Dale Steyn (left) and Mitchell Johnson will play key roles for their respective teams in the upcoming South Africa vs Australia Test series © Getty Images
By Gaurav Joshi
The Channel 9 commentators have described the Australian bowling line up the best in the world. Even the great Glenn McGrath has stated that he has never seen a group of bowlers bowl with such unity.
Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle are high on confidence and their ability to apply the choke with relentless discipline bowling makes them more daunting than the pacers that they will come up against on their tour to South Africa in Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
After covering both the Ashes and the India vs South Africa series, there is no doubt in the writer’s mind that the Australian pace attack is higher in the pecking order. One simple reason is that their line and length is more probing than their South African counterparts.
Against a young Indian batting brigade that was playing in South Africa for the first time, the South African bowlers only managed to make indents into the Indian line-up with the strategy of reverse swing. In the first match at the Wanderers, on a seaming deck, the South African bowlers bowled way too short and simply didn’t make the batsmen play enough. On a first day of a Test, the Indian batsmen had managed to leave 50% of the balls. In the Ashes so far, the most the England batsmen have managed to leave was in Perth and that was 22%.
Vernon Philander vs Peter Siddle
Philander is South Africa’s most probing bowler and he is best compared to Siddle. While Philander can destruct a batting line in a handful of overs, most of his wickets have come with a new ball or if the pitch has had plenty to offer. Siddle on the other hand, is more of a complete bowler, while he can take wickets with the new cherry, it is the Victorian’s ability to take wickets with a ball that is over 30 overs old that makes him a greater threat. Also Siddle is a good 5 -10kmph quicker than Philander and with a lovely high arm action can induce more bounce off a pitch. The fact that Philander is slightly slower and less effective with the old ball means that he presents more opportunities for batsmen to score off him, once the shine is off the ball.
Dale Steyn vs Ryan Harris
No doubt Harris and Steyn are the best fast bowlers going around. As good as Steyn is, he can slightly be limited with the new ball. With his beautiful wrist position for an outswinger, Steyn barely bowls an inswinger at right handed batsmen. The Indian batsmen had worked that out and left him on line. It was amazing to see the Indian batsmen leaving balls pitching on nearly off stump knowing that Steyn’s natural swing will leave ‘them.
Harris on the other hand, has the ability to bowl the inswinger to the right handers and to take the ball away from the left handers more proficiently than Steyn. Out of his 87 Test wickets thus far, 59 are the top six, which is nearly 70%.
Since the Indian batsmen were able to leave Steyn because of the natural swing meant that Steyn strived for the magic outswinger (pitching on leg and hitting off) too often and in the process dishing out too many freebies on leg-stump.
Steyn still holds a few aces on Harris though, when it comes to reverse swing. If pitches in South Africa are abrasive then Steyn’s ability to move the ball through the air at higher pace makes his formidable.
Steyn has the ability to bowl a magic ball, but in the process he can also dish up scoring opportunities. Harris’s ability to bowl the fuller nagging length make him lethal. But with pitches unlikely to be on the drier side, Harris could well be ahead in this battle.
Mitchell Johnson vs Morne Morkel
Both bowlers have the ability to bowl with hostility and create disconcerting bounce for the batsmen. Morne Morkel with his height and Mitchell Johnson with his pace. Johnson with his low-arm action is difficult to pick up and therefore is a lot difficult to duck underneath. For Morkel, naturally length is short so it becomes easier for batsmen to negotiate his short balls.
Morkel is at his best when he bowls a length that ensures the ball hits the top of off stump, but unfortunately for South Africa, he simply doesn’t do it often.
Some of the Indian batsmen, the first timers in South Africa were able to leave him with ease. While Morkel figures might look pretty, Johnson’s angle from around the wicket and his ability to make the batsmen play more frequently keeps the batsmen guessing more than Morkel.
Finally, Johnson has the ability to bowl the yorker, a ball Morkel has struggled to develop. The different angle Johnson creates also ensures Australia has nice variety to their attack.
South Africa don’t have a spinner to compete with Lyon and with Kallis retiring they don’t have an answer to Watson.
As a group, Australian bowlers have more variety; they are more probing and with Craig McDermott on board bowl a length that will trouble the batsmen more than the South Africans. Add it they are more disciplined and with a fine captain can execute a positive or a negative game plan effectively than their South African counter parts.
(Gaurav Joshi is an Indian-born Australian who played with Michael Clarke in his junior days. He coaches and reports for a Sydney radio station. Over the years he has freelanced for Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and is a regular on ABC cricket show Cow Corner. He is the author of the book “Teen Thunder Down Under” – The inside story of India’s 2012 U19 World Cup Triumph)