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Stats Analysis

Stats: South Africa's dominance in Centurion, and India's middle-order muddle

Challenge for batters, hosts' troubles with both bat and ball, and other numbers ahead of Boxing Day Test

South Africa's fortress
Over the next few weeks, India will attempt to do what they have never done before - win a Test series in South Africa, the only country where they are yet to win one. South Africa's recent home record is not convincing though: they have lost five of their last eight home Tests, played across three series in which they have lost two. However, India's quest for their maiden Test series win in South Africa starts on Boxing Day in Centurion, which has been like a fortress for the hosts.
The venue has hosted 26 Tests, of which South Africa have won 21. They have lost only two, one of which was against England in 2000, when both teams forfeited an innings each and contrived to produce a result. India have lost both Test matches played at SuperSport Park - in 2010 and 2018. Among all instances of teams playing ten or more Tests at a ground, South Africa's win-loss ratio of 10.5 in Centurion is second only to Pakistan's 11.5 at the National Stadium in Karachi.
Pakistan have won 23 out of the 43 Tests played in Karachi, and lost only two. However, in terms of win percentage, South Africa's 80.77% in Centurion is by far the best for any team in Test cricket at a venue.
Challenge for the batters
South Africa, by far, is the toughest country for batting in Test cricket. Since the start of 2018, the batting average in South Africa is the second-lowest at 25.39, next only to the West Indies with 23.53. There have been only 15 centuries in the 18 Tests that South Africa has hosted since 2018, at 0.83 hundreds per Test, the lowest ratio for any host country.
Bowlers enjoy success in South Africa quicker than in any other country: the bowling strike rate here since 2018 is 49.5 balls per wicket, the best among all host nations in this period. At the same time, the scoring rates also have been high - bowlers have an economy rate of 3.20 - which indicates how quickly the game moves on in the red-ball format there.
Pace dominance
The trend of bowler-friendly pitches in South Africa is evident by the recent records of the three venues that host India: Centurion, Johannesburg and Cape Town. The batting average in each of these venues, in the last five Tests hosted at each ground, is below 27. Only once a team did go past the 500-run mark, and the average first-innings total stays below 350. Also, more than 85% of the wickets have been taken by the pace bowlers in these matches.
Spinners have averaged more than 45, and none of those grounds has witnessed a five-wicket haul by a spinner since March 2013. R Ashwin averages 46.14 in the three Tests he has played in South Africa, his worst in any nation. Since December 2013, spinners average 43.51 in the country, with the overseas ones faring slightly worse at 48.04.
India's middle-order muddle
India did find some consistency from their openers in overseas Tests this year, but the senior trio of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara has been short of runs. All three have been to South Africa a couple of times earlier and have had some success there. Kohli and Rahane average more than 50 in Tests in South Africa, while Pujara has played a couple of crucial knocks too. However, each of the three batters has struggled for big runs in the last two years, averaging below 30.
The only century for batters from No. 3 to No. 5 in Tests for India this year was scored by Shreyas Iyer in his debut match. Pujara has failed to score a hundred in his last 42 Test innings, including 40 innings while batting at No.3, the longest century-less streak for a No.3 batter in Test history. Kohli's troubles have been more recent - he has not scored a Test ton since November 2019. But Rahane's form has slumped quite a few times in the last five years, including the current dry patch, where he has three 50-plus scores in his previous 16 Tests.
In 2016, Rahane averaged 51.37 after his 29th Test - the first and the only time his Test average touched 50. Since then, he has played 50 more Tests, averaging 32.73 runs per dismissal - he has only two fifties in 22 innings since the match-winning 112 in Melbourne last year. The only Indian with a lower average than Rahane while batting in the top six during a sequence of 50 Tests is Ravi Shastri - 32.38 between 1981 and 1989.
Concerns with both bat and ball for South Africa
South Africa's batting at home has struggled too, with only four centuries across their last 11 home Tests - two of those were by Faf du Plessis, who retired from the longest format earlier this year. du Plessis and Quinton de Kock are the only batters with 40-plus averages for South Africa at home in this period. On the other hand, their pace attack will have a fresh look, led by Kagiso Rabada. They have picked seven pacers in the squad, but not more than two have played together in a Test match.
The total Test wickets of those seven fast bowlers add up to only 299 in 68 Tests. Beuran Hendricks has had one Test cap while all of Marco Jansen, Sisanda Magala and Glenton Stuurman are yet to make their debuts. India last faced a pace attack with a combined experience of less than 300 Test wickets in South Africa back on the 1996-97 tour. South Africa could feel the absence of Anrich Nortje, who has been their lead bowler since his debut with 47 wickets across 12 Tests, but will be bolstered by the return of Duanne Olivier.
Olivier last played a Test in January 2019 before signing a Kolpak deal. In ten Tests, he has taken 48 wickets at 19.25. His bowling strike rate of 30 is the best in Test history among players with 30-plus wickets. Olivier is also the leading wicket-taker in the ongoing domestic four-day competition, with 28 wickets in four games at an average of 11.14.

Sampath Bandarupalli is a statistician at ESPNcricinfo