The South African pace battery has pace, variation and experience © Getty Images (File Photo)
The South African pace battery has pace, variation and experience © Getty Images (File Photo)


South Africa fielded as many as five fast bowlers during the first One-Day International (ODI) against India at Johannesburg, six if you include Jacques Kallis. Nishad Pai Vaidya reviews South Africa’s pace bowling stock and their prospects for the next World Cup.


In the first One-Day International (ODI), South Africa unleashed their full pace battery and gave the Indian batting absolutely no respite. They were intent on making the visitors uncomfortable, and the best way to do that was to have their pace attack in full flow. AB de Villiers fielded as many as five pacemen — six if you included the veteran Jacques Kallis. It is this pace El Dorado that would serve them well in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup in Australia — where the fast bowlers may relish bowling given the pace and bounce on offer.


The great thing about the South African pace attack is that each bowler brings in a different dimension to the bowling line-up. Dale Steyn is the undisputed leader, being the best fast-bowler in the world. Irrespective of the surface, he would run in hard and deliver his 100 percent. The ball literally talks when he bowls and intimidates the batsmen into submission. There is that demoralizing factor as even an in-form batsman would be made to look ordinary. Rohit Sharma was caught trapped inSteyn’s mastery in the first ODI, as the initial spell won the game for the hosts.


With Steyn on the top of his mark, it is difficult to get him away. Even the thought of dominating him withers away as the batsman would only think about survival. And, if he can’t get Steyn away, what does he do? Attempt to attack the others of course! How sound is that strategy?


At the other end, you have the likes of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morne Morkel ready to inflict some damage. Morkel too has shown that he can be lethal in any conditions, when he gets his line and length right. On unhelpful surfaces in 2012, he was the stand-out bowler during the Indian Premier League (IPL). From that tall frame, he can bang it in short and also get it to climb on a length. And if the Yorker comes your way, chances are that your middle stump would go for a walk.


While all the talk is usually about Steyn and Morkel, Tsotsobe is forgotten at times. He is an under-rated bowler and isn’t spoken of in the same breath although he delivers results. He isn’t as quick as Steyn or Morkel, but has enough pace and couples it with some subtle movement to trick the batsmen. His consistency is his biggest asset, as he can pitch it in the corridor of uncertainty regularly.


This trio forms the main core for South Africa, and then they have the likes of Wayne Parnell and Ryan McLaren to follow. Parnell and McLaren also add more balance to the side as they are important all-rounders. While McLaren’s more superior batting ability places him at No 7, Parnell is a useful hitter lower down the order. But more importantly, these men act as the perfect replacement for the new ball bowlers, once the ball gets a little older.


McLaren isn’t as fast as the others, and relies more on sound strategy and thought to work his opponent over. The other day, he welcomed Yuvraj Singh with a short one and then snuck it through the gap between bat and pad by pitching it full. Even Virat Kohli prodded at something on a good length. Having maintained that approach, he was able to snare three wickets and dent India’s run-chase totally.


Parnell has recently returned into the scheme of things, and holds promise for the Proteas. He is fast, nippy and compact. He can bowl at a fair clip and backs the likes of Steyn and Morkel later. In fact, he can also be an option with the new ball if the need arises.


Through all that, Vernon Philander has quietly worked his way back into the one-day set-up. For some time, Philander was considered a Test specialist, an arena where his class was there for everyone to see. He too foxes the batsmen with that movement off the seam, and that has helped him pick a bagful of wickets in the longer format. It is that class that stays with a bowler, and it was a matter of time before he returned to the green.


Kallis too is trying to chart his progress in the lead-up to the next World Cup and can add to South Africa’s bowling armoury. Away from the main squad, the likes of Marchant de Lange and Kyle Abbot are waiting for their chances at the highest level. Which team wouldn’t want such a reserve of pacers? To make things even better, Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso have emerged as good one-day spinners and they can fit into the mould, whenever required.


The 2015 World Cup is still some time away and South Africa have enough time to choose their bowling attack. The whole pack wouldn’t travel of course, so the next few months are critical as they would want a setup to have a good run before the big tournament. Wonder what this attack would do in Australia!


(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)