When India toured South Africa in 2021/22, they almost achieved the impossible. The Men in Blue had never won a Test series against the Proteas in their backyard. With a win against them in the Boxing Day Test (first Test) in Centurion, India had made a statement.
However, they lost momentum going ahead, and most of it was on the pacers, especially in the second innings.
Throughout the series, only twice in 12 innings did the batting team post 250+, which speaks about the harsh conditions. It was India who crossed the mark on both occasions. All in all, the series was tailor-made for the bowlers.
2nd innings struggle
In all three games of that series, India bowled second. In the first Test, they wrapped up the hosts for just 197 and took a lead of 130. In the second, they scored only 202 batting first but dismissed the opposition for 229. In the final Test, despite scoring 223, Indian bowlers were so good that they took a lead of 13.
However, the pacers failed to replicate the performance of the first innings in the last two Tests. In the series, Indian pacers averaged 17.5 and picked up a wicket every 37.3 balls in the first innings compared to 22.4 and 45.9 by the Proteas.
However, there was a massive gap in performance between the Proteas' quicks and India's in the second innings. While the home team bagged a wicket every 17.96 runs and 34 balls, the visitors had a wicket every 41 runs and 77 balls. If we take out the first Test, the average difference is 19.3 to 72.4, and balls/wicket is 35.9 to 129.6.
Where did they go wrong?
Before going into the individual bowlers, let's look at what happened overall in the second innings of the last two Tests.
The Indian pacer's charm lasted only for the first ten overs of the second innings. They picked up two wickets at an average of 35 and induced 25% of false shots. Everything went south after the first ten. In none of the subsequent 20-over phases, the quicks looked threatening.
It worsened at every stage. This was the overall fate of Indian seamers in their second innings of the last two Tests.
Let's get to the individuals, starting with Bumrah. The premier Indian quick was supposed to be a menace to the opposition, but he failed to live up to his reputation during the second innings.
In his first two spells, Bumrah sprayed all over the place - sometimes too full, sometimes short. His initial two spells were less commanding than they were in the first innings.
The other reason behind his failure was his inconsistency in line, especially against the right-handers. Bumrah was okay with the lines against left-handers, but tried too hard against the right-handers.
This is why he went wicketless in the second innings. Moreover, the right-armer conceded runs at an economy of 4.5 against them in the second innings compared to 2.1 in the first. He didn't bowl many deliveries on that nagging Test line and was guilty of bowling a bit wide.
He kept things tight against the left-handers by conceding 0.9 runs/over in the first innings compared to 2.1 in the second. His lone wicket in the second innings of the last two Tests also came against the leftie. India expected a far better performance from their leader.
The issue was the same with Shami, but his returns were even worse than Bumrah. Shami is ruled out of the series, but Mukesh Kumar could replace him and should be aware of his predecessor’s previous mistakes.
While Shami bowled 23.2% of his deliveries on the stumps against the right-handers in the first innings, it was down to 11.2% in the second - a massive difference. That's not it, like Bumrah, he was also guilty of bowling too wide.
Among the lot, Shardul Thakur was the best bowler. Though he bagged only two wickets in the second innings, averaging 34.5, he was economical (2.6). Thakur was more economical than Bumrah (3.6) and Shami (3.0).
In the absence of Shami, Siraj will step into his shoes as the second fiddle to Bumrah. If he is to don that tag, he has to forget the 2021/22 series in South Africa. In a bowler-friendly series, Siraj had only three wickets, averaging 51.
Temba Bavuma, in the press conference, said, "We understand conditions a lot better, so you'd expect us to adapt a lot better, but their bowling is quite strong."
The South African skipper added, "The fact that they've achieved such success is because of their bowling attack, and that nullifies our advantage."
India have the bowling attack to win a series in any condition, but it all comes down to their perseverance.
Note: All stats of the first and second innings are of the last two Test unless stated otherwise
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