India vs England: Staring Down The Barrel in Vizag

405 runs to win or 150 overs to survive: the task at hand is near impossible. As England trudge off for lunch on day four, everything is pitted against them: the pitch, the momentum and worst of all, history. A favourable result for the tourists would require a record-smashing effort. The largest chase in India is 387 and the longest 4th innings in a drawn match is 136 overs. Worse still is the fact that both of these feats were achieved by India. A touring side has never scored a fourth innings 300 in India. Needless to say, it’s all looking very bleak.

England Still Alive

However, a fatigued and depleted England have remained admirably defiant, echoing Jonny Bairstow’s expressed sentiments at yesterday’s close of play. They are still fighting. And the fourth morning was yet another emotional thriller.

The bowlers slogged hard to prise the precious wickets of Ashwin, Rahane and Kohli, in quick succession. Stuart Broad put in a monumental effort under extreme discomfort and produced a masterclass during a mammoth eight-over spell. He finished with figures of 4-33.

Virat Kohli missed out on his second century in as many innings but his runs total of 248 for the Test has all but sealed an Indian victory. Indeed the man that is known for his irrepressible passion and wild antics has cut a more reserved and mature figure in this series. Perhaps it is fair to say that he is a captain who is coming of age.

Both of his innings have been characterised by his mesmerising ability to manipulate the gaps. With wrists that flick faster than a bat can flash and power that is only comparable to that of a merciless predator, the Indian captain has responded superbly to the challenge posed by England at Rajkot.

What’s more, the innings have been almost chanceless. His aggression was not so much curbed, more so calculated. Often a liability to the mistimed hook shot, he offered only one real chance in his two innings, a tough catch at fine leg for Adil Rashid. Other than that it’s been peanuts for England, as they were made to toil, while Kohli made run scoring look easy. His excellence made a mockery of England’s first innings total of 255.

A premature post-mortem

But what has caused the dramatic change in fortunes from the first Test? The volume of runs amassed by India in the first innings has had England on the back foot from the word go. It has also perhaps been a psychological weakness on England’s part, with pressure being applied by the threat of the turn of the pitch. Everyone had forecast a minefield. In any case, England have looked slightly off the pace and India have done well to quell any threat of a surging counter-punch.

Here are a few statistical observations, which look to explain England’s woes:

*All stats refer to 2nd Test unless stated otherwise

Pressure on Key Players

The cumulative total of Test centuries for each side – ENG 51

– IND 45

While the number of hundreds for each side is relatively close, the source of those hundreds tells a different story. England are cripplingly reliant on their most valuable players. India on the other hand are slightly more balanced with the wealth of big scores being more uniform throughout the team.

Alastair Cook and Joe Root‘s centuries – 41 of England’s 53

Percentage of England’s centuries – 77%

Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara – 24 of India’s 47

Percentage of India’s centuries – 51%

Effectively, England need Root and Cook more than India need Kohli and Pujara and so with the need to score astronomically in the first innings in India, the onus is on the captain and his right-hand man if England are to get positive results.

Rajkot provides the perfect example – 151 runs for Cook and 128 runs for Root.

England have never lost a Test when Root has scored a hundred and they’ve lost less than 17 percent of games that have involved a Cook century. England have only lost once when Root or Cook has scored a century with both men in the playing 11.

Percentage of games lost with Cook/Root century – 15.1% (5 in 33)

Percentage of games lost with Pujara/Kohli century – 20% (4 in 20)

Conversion Rates

The starts made by both sides have followed similar patterns at Rajkot and Vizag. The loss of early wickets has required the middle order to step up and play the game-defining innings.

Middle-order:

ENG – Root, Moeen, Stokes

IND – Pujara, Kohli, Rahane

Patience and grit is required to be successful in the sub-continent. As with all venues, the hardest part of a Test cricket innings is getting your eye in. Although where the sub-continent differs from the rest of the world is that when a batsman has made 30-odd, it is vital that it is converted into a fifty, which in turn must be converted into a hundred. An 80 is seen as more a waste of a good start than a very big contribution on Indian wickets. Batsmen must make their start count that bit more.

50-100 Conversion Rates

Root 0.324                 Pujara 0.5

Moeen 0.333              Kohli 0.538

Stokes 0.364              Rahane 0.471

As Indian batsmen play more regularly on pitches which are conducive to high first innings scores, these statistics are perhaps unsurprising but it makes all the difference when it comes to experience.

For Indian batsmen, the appetite for run-getting has been instilled from a very early age. Test match-style competitions are played from as early as eleven years old in Indian schools, while English counterparts focus more intently on T20-style knockout tournaments.

This heaps even more pressure on senior heads in the England camp as their tailenders are less likely to make a big impact given the quality of the spin bowlers and the turning track. Thus Root’s 53, Stokes’ 70 and Bairstow’s 53 could be viewed as the loss of 150-odd runs.

Average runs scored by numbers 8-11 in Asia 2006-2011:

– Innings 1-3: 15.33

– Innings 4: 12.49

Average runs scored by numbers 8-11 in England 2006-2011:

– Innings 1-3: 17.85

– Innings 4: 14.24

ENG 8-11 average this series: 12

IND 8-11 average this series: 15.92

Strain on Resources

England’s faith in their seamers has been paying dividends but there are consequences, which come with that. The threat of injury is heightened in these brutal conditions for fast bowlers and England have already fallen foul of that. A bowling niggle ruled Chris Woakes out of this Test and Stuart Broad looks as if he will miss the third Test with an injury to his foot.

Percentage of seam overs for ENG – 47.7% of 192.5 overs

Percentage of seam overs for IND – 30% of 162.5 overs

England should look to balance their natural game with the interests in the pitch. They have always produced excellent seamers and so should use them but the pitches out here are more dangerous when applying spin. Ansari may be dropped for another seamer for the third Test, given Cook’s sparing use of him. Thus Jake Ball or Steven Finn will share more of the workload. But they still need the spinners to be more controlling in order to ease the strain on the quicks.

Rashid’s transformation in this series has been brilliant to watch as he has taken the reigns and become England’s frontline spinner. However, India have still manipulated the gaps and rotated the strike with ease. They’ve not been bogged down in the same way as England.

The importance of run-rate can be best explained by using a blood flow metaphor. A dried up run rate creates pressure as the batting side is starved of runs and ultimately leads to a haemorrhaging of wickets.

India are capable of applying such pressure on a regular basis whereas England have kept India in the game even during periods of ascendency because of their lack of discipline.

Dot-boundary ratio

The control of the Indian spinners and lack thereof for the English ones can be easily illustrated by considering the ratio of the number of dots delivered to boundaries scored.

Dot-boundary ratio for ENG spinners – 11.94

Dot-boundary ration for IND spinners – 22.79

That is to say that the English spinners give up one boundary for every 11.94 dots bowled compared to one boundary per 22.79 dots for the Indian spinners.

Dot-boundary ratio for ENG spinners – 11.94

Dot-boundary ration for IND spinners – 17.57

During England’s triumphant 2012 Indian tour, the spinners on both sides were averaging around 13 dots per boundary. Rashid and Moeen need to tighten up as the disparity between the two at the moment is creating the difference.

England played gritty cricket this afternoon as Cook and Hameed dug their heels into cracks in the pitch. 87 runs in 59.2 overs: the blockathon has begun. Remarkably only two wickets fell during two sessions of constant pressure from turn, bounce and men around the bat – an inspiring spectacle of guts and discipline. However India will take the surge into the final day with the wicket of Alastair Cook in the last over of play. There’s still a long way to go for England.

Whether or not England can pull off a miracle on the final day remains to be seen. However if they are to win this series, these matters need to be addressed.