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Match Analysis

Lyon's apprentice Murphy tops his master in the rough of Nagpur

Murphy shelved the overspin typical of bowling in Australia and consistently bowled around 95kph with high side spin, and had five wickets to show for it

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
10-Feb-2023
Eleven months ago, Todd Murphy had played just one first-class match. He was a contracted player with Victoria, having played in an Under-19 World Cup for Australia, but was biding his time in grade cricket for St Kilda.
On March 12 last year, he was playing at Russell Lucas Oval in Ringwood, in Melbourne's outer eastern suburbs. His two victims that day were Melbourne Stars opener Tom Rogers and USA and Hampshire batter Ian Holland.
Eleven months on, in Nagpur, Murphy knocked over KL Rahul, R Ashwin, Cheteshwar Pujura, Virat Kohli and KS Bharat, in that order, to become the first Australian spinner since Nathan Lyon to take five wickets on Test debut.
"It's been a pretty special couple of days and to top it off with a five-wicket haul on debut is more than I ever hoped for," Murphy said after play on the second day of the Test.
He did it while outbowling his mentor Lyon, 13 years, 115 Tests and 460 wickets his senior before the game. He did it having nearly not been selected at all for this Test match.
It was a remarkable performance from Australia's newest cricket hero, unassuming, bespectacled, and affectionately nicknamed "Goggles" at St Kilda.
He didn't do it in the same manner as Jason Krejza had in Nagpur 15 years ago. It wasn't a host of brilliant big ripping offbreaks while conceding 4.90 an over. He did with outstanding control of length and line. He did get a touch fortuitous with his dismissals of Pujara and Kohli with arguably his worst two balls. But they were reward for the pressure he built with his consistency.
It was the reason he was finally selected ahead of Ashton Agar. Australia's selectors had a preference to play a left-arm orthodox in Nagpur as they had chosen in Sydney against South Africa, both to complement Lyon and match up well against India's right-hand dominant top order. There was a worry that a second right-arm offspinner would be surplus to requirements.
Yet, those in Victoria were shouting to anyone who would listen that Murphy had a far superior record to right-handers in first-class cricket. And so it proved. Murphy's five victims were all right-handers with a combined total of 58 Test centuries.
"Observing everything and competing in the nets and bowling to the Sri Lankans, I took a lot of confidence out of that and reflected and went back, trusted myself a bit more, and thought 'what I've got can be good enough' and believe in that"
Todd Murphy on the Australia A tour of Sri Lanka last year
The disparity in the consistency between the two showed up in ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data. Agar, a ten-year veteran of first-class cricket, landed just 50% of his 132 deliveries on a good length in his nervous Test return in Sydney against South Africa and went wicketless as a result. He also bowled two full-tosses and two half-trackers.
Murphy, meanwhile, in just his eighth first-class game, landed 63% of his deliveries on a good length and bowled just the one full-toss and one drag down. His 37 full-length deliveries cost only 23 runs and resulted in a wicket.
Lyon only landed 59% on a good length and erred full 43 times, which cost 38 runs. He only picked up the one wicket for the day with Suryakumar Yadav playing a very loose drive to a ball that could have easily been defended. But Lyon did have Ravindra Jadeja dropped at slip by Steven Smith in the final over of the day.
It was remarkable how well Murphy adapted to the conditions when compared with Lyon. Murphy's long-time bowling coach Craig Howard had noted his ability to adapt his bowling to the conditions that were presented.
"Howie for me he's been someone that I've always been able to go to and I've been able to trust and he knows me as good as anyone and knows what works for me," Murphy said. "We've had a lot of really good conversations over the years about what works in what conditions and we had a good chat the other day about over here and just trusting the skill set that I've got."
Nagpur's pitch required faster speeds and a lot of side spin, as Jadeja had shown on day one. It was exactly what Murphy delivered on day two. There are shades of Graeme Swann in his action and there were shades of Swann 2012 in his bowling as he shelved the overspin that is required in Australia - the overspin that has made Lyon so successful in the toughest of offspinning climes at home - and consistently bowled up towards 95kph with high side spin.
It is a skill he had honed under Howard at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane on the purpose-made India-style red-clay pitches over many winters. It was one of the laments of the Australian squad that they were not able to train on those pitches prior to this tour for reasons that are not entirely clear and were instead forced to practice on scarified pitches at North Sydney Oval that were not quite the same.
His ability to implement it his first Test was quite remarkable. But he credited his Australia A tour to Sri Lanka last year with helping him believe he could produce it at the highest level. "Having a little bit of success over there probably gave me the confidence I needed going back to Australia that I could mix it with first-class cricketers."
"Being around some of the guys who had played Test cricket, observing everything and competing in the nets and bowling to the Sri Lankans, I took a lot of confidence out of that and reflected and went back, trusted myself a bit more, and thought 'what I've got can be good enough' and believe in that."
Murphy operated almost exclusively around the wicket to India's right-hand batters, rarely pitching outside the line of the stumps and threatening both edges. His length was so good that even Rohit Sharma in the midst of a sublime match-defining century struggled to get down the track to him and never played back to him. Murphy simply asked the batters to defend a good length. It yielded two of his five wickets with Ashwin and Bharat both pinned lbw trying to defend on the front foot.
His other three were helped by batter errors. Rahul chipped a drive back to him on the opening night, while Pujara played a rare sweep to a ball way outside leg and picked out short fine. Kohli was caught down the leg side playing well wide of his body with Alex Carey taking an outstanding juggling catch unsighted as part of an excellent day behind the stumps.
But while the batters' errors contributed, Murphy's lengths contributed to the mistakes as all three were stuck playing from the crease.
Murphy also benefitted from the tireless work of Scott Boland. The inexperienced Victorians were undeniably Australia's best two bowlers on a tough day in the field. Yet, inexplicably, they only bowled in partnership for one spell of eight overs in the first session. From overs 38 to 45 they bowled eight overs, three maidens, and combined for 2 for 18 with Murphy removing Ashwin and Pujara, after Rohit and Ashwin had taken 40 runs off the first 13 overs of the morning against Lyon and Pat Cummins.
Boland had figures of 9-4-7-0 after his brilliant six-over burst. But he would only bowl eight more overs through the day, which included having Jadeja dropped at slip, a really tough chance low to Smith's right, and Axar Patel nicking him just short of second.
Murphy, too, could have had Jadeja twice. With India on 224 for 5, he hit Jadeja on the front pad as the left-hander stretched out to defend. The lbw appeal was turned down and the review came up umpire's call on impact. It was going on to hit the middle of middle. Then, with Jadeja on 60, late in the day, he conjured a thick edge as Jadeja tried to cut the wrong length, but it was too thick for Carey to grasp and it rebounded off his gloves over Smith at slip.
Australia have found a diamond in the rough in Nagpur in Murphy, and possibly the spin-bowling heir to Lyon. But on his first two days in Test cricket, he looked more like the master than the apprentice.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo