Marchant de Lange (L) and Vernon Philander © Getty Images
Marchant de Lange (L) and Vernon Philander © Getty Images

 

In the first instalment, we looked at fast bowling in Australia and England during 2011. The year saw a sharp rise in the performance of pace bowlers as such and bright new talents emerging across the board. In the second instalment, Madan Mohan looks at how it went for South Africa and New Zealand.  Pretty good, as it turns out.

 

South Africa

 

South Africa has been a veritable assembly line of pace bowling talent since their readmission to cricket. Alan Donald, Fanie De Villiers and Shaun Pollock were among the best bowlers of the ’90s and Makhaya Ntini joined this bunch towards the end of the decade.

 

In the last few years, they had fallen off a bit. Since the retirements of Ntini and Pollock, Dale Steyn was the only dependable member of the bowling unit. While he was very much a one- man demolition squad on his best days, it made South Africa’s ascendancy to the top of the Test rankings uncertain. It was, after all, a loss of form for Steyn in 2009 that cost South Africa the home series against Australia.

 

That changed big time in 2011. So much so that Steyn was overshadowed and looked somewhat lost and a bit too anxious to get on the scoreboard.  The 26 year old Vernon Philander, who had been given a go earlier in some ODIs in 2007-08, made his Test debut against Australia at Cape Town and hit the ground running. In three Tests, he notched up a startling four fifers. Much like the English pacemen, he is a fast-medium operator relying more on bowling in the right channels and consistently producing that thing called a wicket taking delivery at decent pace – quite simply the find of the year. Sterner tests abroad await, but he has already acquired a measure of indispensability. He was sorely missed by South Africa at Durban as they handed Sri Lanka their first Test win in the country.

 

The silver lining from that dismal defeat for South Africa was the emergence of Marchant de Lange. This 21 year old is genuinely quick and unlike Philander, has the advantage of height too. He bagged seven wickets in the first innings of the second Test against Sri Lanka and one more in the second innings. He is a lot rawer and has a long way to go yet but de Lange is just what South Africa needed to shake up the sleepy Morne Morkel a bit and coax him into some form. South Africa would hope that Philander and de Lange stealing his thunder hasn’t had an undesirable effect of Steyn though, as he has looked off colour through the home season!

 

New Zealand

 

New Zealand gave the cricketing world one of the great all-rounders of all time, Richard Hadlee, and an explosive talent marred by injuries, Shane Bond…and not much else. Some good, even very good, pace bowlers have served the Black Caps over the years like Danny Morrison, Shane O’Connor, Chris Cairns, Simon Doull and Darryl Tuffey, but the two bowlers mentioned earlier also marked the period when New Zealand were at their most competitive.

 

A less glittering talent, Doug Bracewell, spearheaded New Zealand to their first Test victory in Australia since 1985. He bagged six wickets in the 2nd innings to halt Australia’s chase of 241 just in the nick of time. In keeping with the theme of the year, Bracewell emphasised solidity and consistency in his performance rather than flash and spectacle.  Admittedly, his match-winning spell was delivered in helpful conditions, but then the Hobart pitch wasn’t a nightmare for batsmen. Bracewell showed just how tough it can be for batsmen to overcome a well-directed pace offensive, especially if the ball is ‘doing a bit’. The boring cliché of “bowling in the right areas” was hammered home in most of the bright pace bowling spells through the year.

 

Bracwell was not alone. Veteran Chris Martin got back among the wickets as did Tim Southee. Fellow ‘newcomer’ Trent Boult also impressed on debut, at Hobart with important breakthroughs. While Australia felt shamed by the prospect of losing to the Kiwis, it was heartening to see New Zealand get rewarded for their typical overachievement.

 

Once again, in contrast to the Steyn army of 2009 and 2010, 2011 saw pace bowlers hunt in packs, which accounted for some of the depths plunged by batting lineups during the year, be it Sri Lanka’s 82 all out at Cardiff or Australia’s 47 all out at Cape Town. Cricket may have become a batsman-friendly game in recent years, but the upshot of that is that batsmen have looked unprepared for such penetrating challenges from pace bowlers, contributing to more wickets and more excitement.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)