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CricViz Analysis: Four things we learned from India v South Africa

Patrick Noone reflects on another dominant series for India

India are becoming even better at home

There are no signs that India’s formidable record on home soil is likely to change any time soon. On the contrary, even as pitches differ more across the many different venues India play at, they consistently find a way to beat any opposition that lands on their shores. It’s nearly seven years since India last lost a home series, during which time they’ve played 33 matches at home, losing just once.

India have won a remarkable 81% of the home matches they’ve played since that series loss to England, 10% more than any other team. People might argue they were lucky with the toss results in this series, but their win percentage when losing the toss at home during this extraordinary run is still 73%, higher than every other team in that time.

If it turns, they’ll beat you with their spinners, if there’s pace and bounce in the wicket they have the bowlers to cause any batting lineup problems, while their own batsmen are capable of putting on huge totals, irrespective of the conditions. It’s a potent cocktail and one that is getting stronger with each passing series.

India’s seam bowling strength in depth is phenomenal

It is one thing to go to India and be beaten by spin; teams like South Africa would traditionally expect that, and indeed that is what happened on their last tour in 2015. But for them to be so comprehensively out bowled by a seam attack in sub-continent conditions will be a hard pill to swallow. Not that there is any disgrace in succumbing to the current Indian pace attack – Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav in particular were exceptional throughout the series, while Ishant Sharma was hardly needed and Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar played no part at all.

It’s a measure of how strong this group of quicks is that India were able to be so dominant in this series, even without the services of arguably the best bowler in the world. Bumrah’s an almost impossible act to follow, but Shami and Umesh filled their boots in his absence, regularly striking early blows; Shami picked up five wickets in the first over of new spells, while Umesh was just behind with four. That helped set the tone time and time again for a series in which South Africa had no answer to them.

South Africa are struggling to find a new identity

Losing Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn in quick succession would hurt any team and, when you add those players’ retirements to the earlier loss of AB de Villiers, it’s clear that South Africa are a team in transition. 16 players were used across the three Tests, with the Proteas’ constant tinkering doing them few favours in a series that would be tough enough at the best of times.

Dane Piedt played the first Test, was dropped for the second and came back for the third, Quinton de Kock started the series at seven with the gloves and finished it opening the batting without them. It was all a bit chaotic and gave the look of a team hoping that something they tried would work, rather than having a specific plan in mind. There are talented players in the South African setup, but at this stage in the team’s development, they are yet to settle on how best to use them.

India have stumbled across an opening pair

For what seems like an eternity, India have had a revolving door at the top of their batting order. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul have all been in and out of the side, while Prithvi Shaw sparkled briefly before injury curtailed his promise.

Almost by accident, India have ended up with Mayank Agarwal, a player who was a beneficiary of the merry-go-round selection policy at the end of last year, and Rohit Sharma who had never previously opened in Test cricket. The pair averaged 93.75 together, the highest of any Indian opening pair in a series since Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag’s 100.25 against New Zealand in 2010. To put that into some more context, South Africa’s various opening pairs in this series collectively averaged just 4.83.

Rohit and Agarwal were first and third in the list of leading runscorers in the series and accounted for five of the top ten individual scores. If India have indeed settled on this as the opening pair for the foreseeable future, what had been a slight Achilles heel has suddenly been addressed and an already excellent team looks even stronger than before.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Rishabh Pant

Patrick Noone looks at India’s unorthodox talent

There are not many batsmen in world cricket whose signature shot is the aerial flick over fine leg. There are not many left-handers who more or less totally eschew the off drive, preferring to play square on the off-side or to shuffle across and work to leg in order to manoeuvre the field.

Rishabh Pant is no ordinary batsman though and his idiosyncratic technique, allied to a fearlessly audacious mindset make him one of the most exciting young talents in the modern game.

Originally left out of India’s World Cup squad, Pant was called up as a replacement after an injury to Shikhar Dhawan, and eventually made his tournament bow against England at Edgbaston. In his innings against the hosts, and the subsequent knock against Bangladesh two days later on the same ground, Pant showed glimpses of the undoubted talent he possesses.

His scoring areas from those two innings make for peculiar reading. Every ball he faced against England was from a right-arm seamer bowling from over the wicket, while 20 of the 41 he faced against Bangladesh fell into that category, meaning 49 of the 70 balls he’s faced have been from that angle. As a left-hander, with the ball angling across him, the area through mid-off would be an obvious scoring area against balls on a good length or fuller. But as yet, Pant has not scored a single run through that area.

As the beehive shows, Pant has been willing to play even the very widest balls he’s faced from right-arm quicks through the leg-side, hitting the ball where the fielders aren’t and finding ever more inventive ways to score. That technique makes it close to impossible to set a field to him as he’s capable of hitting almost any ball to any part of the ground. The reason he’s yet to score a run through mid-off is likely because there’s always a fielder there, but which captain would be brave enough to take that fielder out? Surely then, Pant would start scoring through that region for fun.

Pant’s unorthodoxy stems from a constant willingness to score. He is, in cricketing parlance, a ‘busy’ player, always looking for ways to either rotate the strike or hit a boundary. Of the players in India’s squad to have faced 50 balls or more in this tournament, only Hardik Pandya has attacked more often than Pant. Hardik’s role as the big-hitting finisher is clear, and it’s to be expected that his attacking shot percentage would be high, destroying bowlers during the death overs. But Pant has done the bulk of his work through the middle overs, never allowing India’s momentum to drop.

Any cricket fan who has followed the IPL closely will have known about Pant’s precocious talents for a while. He has scored at a strike rate in excess of 160 in each of the last three seasons for the Delhi franchise, with the highlight being his blistering 128 from just 63 balls against Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2018.

However, despite those displays, and indeed his near-seamless introduction to the Test arena, Pant is still dogged by criticisms about a lack of maturity and a tendency to throw his wicket away when set. It’s easy to forget that we are talking about a 21-year-old who will find that maturity in time but, until then, should be allowed to play his own way – the way that has brought him so much success, even at this early stage of his career.

From the outside looking in, it appears that India do not always fully appreciate the player they have on their hands. All of the great modern batsmen they have produced, from Gavaskar to Tendulkar to Kohli have been orthodox in style, simply doing ordinary things to an extraordinarily high level. They have arguably never had a maverick talent in Pant’s mould, even Virender Sehwag was ultra-aggressive, rather than truly unorthodox. He still has a long way to go to match the achievements of any of those names, of course, but with India’s top order one of the most secure in world cricket, there is no reason to not let him thrive in the middle order.

Pant has had to wait to get his chance on the world stage, but the stars have aligned for him to play a key role in the business end of the tournament. India will hope they have three more matches for him to star in, starting with Saturday’s final group game against Sri Lanka at Headingley. Given the flashes of potential he’s already shown in his two innings so far, and the ease with which he has taken to the big stage, you’d be brave to bet against him having a big impact on the remainder of India’s campaign.

India have a genius in their ranks; a batsman with limitless potential who should become a mainstay of their team across all three formats. This tournament is merely one of the early chapters in Pant’s story; there are surely plenty more to come.  

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Jasprit Bumrah’s Double Wicket-Maiden

Patrick Noone analyses the six balls that clinched the game for India at Old Trafford

Sport is about moments. The moments that define matches, tournaments, even careers. We talk about ‘big game players’ who routinely step up and deliver such moments to seize the initiative, change the course of a match or make the crucial contribution at the crucial time to turn the game in their team’s favour.

In Jasprit Bumrah, India have a bowler who produces this kind of moment with such regularity that his career is starting to resemble a highlights package of match-defining balls, wickets or spells.

In the penultimate over of India’s last outing in this World Cup, with Afghanistan needing 21 runs from 12 balls, Bumrah delivered five perfect yorkers and a low full toss that cost him just five runs, leaving Afghanistan with too much to do in the final over.

Today, Bumrah’s killer blow to West Indies’ hopes of chasing 269 came in the form of a double-wicket maiden in the 27th over. In truth, the stakes were not as high today in Manchester as they were on Saturday in Southampton. It was the middle of the innings and West Indies had already been reduced to 107-5 when Bumrah began the second over of his second spell.

But in Carlos Brathwaite, the man who took his side so close to victory on this very ground just five days ago in a similarly improbable run chase against New Zealand, West Indies had a man at the crease more than capable of dragging his side back into the contest.

It was early in Brathwaite’s innings though and he was yet to get going. He never would. Bumrah struck with the first ball of the over with a beauty that swung one way and seamed the other, just enough to tempt Brathwaite to have a nibble at, just enough to find the edge of his bat, before MS Dhoni was able to stretch just enough to take the catch behind the stumps.

You have to feel a bit for Fabian Allen at this stage. Playing in his first World Cup match, walking to the crease with his team in more than a spot of bother, the partisan India crowd on their feet and making a cacophonous noise to greet him, he could perhaps have been forgiven if the occasion got to him. Especially when you consider what he was having to face from Bumrah, a bowler with his tail up, creating another seminal moment in front of our eyes.

Allen would only last ball – at 143kph it was the quickest delivery of Bumrah’s over and it cannoned into the right-hander’s front pad. The umpire’s finger went up, the crowd noise that had gone from roar to hubbub was reignited once again. Allen reviewed the decision, perhaps realising that him surviving was now West Indies’ best chance of getting over the line, or perhaps genuinely thinking it was going past leg stump. Not so; Bumrah had been able to straighten it just enough – 0.5° to be precise – for the verdict to be umpire’s call.

107-5 had become 107-7 in a flash and India were almost home. Kemar Roach was the next man in, the man to face the hat-trick ball. Roach is a capable batsman, certainly for a number nine. He played his part in the drama of the New Zealand match on Saturday, hanging around for 31 balls and 14 runs, but keeping out Bumrah was going to be a different challenge altogether.

As Bumrah started his idiosyncratic, stuttering run up, the atmosphere was one of expectancy – almost certainty – that he would complete the three-card trick. As the ball left Bumrah’s right hand, and floated out at just 97kph, there was a split second in which everyone watching expected the batsman to be bamboozled and for the zing bails to light up.

Bumrah’s slower ball has been a potent weapon for him ever since he made his international debut in 2016. He has taken 24 wickets with it in all formats, eight of them bowled and, famously, one LBW when Shaun Marsh was trapped in front during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne last year. The hat-trick ball today was even slower than the Marsh dismissal – 97kph compared to 112kph – but the lines of the two balls were almost identical.

Roach was equal to it on this occasion though. He got his bat down and defended the hat-trick ball – an inch-perfect yorker that Bumrah could hardly have executed better. It was a delivery more than worthy of dismissing a batsman of greater repute than Roach but, on this occasion, he was able to keep it out and Bumrah was denied his hat-trick. He would see out the rest of the over too, defending twice and ducking once as Bumrah finished off his work for the day – six overs, one maiden, two for nine.

A hat-trick would have been the icing on the cake for Bumrah; the obvious, show-stopping moment, on a level that even he is yet to reach in his astonishingly successful career to date. Perhaps we were denied that moment, but this over was no less thrilling as a result. Sometimes, the best moments are the ones that give you just enough, the ones that leave you wanting just a little bit more.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

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