India batsmen face test of New Zealand swing bowlers with Dukes ball
For all the stormy reactions that followed India’s win at home against England on sharp spinning pitches, it cannot be denied it made for compelling viewing. Rohit Sharma’s measured assault and sweeps in the second Test at Chennai to score 161 became a highlight of the series played in very tough batting conditions. When Sharma, still relatively new as a Test opener, pads up on Friday in the World Test Championship final at Southampton, he would need to reproduce a similar effort, in completely different but equally testing surroundings.
India will be up against New Zealand’s four-pronged pace attack, arguably the best in its history. Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson and Neil Wagner (Matt Henry played in the second Test against England) collectively produced 1.64 degrees of swing against England, almost double of what the home pacers James Anderson and Stuart Broad produced. To put swing bowling data in perspective, when India faced England in 2018, their quicks got 1.25 degrees of swing while the hosts recorded 1.36 degrees.
Whether the aerodynamics in humidity leads to more swing remains an inconclusive subject. Batting wisdom though says the ball sways the most in the English air, where the sun constantly looks to hide behind clouds. This being the first half of the English summer, Southee and Boult, predominantly swing bowlers, will put Indian batting techniques to stern examination. The Kiwi bowling wheels are rotating smoothly, after their showing against England, while the final will be India’s first Test of the tour.
At Lord’s, Southee, in bowling conditions tailor-made for him, pulled his length back only in 14.1 % of his deliveries. With each of India’s top five being right-handers, he may look to replicate the fuller length—he averaged 6.28 m in the series—he bowled against England and try setting them up with out-swingers. What would have buoyed New Zealand spirits is even the tall Kyle Jamieson extracted appreciable swing with the new ball, in addition to seam movement at Lord’s.
All the New Zealand quicks bowled fuller lengths in the England series, average lengths being under 7 meters. Indian quicks Mohammed Shami (7.15m) and Jasprit Bumrah (7.19m), data of the last tour of England in 2018 shows, preferred to bowl a good number of back-of-length deliveries. That shows their equal reliance on deviation off the deck. Interestingly, Ishant Sharma, India’s leading bowler in that series with 18 wickets, bowled the fullest lengths (6.76m).
WAGNER’S LENGTH SWITCH
The Black Caps may consider playing the Man of the-Match from the Edgbaston Test, Matt Henry, in place of Wagner. But it would be difficult to look past the left-arm quick’s indefatigable spirit and past showing against India. Wagner, who played both England Tests, was quick to assess conditions and used fewer bouncers (12.2 %) compared to his career average (29.6 %). He largely bowled full deliveries, 6.78 m on an average. It would have given him great joy to prise out opener Rory Burns in the first Test at second slip, a dismissal that followed deliveries bowled to varying degrees of swing. “The bouncer tactic is not premeditated. If the ball swings and moves around, I pitch it up front,” Wagner recently said. “At the same time, we have got other bowlers who can do that well. So, it’s about what complements the other guys and partnership bowling.”
At Lord’s, there was no Boult. At Edgbaston, Southee was rested. That allowed Wagner to revert back to swing bowling, once his primary weapon. If the bowling workhorse plays in the final, India would know he can bowl any length with the same level of efficiency.
DUKES AND SWING
One feature of this final would be the neutral venue—Ageas Bowl—and the Dukes ball, instead of the red Kookabura that is used in New Zealand or the Indian SG Test ball. According to ball tracking data recorded for the Eng-NZ series, it swung big in the first 20 overs, tapered off for the next 20 before finding life again. Unlike the other makes that go soft, the Dukes keeps the fast bowlers in business for much longer. “The Dukes ball, it buries egos (batting) pretty quickly,” Virat Kohli had said in 2019. He may repeat the same lines to his batting unit before the big game.