Swing and Seam: India's degrees of discomfort at Lord's

The Lord’s Test was shaped by the toss in more ways than one. It was also shaped by the weather. But most importantly, it was shaped by the state of the pitch.

Cheteshwar Pujara is bowled by England's Stuart Broad during the second test match between England and India at Lord's cricket ground.   -  AP

A defeat by an innings and 159 runs in only 171 overs of play is always a rout. The Lord’s Test was shaped by the toss in more ways than one. It was also shaped by the weather. But most importantly, it was shaped by the state of the pitch.

In most Test matches which begin on the first morning when it is bright and sunny, we often hear commentators say that if the opening bowlers pitch it up, they could exploit the “early moisture” in the pitch and extract some seam movement. Don’t waste the new ball, they say. Let the proud new seam of the hard shiny ball do its thing on the pitch which has not yet dried out under the midday sun.

Pitches are not watered during the Test, but pitch preparation basically involves a regime of watering and rolling. The first morning is when the pitch is likely to have the most moisture. The amount of moisture and the amount of grass determines how much the ball moves off the seam, if it lands on it.

Yet, a common point made by observers about the game at Lord’s was that it was the “overhead conditions” which affected the game far more than the pitch. This has been a common refrain about “English conditions”. It forms the basis of the view that pitches in England are not really "designed" to suit seam and swing bowling, but “naturally” assist it depending on the weather. This is, of course, in contrast to pitches in India which are designed to assist spin.

A common point made by observers about the game at Lord’s was that it was the “overhead conditions” which affected the game far more than the pitch.   -  AP

 

This argument can now be settled thanks to the ball-tracking data collected by the cricket analytics service CricViz. The average Test match conditions see 0.93 degrees of swing and 0.57 degrees of seam movement. In England, this rises to 1.17 degrees of swing and 0.59 degrees of seam. Seam and swing depends on the age of the ball. In the first 35 overs of the innings, the average lateral movement in England is 2.27 degrees.

At Lord’s on Day 2, when the Test finally commenced, there was 2.82 degrees of lateral movement available. On average, the ball swung 25% more than average, and seamed 30% more than the average in England (in the first 35 overs).

The graph below shows the degree of variance between different conditions.

 

Click to view extensive data

Breaching human capabilities

When batsmen miss the ball as often as they did on Day 2, it is no longer a matter of technique. It is an indication that a physical human limit has been crossed. The average delivery on Day 2, moved 1.17 degrees off the pitch, after pitching.

A good length delivery lands about 20 feet from the stumps. Considering a forward stride, the average ball travels about 12 feet after pitching. If we assume that the average fast bowler delivers at about 80 miles per hour, the ball takes 0.07 seconds to reach the batsman after pitching. 0.07 seconds is somewhere between 14 and 15 frames per second. High school trigonometry tells us that 1.17 degrees over 12 feet gives a deflection of roughly 2.9 inches. For reference, the width of the stumps is 9 inches.

The human visual perception system is not designed to distinguish between inputs at such a high frame rate. So, a human being cannot adjust to that much seam movement in that much time. Survival becomes a matter of playing the odds as a batsmen is left to guess where the ball is going.

Now, it is probably true that players who are used to guessing will probably guess better than players who are not. It is also probably true that the success rate of guessing depends on the amount of deviation. On Day 2, this deviation ranged over 6 inches. On days 3 and 4, this range was down to 3 and 3.7 inches respectively.

Luck and talent favouring England

On the third day, England batted in bright sunshine, the pitch had a chance to dry out and it eased into an average English pitch. The Indian fast bowlers were effective in the morning session when the ball was new and reduced England to 89/4. But the conditions improved in the afternoon and England made 124/1 in the middle session. The game was up.

The potency of the new ball can be seen from the fact that of the 18 innings by batsmen in the top six at Lord’s only one - Bairstow’s 93 - exceeded 28.   -  AFP

On the fourth day, when India batted needing 290 to avoid defeat by an innings, the cloud cover and the drizzle had returned. It was a minor miracle there was any play at all. The forecast for the day was dire. But the rain stayed away sufficiently to allow play to be possible.

England’s fast bowling attack is better than India’s both in quality and quantity. They also bat deeper than the visitors. At Edgbaston this superior all-round depth took England to victory by 31 runs. At Lord’s, the additional assistance of a crucial toss and the selection of an extra spinner by India was detrimental.

ESPNCricinfo’s control measurement reveals just how much India missed the extra fast bowler. Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Hardik Pandya troubled the English batting. But by tea on Day 3, Shami had already bowled 19 overs in the day. India had to use the spinners for whom there was little assistance. Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav troubled the batsman only 20 times in 26 overs - less than once every over. The fast bowlers troubled the batsman once every four balls.

Click to view control measurement data

With the deficit growing, India was forced to protect runs. Unlike England, it couldn’t afford to bowl with six slips. India had to make do with fewer catchers behind the wicket. A number of edges sailed harmlessly to third man for runs, instead of turning into catching chances.

The lethal line and length on this pitch was the classic good length challenging the top of the off stump. England’s fast bowlers hit this length 44% of the time. India’s fast men managed it 43% of the time. Unfortunately, India had one fast bowler less than England did. The extent to which it has missed a fit and in form Bhuvneshwar Kumar cannot be overestimated.

England’s fast bowling attack is better than India’s both in quality and quantity.   -  AFP

The potency of the new ball can be seen from the fact that of the 18 innings by batsmen in the top six at Lord’s only one - Bairstow’s 93 - exceeded 28. India’s top scorer in both innings was Ravichandran Ashwin who batted at number 8. Chris Woakes made a century at number 7.

The contest was set by the conditions in the first innings. They left India an impossible mountain to climb. A batting line up in better form without the uncertainty which currently hangs above India’s opening pairing might have delayed things, especially on the fourth day. But as a contest, the game was decided with the toss.