up to the expectations. It was England who dominated the proceedings most of the times and ended the day with a lot of positives to count for.
Nature of Brisbane track
Being a follower cricket since the late 80s, my experience of first day at Brisbane had been all about pace and bounce. During the overcast conditions, naturally it used to aid the swing bowlers but on rest of the time, even on a bright sunny day, the track provided enough assistance for the fast men.
Not only that, the bounce at The Gabba hardly diminished throughout the five days. In fact, Brisbane used to be one of those wickets which maintained the balance between bat and ball. If a batsman is good enough to play on the backfoot, he can score runs while if a bowler keeps line-and-length accurate in and around that middle and offstump line, wickets would come.
Moreover, historically, Brisbane has always supported teams batting first: The Gabba exhibits a small advantage to teams batting first. In 59 Tests 25 have been won by the team batting first and 20 have been won by the team batting second with four Tests drawn.
But since 2006, the nature of Brisbane wicket changed. According to CricViz, “Pace bowlers have found less seam (0.82°) and swing (0.60°) at The Gabba than at any other Australian ground while the spinners have found less spin (2.83°) than at any venue other than Hobart”. But still, the bounce at Brisbane remained good enough as CricViz said, “Since 2006 no ground has a higher average bounce height at the stumps than the Gabba’s 91cm for pace bowlers, while for spinners the 78cm stump bounce height is only one less than the 79cm at The WACA”.
The ideal length to bowl at Gabba
The best way to fetch wickets at the Gabba is by keeping the length correct. As CricViz states, “Typically the best length for pace bowlers in Test cricket is between six and eight meters from the batsman’s stumps, however, at The Gabba the optimal length is in fact fractionally shorter than that – around eight to nine meters from the batsman’s stumps. From this length pace bowlers average 23.83 compared to 30.73 from the traditional full-length. When playing on the front foot against pace at The Gabba batsmen average 41.64”.
You might extract enough lateral movement by bowling a full-length from rest of the world, but at The Gabba, by keeping the length full won’t be helpful enough. The best way is to bowl at the back of a length with an attacking line. Years after years, Glenn McGrath did such and even you can be extremely successful by bouncing the ball from a short of a length and good length at an express pace – Mitchell Johnson scripted terror four years ago by applying such a tactic.
Australian pacers erred in length, lacked the aggressive intent
Even though, the track for the first Test was different from the previous ones, still, it had a stiff bounce for the bowlers to utilise. Gradually, the track started to aid the spinners, but the bounce was always there. Nathan Lyon bowled brilliantly after tea and used the bounce to his advantage. He kept the line and length right and gave English batters some nervous moments.
Whereas, the Australian pacers too easy to handle.
Since Starc dismissed Alastair Cook with a beautiful delivery, his lively presence was missing rest of the day. At the other end, Hazlewood and Cummins lacked the cutting edge which was required to knock off a shaky Mark Stoneman and James Vince when they were not yet set at the crease.
The Australian pacers kept the length too full as ESPNcricinfo’s numbers suggest, “at tea, Australia had bowled 91 balls at a full length and conceded 65 runs at 4.28 runs per over. Of the 72 balls Josh Hazlewood bowled, 24 were full deliveries and yielded 28 runs. Nine of the 13 boundaries scored until tea came off full-length deliveries”.
In contrast, Mitchell Johnson bowled just pitched 14 deliveries on a fuller length four years ago while McGrath, Lee and Gillespie bowled lesser amount of fuller lengths than Johnson whenever they played at Brisbane.
Even Stuart Broad expressed his plans about bowling at Brisbane and he wished to go the McGrath way – no fuller length but landing on ideal length. He said, “I don’t want to swing it. That will be against my strengths to come here and bowl a full length looking to swing the Kookaburra. I want to do what McGrath and Hazlewood do, bashing away, bringing in both sides of the bat. I’ve done some good work and that will continue leading into the first Test. I feel like my time is coming”.
Moreover, the Australian pacers lacked aggression which was a big surprise for me. Starc displayed a killer instinct at Shield Cricket while Cummins’ aggression on the flat tracks of Dhaka and Chittagong hinted how lethal he would be on Australian pitches and Hazlewood’s McGrath-like-intent would have been an interesting thing to watch on Day 1. But astonishingly, all of them displayed a ‘just okay’ show – no bone-chilling kinds of stuff were evident.
England were allowed to exhibit resolve.