Australia, you little beauty! India, lost all the booty?

Impact Index review of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy

- Jaideep Varma & Jatin Thakkar

Did a new generation of Australian world-beaters just get established in this series? Have India lost all the gains of their recent conquests? Does this series give us cues?

Impact Index presents its series report on the India-Australia Test series at the end of the 3rd Test as the series is not open any more and the fourth Test reduced to a formality that will be played out with different levels of motivation and intensity than what has unfolded so far (and clearly, somewhat different personnel too). We felt incorporating the numbers from that match in the overall series report will not provide the truest story of the series.

In any case, impressionistic viewing and conventional statistics hide some of the compelling stories of this series. Impact Index tries to bring out a few of these.

Here is an overview of the 25 players who have played in the series from both sides, arranged in descending order of impact made in the series.

IMPACT numbers in the first three columns, conventional averages/tallies in the next four.

NOTE: All IMPACT numbers between 0 and 5.


1)    The four highest impact players in the series are Australian followed by two Indian bowlers and then Australians again all the way till 13th place, when the first Indian batsman sneaks in – a rather unexpected name at that. The bottom ten has 7 Indians. Australia produced five performances in the series that crossed an IMPACT of 5. India produced none.

2)    Ben Hilfenhaus was very emphatically the highest impact player in the series. He was the highest impact player in the first Test (but did not get the Man-of-the-Match), the highest impact bowler in the second Test and performed very creditably in the 3rd Test too. His 23 wickets at 16 apiece tells the story conventionally too and though he did not break any set partnership in the series, he registered an impact on every other bowling parameter.

3)    Pattinson (who gave the closest to an all-round performance in the series, as his Batting IMPACT of 0.76 suggests) and Siddle were the next two highest impact players. Siddle broke the most partnerships, Pattinson applied the most pressure on the Indian batting and Hilfenhaus had the best wickets-runs ratio in a match context (Efficiency IMPACT). These three bowlers consistently delivered the knockout punches and constituted the main difference between the two sides – as India’s biggest purported strength, their batting, imploded in spectacular fashion. In the 3rd Test, to compound India’s agony, Starc produced a Bowling IMPACT of over 2 by taking 4-70 in the match and Harris achieved an Economy IMPACT (not common in Test cricket) with 34 runs in 16 overs that helped his fellow bowlers immensely. The Australian pacers combined brilliantly.

4)    Ricky Ponting was the highest impact batsman in the series, contrary to what conventional stats suggest. Clarke got far more runs than him (379 to 263), with a much better average (126 to 66); even Hussey managed a better series average than him (84 to 66) but Ponting’s Batting IMPACT was higher because of two reasons.

One, he failed less often than both Clarke and Hussey (just once in 4 outings whereas Hussey failed twice, Clarke thrice). Two, he absorbed more pressure than them, in fact, more than any other batsman in the series from both sides. Interestingly, Hussey and Clarke are the ones who absorbed the most pressure after him – an apt response from the most senior batsmen from the side, with Ponting and Hussey even under personal pressure for justifying their own places in the side (not measurable on Impact Index, of course). Warner and Clarke produced two major innings – for each of them, their sole success in the series but each won his team a Test match on his own (interestingly, Warner’s 180 had a bigger impact than Clarke’s unbeaten 329 – purely because of the match situation, and the runs in both pitches).

5)    Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav were the highest impact players for India – a clear indication that it is the batsmen and not the bowlers who let India down (unlike in England). Though considerably behind the 3 Australian bowlers, their performances were more than respectable given the complete lack of support they had. In fact, there was a slight improvement over the England tour where Praveen Kumar was the only Indian bowler to have an impact (though his impact there was more than both of them here).

Umesh Yadav’s fine performance is a hidden somewhat in his conventional stats – 12 wickets at 33 doesn’t seem quite as impressive. But the fact is that he failed just once in the four innings that he bowled (and got an average of 4 wickets in each of the remaining three innings) and his Bowling IMPACT in those innings crossed 2 every time. Zaheer Khan too, failed just once in the four opportunities he got to bowl at Australia – it’s a great pity for their team that Yadav and Zaheer chose different occasions to fail.

6)    The highest impact Indian batsman, surprisingly, is Virat Kohli. For someone who was very close to being dropped for the 3rd Test after 4 consecutive innings failures, that is quite a turn-around, attributable entirely to him being the only Indian batsman to deliver at Perth. He absorbed considerable pressure during his first innings knock of 44 and it was his performance in both innings primarily that kept the match alive for the two-and-a-half days it did (shudder) – he had the third-highest impact amongst batsmen in the match, after Warner and Cowan.

Tendulkar, the batsman everyone would expect to be India’s highest impact batsman in the series (especially with 249 runs at an average of 42; Kohli made 162 at 27) did not absorb pressure in the context of the matches he played in or came in circumstances where others made runs too, thus reducing his own impact (his highest innings of 80, for example, came in a situation where defeat was imminent and proceedings of academic interest – except that ridiculous media-created landmark; his 73 came after Dravid and Sehwag had provided a sound platform).

For those comparing Tendulkar’s performance here with Dravid’s in England would do well to remember that Dravid absorbed considerable pressure in England and scored most of his runs in circumstances where the match was still open. In fact, even here, Dravid comes in with a Batting IMPACT of 1.23 (as compared to Tendulkar’s 1.37) despite scoring just 168 runs at an average of 28 – he worked hard, and the runs were not pretty, but most of the mediocre contributions he made (especially by his own standards) occurred when there was something at stake, thus having some impact, however small.

7)    The rest of the Indian batting failed quite spectacularly. Sehwag, Gambhir and Laxman are among the 6 lowest-impact players of the series. None of them crossed a Batting IMPACT of 1 for the series. Ironically, Sehwag and Laxman were the two highest series-defining players for India in the last two years. And the Gambhir-Sehwag opening partnership was one of the main reasons for India ascending to the Test summit…if it is to be consigned as a relic of the past, this might be the biggest hole to fill in this team

8)    However, the lowest impact Indian player in the series was Ishant Sharma – one of the most overlooked failures in recent Indian cricket history. He has been one of the lowest impact players for India for a while now but his very occasional glimpses of world class potential have hidden his lack of consistency and effectiveness from the romantics who trust impressionistic assessments only, especially those running the game in India. To an extent where he was ludicrously promoted to a “Level A” player after a poor performance in England – maybe they’ll make him Indian captain now, as the post just may be vacant soon.

9)    Lyon and Haddin were perhaps Australia’s weak spots in this series but even here, India could not capitalise as their opposite numbers did as badly. Dhoni was highly ineffective and unreliable as a batsman and R. Ashwin was a big let-down because of the expectations his recent performances had raised. However, Lyon has the unique distinction of being right at the bottom of both the bowling and batting IMPACT lists of the series.

10)    After 3 Tests, Australia’s Team IMPACT in the series has been 2.43 and India’s 1.37. That’s a difference of 1.06 – whereas the gap was 1.57 in England (after 3 Tests). So, while that was a bigger thrashing, there are fewer reasons for this surrender in Australia as, with the exception of Praveen Kumar, this has been a full-strength squad. The Australian batting stalwarts absorbed pressure and inspired their teams – which is exactly what had been expected from the famed Indian batting stalwarts (more in number, and in better form in recent times). Their collective blanking out (for the first time in their illustrious careers; in England, at least Dravid flowered) could not have worse timing.

The inexplicably feeble Indian performance in the series cannot be explained through personal stats, form cards or head-to-head analyses. If we accept the idea of passion and motivation propelling even average talents to over-achievement (and there are enough examples of that in all walks of life, including cricket) then the opposite must be true too. Seldom has such a line-up of extraordinary proven achievers looked so hopeless and tired.

Their leader’s unreal work-load in the last 2 years (easily the heaviest any cricketer has borne in the history of the game) is now manifesting in exhaustion (mental more than physical) that shows all the classic symptoms of burning out. When energy is lacking, defence and damage-control as the default setting – this probably explains Dhoni’s passive leadership. Coupled with the successes he has had in the limited-overs formats of quietening things down and gradually building towards a crescendo at the end, perhaps Dhoni has perhaps misread the demands of Test cricket where grabbing the initiative from thin air is often the key. 

Moreover, after winning the World Cup, choosing a sated coach (whose primary job usually is to maintain morale and motivation) who achieved enough high profile things in his previous job was poor thinking to start with by the BCCI (who then also proceeded to muzzle him, on matters like the DRS for example). With captain and coach not at their hungriest, with an ageing side battling injuries and uncertainty and ostensibly missing the energy of fresh ideas, it was tempting fate perhaps to expect a resurgent Australian side to roll over in their own backyard.

Meanwhile, the Australian team has shown remarkable character and staying power. This series was preceded by two hard-fought back-to-back series with South Africa and New Zealand (both ended at 1-1), which would have taken a lot out of the team. And it is not that Australia were not tested in this series either – the first 3 days of the series were very even, they were 3 down for very little in the second Test too, with everything to play for – which they did, consistently and relentlessly, invoking their own world-beating sides of the last two decades. The older players emphatically pulled their weight and gave the younger ones the space to express their talents fully. Perhaps a sign of greater things to come from them.

Top 3 Batting performances (Match context):

1. DA Warner 180 - 3rd Test (Batting IMPACT 10.85)
2. MJ Clarke 329 not out - 2nd Test (8.36)
3. RT Ponting 62 and 60 - 1st Test (4.29)

Top 3 Bowling performances (Match context):

1. BW Hilfenhaus 5-75 and 2-39 - 1st Test (Bowling IMPACT 5.07)
2. 2. U Yadav 3-106 and 4-70 - 1st Test (4.82)
3. 3. PM Siddle 3-42 and 3-43 - 3rd Test (4.80)

So, Umesh Yadav produced one of the highest impact performances in the series – one Indian could at least claim that. And with Virat Kohli producing the highest impact Indian batting performance in the series (3.83 in the 3rd Test), clearly it makes for a case of young Indian talent crying out for their chance now. It is time.

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