India Can Find Strength By Building From The Top

It’s often the case in Test Match cricket that the top of the batting order lays the foundations for the match ahead. However, South Africa and India come together now for a Test Series after dancing to the top of the ICC rankings with strong openers but little consistency in their opening partnerships in 2017. The Stats Zone takes a look at a battle of the openers that is sure to be key to the series.

Since losing to Australia in Pune, India have embarked on a run of nine Tests without defeat, taking in the remainder of that rubber and home-and-away ventures against familiar foes Sri Lanka. Since then, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul and Abhinav Mukund have featured at the top of the order in various combinations and posted 723 runs before the fall of the first wicket at an average of 51.64.

That figure is heavily bolstered by massive century stands against Sri Lanka recently in both Kolkata (166) and Pallekele (188), although Vijay’s back-to-back first innings tons to finish the year gave even greater positive signs of things to come for a touring side whose fate may well be determined by the strength of their showing against the new ball.

SA finding their feet
Only Steve Smith (1305) and Cheteshwar Pujara (1140) eclipsed Dean Elgar’s haul of 1128 Test Match runs in the last calendar year but he’ll be hoping that his search for a stable, long-term opening partner was ended by the recent red-ball bouts against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Aiden Markram was the fourth man to walk out to bat with Elgar in 2017 and although he missed out on a hundred by being run out for 97 on debut, following up with a ton on his second appearance was soon backed up by another in the four-day Test against Zimbabwe, that ended up settled in just two.

Those were welcome partnerships for SA, who started the year with Stephen Cook in the number one slot, only for him to make way for Theunis de Bruyn during the spring tour to New Zealand. Heino Kuhn took the mantle for the four matches in England but in those two tours combined, the first wicket didn’t post one stand in excess of 21.

By the time of Makram’s selection, the first nine Tests of the year had yielded a return of just 16.24 against the new ball and even though that was upped to 37.5 by the turn of the year, India’s ability to pressurise Markram and Elgar considerably more than the minnows of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, matches the importance of their own opening stand in laying down markers for the series.

After Cape Town, the sides will contest the second match of the series at Centurion before wrapping up in Johannesburg before the end of the month.