No place for top-order batsmen

In South Africa, the overseas top-order batsmen (Nos. 1-3) have averaged 25.29 in the last eight years, easily the lowest among all countries ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The Cape Town Test was a baptism by fire for the batsmen. Of the ten innings played by India's specialist batsmen (Nos. 1-5), there were only two 20-plus scores - 28 by Virat Kohli in the second innings and 26 by Cheteshwar Pujara in the first. Over those ten innings, India's top five aggregated 130 runs, an average of 13 runs per innings. The top scores in each innings came from batsmen playing further down the order: Hardik Pandya scored 93 at No. 7 in the first innings, while R Ashwin's 37 at No. 8 was the top score in the second; overall, India's Nos. 6-11 scored 199 runs at an average of 19.9 in the match.

Admittedly conditions were unusually tough at Newlands this time around, with the home-team batsmen struggling as well. However, this was only a spicier version of what has been a pretty potent mix for overseas batsmen - particularly the top three - in South Africa for a number of years now.

Since the start of 2010, the overseas openers and No. 3 batsmen have collectively averaged 25.29, with only seven hundreds scored in 210 innings. Those are poor numbers for top-order batsmen, and clearly demonstrate how difficult it is to play the new ball in South Africa. The next-lowest average is almost nine runs higher, in the West Indies, while in terms of scoring hundreds, South Africa is almost twice as difficult as the next-toughest country.

*UAE considered as home venue for Pakistan, and away for all other teams
During this period, the South African top-order batsmen have managed these conditions pretty well, averaging 44.33, which is higher than all teams at home except Australia - who are only marginally ahead at 44.83 and India (49.02). South Africa's top three have scored 25 hundreds in 175 innings during this period - an average of one every seven innings - while the overseas ones have managed seven in 210 innings. These stats have been boosted by Hashim Amla, who averages 56.39 at home when batting in the top three during this period, and Dean Elgar (52.96). Graeme Smith (38.03) and Alviro Petersen (34.29) didn't do quite as well in home conditions.

Obviously the weaker teams touring South Africa have helped the home batsmen bolster their numbers - Elgar averages almost 78 at home against Bangladesh, West Indies and Sri Lanka, and less than 38 against the other top teams - but Amla has fine numbers against the better bowling attacks too, averaging nearly 60 against Australia, 65 against England, and 58 against New Zealand at home during this period (in innings in which he has batted in the top three). The difference in average between South Africa's top three and the overseas ones in the last eight years is 19, which is easily the highest among all countries.

*UAE considered as home venue for Pakistan, and away for all other teams
Also, South Africa is the one place, among the major countries, where overseas middle-order batsmen (Nos. 4-6) average significantly more than the top order - the difference in averages is nearly eight runs. The difference is also high in Zimbabwe (9.82) and the West Indies (5.58), but those are weaker home teams where the overseas middle-order averages are also propped by a higher number of not-outs due to declarations or the fourth-innings target being reached. In India, Australia and England, the top three do better than the middle order.

The other comparison where South Africa is peculiar is the innings-per-century figure for the top and middle orders. While the top order scores one every 30 innings, the middle order gets there far more frequently - once every 13.7 innings - which again indicates that batting does get significantly easier (though that is only a relative term) when the ball gets slightly older. The difference between the stats for No. 3 and No. 4 are especially stark in South Africa: the overseas No. 3 batsman has averaged 26.97 since the start of 2010, with two centuries in 70 innings; the overseas No. 4 batsman has averaged 36.69, with eight hundreds in 70 innings.

In the middle order, 12 different overseas batsmen have contributed hundreds in the last eight years, with three of them getting two each - Sachin Tendulkar, Thilan Samaraweera and Michael Clarke. Among the 12 is Ben Stokes, who scored a stunning 258 in Cape Town in 2016, the highest score by an overseas batsman in South Africa during this period.

There are only five centurions among overseas top-order batsmen, though, and even among those, three batsmen average less than 40. The glorious exception is David Warner, who struck three hundreds in 2014, passed 50 five times in six innings, and averaged a stunning 90.50. Cheteshwar Pujara made plenty of runs too in 2013, and averages more than 50 in South Africa, but for most of the other touring top-order batsmen, South Africa has been a tough place in which to score runs. Rahul Dravid, Kane Williamson, Kumar Sangakkara, Azhar Ali and Alastair Cook are among those who have struggled against South Africa's skilled new-ball attack in seamer-friendly conditions. India's top three will be hoping they can buck this trend over the next couple of Tests.