January 10, 2022 7:15:02 am
The Wanderers Test was an aberration for Jasprit Bumrah. The lead script-writer of several of India’s recent overseas victories, be it Melbourne or Kingston, Oval or Trent Bridge, North Sound or Centurion, he was comparatively ineffectual at Wanderers in both innings. In the first, he took the solitary wicket of Keshav Maharaj; in the second, he bled 70 wicket-less runs in 17 overs.
Numbers could often be misleading, but in this case, they fully capture his uncharacteristic listlessness. He seemed rushing through his action, perhaps was over-eager on the face of Dean Elgar’s defiance in the second innings, and was bereft of his machete-like sharpness. Perhaps, he was a victim of the high standards he had set for himself, and unable to match that, he withered.
It was equally the case of South Africa’s batsmen’s blunting him diligently, showing heart, purpose and application, remarks former South Africa seamer Fanie de Villiers. “I don’t think it is a question of him lacking ability or he bowled badly. I think South Africa has worked him out. Since he has been India’s most important bowler, lots of team discussion has gone on how to tackle and survive Bumrah. I think South Africa has learned their lessons from the first Test,” he tells The Indian Express.
A vital aspect was unlike the first Test, he didn’t make the batsman play enough. “This is where he lacked in the second Test as South African batters were leaving so many deliveries from him. Even Elgar played him better than before, although he got hit a couple of times,” he observes.
According to Cricinfo stats, South Africa’s batters left as many as 67 Bumrah balls in 38 overs, the most number of deliveries batsmen of both sides had left of any bowler. In general, the hosts’ seamers made the Indian batsmen play more often. Two factors, though, should be considered. First, Bumrah’s natural way of setting up right-handed batsmen is to soften them up with the away-movers before ripping in the fast and fierce nip-backer. So invariably he ends up bowling a few away from the stumps.
The Wanderers strip was bouncier than the SuperSport, and decisively, the variable bounce was not as pronounced. So the batsmen could, fairly confidently, leave him on length.
Contrarily, the Proteas’ pacers operated at a fuller length, hence made batsmen play more often and purchase the edge. De Villiers concurs: “In South Africa, fuller deliveries have always been more successful. The bowler, who has got the ability to bowl both inswinger and outswinger, will be more effective. That’s the reason why Vernon Philander enjoyed his greatest successes at home and especially at the Newlands [venue of the last Test],” he said. In this context, Mohammed Siraj’s breakdown hurt them badly, as he was the most natural full-length plugger among the four.
Usually, Bumrah sizes up the lengths he needs to hit quite early. At Wanderers, he didn’t. How Bumrah responds from this setback, or an aberration rather, would be an interesting subtext. It has the potential to form the chief narrative of the Third Test too, as more often than not when he gets wickets, India end up on the winning side. It’s not the first time he had endured a bad game, but almost inevitably, he had turned it around. For instance, he had a shocker in the World Test Championship, but came back strongly in the next outing, picking up nine wickets and setting up the match at Trent Bridge. He had a poor game in Adelaide, but whipped up fury in Melbourne.
There wouldn’t be a better deck for a turnaround than Newlands, where the pitch usually favours the seamers. “It is not going to be easy for the batters at Newlands,” warns De Villiers. “That has been the case for many years now. Bowlers, who can swing the ball, move the ball, and have variations are going to be the most effective,” he adds.
On this count, India indeed have an advantage, says De Villiers. “India’s bowlers have got an excellent chance to win it because there are a lot of variations in the Indian bowling attack. It is fantastic to see Bumrah and Shami bowl, and especially your all-rounder (Shardul Thakur) is bowling better than ours. India have got a very good chance to win the match and series,” he says.
Not just variety, South Africa’s young crew of seamers has been erratic. Even Kagiso Rabada has been his usual penetrative self in patches. A fiery spell here, a testing burst here, he has not been relentless, and hence not as effective as he usually is. “He has been overused in the last five-six years. He has been over-bowled. His bowling has become monotonous. He is also not getting much support from the other end,” De Villiers says.
“Rabada has bowled some fantastic spells in his career, but there always has been some shouts, screams in the dressing room, which mobilised the bowler. Everybody needs to lift their game, and when you’re the most senior bowler, more clever bowler, you need that kind of encouragement from your teammates to take your game to the next level,” he added.
The much-anticipated measure-for-measure bowling duel between Rabada and Bumrah, two of the finest of this era, has been largely anti-climatic. But an opportunity beckons in Cape Town, and on them will depend the outcome of the series.