A deep breath, a soft touch, a shrill sound: sometimes the most powerful things are the simplest, and that’s the strategy South Africa’s attack has stuck to in India. They have stuck to their natural strength of speed, which has proven successful in various circumstances.
“The major thing about our quick bowlers is that all three bowl over 140,” Dale Steyn said. “When the guys are steaming in and bowling quickly at 145 plus, pace on the ball makes it really tough especially in these conditions. As soon as it gets to the 25th-30th over where the ball gets really soft and the wicket starts to crumble a bit, it’s really difficult to get the quicker bowlers away. Pace is the main weapon.”
It’s no surprise then that South Africa’s quickest bowler, Morne Morkel, who regularly reaches speeds above 150, leads the wicket-takers’ charts. After his four-for in Rajkot, Morkel sits with seven scalps at 18.85 and has demonstrated how generating awkward bounce at pace can be successful, especially towards the end of an innings when batsmen are looking to go big.
MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane all fell to the Morkel short ball as they sought to slog him over deep midwicket but only managed to find a fielder, which has been the other component of the bowler’s success. This series is the first one taking place in India under the new playing conditions, which allow for five fielders outside the circle, one more than previously. That has given teams the scope to station an extra man on the boundary and cover a wider area just behind square or straight down the ground.
“With the extra man out, you can cover that midwicket area,” Steyn said. “In the World Cup, you couldn’t have that man out, so you had to bring either fine leg or third man up and guys were able to cut or paddle but now you are left with only one shot: you have to slog over midwicket and if there is a guy out there, its either six or it’s out.”
The 2015 World Cup threatened to redefine the last 10 overs of innings as a free-for-all in batting terms, with teams regularly plundering in excess of 100 runs in that period. Now, according to Steyn, the balance has been restored and it is allowing teams to defend scores in those end exchanges, as South Africa have done twice in the series so far. “It makes a more even contest between bat and ball so teams cant just run away with it from the 40th to the 50th over. You really have to think and you have to play extraordinary shots,” Steyn said.
But you also have to think and bowl extraordinarily because the yorker is not the only delivery teams are turning to at the end. “If you run in and bowl yorkers and you miss your length, especially to a guy like MS [Dhoni], he is going to hit you out of the park. There is no easier delivery to face than a half volley,” Steyn said. “On these wickets here, where it really slows down, you can use your bounce and slower cutter and hard length delivery.”
The best exponent of that kind of variation has been Kagiso Rabada, South Africa’s 20-year-old tearaway who is proving a handful at the death. Rabada has taken to responsibility with ease and is challenging Steyn as the man to watch in the South African attack, which Steyn does not seem to mind at all.
“I think he is great, he has got a great attitude and he has everything that a fast bowler needs. He has got pace, he has got a good build, he is tall, quite an intimidating kind of guy and he asks a lot of questions in the nets. He is asking the right questions and he’ll just improve all the time,” Steyn said. “Every time he takes the ball, it’s exciting to watch him bowl, every one just sits up in their seats when he comes to bowl so he has got that attention around him already. He is going to have a wonderful career.” Especially if he keeps bowling quickly.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.