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The short-ball ploy by the Proteas | Fast, Furious & Flawless

The short-ball ploy by the Proteas | Fast, Furious & Flawless

The build-up for the anticipated contest between Pakistan and South Africa hinted towards another fruitful series for the bowlers which was prompted by various factors.

Firstly, 2018 has been the most bowling-friendly year where the bowlers averaged only 27.37 runs per wicket, the best in the 21st century. Prior to the first Test of the series, the average was 27.42. Secondly, both the sides have had a rather unproductive year with the bat. Pakistan batsmen averaged 29.91 runs per wicket, still better than that of the Proteas’ batsmen who averaged only 25.04 before the Centurion Test.

Third, the bowlers from both sides came into the series with some form behind their back. Pakistan bowlers averaged 24.14 and the South African bowling unit outdid their counterparts by conceding only 23.72 runs per wicket. Fourth, South Africa had offered the best bowling conditions in 2018. The bowling average in the Rainbow Nation was only second to that in West Indies – 25.41 runs per wicket.

South Africa and Pakistan, both the nations are well-recognized for their bottomless quiver of quality fast bowlers and this series was set to be a contest between two outstanding bowling attacks in modern-day cricket.

At the beginning of the year, South Africa opted for pitches that saw some vicious swing and found their own batsmen in trouble quite frequently against a phenomenal Indian bowling unit. A similar kind of tactic could have exposed them against Pakistan as well, but in this series, it was more about hitting the deck rather than pitching the ball on a fuller length. The change in the approach by the home side caught Pakistan off-guard.

A total of 105 wickets fell in the Test series, out of which 25 were taken by short-pitched deliveries (including bouncers) by the fast bowlers, but only 6 of them were taken by the touring party.

South Africans operated with a fusillade of short balls at the Pakistani batsmen. Thrice in the series, Azhar Ali was out hopping imperilled by deliveries aiming at his upper body.

Approximately, every third wicket taken by the Proteas was off a short-pitched ball.

South Africa’s special emphasis on the execution of short balls against Pakistan can be established by the fact that since March 2017, this is the highest percentage of short balls they have bowled in a single Test series.

(the 4-day Test against Zimbabwe is not taken into consideration)

The data clearly reveals South Africa’s short-ball tactics against the sub-continent batsmen. In their last series against each of the sub-continent nation, their short-ball percentage has exceeded the single-figure mark while against Australia and England, it remained fairly low.

Not only did the Saffers bowl more short balls, but they also bowled them at a much faster pace than their opponents.

If you see our bowlers, they’re bowling 128-129, and the average speed is 130, while their bowlers are bowling at 145. If you are going to bowl with that lack of pace here you won’t get wickets”, Sarfaraz Ahmed himself admitted after Pakistan conceded the series in Cape Town.

The series was for pace instead of swing because of which skilful bowlers like Mohammad Abbas and Vernon Philander were largely ineffective.

South Africa’s least experienced bowler in the series, Duanne Olivier played the ‘enforcer’ in pushing Pakistan batsmen on the backfoot. The role played by Morne Morkel before his retirement, Duanne Olivier filled those boots with complete supremacy, eventually winning the man-of-the-series award.

  • With his performance, Olivier encouraged Faf du Plessis to field a 4-man pace attack at Newlands, an arrangement that has taken place only once before in the last 25 years.

Pakistan have shown a ubiquitous tendency of struggling against pace and bounce. Since the beginning of 2016, they have fared as one of the worst sides in terms of coping against the rising deliveries, especially in the toughest countries to play fast bowling. Only West Indies have dipped further while facing the chin-music.

(*stats prior to the first test of the series)

After the completion of the series, Pakistan have descended below West Indies with the average sinking down to 18.43 runs per wicket against short balls. On the other hand, South Africa have continued to maintain the third best batting average against the short-balls in the SENA countries after Australia and New Zealand.

Pakistan’s fortunes with the bat have been even more dismal since the departure of Misbah Ul Haq and Younis Khan. Pakistan fans abbreviated one of their most reliable batting duos to MISYOU and they have not missed anyone more than these two when it comes to facing short balls.

In the last 10 years of their career, both Misbah and Younis decoded the art of tackling the short balls in adverse conditions.

Younis Khan and Misbah Ul Haq against short-balls in SENA countries since 2007

Batsmen Innings Dismissal Average Balls per Dismissal
Younis Khan 25 2 53.00 103.0
Misbah Ul Haq 25 2 36.50 82.5


Since the two stalwarts hung their boots, the average of Pakistan batsmen against short-balls has further gone down to 12.08 runs per wicket at 17.8 short-balls per dismissal across 5 games now, both the worst by a comfortable margin.


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