Bowling an “Indian length” in the first innings in Cape Town, on Test debut, is an error Jasprit Bumrah has admitted to. In a low-scoring match that featured no centuries, just three half-centuries, and assistance for seam bowlers throughout, India conceded 286 in the first innings after having reduced South Africa to 12 for 3. After that India were left to play catch-up, which they did with an improved performance with the ball in the second innings, but the damage had already been done on the first day.
Bumrah himself was the main culprit, the only bowler to bowl half-volleys in the first session, which Faf du Plessis drove at with relish. “In the first innings we thought we bowled a little fuller than the normal because in India the wickets are different where we have to pitch fuller to get the swing and to get the batsmen on the front foot,” he said. “Over here there is bounce, there is a little bit of difference. We analysed that and tried to adapt in the second innings, and as a unit we were able to create pressure, so that was the basic plan going into the second innings. That worked well. So hopefully, we will see videos of these wickets, what happens over here and we plan according to it.”
India didn’t train at all on the day before the first Test, and at the end of the match the visiting captain Virat Kohli said there was nothing wrong with the preparation. However, this is not the first time that India’s fast bowlers have failed to adjust to conditions, and it cannot be all down to preparation. What happens out in the middle is completely different.
Bumrah is reputed to be a quick learner, which has already made him one of the best – if not the best – bowlers in limited-overs cricket. To his credit, Bumrah showed that ability to learn quickly and did not repeat the mistakes in the second innings. He was driven 28 times in 19 overs in the first innings, but once he realised the mistake, he pulled the length back and was driven only 12 times in the 11.2 overs he bowled. He began to hit the pitch hard on that heavy in-between length, and bowled a brute to dismiss du Plessis.
“We realised what mistakes we made in the first innings, so we were trying to create pressure from both ends and focus on our lengths, which were wrong in the first innings,” Bumrah said. “We just tried to correct them and not overdo things because over here, when there is help from the wicket, you try to do extra but that won’t help. So we were just trying to be disciplined and stick to basics.”
The Cape Town Test was Bumrah’s first first-class match in a year although he did have 89 first-class wickets from 26 matches. Not having played the format for this long, he said, was not on his mind as he prepared for his debut. “Not nervousness, it’s not like in my life I was playing a first-class game for the first time, I have played a lot of four-day games,” Bumrah said when asked if he felt nervous when he was told he was going to play.
“There was a discussion that I would play the match, so I was talking to our bowling coach on what kind of things I should do, what kind of wickets are over here or what should I expect. You can think ‘this is going to happen’ and ‘that’s going to happen’ but as soon as you’re in, things are different. My basic plan was to go inside and have a feel of the wicket and changes should be made accordingly.”
The performance on the first day, and the part it might have played in the eventual result, didn’t hurt Bumrah’s confidence. “Confidence doesn’t dent after one match,” Bumrah said. “If it happens, then you don’t deserve to play. Learn from the mistake you made, and go forward. There is not a single cricketer who has not made a mistake. You keep learning and you keep improving all the time. We are trying to rectify our mistakes and move forward.”
The team management seems to be impressed with how quickly Bumrah made amends to his lengths. Indeed, in admitting a mistake is the first step to rectifying it, but in a tight series such as this, India can’t afford to have a whole session of ordinary bowling because as Newlands showed us, the visitors only played catch-up thereafter.