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South Africa's edge over India


As per script, India vs South Africa should offer the perfect crescendo to a season that has been resurgent, if not downright fascinating, for Test cricket. Garnished with good quality cricket and a decent 'buzz', South Africa now look set to add a dose of poetic justice to it, favourites as they are to win this series and  take the number 1 spot they perhaps deserve a shade more than the Indians.

Although evenly matched on paper, South Africa has a significant edge over the Indians because they are multi-dimensional, and have much better balance. The Indian side is one-dimensional, it has always been except for the three days every year when Zaheer/Ishant/Sreesanth strike form.

Studying the percentage contribution each batsman makes to his team's overall strength is a good way to study how strong a team really is. This count reveals that India's chief strength, which is their batting, also rests on a thin sheet of ice. The line up is extremely top-heavy, and overly dependent on Sehwag and Gambhir. Two early wickets - a distinct possibility given that the wickets are not likely to be belters - can take away 31% of India's batting strength.

South Africa, on the other hand, are better balanced. Two early wickets will hurt India much more than it will hurt South Africa.

Let's look at it this way: If South Africa gets India's six best batsmen from the playing XI out, they run through 86% of India's strength. If India take out South Africa's best, they still mow through only 70% of their strength - with the tail and Ashwell Prince still leaving another 30% for India to tackle.

The problem surrounding India's dependence on Sehwag and Gambhir (and Tendulkar), in relation to the South African's well-roundedness, is accentuated by two factors. The first is Dravid's absence, a factor that tilts the scales heavily in favour of the South Africans - more heavily than Tendulkar's absence in return for Dravid's presence would. There is an interesting sub-plot to this - there is no clear replacement for Dravid (and Tendulkar) in sight, so there is the definite threat of a temporary, injury-driven weakness graduating into a permanent one.

The second factor is that South Africa's best bowler will be bowling to India's (lone?) trump card. Dale Steyn is South Africa's biggest bowling ace by a stretch, averaging a good 8 points lower than South Africa's combined team bowling average. Given the promise of sporting pitches floating around, he is more than capable of taking those two quick wickets that we have built up enough to sound nearly apocalyptic now.

325 remains a par score for South Africa. India need to score substantially over 325, or if they are bowling first (as they are now, at the time of writing), they need to keep South Africa down to well below 325 to exert some pressure.

All said, the series is really more for South Africa to lose than for India to win. The visitors need to botch it up badly (they have shown that they possess the talent and skill necessary to do that in the past), or India will need their bowlers to have one of their three extra-ordinary days of the year.

Our prediction: 0-1 to South Africa.

(Click here to know more about Jatin, and here to know more about Sreeram)

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