“It’s not how, it’s how many.”
Questions have arisen over the Australian Test bowling line up this summer.
Sides may be taken in the commentary boxes, however, the stark statistic of the four-Test series against India is that the Australian bowling quartet – largely regarded as our best possible and arguably best in the world – were only able to claim one LBW for a four-Test series.
There were eight broken castles although, of those, a couple were chopped on. Cheteshwar Pujara was taken out by one that kept low and Ishant Sharma was all at sea when Starc rattled his pegs.
In Perth, Murali Vijay and KL Rahul were completely exposed, with both bowled in both innings.
In fact, it was Nathan Lyon who claimed the solitary LBW. Ajinkya Rahane was the man – first innings in Melbourne.
Of 62 wickets to fall, that there was only one LBW is surprising.
The contrast to the output of the Indian bowling in interesting.
Firstly, – Australia took 62 wickets. Spin (Lyon) took almost a third (21) of those; of which Lyon claimed one LBW and two bowlings.
In the case of India, there were 20 wickets out of 70 taken by spinners. Of those 20 wickets, there were two LBWs and two bowled – fairly similar.
As far as the quicks are concerned; 40 wickets among the trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins Cummins at a ratio of six bowled and no LBWs out of 40 dismissals was a 15 per cent strike rate.
For India, with 50 wickets taken by the quicks, 18 of those were LBW (eight) or bowled (ten). That was a 36 per cent strike rate.
However – even the Indian figures deserve drilling down on. It was Jasprit Bumrah who featured most with six LBWs and six bowled.
Sharma and Mohammed Shami worked well in support, but it was Bumrah who was the ‘x-factor’. He almost always threatened.
I recall Starc getting a head of steam up in the first crack at India in Perth. He’d just removed Pujara (a strangle down leg side) and Rahane came to join Virat Kohli. The scene was set for a key moment and for quality Test cricket – alas – Starc was actually not up to it.
He is not a master of his skillset – in the same way that Mitchell Johnson was a terribly fluky bowler.
Great deliveries can be conjured but, seemingly, not at will – let alone the pressure is rarely able to be sustained.
This was an issue against this season’s opposition. Looking back to 2017-18 and the home Ashes; 89 wickets taken by the Australians saw a total of 25 LBWs and bowlings. 28 per cent.
Ironically, Lyon also took 21 wickets in that five-Test series and nine of those were either LBW (seven) or bowled (two); a slightly better average (29.3 compared to 30.4) but slightly worse strike rate (74.33 against Eng versus 69.2 against India).
Nine of 21 wickets was quite high and certainly so compared to three from 21.
As for the quicks; 66 wickets for the ‘big three’ saw Hazlewood end up with four LBWs and one bowled from 21 wickets, Starc nabbed four LBWs and three bowled from 22 wickets, while Cummins scored two LBWs and two bowlings from his 23 wickets.
In total; ten LBWs and six bowlings from 66 wickets at around 24 per cent.
So what happened this time around? Were India just that more organised in defence, or did Australia err on the short side?
I also queried prior to the series whether the ‘big three’ were entering the series somewhat underdone.
Starc had battled ankle and hamstring issues during 2018, while both Hazlewood and Cummins were dealing with back related issues.
In the case of Hazlewood – his last standout performance was match figures of 8/140 against England last season in Perth.
Since then, a best bowling return of 3/52 in an innings and 5/128 for a match back in Cape Town. In that time, 28 wickets at the unflattering 34.64. He missed the UAE matches. His career average has shifted from 25.6 to 27.1. Is Hazlewood really our opening bowler? Or is he an honest toiler tending to pitch too short if there’s no sideways movement?
Cummins looked the goods through the England series and again in South Africa – including a sterling 9/141 in the final Test in Johannesburg.
The concerns for Cummins relate only to this series and his preparation. He also missed the UAE Tests. Was he ready for this series or was it wishful thinking?
14 wickets at 27.8 is okay, however, apart from his 6/27 in the second at Melbourne, the rest of the time he looked barely more than a trundler producing eight wickets at 45.
Is it unfair to exclude the 6/27? I think not – it was an inconsequential innings India used to rest their bowlers – and many of Cummins’ wickets were short and down leg side.
I suggest he was somewhat flattered on the day and most certainly allows a far too flattering series overview. I expect he’ll come good but I was dubious that he was right to go for two sets of back-to-back Tests.
And then there is Starc. He ripped it up in Durban back in March with a match return of 9/109. Since then, he’s had ankle and hammy issues. He missed Johannesburg but did tour the UAE.
Over this timeframe, he has 20 wickets at 46.5, while his career average has also jumped from 26.9 to 28.9.
So, is it acceptable that our new ball bowlers are so badly under-performing?
In some cases they get limited break time between first and second innings due to a dismal batting display. However, for both the Melbourne and Sydney Tests, they had first crack and fell short both times.
It seems clear that the bowlers are tired – even after the break between Perth and Melbourne.
What accountability is put back on the selectors? Perhaps we needed someone to bowl the Peter Siddle line and length – the top of off stump, which appeared to work so well for Bumrah.
We actually had such a guy as a permanent 12th man.