Published on December 14th, 2018 | by Arunabha Sengupta2
The pros and cons of a four-pronged pace attack🕓 Reading time: 5 minutes
Historically, the No 8 averages 24.81 for India, and there have been 16 centuries in that position. In short, this is a serious batting slot from where important runs are made, and around which important partnerships are built. And a man with an average of 7.92 is most likely to fill this role….
Even in a Test match, hindsight remains 20/20. Hence, criticism will no doubt be making rounds as India end the first day at Perth.
The honours at the moment rest probably even. We cannot really determine which way the balance tilts unless and until the Indian batsmen start negotiating the offerings of the Australian pacemen on this fast-paced wicket. There is a tiny bit of niggling doubt about the perils of fourth innings here, because there is a variable bounce on evidence even on Day One. But as of now, the odds are even.
But the bold decision to go in with four pacemen will come under scrutiny. Not least because only four of the eventual six wickets were the doings of the pace quartet.
Twice during the course of the day, two well-set left-handers flirted with wide Hanuma Vihari deliveries. Twice the edges flew off their willows. Twice Ajinkya Rahane was in action at first-slip. And hence, at the end of the day, Vihari sports figures of 14-1-53-2.
Granted, Ravichandran Ashwin is unfit. But, questions are bound to be asked. What if Ravindra Jadeja had been out there? Would the Australian innings have survived the day?
As I mentioned at the beginning, hindsight is always 20/20.
The other major factor that needs to be considered is the tail.
While India still anticipate a significant fight to capture the remaining four Australian wickets, with Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood being just about the most bunch of stubborn tail-enders around, their own resources in that department are desperately depleting. Ishant Sharma, making runs at 7.92 per innings, will probably bat at No 8, a position more suited for batsmen with averages around the 30-run mark.
The legendary Kapil Dev batted 58 times at No 8 for India, averaging 33.52 with two centuries. MS Dhoni played that role 11 times, averaging 69.77 with two hundreds. Ashwin has batted there 51 times, scoring at 28.72 with two centuries. Even last summer Hardik Pandya hit 108 from that position in Pallekele, Ravindra Jadeja struck an unbeaten 70 at Galle.
Historically, the No 8 averages 24.81 for India, and there have been 16 centuries in that position. In short, this is a serious batting slot from where important runs are made, and around which important partnerships are built. And a man with an average in single digits is most likely to fill the role.
Ishant will be followed by Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav, both averaging 11. The last man walking out will be Jasprit Bumrah … one of the endearing and endangered breeds of nature’s unadulterated number 11s. Bumrah averages 1.42 in Test cricket.
The four-pronged seam attack is, by all indications, also a quartet of No 11s. Indian batting virtually ends with Rishabh Pant at No 7.
Hence, the call to go in with this attack based on the surface was a bold one, and it will remain questionable. Getting bailed out by the tail is not really an option in these circumstances. One is used to some counter-intuitive decisions by Virat Kohli and the current team management, but even then this was rather extraordinary.
Perhaps this is where the role of Hardik Pandya and the skipper’s continuous support for his all-round skills become understandable. India is in desperate need for a seam-bowling all-rounder who can add balance to the outfit.
However, was this a right call?
There is no answer to this. If the seamers had run through the Australian innings, perhaps they would have vindicated the team selection. But, as could have been expected, the Australians were visibly determined to fight back in the series. The wickets were difficult to earn and in the end the 75 overs of pace had just four wickets to show for the efforts.
And yes, Vihari did pick up those two wickets.
So, it is quite natural to conclude, at least following the methods of fan-deduction, that Jadeja should have played in the place of one of the seamers. Umesh Yadav possibly.
But, if we look at the seam movement today, there was plenty on offer. The ball moved more than expected in this part of the world. The art and science of reading the wicket is always a dodgy one, but it seems that the Indians did a decent job of it. The addition of a seamer was a gamble that they took, banking on Vihari’s off-breaks as the spin option. They did sacrifice much of the batting cushion that they would have got if Jadeja had played, but that was perhaps part of the gamble.
Being one up in the series, this was indeed a very positive decision, with the onus on forcing a win. India wanted to go in with six batsmen and four wicket-taking options. One may have reservations about the kangaroo-long tail, I certainly do. Especially given that in the high-profile series in England it was the runs scored by the tail that made all the difference. But, as far as the wicket was concerned, taking an additional paceman was a justifiable choice.
If we look at the wickets of Vihari, they were not due to spin on offer, but a couple of deliveries that bounced more than expected and were flirted with a degree of carelessness that crept into the Australian batting from time to time. Looking at the bounce, it does seem that Ashwin could possibly have utilised it … and there are ominous indications of Nathan Lyon’s overspin coming into play.
Anyway, Ashwin is nursing an injury. Would Jadeja have been able to exploit the conditions? There is no way to say, but there is little evidence to suggest that he would have done. He is always a bowler who makes it dart through rather than rely on bounce. He would have bowled on the spot all day, but whether he would have been among wickets is not axiomatically evident.
The only thing lacking in the Indian bowling today was perhaps the consistent pressure that the pacemen have exerted on the opposition in recent times. Bumrah and Ishant have been impeccable in their length, the latter visibly determined to pitch fuller than he had done in Adelaide. However, Shami sort of petered off after an impressive first spell. And Umesh has had a tough time adjusting his length to the bounce on offer. It is precisely in the less than brilliant efforts of Shami and Umesh that the Indian pace unit has come up short. It is not a problem of selection as far as the bowling department is concerned.
Chances are that the pace bowlers will put in a better performance as the match goes on. One has to wait and watch.
However, the Indian top and middle order have to bat with a lot of resolve and purpose to ensure that the extraordinarily long and feeble tail of the Indian innings are not left with much to do. That is an extra responsibility that has been added by the pace-based selection.
One wonders if that will be a major factor coming into play.