After the playing surfaces at Cuttack and Pune conspired to produce 1453 runs in the first two ODIs of the India-England series, it wasn't far-fetched to expect another run fest at the Eden Gardens for the third ODI, even as the series had been decided. So it was. Another 637 runs were scored in Kolkata, but the pitch could not be blamed for it.
The first two ODIs yielded in excess of 350 runs to the side batting first, and England, who were inserted in first, were only able to pile on 321 runs. The track in Kolkata was quite un-Indian and unlike the two dished out earlier in the series; it had pace, bounce and a bit of seam assistance to the pacers. There was sufficient help for the quick bowlers willing to pitch it at good length – roughly 6-8 m from the stumps – that negated to a large part attempts by batsmen to hit through the line of the delivery.
Earlier in the series, the lower bounce from good length and lack of any sideways movement meant that batsmen could throw caution to the wind once they were set, and bring all their might to bear on the cricket ball. Virat Kohli said after India came within a swing of the bat from clinching the series 3-0 that the moment he saw the pitch (before the match), he “thought it was the perfect scenario [to test his side in preparation] for the Champions Trophy”, considering the tournament is to be held in England and the pitches there would provide more assistance to the seamers.
It was then baffling that Kohli did not include Umesh Yadav, a seamer, in to the side in place of a spinner, most probably Ravichandran Ashwin, since Ravindra Jadeja has been the best bowler in view of this ODI series. England on the other hand used four seamers in addition to Ben Stokes. That their opening bowler David Willey could only bowl two overs and yet England sent down 42 overs of pace is a credit to them, while India, on a helpful pitch, utilised their seamers to bowl only 28 overs. In the final tally, that may have been the difference.
It was evident from the get go, and throughout the entire length of the match, that batsmen were finding it difficult to negotiate deliveries from seamers landing on a good length. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (and to a lesser extent Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya) had the English openers on a leash. There were plenty of play-and-misses, inside edges that sneaked past the stumps. Even though the Indian seamers did not take early wickets, the scoring rate was under control. The batsmen needed to take risks (or a healthy cooperation from bowlers missing their lines and lengths) for runs to come at the rates seen in the earlier matches of the series.
When India batted, their two linchpins Kohli and MS Dhoni, whose pedigree in run chases would have given hope to the Indian faithfuls, eventually ran out of patience to let go of the deliveries pitched on good length and bowled wide of the stumps. They went chasing after them and the additional bounce that was available for good length deliveries meant they perished, leaving an improbable chase to the lower order.
It is informative to look at the 'Control' data from the three matches and get an understanding of the impact of a pitch helpful to seamers at Kolkata. In the last few years, ESPNcricinfo has been providing, on their match scorecards, 'Control' statistics that measures whether a batsman was in control of his shots or not. It is a binary statistic and is manually entered by their ball-by-ball scorers. A batsman is measured to be in control when the ball goes to where he intends it to go by playing the shot (or when he shoulders arms), and is considered to be 'not in control' depending on where the ball hits the bat, whether he has mistimed the shot, edged it, was dismissed etc.
As one can imagine, a batsman trying to score quickly by playing a lot of shots with the aim of scoring boundaries would have lesser control than a batsman that manoeuvres the ball in to gaps for ones and twos. It can also be then understood that a batsman would be more in control on a track that does not provide lateral movement or bounce to the bowlers like the one in Cuttack as opposed to the one in Kolkata.
Combining the individual control of every batsman, a cumulative team control could be derived. At Kolkata, Indian bowlers had English batsman out of control for 24.6 percent of the deliveries. In other words, English batsmen were in control of their shots for 75.4 percent of the deliveries (226 out of 301 balls).
Conversely, Indian batsmen were in control for only 70.2 percent of the deliveries. The respective “in control” numbers for the two earlier ODIs were: In Pune, India – 80.7 percent, England – 79.1 percent; In Cuttack, India – 74.6 percent, England – 80.8 percent.
As a point of comparison, in Test matches, the control percentages are usually between 85 and 95, in ODIs it's generally in the low 80's, and in T20s, it is in the low 70's. More is the incentive to take risks to score quickly, lesser is the control. [Note: Control statistic for a batsman against specific type of bowler (seamer, spinner) is not available in the public domain, to the writer's knowledge.]
That England had Indian batsmen 'out of control' by net 5.2 percent (15 deliveries) could be reasoned by the fact that England used 14 additional overs of seam on a pitch that provided them assistance. The following table provides information on the number of good length (back of length and length) deliveries bowled by the various seamers in the third ODI.
[The writer gratefully acknowledges that this data was provided by the cricket analytics company CricViz. It should be noted that the data is “subjective” rather than calculated automatically from HawkEye]. It can be seen that England seamers landed the ball on a length that troubled the batsmen more often than Indian pacers, and importantly at a better strike rate.
Kohli admitted in the end that since his team has been “playing at home for a while”, his pacers “weren't sure” right away the lengths they needed to hit on this helpful Kolkata track, and that this would be an area he “would like to address”. Regardless of the result of this match, and the series, looking ahead to the big ticket event later this year in England, it is India that walk away from this series with more questions than England. It would have helped Kohli address at least one of those if he had picked Umesh – easily the quickest pacer of the lot – on a pitch that would have amplified his impact.