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.