Proteas' quickies: Light loads a blessing

2018-01-23 22:30
Kagiso Rabada (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Aided in no small measure by head coach Ottis Gibson's obvious liking for a generous four-man arsenal, South Africa's pace bowlers have reached the midway point of the home Test season fresher than they might have expected.

That development also bodes well for the big, four-match challenge in the format against southern hemisphere arch-rivals Australia, which comes relatively hot on the heels of the ongoing India series.

The Proteas are about to embark, at the Wanderers on Wednesday, on the sixth of their strenuous 10 Tests of the SA summer - the third and final one against the top-ranked Indians who have already surrendered the series after defeats at Newlands and SuperSport Park.

All is going swimmingly on the results front thus far, too, with a 2-0 sweep of Bangladesh very early in the season, then the Boxing Day Test rout of Zimbabwe, and the two triumphs over India that have led to the Bullring dead rubber.

There were understandable, initial fears in some circles that the slightly lopsided look to the domestic season, with seven of the Test matches (and all against fellow members of the traditional "Big Four" in the world) scheduled for the period after the click-over to 2018, might overburden SA's fast bowlers in particular.

But the fact that both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe were consummately "rolled" in late 2017, and then the first two contests against India were not notably high-scoring affairs, has meant that the Proteas’ pace battery aren’t exactly buckling under repetitive-use strain ... not at this point, anyway.

Indeed, the damp and cool weather outlook for the Wanderers Test - coupled with talk of a fairly sporty surface - also suggests that game six of the 10 may not tax the quicker men to a massive extent either.

A few of the SA seamers will presumably make the transition after the Jo'burg date to the well-stocked limited-overs agenda against the Indians (six ODIs, three T20s) but probably be used cautiously and rotated generously to ensure they can hit the ground running for the first of four Tests against the Baggy Greens at Kingsmead from March 1.

The fact that the Proteas should also boast a particularly well-stocked pace "squad" for the Aussies is additional cause for satisfaction.

As things stand, Dale Steyn ought to be ready to return to the ranks after his savagely-timed heel-injury setback at Newlands recently, having otherwise shown extremely encouraging signs that his shoulder problem is a thing of the past.

Hook him up to a group already featuring stalwarts Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Chris Morris and latest, rookie sensation Lungi Ngidi, and the brains trust would not be short of options - or rotational possibilities - against the Australians.

The Aussies will arrive with their own, impressive pace battery not having played at Test level since the rigours of the five-Test Ashes series which they won 4-0.

That said, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood sent down almost 200 overs each, across the five Tests (England's James Anderson bowled an especially exhausting 223 in the series).

The Zimbabwe Test almost amounted to a "net", with respect, for South Africa's quickies, as Morkel bowled a lean total of 15 overs in the match, Philander 17 and Rabada only 13.1.

Nor have that trio been outrageously flogged thus far in the India series: Rabada has been the busiest across the first two Tests (62.4 overs, nine wickets at 21.77), followed by Morkel (60.1 overs, eight wickets at 20.75) and then Philander (56.1 overs, 10 scalps at 14.60).

That tells you that, on average, they have been bowling roughly 15 overs each per innings against the Indians - the equivalent of not much more than two spells under orthodox circumstances, really.

The state of affairs in workload terms does little to suggest that the Proteas' pacemen are saddled with unusual bouts of blisters or niggles at this juncture and, touch wood, major injuries will be skirted in the next few weeks as well.

Being able to hit the Aussies will the Full Monty in the pace department will only bolster the already-developing hype around the series, given the credible suggestions that it pits the two best speed units in the world against each other ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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