"Ruthless" and "relentless" were the two words that Faf du Plessis used to describe India's performance at home this month. And rightfully so. India looked domineering on all fronts in their emphatic and historic 3-0 win against the visitors which included two back-to-back innings victory and the bowlers picking up all 60 wickets in the three-match series. And it just wasn't the usual suspects that helped in extending India's winning run at home. More than skipper Virat Kohli and his two formidable spin options, the openers were threatening, the middle-order fired and the pacers managed to "make the batsmen dance to their tune". So dominating were India that midway through the campaign, social media sites were filled with memes talking about some fake South African team landing in India for a Test series. So, what problems did South Africa pace despite conditions being somewhat similar to their home?
Out-of-syllabus pace domination
The last time when South Africa had toured India, back in 2015, the visitors were undone by the magnificence of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The then world tormentors scalped 54 of the total 70 South African wickets that had fallen in that series, which comprises 77.14 per cent of the wickets.
This time around, Dean Elgar, who was dismissed as many as four times by Ashwin in 2015, and Quinton de Kock looked better equipped at facing the two spinners. And their respective centuries in Visakhapatnam was evident of the fact. They used their front foot more against them to put the spinners under pressure. In fact, throughout the series, Ashwin and Jadeja failed to emulate the class that they had shown in 2015. The pair ended with only 28 wickets between themselves out of the total 60 which comprises 46.67 per cent of the total amount.
But it was astonishing for the South African as for Sunil Gavaskar on air when the combination of Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami were firing short-pitched deliveries to rattle the opposition's top-order. So lethal were the two throughout the campaign that Umesh and Shami picked 24 wickets between themselves and dominated with seam bowling on home turf in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar while Ishant Sharma warmed the benches.
Adding to the pair's domination, they outclassed the Indian spinners and the South African pacers. Their 26 wickets (including two from Ishant) came at an average of 17.50 and a strike rate of 35.2. Their South African counterparts managed only 10 wickets at 70.20 and strike rate of 131.7 -- their worst since re-admission in 1992. On the other hand, India's spinners took 32 wickets at 27.18 and strike rate of 60.
Dismal bowling attack
Unlike the Indian pacers, the South African seamers failed to extract any good despite familiar conditions in first innings at each venue. Rabada was the best out of the lot, although he struggled considerably in the first two Tests before delivering a devastating spell in the final Test. Vernon Philander looked out of touch each time the ball lost its shine, Anrich Nortje only had his raw pace to show while Lungi Ngidi failed to have an impact after resting for two Tests.
The South African spinners were the worst of the lot. Dane Piedt was whacked all around the park each time he was given the ball. He leaked 5.74 runs per over in the series -- the worst ever for a spinner who has bowled at least 50 overs in a contest. Meanwhile, Keshav Maharaj leaked 4.04 rpo and averaged 85.66.
Not one, or two, but three veteran cricketers left South African Test squad in quick succession leaving the national squad and the selectors in complete disarray. And their selection choices throughout the series was evident of the fact.
In the batting department, Tembra Bavuma struggled at No.3 while the skipper, who should have batted at No.4 to hold the two ends of the top 7 in the lineup, was struggling at No.5. Meanwhile, Zubayr Hamza, who averages 50-plus in first-class cricket, was given a chance only in Ranchi where he scored a very gritty half-century. And De Kock, who started the series as a No.7 batsman, ended as an opener in the final game. In the bowling department, Piedt was dropped after conceding 209 runs in the opener, but returned to the squad when Maharaj was injured for the third. South Africa would have gone with four pacers instead.
Tactical blunders from Faf
South Africa won eight out of 12 Test series under Faf before coming to India and had a win percentage of 58.62 from 29 matches. However, he did make a couple of tactical blunders throughout the series one of which was pointed out by most veterans of the game -- not using Rabada on the first day of second Test when he looked threatening enough after dismissing Rohit Sharma early.
But the one that showed that South Africa, including their skipper lacked confidence was when Faf took Bavuma to the coin toss in Ranchi. The act was strongly criticised by their former skipper Graeme Smith
South Africa's opening partnerships read: 14 and 4 in Vizag, 2 and 0 in Pune and 4 and 5 in Ranchi -- which lasted just 83 balls over the six innings in the series. The opening partnership averaged only 4.83 -- the lowest for South Africa in a series and the fourth-lowest ever for a team in any series (three-plus matches).