Data | Beginner’s pluck: winning at the Gabba with the least experience

After the end of the fourth Test, India's bowlers -- Siraj, Natarajan, Thakur, Sundar, and Saini -- had a combined average Test match experience of 1.6 matches

Updated - January 21, 2021 12:13 pm IST

Published - January 21, 2021 12:09 pm IST

Indian players celebrate at the end of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at The Gabba in Brisbane.

Indian players celebrate at the end of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at The Gabba in Brisbane.

When the Indian cricket team entered the field for the final Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2020 at Brisbane’s Gabba its pace spearhead, Mohammed Siraj, had played in two Tests before. The rest of the bowling contingent comprised two debutants, T Natarajan and Washington Sundar , while two other pacers, Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini had played only one Test match each. A spate of injuries had rendered India’s frontline bowlers, including Mohammed Shami, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja, unfit to play at some point in the series forcing the team to make changes.

In contrast, Australia’s least experienced bowler, Pat Cummins, also currently the world’s no 1 bowler in Tests, had already played in 34 Tests. Spinner Nathan Lyon was playing his 100th Test and pacers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood had played more than 50 Tests each.

Despite this vast gulf in experience besides the fact that the India team were playing overseas in a venue where the Australians had not been defeated by any team since 1988, the Indian bowlers managed to bowl out the hosts in both innings, and set up a historic win. The win at the Gabba allowed India to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a consecutive 2-1 series victory in Australia.

Squad variances

The experience of the Indian bowlers who played in the last Test match (+) paled in comparison with their Australian counterparts. The seasoned Indian bowlers were not part of at least one of the four Tests due to injuries.

The chart plots the number of career Tests played and overall wickets taken by all the bowlers who played in the series.

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Also read: Top of the heap: On India's series win against Australia

One of India’s most inexperienced line-ups

After the end of the fourth Test, India's bowlers -- Siraj, Natarajan, Thakur, Sundar, and Saini -- had a combined average Test match experience of 1.6 matches*. This was the least experienced India bowling attack to have ever taken the field after the country’s debut Test on June 25, 1932 and its first Test after World War II on June 22, 1946.

The chart plots the combined Test match experience of all the Indian bowlers in Tests since 1932. Each circle corresponds to a Test match. The circles coloured in yellow are the four Tests of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2020-21 and the two Tests in which India's bowling attack had lesser average experience that that of the bowlers in the fourth Test played at Brisbane.


Note how after the other three Tests that India played in the tour, the combined average of Tests played was at least 27.8 Tests for the Indian bowlers and how this drastically fell after the decisive final Test at the Gabba. 

*Only those bowlers were considered who had bowled at least 10 overs in a Test match (to leave out part-timers). Shardul Thakur’s previous Test appearance where he bowled only 10 balls was not taken into account.

Also read: Finding heroes and summoning miracles

The gulf in experience

This chart plots the combined average experience of Indian bowlers against that of their Australian counterparts in each Test played between the two countries*.

Circles correspond to overseas Tests (played in Australia), while Pluses correspond to home Tests (played in India).

Matches won by India are marked in green, those that were lost are marked in red and drawn/tied Tests are marked in grey.

For deeper analysis, the scatter plot is divided into four regions (on the basis of mean test experience for both teams). The “lightest” region corresponds to those matches where the Australians had a relatively above average experience while the Indians had a relatively below average Test experience.


The Gabba Test marks the only occasion when an Indian team with a relatively lower experience (and in fact the lowest combined experience for any Indian Test team ever) managed to win an overseas Test against an Aussie squad with a relatively higher experience. In fact, India has never even managed to win an overseas test in which the Aussies fielded a relatively lower experienced squad (corresponding to the mean experience of all squads).

In sum, the Indian bowling line-up headlined by Siraj, Thakur et al not only overcame the highest gulf in experience for any Indian Test bowling lineup (against the Aussies) but did so in the Aussies’ backyard - a feat that has never been achieved before.

The Gabba indeed saw a true 21st century re-enaction of David vs Golaith.

*Only those bowlers were considered in line-ups who had bowled at least five overs

Also read: 36 all-out to 2-1: key factors in India’s defiant comeback in the 2020-21 Australia tour

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