WTC final 2023: Wobble trouble for India

Cummins-led pace attack used wobble seam to attack the stumps more, reducing Sharma & Co. to 151/5 on Day 2.
India’s Shubman Gill loses his wicket on Day two of the World Test Championship Final against Australia at the The Oval on Friday. (Photo | AP)
India’s Shubman Gill loses his wicket on Day two of the World Test Championship Final against Australia at the The Oval on Friday. (Photo | AP)
LONDON: Twenty-two balls into the first day of the World Test Championship final, Mohammed Siraj had shown India the way. After pitching it in that perfect English length area, he got the wobble-seam delivery to just leave. Usman Khawaja got a slight edge, unsure of what way the ball would go.

Post that moment though, India went away from it. They didn’t attack the stumps more, or, as bowling coach Paras Mhambrey put it on Wednesday evening, "didn’t show the discipline they had in the morning session." 

While Siraj does have the inclination to bowl wobble-seam balls, his opening partner, Mohammed Shami, is a more conventional bowler. India failed to run with what Siraj started, but Australia embraced that approach. Because of that, they are sitting pretty and are favourites to lift the second edition of the WTC final (assuming the weather holds good).

Each of the top three India batters — Rohit Sharma (leg before to Pat Cummins), Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara (bowled shouldering arms to Scott Boland and Cameron Green, respectively) — lost their wickets to the wobble-seam, a ball that’s become one of the most important weapons in a bowler’s armoury.

Visualise the delivery Shami bowls. The seam is bolt upright and there is zero wobble at least till it pitches. Now, go back to see the wickets of each of the first three Indian batters. The seam isn’t upright meaning there’s a fair amount of dancing even before it kisses the surface. Once it lands on the surface, the theory goes that it can move both ways; it’s this outward or inward movement that could make batters vulnerable (some pacers, however, get the ball to jab back like it’s an off-cutter).

While both Gill and Pujara made basic errors to deliveries that moved in after pitching, the wobble seam made the dismissals possible. In passing, it may not look very threatening or even as sexy as the conventional seam-up delivery that hoops after pitching.

In fact, on most occasions, the degree of swing isn’t even as high. But it’s enough to either induce the edge or breach the defences. That’s what the bowler is after. It’s the reward Cummins got when he got through Sharma’s defences to rap him on the pad. How much does the Australian rate this ball? It’s pretty much his primary weapon. With the new ball. With the old ball. Also his SOS ball.

What about the deliveries to both Pujara and Gill? According to Cricviz, a cricket data company, the balls to dismiss Gill and Pujara had a 33% and 28% chance of taking a wicket respectively, based on their 'Expected Wickets' model. They were the two most threatening balls bowled in the match. Forget the error in judgment, it was a piece of high art.  

Jason Gillespie knows a thing or two about bowling on these surfaces. The former Australian bowler has spent multiple years in the County circuit, serving Yorkshire with distinction a few years ago.

In an interview he gave to this newspaper a few days ago, he had spoken about Shami’s one potential weakness in these conditions.

“I think the challenge in England... he could maybe hold the ball slightly off-centre and try and bowl down the pitch as opposed to having a beautiful seam presentation... I think that could make him even more dangerous. He has the potential to actually evolve as a bowler in these conditions. If he just comes in and bowls seam up the whole time, that’s great. But if the ball doesn’t do a lot, then he’s probably going to start looking at ways to have more of an impact. If he does something different... you never know, the ball could wobble if he changes the release. It might just nip off the seam one way or another and create doubt in the batter’s mind. So that’s the only thing I will say about him...”  

And, when speaking about Boland, he had this to say. “He gets to nibble a little bit off the seam both back into and away. He keeps the stumps in play and also challenges the front pad.”

After the wobble seam reduced India to 50/3 while chasing Australia’s big 469, Mitchell Starc got one to jump from a good length area and Virat Kohli could only edge it to second slip.

If it wasn’t for a fighting partnership between Ravindra Jadeja and Ajinkya Rahane, they may have been worse off than the 151/5 they find themselves in at stumps. Just when Jadeja looked set for more, Nathan Lyon found the outside edge with Smith doing the rest at first slip.
Rahane, playing his first Test in 18 months, and KS Bharat will have to bat for the majority of the first session to even entertain visions of getting close to Australia’s total.
Otherwise, it could be another hard day of toil on the field. The one silver lining, though, is that the weather is predicted to turn foul over the weekend so Australia may have one eye on that.

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