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Could India play with only three bowlers?
Jarrod looks in to whether India could use some Bazball methods to make themselves even better at home.
What if other teams tried something very Bazball? I think the concept of Bazball has been slightly misunderstood. People think to copy it you have to smack the ball everywhere. That is what England is doing because that is their speciality. They had no one who could hit the red ball, but a bunch who smashed the white. So let's try that.
That is the key, how to double down on your talent and make the most of it.
So I was wondering what other teams could do to heighten their advantage. And India was the first team that made a lot of sense to me.
That I am talking about this now is a bit silly, because this kind of wicket is not the kind they could try my style in. In the middle session, the pitch flattened so much that no one played a poor shot. Also, one of the earlier Tests didn't last a session IIRC.
The other thing we saw today was actual seam bowling. Today I thought Umesh bowled a good spell and Mohammed Shami hit the stumps twice. But most importantly, the seamers could bowl more throughout the day. Even trying short balls in the afternoon. So in the end, the seamers were used throughout the day.
In this series, so far Indian seamers have been taking wickets. But that has been a miracle because they have barely bowled. And this series is a bit of an outlier, as usually, you can see the spinners have been doing better.
They have bowled only 20% of the deliveries in the series so far.
That is a little lower than usual, where they are allowed 25%. But if we take what India tells us they want to do and continue making these huge turning surfaces. Why take in two seamers when you barely use them, and your team isn't making any runs?
So imagine we are looking at the first three Tests. And. You know it will spin like crazy, and there probably won't be any bounce. And for India, you also know you have the three best spinners in the world. So any seamer you have will not be better than any seamer.
So if you know that the pitches will help your spinners, you won't use your seamers, and you have the best tweakers in the world - who can use the new ball - my question is, do you need any seamers at all? Or even a fourth bowler?
Let's start with the seam. As I said, India bowl about 25% of their bowling with the quicks at home. But that includes the pitches where you need - or want - a seamer. My plan is for the wickets where you do not need a seamer at all. Like, say, the last pitch at Indore. It's fair to say that you can drop the 20% of the seam and just rely on your spinners.
That might sound radical, but it's clearly less zany compared to my idea to have three bowlers only, which flies in the face of all cricket knowledge. Which I suppose, so does England's batting.
So let me try and sell this. Since the start of 2020, R Ashwin has bowled almost a third of all deliveries in India. That is crazy, especially in what is usually a five-man attack. Add in Axar Patel, and you now have 50%. Ravi Jadeja hasn't even been fit that much, and he takes it to 65%. And that is without Axar or Jadeja playing together that much. Do you need any other bowlers when they are all in the team?
This allows you to do this, have Axar or Ashwin at 11, with your keeper at number nine, and seven specialist batters. This is such a stupid lineup. But if your spinners are doing the bulk of the bowling, and your batters are struggling, surely this is the better option. You bat to 11, and someone is going to make runs. You still have your main three bowlers. Life is good.
This is quite a change for India because they are picking five bowlers. Which in three-day Tests seems optimistic. So my assumption is they would want a backup. You can drop one of those specialist batters and pick Hardik Pandya, or if you want to ruin it a little, one seamer.
But let's think about my radical idea and what might go wrong. Because I know it makes sense. But I have also spent enough time around crusty old coaches to know the problem.
The first is injuries. You are stuffed if you take three bowlers in and a bowler gets hurt. Even though we are talking spinners, the chance of injury is lower; it's still there. And it is the thing that stops you from doing this. Of course, you could play Washington Sundar as one of your batters and still have a backup if needed.
But there is another quirk that stops India from using only three bowlers. The game is changing, and in modern cricket, batters don't bowl much. For India, you could argue that don't bowl at all. Shreyas Iyer's surprise over today was a reminder of just how rarely it happens.
But let's look at all cricket first. Your first four bowlers deliver 84% of your overs since 2001. That makes sense. The other 11% is from your fifth bowler. (Remember not all teams have them.) Australia was a team without a fifth option for a long time. But even when teams have them, in most matches you still really end up with your fifth bowler used less. They are not as handy as you think.
And through the last few years teams have stopped using their batters for part-time bowling. In the past players like Chris Harris, Michael Clarke, Graeme Hick, and Sachin Tendulkar have bowled as the fifth or sixth option. That does not happen as much unless the batter is very good in certain spots - like Joe Root against left-handers.
There are two reasons. Generally, batters always bowled less as their careers go on through injuries. And as sports science has come in, some teams started to believe that bowling was causing some of the problems with the backs and shoulders of their star batters.
The other is because 15 years ago batters bowled in the nets, perfecting their part-timers. Working on new things. And the captain might also see them, meaning they were in their minds more. That doesn't happen any more. Since two things have happened, teams now have professional throw downs, and net bowlers are far more available as more players are on contract.
So here is the same graph just for India. I mean, wow. If there was a hint of the pattern in the world game, India have almost ended the sixth bowler as a choice. For two years they haven't had a single bowler come on as the fourth change. That tells you how good their bowling has been, but also that their batters are out.
And I am of course showing you this to say that my three-bowler lineup probably won't be chosen if Shreyas and Rohit suddenly have to be the third bowler due to an injury. From a bowling point of view, my plan makes sense. From a batter who bowls position, it does not.
But I do think India can continue with their ragging home wickets and have even more success by having the extra batting. Hardik Pandya may not be the right player, because they may not want to use his body this way. Though I'd like to see him as a number eight. But you could use Washington Sundar. He could bat at number eight in my lineup and only bowl if things are not going well. Or someone is hurt.
Or you want to try diet-Bazball. They could simply drop a seamer, and bring in a specialist batter.
Under MS Dhoni India was obsessed with having five bowlers. In that period - especially away - it made a lot of sense. But at home, with the three best spinners in the world, they just don't need the fifth bowler. And you know, maybe even the fourth.