The South African pace attack and its depth
When Allan Donald partnered with former teammate Gary Kirsten to form a new coaching team for the South African team, his top most priority was to create a large pool of quality fast bowlers to choose from. And boy, has he delivered. While his leading men have been on a rampage in the international scene, drawing comparisons with the legendary West Indies pace attack of yesteryear, a large number of quality pacemen are coming through their domestic structure. A South African seamer is the most feared entity in world cricket right now.
The Lead Cast
To begin with, the top dogs. The first choice pace attack is arguably the best ensemble of seamers ever. While the leader of the pack, Dale Steyn, with his pace, swing and control, can lay claim to the title of the best at his craft in this generation, Vernon Phlander, in his short career, has taken the cricketing world by storm with his immaculate line and an ability to move the ball both ways.
Once you are done with the opening salvo, in comes the tall and sturdy Morne Morkel, generating awkward bounce even from good length areas. The fact that Jacques Kallis, still good enough to shake up the best in the business with his pace, is the fourth in line, proves how potent the attack is.
The Supporting Cast
Rory Kleinveldt, the first-choice replacement, has made his way through to the national side after putting up a string of impressive performances for his domestic side Cape Cobras. Though he has not quite been able to translate his form in the international arena, his work ethic has been quite pleasing for the team management. Having overcome issues of fitness and discipline, the strongly-built Kleinveldt has been quite steady in the limited opportunities that he has got.
Next in line is destiny’s own child Kyle Abbott. After his chart-topping performance with 49 wickets in the South African domestic competition, Abbott was initially named in the squad to gain international exposure, but a freak injury to Kallis got him his debut. The luxury of a big total, bowling on a seaming track – things were very much in Abbott’s favor, and he did himself no harm by sticking to a tight line and length to end up with figures of 7/29. Though he doesn’t generate the kind of pace a Steyn or a Morkel does, in helpful conditions he showed that he is more than just a handful.
Also making an immediate impact was Merchante de Lange. Built very much in the Morne Morkel mold, the tall and pacy de Lange got his Test call up quite early, after just 13 first class games, and he backed up his inclusion with a 7-wicket haul in an innings at Durban against Sri Lanka. Though it was in a losing cause, the positives from the match for the home team were not lost. A stress fracture hampered his further growth, but the 22-year old made a quick recovery and is now back in the domestic scene, all set to recover lost ground.
Another seamer to jump into the limelight out of obscurity is the Lions’ Chris Morris. Unlike the others, this 25-year old all-rounder has taken the fast lane of Twenty2o cricket to gain recognition. After doing well in the domestic Twenty20 circuit, Morris caught the eye with his incisive spell of 1 for 24 against the Chennai Super Kings, and it culminated in him being lapped up by CSK for a staggering $625,000, 31 times his base price. While his career in the slam-bang version is up and running, his first class record (98 wickets at 23.21) shows that he has it in him to do well in the longer versions as well.
Finally, the left-arm duo of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell. Though of late, it’s the limited overs scheme of things in which they feature more, both carry enough pedigree to walk into the Test squad of most international teams.
Parnell was earmarked for success at the start of his career, and he showed promise with his swing and dizzying speeds before fading away due to injuries and a loss of form. The good thing for a fit-again Parnell, though, is that age is on his side and a string of good performances will get him back into the reckoning.
Tsotsobe’s career started at a relatively later age when he was drafted into the West Indies-bound Test squad as a cover for an injured Parnell. While his pace troubled most batsmen, his erratic line has caused him to spend more time in the fringes than in the team. Never one to run away from hard work and a team man to the core, Tsotsobe, even from outside the playing eleven, has played a part in taking South Africa to top spot in Test cricket.
The South African attack over the years has always been reliant on its seamers, and the sheer number of options at their disposal shows that things are not going to change in near future.
Post script: If we delve into pure numbers, India too has as many seamers in the fray at the moment. Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Varun Aaron, S Sreesanth, Bhubaneswar Kumar, and Ashok Dinda are some of the names at the forefront. But sadly, all of them are either nursing injuries or, to put it politely, quite ineffective.