India-Australia 2011-12 Series Preview

The Test India Should Finally Ace

The story of this India-Australia series could be as much about the players who fight it out in the middle as about those who are missing.

Australia’s highest impact Test player of the last 2 years is missing. As is, bizarrely, India’s.

Shane Watson, with an IMPACT of 3.06 is Australia’s highest impact Test player in the last two years (minimum 5 Tests). India’s highest impact player in the same period is Praveen Kumar – he has played all his 6 Tests this year, and his IMPACT has been a highly impressive 3.81. Even Rahul Dravid, who has an IMPACT of 2.36 in 2011, has had a lower impact than him this year. Kumar’s absence is a huge loss to the Indian team, as big as it was when he had to drop out of the World Cup earlier this year – if India can cope as well as they did then, they would have done very well. A great deal of their challenge would lie in the hands (or rather, hamstring) of Zaheer Khan – India’s highest impact player in the current squad in the last 2 years (minimum 5 Tests).

To do an analysis of the two teams, let’s first look at the likely teams for the first Test on Boxing Day. These are their Impact Index sheets of the 22 players, squad-by-squad, for the last two years, on various parameters.

But before that, Impact Index simply explained

Imagine being able to give marks out of 5 (up to 2 decimal points) to every performance in a cricket match by looking at a scorecard. Now, imagine doing that to every scorecard in cricket history. Then, imagine that those marks are not given subjectively (or whimsically) but are actually measured objectively only from the information in the scorecard.
You don’t have to imagine any more – because Impact Index is actually doing this. By devising a system that measures every performance in a match as a ratio of the other 21 performances in the same match. Thereby taking into account most intangibles hitherto impossible to calculate (like pressure absorbed by a batsman), and coming up with the impact a player had on the match.
Making Impact Index the most holistic and objective cricket statistics system in the world today. In a very simple form – everything is reduced to just a number between 0 and 5*. That’s how straightforward it is.

* When a career number goes below 0, or above 5, it means the player has performed below, or above, the standards of the matches he has played in, taken cumulatively, in that parameter.

INDIA
Reminder – all figures on a scale of 0 to 5.
All figures from December 2009-Dec 2011 only.

Player

Matches

Batting IMPACT

Bowling IMPACT

PLAYER’s IMPACT in the last 2 years

No. of
Series Defining performances

Sehwag

20

2.15

0.53

2.54

2

Gambhir

17

1.08

0.00

1.14

0

Dravid

23

1.70

0.00

1.81

1

Tendulkar

22

2.26

0.01

2.29

1

Laxman

22

2.32

0.00

2.40

2

Kohli

4

1.23

0.00

1.45

0

Dhoni

24

1.05

0.00

2.48

0

Ashwin

3

0.54

3.53

3.53

0

Zaheer

11

0.79

2.44

3.05

1

Ishant

22

0.58

1.39

1.68

0

Yadav

2

0.00

2.14

2.14

0

First, the batsmen.

VVS Laxman has been India’s highest impact batsman in the last two years. His Batting IMPACT of 2.32 the highest in his team – reaching these heights because of outstanding fourth innings performances and chasing under pressure.

Sachin Tendulkar has had the second-highest impact amongst Indian batsmen in the last two years. Unfortunately, the bizarre hype around his impending 100th international hundred (a category no one had ever kept tabs on before this) seems to have affected him too. He got his 99th international century during the World Cup and since then, in 7 Tests, his Batting IMPACT has been an uncharacteristically modest 1.23. For the first time in his career, he missed making a century in England, nor could he manage one in the home series against the currently unfancied West Indian side. A great pity, because he was in the form of his life before this inconsequential statistical monument began to be spoken about – in the 15 Tests before that, his Batting IMPACT had been a formidable 2.60. It is worrying for India if his preoccupation with this prevents him from being at his imperious best. He hasn’t missed making a century in a single Australian tour in his career so far either; will this be the first?

Virender Sehwag has had a superb two years too. In fact, he has been India’s best big match player – along with Laxman, he has two series-defining performances to his name in this period – which is a remarkable record (most people in their careers have done very well if they have 3 or 4). It also makes him India’s second-highest impact player, and the highest amongst batsmen (a Bowling IMPACT of 0.53 even takes him just about halfway towards being an all-rounder).

Rahul Dravid has had two contrasting years, with 2011 the much better one. His high Runs Tally and Partnership IMPACT figures suggest that the classic Dravid qualities are very much in operation. His IMPACT of 2.36 for 2011 suggests a return to form and he would undoubtedly see this tour as the crowning glory of the remaining part of his career now.

Gautam Gambhir has had a poor two years in the longer version (he has been much better as an ODI player) – his Batting IMPACT of 1.08 does not do justice to his proven talent (as his performance in the last Test in South Africa showed earlier this year). As one half of India’s finest-ever opening pair, he will be conscious of the impact he can make in a series like this, where a solid foundation has invariably resulted in success for India in the past.

Kohli has a good chance to replicate his immense ODI success in this format – this series might be his chance to seal his place. Here is a closer look at how the batsmen fared in this period on different parameters.

 

Tests

Batting IMPACT in the last 2 years

Runs Tally IMPACT

Pressure IMPACT

Partnership Building IMPACT

4th Innings IMPACT

Laxman

22

2.32

1.2

0.24

0.09

0.43

Tendulkar

22

2.26

1.28

0.33

0.09

0.3

Sehwag

20

2.15

1.13

0.07

0.06

0.16

Dravid

23

1.70

1.14

0.16

0.08

0.04

Kohli

4

1.23

0.76

0.03

0.03

0.41

Gambhir

17

1.08

0.71

0.04

0.04

0.08

Dhoni

24

1.05

0.66

0.12

0.04

0.01

It is interesting that Tendulkar has absorbed the maximum pressure amongst Indian batsmen in the last 2 years – this contradicts the notion amongst many Tendulkar critics that he does not produce the tough runs – the fact is, in the last two years, he has. Not surprising at all that Laxman follows him, as the one to absorb pressure successfully, as do Dravid and Dhoni thereafter. Tendulkar and Laxman have also built the most partnerships (or had the biggest partnerships), followed by Dravid – not surprising, given how the three have fared in Test cricket in this period. Laxman has the highest impact as a batsman in the fourth innings – he has done it most memorably thrice in the last two years. Kohli, promisingly, did it once (in his last Test match, though he could not finish the job).

The lower order batting, with reasonably high Batting IMPACT numbers (over 0.5 for Ashwin, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma) suggests a capacity for a fight there, which augurs well for India.

All this comes to a Batting IMPACT of 1.75 (for top 7 batsmen) and 1.50 (all 11 players; the drop is not huge, so suggests a strong lower order).

The bowling, on the other hand, does not inspire confidence.

 

Tests

Bowling IMPACT in the last 2 years

Top/middle Order Wkts IMPACT

Lower order Wkts IMPACT

Pressure Building IMPACT

Economy IMPACT

Efficiency IMPACT

Ashwin

3

3.53

2.8

0.37

0.11

0.23

0.22

Zaheer

11

2.44

2.06

0.24

0.06

0.01

0.13

Yadav

2

2.14

1.68

0.24

0.06

0

0.16

Ishant

22

1.39

1.33

0.18

0.04

0.04

-0.27

Interesting that Ashwin leads the count on everything –wickets, pressure-building, economy and efficiency. He has had a very promising start in international cricket; his first overseas Test tour could well be the making of him.

However, it is useful to remember that Zaheer Khan is India’s highest impact Test player bar none (not even one of the batsmen in that fabled bunch goes ahead of him) in the last two years. His breakdown in the first Test in England led to India’s decimation in the series – and the story may be quite the same here – that is the extent to which this team relies on him. With Praveen Kumar injured and Harbhajan Singh dropped, the rest of the Indian bowling is inexperienced and untested. Ashwin and Yadav have both shown promise but to expect them to be amongst the two main bowlers is irrational optimism. If Zaheer is not at full throttle in this series, India’s chances drop considerably – no rocket science here.

Ishant Sharma, unfortunately, is the weakest link in this Indian team. A few showboat spells (most famously the one to Ponting in 2008) have unfortunately camouflaged his overall ineffectiveness (though his bowling average of 36 does give a slight indication of it). His poor Bowling IMPACT of 1.39 is highly indicative of his ineffectiveness. It is not a good situation for India that he has the responsibility of bearing the load of India’s second-most important bowler in this team. Impact Index suggests he was lucky to make this tour – he should have been dropped, so that he could have perhaps aligned his discipline and hunger to his obvious talent.

Umesh Yadav has been promising in the 3 Tests he has played – with IMPACT numbers to back that. He will enjoy the conditions in Australia but it is his mental strength and discipline that will determine whether his current Bowling IMPACT figure (an impressive 2.14) flatters to deceive or not.

R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have both had good starts to their career but they are largely untested yet. Moreover, in Australia, it is not clear how they would use the conditions. R Ashwin will certainly make the starting eleven in the first Test. There may be a case to use both spinners (at least for/from the 2nd Test in Sydney) – not a common occurrence in Australia but the faster guys just may not be good enough for India.

India’s Bowling IMPACT is 1.91 (four bowlers).
However, if Zaheer Khan is removed (and replaced by say, Mithun), it drops to an alarming 1.61. This only underlines how critical Zaheer Khan is for India.
Meanwhile, if India choose to replace Ishant Sharma with Ojha in Sydney, with Zaheer still in the team, India’s Bowling IMPACT goes up to an exponential 2.73 – this considerable rise may make it worth taking the risk of playing an extra spinner who may or may not bowl to his current impact level in Australian conditions.

There are seven series defining performances amongst just these 11 players in two years, which is outstanding. It reflects how strong India’s Test performances have been lately (except in England). Six of these have come from batsmen, which tells its own story as well.

 

AUSTRALIA

Player

Tests

Batting IMPACT

Bowling IMPACT

PLAYER’s IMPACT in the last 2 years

No. of
Series Defining performances

Warner

2

3.90

0.00

4.15

0

Cowan

0

0.00

0.00

0.00

0

Marsh

3

2.13

0.00

2.13

0

Ponting

19

1.48

0.00

1.79

0

Clarke

21

1.65

0.45

1.92

0

Hussey

21

1.79

0.55

2.06

0

Haddin

17

1.02

0.00

2.60

1

Hilfenhaus

8

0.38

1.36

1.80

0

Pattinson

2

0.50

6.25

6.25

0

Lyon

7

0.45

1.33

1.69

0

Siddle

13

0.83

1.66

2.42

0

The current Australian team depends on four senior players – Ponting, Clarke, Hussey and Haddin. All of them have been in somewhat indifferent form lately.

None more than Ricky Ponting, whose last two years have had him struggling more often than not; this series is being seen as his likely swan song, depending on how he does. Michael Clarke has been more consistent but not enough if he is to be a mainstay of any team. Mike Hussey has been the best of the lot, but a serious dip has occurred recently, which has put him on notice too. You cannot expect Brad Haddin to bear batting responsibility right through a series; even a wicketkeeper-batsman like Adam Gilchrist would have struggled to do that.

The new guys around them have made up to a great extent. Warner’s effort in his second match against New Zealand (a fourth innings century in a close chase) shows promise to solve Australia’s opening problem, a spot which has seen Hughes struggle in last 2 years (Batting IMPACT of just 1.03 in 12 matches). In Watson’s absence, Australia would want Warner to live up to his promise and Cowan, who is yet to debut, to rise to the occasion.

Shaun Marsh is new in the international business too, with just 3 Tests behind him to generate his promising Batting IMPACT of 2.13. Together, the combination of Warner-Cowan-Marsh is highly inexperienced against India’s top unit of Sehwag-Gambhir-Dravid, and this could well be the key to the batting part of the series.

Ponting and Hussey have struggled over last two years with Batting IMPACT numbers of 1.48 and 1.65 respectively which is mediocre by their standards. While many found Khawaja promising, he delivered a Batting IMPACT of just 1.29 in his 6 matches and thus was rightly a candidate over Ponting to be dropped.

Michael Clarke has had 2 years somewhere in between the consistency of Hussey and Ponting with a Batting IMPACT of 1.65. Ponting, Hussey and Clarke will need to do better than their last two years’ performances to match up to India’s middle order which consists of Tendulkar and Laxman, with Kohli sufficiently hungry to add his name to this list of threats by showing glimpses of what he has done so well in the more forgiving ODI arena.

Brad Haddin has had a mediocre 2 years with a Batting IMPACT of just 1.02 to show besides his wicketkeeping role (which just about makes him a wicketkeeping all-rounder). Still, he is the only Australian player in this side to have a series-defining performance to his name in the last two years.

Here is the Australian batting chart.

 

Matches

Batting IMPACT in the last 2 years

Runs Tally IMPACT

Pressure IMPACT

Partnership Building IMPACT

4th Innings IMPACT

Warner

2

3.90

1.91

0.2

0.12

2.33

Marsh

3

2.13

1.53

0.49

0.15

0

Hussey

21

1.79

1.37

0.34

0.09

0

Clarke

21

1.65

1.14

0.27

0.08

0.08

Ponting

19

1.48

1.02

0.18

0.06

0.09

Haddin

17

1.02

0.74

0.16

0.03

0.09

Australia’s batsmen have faced a considerable amount of pressure in the last two years, a direct result of their failure to find a settled opening pair. However, all three senior batsmen – Hussey, Clarke, Ponting and even Haddin have absorbed the highest pressure for the team in the period in that respective order. They probably shouldn’t get their hopes up about getting some respite from that now.

It is encouraging for Australia that the two youngsters (relatively) have promising numbers here – David Warner has the highest Runs Tally IMPACT (that means he has scored the highest proportion of runs for his team in matches played), while Shaun Marsh has absorbed the maximum pressure while batting and also built the most partnerships.

Meanwhile, Australia’s lower order also holds the promise of a fight in case of adversity. Hilfenhaus (Batting IMPACT 0.38), Pattinson (0.50), Lyon (0.45) and Siddle (0.83) have very decent Batting IMPACT values and could trouble India’s unsteady and inexperienced bowling, if that is what manifests.

With heavy dependence on players who are in mediocre form over the last two years and a bunch of youngsters in the batting department, Australia could well have a difficult time. Unless India’s bowling fails to be sharp enough.

Australia’s bowling line-up isn’t in much better shape either.

Pattinson’s high Bowling IMPACT of 6.25 (bolstered by a big match performance; which is why it is over 5 – very low sample size of matches) is too early to judge his effectiveness but if he continues to deliver on the same level, India’s fancied batting order could find itself in trouble.

Siddle has the next-highest Bowling IMPACT of 1.66 in 13 matches, thus being the most capped bowler for Australia in last 2 years. He will need to hold Australia’s bowling together in case Pattinson fails to deliver.

Lyon has a low Bowling IMPACT of 1.33. This, alongside the fact that Indian batsmen are supposed to be better players of spin bowling, means that Lyon will have to raise his game to give Australia meaningful support in the bowling department.

Hilfenhaus has been called back into the side, only because Cummins (Bowling IMPACT 8.62 which includes his series defining effort against South Africa) is out due to injury. His Bowling IMPACT of 1.36 does not assume threatening proportions. Australia’s bowling chart does not make great reading (for Australians).

 

Matches

Bowling IMPACT in the last 2 years

Top/middle Order Wkts IMPACT

Lower order Wkts IMPACT

Pressure Building IMPACT

Economy IMPACT

Efficiency IMPACT

Pattinson

2

6.25

4.55

0.1

0.25

0.03

0.35

Siddle

13

1.66

1.56

0.15

0.04

0.01

-0.27

BHilfenhaus

8

1.36

1.4

0.08

0.02

0.09

-0.25

NJ Lyon

7

1.33

0.8

0.4

0.04

0.04

-0.11

While Pattinson shows promise at building pressure by taking quick wickets (Pressure Building IMPACT), Hilfenhaus is good at bowling economically (Economy IMPACT).

All said, this is an uncomfortably inexperienced bowling line-up for Australia.

Captain Clarke has too much on his hands. He will hope for Shane Watson to return soon, as his inclusion (at Cowen’s expense) will increase Australia’s Team IMPACT from 1.65 to 1.84 – he is not one of the world’s premier all-rounders for nothing.

The relative Bench Strengths don’t bring joy for Australia either:

India – 2.47 IMPACT
(Ojha – 2.97, Saha – 0.49 and Mithun – 1.48 while Rahane, Sharma and Vinay Kumar are yet to debut)
Australia – 1.36 IMPACT
(Starc – 1.36, Christian – Yet to debut).

FORM CARD

If we look at the line-ups of the two teams, going by the cricket the 30 players in both squads have played in the last 2 years, India seems to be comfortably the better side. India’s Team Impact is 1.79 as compared to Australia’s 1.65.

India has an edge both in the batting department (Team Batting IMPACT for top 7 batsmen is 1.75 to Australia’s 1.59) as well as in bowling (Team Bowling IMPACT for top 4 bowlers is 1.90 compared to Australia’s 1.81). This is the first time in three decades that an Indian team has been stronger on paper, and that too, in both departments. Perhaps the first time since 1985 can an Indian team be considered favourites in an Australian Test tour.

The two teams are facing-off with India as the superior side in recent times as well (a first, in Indian cricket history). In the last two years, India have won 5 series, drawn 3 and lost 1. Australia have won 3, drawn 3 and lost 2.

This has to be India’s best chance of winning their first-ever Test series in Australia. However, as mentioned above, Zaheer’s fitness remains the key to India’s edge in the series.

The above analysis is for the two teams if we take conditions out of it. To examine what impact Australian conditions may have on proceedings, we go back by 3 series for both sides.

 

THE LAST THREE TEST SERIES IN AUSTRALIA

India’s last 3 series are spread over 12 years – 1999-2000, 2003-04 and 2007-08. Seven Indian players featured in at least one Test.

Name

Matches

Batting IMPACT

Bowling IMPACT

PLAYER’s IMPACT in the last 3 series in Australia

SDs

Pressure IMPACT

Sehwag

6

1.98

0.42

2.44

0

0.04

Tendulkar

11

2.02

0.22

2.23

0

0.48

Khan

3

0.2

1.97

2.17

0

0

Laxman

11

1.9

0

2.03

0

0.47

Dhoni

4

0.57

0

1.98*

0

0.25

Dravid

11

1.71

0

1.84

1

0.16

Sharma

3

0.17

1.38

1.51

0

0

* Including Wicket-keeping IMPACT

This is very encouraging – four players with an impact of over 2.

Sehwag’s numbers indicate his importance in this series. His partnership with Gambhir at the top will be absolutely crucial.

Tendulkar has the highest Batting IMPACT amongst them all – those who remember his sublime form in 1999 will not be surprised. Interestingly, he has also successfully absorbed the highest pressure by an Indian batsman in Australia. Ironically, he is now under very public pressure to get his 100th international century – whether he overcomes this or not, or how soon he does, could also play a big part in India’s fortunes this time.

Zaheer Khan also has a high Bowling IMPACT in Australia but again, his fitness remains an issue. As much as being an asset to the team, his failure (either on fitness or performance) will affect India severely.

Laxman is yet another high-IMPACT batsman for India which is not a big surprise given the memorable exploits by him on Australian soil. His high Pressure IMPACT further embellishes his value in Australia.

Dravid is the only player to have delivered a series defining performance in Australia – in Adelaide in the 2003-04 tour when his batting in both innings changed the momentum of the series that stayed tantalizingly alive till the last session of the last Test, but he was off-colour in 1999 and not fully himself in 2007-08 (despite being the highest scorer in the only Test they won then, at Perth). Unfortunately for Australia, he has been in sublime form this year, and the inexperienced Australian bowling line-up would be wary of him.

Ishant Sharma’s Bowling IMPACT of 1.38 in Australia is very similar to his last 2 years performance – mediocre. He should be replaced by Ojha (at least in the Sydney Test) and not Yadav (which would be more likely if India decide to go with 2 spinners), unless Yadav turns out to be equally ineffective in Australian conditions.

Dhoni hasn’t done much with his bat in Australia so far and even overall, his Test batting has not matched his ODI exploits. He hasn’t captained in Australia either, and he will be eager to extinguish memories of England just 5 months ago.

Australia’s last 3 series at home are spread over just two years. Nine players in the current team have featured in at least one Test (as opposed to seven Indians over 12 years – a dramatic reminder of the difference in levels of experience in the two teams).

Players

Matches

Batting IMPACT

Bowling IMPACT

PLAYER’s IMPACT in the last 3 series in Australia

SDs

Pressure IMPACT

Pattinson

2

0.5

6.25

6.25

0

0

Warner

2

3.9

0

4.15

0

0.21

Haddin

10

1.15

0

2.63*

0

0.24

Siddle

10

0.73

1.77

2.57

0

0.19

Lyon

2

0.59

1.96

2.55

0

0.11

Hussey

10

1.85

0.09

2.07

0

0.56

Ponting

9

1.46

0

1.74

0

0.13

Clarke

10

1.49

0

1.57

0

0.25

Hilfenhaus

4

0.22

0.57

0.82

0

0

* Including Wicket-keeping IMPACT

This is encouraging for Australia – even if you don’t consider three of them for playing less than 5 Tests, three of them are comfortably over an IMPACT of 2. What is worrying is that the two below that are Ponting and Clarke – the two most experienced batsmen.

Hussey has a higher Batting IMPACT in Australia in last 3 series as compared to his 2 years IMPACT number. Also, his ability to absorb pressure is the highest amongst both the teams when in Australia. He should rightfully be Australia’s batting mainstay but will need to come back to form (his Batting IMPACT in last 2 series had been a dismal 0.45).

Siddle and Lyon also have a higher Bowling IMPACT in Australia compared to their last 2 years Bowling IMPACT – something that should bring a bit more confidence in the Australian bowling line-up.

Hilfenhaus’s figures further dip in Australia (Bowling IMPACT of just 0.57). He could well be fighting for a place in the team with Starc, who is on the bench (Bowling IMPACT 0.90).

CONCLUSION

It seems to all come down to experience eventually. The good news for India is that the stalwarts have been delivering lately (even though the most high profile one has been bogged down by a meaningless personal milestone lately). The only bowling stalwart is yet to show signs of full fitness. It may be too much for the younger men in the Indian team to take the onus in this historic series. It is the last time the constituents of the most famous batting line-up the country has ever seen play in Australia – it is also the last away series they will perhaps play individually, let alone as a unit.

As one country ends an era, the other one perhaps begins one, or at least attempts to. Australia’s stalwarts have been struggling lately. Their younger colleagues have covered up for them lately and will need to do so again, emphatically, if they are to compete.

Impact Index feels the beginning might just determine the fate of this series. If India, very uncharacteristically, take the early advantage – they could run away very quickly with this series and make it a one-sided affair (however unprecedented it may be for India Down Under). If Australia take the early advantage and India have to play catch-up, it might make for a more engaging and even series. Even then, Australia will do very well to not lose this series - that is our assessment.

Boxing Day is an apt day for this series to begin.

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