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Teams with good fast-bowling attacks have tended to do well in South Africa
December 16, 2013
The last time India played in South Africa, they started the tour with a batting line-up that boasted 18,162 runs and 41 centuries in Tests outside the subcontinent. From the current Indian squad, only Virat Kohli has a century outside the subcontinent. VVS Laxman on his own, with 3329 runs outside the subcontinent before that tour, had 509 runs more than all the players in the current team aggregate outside the subcontinent.
Given the experience that India had in their batting line-up on their last tour to South Africa, and the fact that they didn't lose a series there for the first time, one would assume that India's batsmen had made telling contributions in that Test series. However, India's top order averaged an ordinary 32.56 in the 2010-11 South Africa tour, which is not even the highest they've averaged on a tour to South Africa.
Overall, India have won two Tests in South Africa - one in 2010-11, and one on the tour before that, in 2006-07. In those two winning Tests, their batsmen averaged 21.07 runs per dismissal - not the numbers one would expect in a Test from the winning team.
Overseas teams have generally struggled with the bat in Tests in South Africa, with none of the top-orders averaging 40 in Tests here. Since 1990, among teams visiting South Africa,only England's batsmen have managed to average 40-plus as a team in wins. Including India, five teams have averaged under 30 with the bat in wins here.
That teams have won in South Africa despite relatively low batting averages implies that bowlers play a greater role in earning wins. Bowling units that have managed to skittle out wickets cheaply have been able to win. India's bowlers have averaged a miserly 18.78 for the 37 wickets they have taken in wins here, which is the least they have averaged against any team in away wins. Among teams that have won Tests in South Africa, only England's bowlers have averaged lower in wins here. India's fast bowlers have enjoyed the pace-friendly conditions - they have taken seven five-wicket hauls in South Africa, which is the most they have taken in any country outside home. Their 148 wickets here have come at 34.40 runs apiece, which is the least they have averaged in any country excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
However, India's bowlers will be bowling to batsmen who have done well since 2011. In the last couple of years at home, South Africa batsmen have hit 13 hundreds in 11 Tests. AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis all average 50-plus in home Tests since 2011. That their openers - Graeme Smith and Alviro Peterson - have averaged less than 40 in this period hasn't hurt them much given that the top order of the oppositions have averaged only 25.65 in the same period in South Africa.
|AB de Villiers||11||16||1007||160*||71.92||3||7|
|Faf du Plessis||5||6||265||137||44.16||1||0|
South Africa's batsmen have had mixed fortunes at the two venues for this Test series - the Wanderers, Johannesburg and Kingsmead, Durban. Jacques Kallis is the leading run-scorer at both the venues. At the Wanderers he's scored 1114 runs at 41.25 in 17 matches, while in Durban, he's scored 1151 runs at 47.95 from 15 matches, including four centuries. However, the last time Kallis played at Kingsmead, against Sri Lanka in 2011, he bagged a pair - his first in Tests. While Hashim Amla has done well in Johannesburg, having scored 657 runs at 59.72 from seven matches, he's averaging only 21.23 from seven matches at his home venue in Durban. Though de Villiers' record at Johannesburg seems nothing out of the ordinary, he's scored plenty of runs at the venue in the recent past; he's hit 436 runs in his last four matches here at 87.20, with all of his two hundreds and three fifties at his venue coming in these four matches.
|AB de Villiers||17||31||1124||104*||41.62||3||8|
But these batsmen have struggled against India's fast bowlers in previous series at home. Fortunately for South Africa, though, India are missing their most successful bowler in their last couple of tours to South Africa - S Sreesanth. In pace-friendly condition he's outshone India's premier fast bowler, Zaheer Khan. Sreesanth's 27 wickets against South Africa in away matches have come at 28.55 apiece and at a strike rate of 47.5, while Zaheer's 23 wickets at have come at 32.52 apiece. However, on this tour, other than Zaheer, Ishant Sharma is the only bowler to have bowled in Tests in South Africa. Thus far, Ishant's performances in South Africa have been ordinary - his seven wickets have come at 48.14.
|Hashim Amla||S Sreesanth||10||99||152||6||16.50||25.3|
|AB de Villiers||S Sreesanth||11||57||169||4||14.25||42.3|
|Graeme Smith||S Sreesanth||11||124||157||4||31.00||39.3|
|Jacques Kallis||S Sreesanth||9||112||251||3||37.33||83.7|
South Africa's success with the bat in Tests at home in the last couple of years has coincided with an exceptionally productive period for their fast-bowling unit. In Tests since 2011, their fast bowlers have taken 180 wickets at 20.25 and at a strike rate of 42 balls per wicket. Both the average and strike rate are the best among fast bowlers for Test teams playing at home in this period. Among them, the South Africa fast bowlers have taken 13 five-wicket hauls in only 11 Tests - the highest for any team in this period. Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn have led their bowling attack superbly in the last couple of years. In eight Tests at home since his debut against Australia in November 2011, Philander has taken 52 wickets at a phenomenal average of 13.78 and a strike rate of 29.6. Steyn's 64 wickets in Tests at home since 2011 have come at an average of 16.68 and a strike rate of 37.5.
South Africa's all-round performance at home in the last couple of years have yielded results for them. In this period, they've won eight out of 11 Tests. Their two losses came against Australia in Johannesburg and against Sri Lanka in Durban, both in 2011. Since 2012 though, they have won six consecutive home Tests.
India, however, open the series at a venue where they have not lost a Test - they've won one and drawn two in Johannesburg. The win came in 2006, when their fast bowlers dismissed the hosts for just 84 runs in the first innings - South Africa's lowest total in an innings against India in Tests. At Kingsmead, South Africa have done much better against India, having won two of the four Tests between the teams. A positive for India, though, is the fact that their last Test win in South Africa came in Durban, while South Africa have lost their last four Tests at this venue.
Shiva Jayaraman is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo.com
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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