The South African pace trio — a varied combination of pace, bounce, seam and swing — is as lethal as one can get
The three South African speedsters who demolished the Indian batting in the second innings at Newlands brought different qualities with them.
Despite all of them being right-armers, there is variety in this pace pack.
Vernon Philander: On the pitches here, a batsman requires exceptional technique or loads of luck to survive against Philander.
He’s a pure seam bowler, does not swing the ball. The batsmen cannot really get hints about what he is going to bowl by watching the position of the seam; which way the shiny side is facing or whether it will be swinging away or in. The theory is simple — if the ball swings one way, it simply cannot seam the other way after pitching.
But then, with Philander, the ball comes in on a straight line, just no swing. His wrist position, so well disguised, gives little away. And he seams the ball away as well as brings it in from a similar wrist position.
The batsmen, struggling to pick Philander, find it difficult to play him off the pitch. And the South African makes things harder for them with his control. He generally bowls a good length on or just outside the off-stump from a rather front-on release.
Gradually, Philander may pitch the ball a little up and get the batsman forward and find the edge. M. Vijay fell to this ploy in the second innings.
Philander is just medium-pace but bowls with laser-guided precision and probes footwork. The manner in which he kept taking the ball away from a little wider of the off-stump to frustrate and choke Virat Kohli before forcing him to play across one that seamed in, was master-class.
In the first 35 overs with the Kookaburra ball, Philander represents the biggest danger to India.
If the batsman can’t pick Philander, he cannot afford to ‘leave’ him since the ball might dart back to trap him leg-before. So Philander forces the batsman play at the ball and takes him out with the one leaving him.
Morne Morkel: He’s very different from Philander. Beanpole Morkel utilises his height fully, releases from a high-arm action. Unlike Philander, he relies more on bounce.
In fact, his bowling has heaps of lift. He can regularly hit the batsmen on the knuckles and ribs. His new ball pairing with Philander is a combination of contrasts.
If he gets his length right — not the easiest of tasks for a bowler who is 6’5” —Morkel can be lethal. He can get the ball to climb awkwardly from a length and produce just the right amount of seam movement from the fourth or the fifth stump to find the edge.
Morkel is a seam bowler, doesn’t rely on swing, and won’t really pitch it up. His length generally veers between short-of-a-good length and good length depending on the surface.
He can be quick if he wants to and given his speed and bounce, the batsmen can fend catches to gully or short-leg.
Kagiso Rabada: The most exciting young fast bowler in contemporary cricket. Rabada is athletic, fast and skilful and he’s just 22.
Already ranked No. 1 Test bowler in the ICC ratings, Rabada is a potent package. Unlike Philander or Morkel, his length can be fuller and he actually swings the ball.
He can get the ball to move in the air, both away and in, at speeds of around 150 kmph and has the skill to reverse it as well. His yorkers can be deadly.
This said, Rabada can seam the ball too and possesses a nasty short-pitched ball. When things get rough for South Africa, Rabada can put his foot on the gas.
The manner he went round-the-wicket and got the ball to climb alarmingly into Hardik Pandya’s body — the Indian all-rounder was struck a painful blow on midriff — showed Rabada could hurt. Soon, he sent back Pandya.
South Africa’s match-winning pace trio — they are all different.