India do not win a series in South Africa (again)

Notes on India's decline outside Asia, Burger, Jansen's batting, and slip catching

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India got smashed, forced to swallow a giant shit sandwich and again they do not win a series in South Africa. They were out-bowled and batted, against only ten fit players. And that was with South Africa dropping a few catches. If the pitch evened out, and it looked like it did when Jansen was batting with the tail, what does that say about India’s batting?

But also, with the ball they seemed to struggle to keep pressure on, and looked bereft of ideas outside of ‘what if we get Shardul Thakur to bowl short shit legside balls’. Jaiswal and Rohit got fantastic deliveries, but there were a lot of soft dismissals in there as well.

But really, this whole thing was like making your dinner and then dropping it on the floor as you take it to the table for India. For South Africa, not bad for a team that has given up the format.

India’s bowling (SAK)

‘SENA’ is probably not the best way to group these since the pitches in these countries are varied in nature . But they’re all basically not like Asia.

They were arguably at their best in 2018-19, and that is when they had the pace trio of Bumrah, Ishant and Shami. This was also the start of the pace-bowling pandemic, and the pace-bowling averages dropped globally.

They were pretty good in 2020-21 too - the pacers played an important role in India winning the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, leading the series 2-1 in England, and winning the Centurion Test in 2021.

But you can see a clear decline here since the start of 2022.  They have basically now lost 5 Tests in a row outside Asia, excluding the West Indies where you expect them to win. Part of this is because Shami wasn’t present in this Test, and Bumrah wasn’t in the WTC final.

And it’s not just the average. You can see here that their economy rate also plummets up to almost 3.6 runs per over. To win Tests, you have to be able to create pressure and not allow easy run-scoring for the opposition.

In this match, India fielded two bowlers who could create pressure - Bumrah and Ashwin. Siraj is a good wicket-taking option but he is probably a better third seamer than a second at this point. Prasidh is a project player who could be fantastic, and Shardul is a good 5th option.

India’s batting (SAK)

You can see a similar pattern here. The global averages have actually gone up since 2022, so they’ve gone the other way and scored fewer runs in a relatively easier time period. You have to ask if the difficult pitches at home help the confidence of the batters and allow them to get into rhythm either. It is also a different kind of Indian team, the post-Pujara/Rahane era of Indian batting.

Shubman Gill has managed to maintain his average above 30 in his Test career till now. He also had to face some challenging conditions across the globe. We know his natural talent, so there’s no question of discarding him yet. Teams seem to have worked him out by bringing the ball back into him. It gives you a constant threat against a player like him.

This shows that he’s played a lot everywhere but not a lot of Tests yet. He’s been in and out of the side due to injuries and team combinations. England, South Africa and the West Indies are the worrying ones here because he’ll face more lateral movement from seam bowlers here.

However, he is not doing particularly well against spin at the moment. It is partly inspired by the Indian wickets since his debut. I would have preferred him averaging 20 against pace and 45 against spin so that there would be only one thing to fix.

Virat Kohli was quite defensive in the last tour, even though he still averaged 40 then. In this Test, he wanted to attack more and put the pressure back on the South African pacers. Unfortunately for him, by the time he was settled, it was very hard to put South Africa back under pressure as India kept losing wickets. He was spectacular in the second innings.

He was also batting out of the crease in this Test, which I thought was quite interesting.

Marco is a stretch number seven (JK)

So far, Marco Jansen has been handy with the bat in his Test career. Today he was a lot better than that. Before he’d shown the ability to stay in, be useful, and knock the ball around. This was more than that, he showed real batting skill and then also good maturity when with the tail, by trying to settle Coetzee down or shielding Burger. It wasn’t the first time he has impressed, but it was the most adult innings.

In this innings, Marco batted at seven, but obviously, he was listed at eight until Temba Bavuma was injured. For now, I think this sums it up pretty well, Jansen is a good number eight, and a weak seven. But he’s a good enough guy to go up the order when needed. I still think his batting - and his bowling will need time. He just hasn’t spent enough time batting to be as good as he should be. But already being good enough to be a stretch number seven when they want five bowlers, I think he is pretty close to that. He might never be a permanent player in that position. But if he could do it 30-50% with only a slight reduction in runs, that is still a win.

If he is better than that, then they have an all-rounder, as long as they have keepers who can bat at six.

How tasty is Burger? (Scouting report) (JK)

I am interested in Nandre Burger, not just because he is an Andre with an N. He’s left-arm, pretty quick, and can swing the ball around, but also wildly erratic. One ball this innings he delivered to first slip, and his next delivery was down legside. If you are bowling at 93MPH regularly that is more acceptable. But he is not that quick. And it wasn’t even the only time he did it.

So does that mean any of this is replicable? I think it is. Although he is not as quick as Dirk Nannes, he reminds me of him. He‘s bustling, and so he seems to be on batters quicker than they think. He gets good bounce, and the combo of those two things means his short ball is always in play.

He moves the ball laterally, think it’s worth saying he’s not always controlling it. But it is there. He’s not dead straight. The last thing I like about his bowling is his ability to bowl around the wicket already. Maybe this is because he’s 28, and not young. So we can assume he won’t get much more accurate, or faster. The question then is whether he is fast enough to be the kind of bowler he is on all surfaces.

He’s so erratic at times that he reminds me of the young Mitches (Johnson and Starc) and I remember talking to batters in that era who talked about how hard it was to face a fast left-armer who sprayed it around a lot. He’s certainly an interesting prospect.

Catching at slip (JK)

Shubman Gill dropped Gerald Coetzee at slip from R Ashwin after he reverse swept the ball off his pads backwards.

But I just want to take you through why this happened.

You can see here that while the ball is in the air, Gill had his hands on his legs. Old cricketers hate this because it’s a terrible place to start. Your hands aren’t ready, and they are too close to you to go sideways. Modern slippers like this because they think it protects their back, but if you do it, once the ball is almost at the batter they need to be in position.

The bigger problem is after this when he takes them off because he puts his hands really high for some reason. Comically so, he looks like a boxer trying to stop a blow. This is a massive error because it is much harder to go from high to low than it is to start low and end high. But you can see at this point the ball is actually fairly high.

But it was a secondary hit off the pad, so it loses speed and height really quickly, so it’s really low. Gill still could have caught it, but he made what was a tough chance so much more difficult. When in the slips, the chase decision is to have your hands low, and in front of your body, Gill’s two errors are what led to the mistake.