While Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have stolen all the limelight with their mind-blowing success in South Africa, Jasprit Bumrah continued to feed them with a shaky middle order by ensuring that their most experienced batsman and arguably their best player of spin was back in the hut by the time the spinners came on.
We are talking of the mini battle between Jasprit Bumrah and Hashim Amla which has seen the Indian pace bowler dismissing Amla in similar fashion ever since he set foot in South Africa.
South Africa needed Amla to step up and play deep into the innings in the absence of AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, but that was not to be with the South African opener struggling to get past the meticulous Bumrah, as he had done on a number of other occasions in the series.
The series has been lopsided thus far with South Africa's rickety middle order succumbing to the guile of the Indian wrist spinners. The fact that 21 of the 30 South African wickets to fall in the series have gone to Chahal and Kuldeep shows how poorly the hosts have fared against the duo.
The Proteas average a meagre 11.13 against wrist spin since the Champions Trophy and India have exploited their weakness exceptionally well.
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) February 7, 2018
That said, Amla is a much better player of spin than the likes of, let's say, David Miller, JP Duminy and Khaya Zondo. He averages a whopping 50-plus against all kinds of right-arm spinners in his ODI career with Shahid Afridi and Amit Mishra being the only two leggies to have dismissed him more than once.
But Bumrah's unerring accuracy has prevented South Africa from enjoying the luxury of having Amla around when the wrist spinners operate. His dismissals against the Mumbai Indians seamer this series have an eerily similar trend.
2nd Test, Centurion – 2nd innings
Amla had made a fighting 153-ball 82 in the first innings to take South Africa to 335 on a 'subcontinental' wicket. The hosts, however, needed him to fire again in the second innings with India negating the lead courtesy a Virat Kohli special.
Bumrah, though, had other ideas. He hit a short of a length area on a pitch where the ball tended to stay low, and dismissed Aiden Markram leg before wicket. Amla had no chance when the Indian seamer found the perfect length yet again and managed to make the ball stay low. Amla was struck on his pads plumb in front of the stumps as he played back.
3rd Test, Johannesburg – 1st innings
India had made just 187 on a treacherous wicket but South Africa had started off well with Amla negotiating anything and everything thrown at him. He watched from one end as one after one another, his teammates fell to the Indian pacers.
With his score reading 61, the South African No 3 batsman seemed well set for a hundred but once again slipped up against Bumrah. The Indian seamer angled one into Amla's pads and he flicked it in the air to deep mid-wicket where Hardik Pandya held onto a fairly regulation catch.
1st ODI, Durban
South Africa had lost de Villiers for the first three ODIs and were banking on solid starts from Quinton de Kock and Amla to take them to a good total. The openers began decently but soon enough, Bumrah struck against Amla, who was fast turning into his 'bunny'. An incoming delivery left Amla befuddled and he played all around it to be trapped in front of the stumps.
3rd ODI, Newlands
Kohli powered India to 303 on a slightly sluggish wicket at Newlands and in the absence of three of South Africa's key ODI players - de Kock, de Villiers and du Plessis - the onus was completely on Amla to find a way past Bumrah and rally the middle order around him against wrist spin.
However, Bumrah once again had the last laugh as he took no more than a single delivery to send the South African on his way. Yet again, the ball nipping back into him had Amla in no man's land and he was caught in the crease to be dismissed for 1.
Of the four dismissals against Bumrah, three have been leg before wicket. The ball angling in and nipping further back has had Amla in trouble and he seems to have no answers against the Indian paceman even after a month of cricket.
Technically, it gets interesting as an interplay of Bumrah's strengths and Amla's weaknesses seems to have worked in favour of the Indians. The South African batting mainstay has a queer technique with his bat coming down from gully and this after a pretty high backlift. His amazing hand-eye coordination and bat speed compensates for this technical glitch most of the time but that does not always mask his problems against the incoming ball.
Left-arm seamers have found considerable success against Amla because of their ability to tail the ball back into the right-hander. The likes of Mitchell Johnson, Trent Boult, Mitchell Starc, Zaheer Khan and even Mohammad Irfan have troubled Amla throughout his career. In ODIs, his average against them stand at 17.35, a marked difference to his averages against other kinds of bowlers.
Now, Bumrah isn't a left-arm seamer but his awkward angle into the right-hander combined with his ability to nip the ball back into Amla creates a similar effect and the South African has been found wanting.
He has played against Bumrah seven times across formats (three Tests, three ODIs and one T20I) and has been dismissed four times with his average remaining below 20. Of all bowlers to have dismissed him more than four times acrosss formats, only Harbhajan Singh has a better average (a marginal 0.75 difference).
With de Kock unavailable, South Africa do not have very many options at the top although it is worth remembering that Miller opened the innings for them against India in an ODI in Rajkot, when South Africa toured in 2015. This swap yet again works well on paper as Miller isn't a pretty good player against spin. With three more games left in the series, and with nothing to lose, the Proteas would do well to ponder a switch to the middle order for Amla. It not only shields him from Bumrah but also gives the middle order some much needed firepower against the savagery of the brutal Indian spinners.