Did India's pace unit outperform Australia's?
Two wickets in two balls and Mitchell Starc had woken everyone up to the fact of his tall, fast and left-armed existence. Full, straight, swinging. Ajinkya Rahane was gone, Karun Nair was gone, and a Test match that had tossed and turned like an insomniac had, after a period of light and uneasy slumber, jolted awake once again.
Then, from the other end, Josh Hazlewood. One ball just back of a length, spitting up unexpectedly. Another a little fuller, though not quite drive-able, arrowing into off stump, helped along by a near-absence of bounce. Cheteshwar Pujara was gone, R Ashwin was gone, and India had plummeted from 238 for 4 to 246 for 8.
Starc and Hazlewood were supposed to do just this, attack the stumps and run through India's second innings on the Chinnaswamy Stadium's jigsaw-puzzle pitch. Given the state of the surface, given Australia's 87-run first-innings lead, Starc and Hazlewood were supposed to be Australia's match-winners.
This burst of wickets, though, had come when India had erased their first-innings deficit and stretched their lead past 150. On this surface, that was too late. Steven Smith, Australia's captain, conceded as much in his post-match press conference.
Hazlewood, Starc and Mitchell Marsh took nine wickets in Bengaluru, conceding 228 runs at 3.21 per over. India's two fast bowlers, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, took five wickets and conceded 163 runs at 2.47 per over.
Australia's seamers bowled 71 overs across two innings. Had they been as economical as Ishant and Umesh, they would have conceded 175 runs, approximately. That's 53 less than they actually did. Australia lost by 75 runs.
To put it simply, India's quicks outperformed Australia's by a significant margin. A significant and surprising margin.
This wasn't the first time an Indian fast-bowling attack had outperformed a higher-rated opponent in recent times. But most of the previous occasions either came overseas, on green pitches that helped them enough to overcome deficiencies in pace or accuracy, or in dry home conditions in which they complemented the spinners' efforts with short, sharp bursts of reverse-swing bowling.
This was different. The square and outfield were so lush as to rule out reverse, and the new ball barely swung either. The bounce was low, and while that meant a greater opportunity for bowled and lbw chances, it also meant edges wouldn't carry too often. They had to bowl with discipline, over extended spells - Ishant and Umesh both bowled more overs than Ravindra Jadeja in Australia's first innings - and provide a wicket threat by attacking the stumps.
They did all of this. And they did all of this better than Australia's quicks.
|Bowling team||Legal balls||Length/SG||Full/FT||On stumps||Down leg|
According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, 76.26% of the legal deliveries sent down by India's fast bowlers landed on either a good length or just short of a good length, while Australia's quicks only managed to do this 69.25% of the time. Australia's pacers erred on the full side too often - 16.90% of their deliveries were either tagged "full" or "full toss", while the corresponding figure for India's quicks was 10.86%.
While Starc, Hazlewood and Marsh actually bowled a line targeting the stumps more often (32.63%) than Ishant and Umesh did (25.00%), they also drifted down the leg side more frequently (12.91% compared to 7.57%). This, coupled with their tendency to overpitch, meant they conceded 41.66% of their runs square or behind square on the leg side, while Ishant and Umesh conceded 35.58% of their runs in that arc.
In time, the Bengaluru scorecard could become a slightly misleading document. The only fast bowler to take a five-for in the Test match was an Australian, Hazlewood. Umesh took three wickets across the two innings and Ishant only two. India's two spinners took a six-for each. This will come to look like another Indian home win engineered by their spinners. That, though, wasn't half the story.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo