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Match Analysis

India and Bumrah's faith in the process finally pays off

They have always stuck to their plans on this tour, but while it didn't result in a win in Johannesburg, Cape Town has been a completely different story

It was a picture that seemed to sum up India's day.
Cheteshwar Pujara, their first slip, was flat on his stomach, watching the ball roll away from him, and Virat Kohli, their second slip, was setting off in futile pursuit as it made its way towards the helmet lying behind keeper Rishabh Pant. Temba Bavuma had just flashed at a wide one outside off stump from Shardul Thakur, and the edge had gone low between keeper and first slip. It reached Pujara at catching height as he dived to his left, but he failed to hold on.
A drop, and five penalty runs. The wound and the salt.
India's bowlers had been at South Africa's batters all day, hovering in the corridor outside off stump, extracting movement both ways, and usually either beating the edge or finding it only for the ball to fall short of the cordon - or, in this case, reach it and get shelled. And if there was an lbw shout, height inevitably came to South Africa's rescue.
For their second successive innings on the field, India were doing most things right without getting the reward for it. The previous time had been South Africa's fourth-innings chase in Johannesburg, where the bowlers had induced 62 false shots and only picked up three wickets. Other factors had contributed to India's defeat, such as rain making conditions easier to bat in on the fourth day, and the taller South African bowlers being able to better exploit an up-and-down pitch than India's, but you couldn't deny the role luck had played.
It seemed to be happening all over again. India had been bowled out for 223, and South Africa, following that drop, were 143 for 4.
During India's innings on day one, South Africa's bowlers had induced 64 false shots while picking up ten wickets in 77.3 overs. India induced their 64th false shot in the 56th over of South Africa's innings, 5.3 overs after Pujara's drop. This time, Mohammed Shami found Bavuma's edge with a ball that straightened dangerously in the fifth-stump channel. The edge may have fallen short of a less athletic second slip, but Kohli dived to his left to complete an outstanding two-handed grab, his 100th catch in Test cricket. South Africa were 155 for 5.
India's bowlers had induced the same number of false shots as South Africa's bowlers, for exactly half as many wickets.
But their luck was beginning to turn. Two balls later, Shami straightened another from that hard-to-ignore line, and Kyle Verreyne poked and nicked. Another low chance, and Pant completed it with a dive to his right.
Process. You'll hear the word at every pre-, post- and in-match press conference, and you'll hear it so often that you'll ask yourself if it has any meaning beyond this set-piece situation that neither you nor the player really wants to be part of, deep down, but it truly is the cricketer's bread and butter. It really is all about the process.
Right through this series, India's bowlers have stuck to their processes, whether they've brought about the desired outcomes or not. Even when Dean Elgar was steering South Africa to a stirring victory at the Wanderers, India - except for a couple of passages late in the game, when a bit of desperation set in - didn't waver too much from their plans to him or his colleagues. The ball kept going past Elgar's outside edge, and they kept looking for it.
On day one at Newlands, Jasprit Bumrah found Elgar's outside edge with the kind of ball he had bowled multiple times without luck to the same batter only a few days earlier. Bumrah and Elgar will both know that Elgar not out 96 and Elgar c Pujara b Bumrah 3 were wildly fluctuating outcomes of the same processes.
Those fluctuations aren't unusual on an innings-to-innings or match-to-match basis. But they tend to even out over longer periods, and over the course of series, seasons, careers and eras, the players and teams who execute their processes in the most relentlessly skillful way usually end up tasting the rewards they are due.
On day two at Newlands, the quality of India's bowling eventually reaped the rewards it was due. It earned their team a narrow first-innings lead that may well prove critical in their quest for a first Test series win in South Africa.
And most fittingly, Bumrah, who had taken just one wicket over 38 mostly excellent overs in Johannesburg, ended up with figures of 5 for 42. Inevitably, Bumrah's press conference at the end of the day's play featured a heavy emphasis on process.
"Nothing extra-special or out of the ordinary. I was just focusing on what I had to do, and I was trying to focus on my routines and my processes and what I do, basically, before a Test match, or whatever has to be done whenever I prepare for a Test match," he said, when asked if he had been especially fired up for this occasion. "So, nothing out of the ordinary; I was not giving any extra attention or I was not really angry or, I was just focusing on what I had to do, I was just trying to be in the present."
Coming into this game, there had been plenty of scrutiny around Bumrah's recent form. His lines and lengths had been pored over in other publications; this website had noted a seeming lack of bite in his shorter lengths.
There may well have been merit to all those critiques, but the dominant feeling Bumrah has evoked over the last few months is of bowling well without necessarily picking up bagfuls of wickets. And Bumrah knows how capricious the relationship between process and outcome can be.
"See, the success, whatever comes, is a byproduct, so what we try to do is have a routine, try to follow that again and again, and maybe create pressure as a bowling unit," he said. "Some days I would get wickets, some day somebody else would get wickets, but we as a unit want to focus on our routines and we know what has worked for us, so trying to stick to our plans, and then evolving the game around it.
"Yes, there will be doubters, there will be people who'll be praising, but that is something that an individual has to decide, so I try to focus on what I have to do. If I've given any attention to the outside noise, it doesn't really help, so at the end of the day when I bowl, I try to control [what I can control], and I try to have my perspective towards bowling, so I try to avoid whatever else is going on around the world.
"Maybe some people like my bowling, some people might not, but my focus is always to back my processes, back my routines, and try to give the best that I can for the country."
If Bumrah has fallen short of anything at all over his last few Test matches, it's probably only been his own absurdly high standards.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, he lived up to those standards. And as he always does, he left you with moments you'll remember for a long, long time. The first ball of the day jagged away from Aiden Markram, perhaps inducing the batter to leave the second, which pitched on virtually the same spot and nipped back in to knock back off stump.
You'll remember that ball, and you'll remember the look Bumrah directed at Marco Jansen after straightening one past his outside edge to hit the top of off. You'll remember those moments, but to really understand the excellence of Bumrah and this India attack, you must also remember all the balls in between that didn't take wickets but induced just as much discomfort.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo