|Mark Craig in action|
It looked like he really had no options for taking a wicket or containing the batsmen. His RPO being over 4 seemed to show that the batsmen had taken a cautious approach, rather than anything else. It could have quite easily been over 6, if they'd really gone after him.
Then, come day 2 of the third test, he picked up 5 wickets in a morning, to post the best ever bowling figures in Sharjah, and be described by one of the Pakistani commentators as Craig the Destroyer.
It's interesting to look at how this happened. How did the teddy bear turn into a grizzly bear?
I noticed two things in common with almost all the wickets: drift and bounce. Lets go though them individually.
Shan Masood b Craig. The ball was 16.5 overs old, and Craig managed to get it to drift in between the bat and pad of Masood. It was effectively a very slow inswinger.
Azhar Ali c Taylor (slip) b Craig. The ball was 45.2 overs old. The ball started on a line just outside off stump (one that a batsman has to play from an off spinner) but drifted more than Azhar Ali expected and (combined with a little extra bounce) saw him guide the ball straight to Taylor at slip.
Asad Shafiq c Sodhi (square leg) b Craig. The ball was 27.6 overs old. Shafiq is a very good player of spin bowling, and he was playing a shot that is normally quite safe against off-spin. However, the ball bounced more than he expected, and rather than hitting it into the ground, he hit it straight to Sodhi at comfortable catching height. 2cm less bounce, and that ball would have gone to the fence for 4.
Sarfraz Ahmed c Watling (keeper) b Craig. The ball was 37.4 overs old. This was a classic drift and bounce wicket. The ball drifted outside the line of off, but it was an over-spinner and so it only turned a little bit, and bounced a bit more than expected and therefore took the outside edge. A normal off-spin delivery would have hit near the middle of Ahmed's bat and rolled out towards gully.
Mohammed Talha c Latham (long on boundary) b Craig. The ball was 39.2 overs old. This one appeared to be a gift wicket, in that Talha tried a mighty heave without much finesse. There was a contributing factor, however, in that Craig got the ball to drop faster than Talha expected, causing it to hit too low on the bat. Another over-spinner from Craig.
Rahat Ali c Taylor (slip) b Craig. The ball was 43.6 overs old. More drift and bounce. The Pakistani tail-enders really had no clue about the over-spinner. This was effectively a slow outswinger that bounced a lot, and Ali followed it with his hands, pushing it straight to Taylor.
Yasir Shah c Taylor (slip) b Craig. The ball was 45.4 overs old. I have no idea how Yasir Shah managed to hit a yorker outside off stump in the air to slip. This was a horrible bit of bad luck for him, and good luck for Craig. However, it seems that again it was what the ball did in the air rather than off the pitch that made the difference.
This was a classic case of the fairly modern art of bounce bowling. We've seen a few other bounce bowlers recently, Daniel Vettori and Nathan Lyon are two that come to mind. The majority of their deception comes in the angle that they are spinning the ball on, and the drift that they get. Vettori in particular has the ability to drift the ball as if it's going to turn sharply, only to have the ball go straight on. This was a skill that Craig exhibited in this test. It may be related to the fact that this test was one where Vettori was in camp with Craig for the preparation.
The other thing that Craig did was get variable bounce. He managed to get deliveries to bounce over stump height from less than 4 m from the stumps, and others that were as short as 6m from the stumps to keep down. This variable bounce (shown on the graphic to the right) meant that the batsmen could not be sure about their footwork.
I wondered if this was a new phenomenon, or if Craig had managed to get the same sort of variable bounce in the previous tests. I looked through every innings that he's bowled in previously (quite easy when a player has only played in 5 tests) and looked at the pitch map for them also. He had managed similar bounce on 3 other occasions. His 4/91 and 4/97 against West Indies in Kingston (on a similar pitch to the Sharjah pitch) and his 3/84 against the West Indies in Bridgetown.
Another interesting thing here at Sharjah was that Craig did not vary his pace much. While Sodhi and Vettori regularly bowled deliveries over 100km/h and under 80kh/h, Craig bowled only one slower ball, and no quicker ones in his 27.4 overs. Instead he settled into a rhythm with his speed, and only altered the type of spin and length of the delivery. Keeping it simple certainly seems to have worked here.
Craig is certainly not the finished product yet, and he's not likely to consistently rip aside top teams. But he has certainly shown that on his day he is capable of causing some real mischief even against an opposition that's normally very strong against spin.