SA have 'first change' issue
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
One of the crucial reasons why South Africa have mostly been at or very near the top of the Test pile since readmission has been their genuine pace “battery”.
That term, of course, implies at least three bowlers in the line-up who can be branded head-hunters; men who keep the heat on batsmen virtually all the time, if you like.
It is a trend pretty proudly rooted since 1992, when Kepler Wessels’ outfit so nearly upset a still-strong West Indies in that poignant, isolation-busting encounter at Bridgetown -- then the South Africans unashamedly fielded a four-pronged speed arsenal of Messrs Donald, Bosch, Pringle and Snell and gave even the fancied likes of Desmond Haynes and Brian Lara many torrid moments.
In the years subsequently, our Test teams have been blessed with similar or sometimes better pace trios or quartets when you consider the availability, depending on time frames, of such additional names as De Villiers, Pollock, Schultz, McMillan, Ntini, Klusener, Hayward, Ngam and now the deadly duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
The word “duo” has some pertinence at present -- because there is a strong argument for saying that is the extent of the Proteas’ specialist intimidatory cupboard as things stand.
Certainly in statistical terms the only notable weak link in their otherwise clinical, high-intensity dismantling of India in the first Test at Centurion came in the form of their first-change bowler: Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
In conditions that always kept the seamers interested, as they say, the lanky left-armer produced a laboured return of one for 148 from 33 overs, including some first-innings stick while Steyn and Morkel, by stark contrast, were causing all manner of havoc.
Tsotsobe seems an unassuming, industrious fellow with a hunger to learn, and his strides in the South African ODI side should not be in any dispute – he showed decent temperament and mix-it-up ability in the recent series against Pakistan in the UAE.
He will go to the World Cup, and rightly so.
But he averages 84.66 with the ball after three Test matches and is an unusual “third quickie” for South Africa in one glaring respect: he is not actually fast. (Indeed, some wags might argue mischievously that he is the new Nella!)
Or put it this way: it is all too obvious that 128km/h is Tsotsobe’s stock zone in pace terms, with balls above 132km/h more the exception than the norm.
Yes, he had some wretched luck at SuperSport Park at times (though all bowlers do over the course of a five-day contest!) but it was all too apparent that when the Warriors man came on to bowl, India’s finest batsmen viewed him as their opportunity to emerge from the hot-house Steyn and Morkel mostly had them in.
Unless he finds the proverbial extra yard, I cannot see Tsotsobe -- despite the welcome different angle he naturally brings – settling into the Test team for any length of time.
All that might save him for the second encounter in Durban, in fact, is a decision by the wise men not to fiddle at all with a winning combination.
The Proteas must be very careful not to overburden their two runaway best pacemen: Steyn and Morkel accounted for 14 (seven each) of the 20 Indian wickets to fall at Centurion, which tells a tale both of their prowess and a wee -- but mounting -- problem when it comes to the third supposedly shock bowler.
Everyone knows the jobs Paul Harris and veteran Jacques Kallis have as the remaining components of the South African attack, with the former’s, especially, geared toward economy at one end and patient strangulation.
Kallis, meanwhile, remains a very canny partnership-breaker with a knack of still producing occasional bursts of venom when the situation demands them.
But a feeling just does not escape me that the Proteas can do better than Tsotsobe as first change at Test level.
A third provider of at least some element of “grievous bodily harm” is called for.
The confirmation after Monday’s fine triumph that the still-rookie but prodigiously talented Wayne Parnell is in the squad mix for Kingsmead comes as no surprise.
Warts and all, including some current tinkering with his action, the 21-year-old would provide improved pace if the Proteas plan to turn the screws.
Similarly, it is probably not the worst news in the world that gutsy Friedel de Wet, for all his catalogue of injury woes, appears to be on the bounce-back to a good degree in the SuperSport Series once more ...
Rob is Sport24's chief writerDisclaimer:
Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.