In the second part of the article, Analysis of South Africa's pace attack, I will look at rest of South Africa's pace battery.
Even if I go back in a time machine to a different era, I can see that South Africa's pace bowling factory hasn't just produced good new ball bowlers, but a battery of support bowlers too, who can also take over the mantle of being the strike bowlers. This team is no different as England's batsmen just can't relax, as if Steyn, or Philander don't get you, Morkel and Kallis will!
Morne Morkel - This giant of a man looks more like someone who lost his way from the land of Brobdingnag. Morkel has the ability to make the batsmen feel like they are batting on a cauldron of lava with awkward bounce and pace, but under pressure can lose the plot easily.He can blow hot and blow cold.
Now, what are the possible threats that England's batsmen can be confronted with, when they face this giant from the land of Brobdingnag?
As I discussed in the part 1 of this article that Morkel has been a constant threat to both of England's openers Strauss and Cook. Everytime, Morkel goes around the wicket to Strauss, you can foreshadow him getting Strauss out.
So, what is the reason behind Strauss being a bunny of Morkel? First and foremost, the towering giant can be a difficult proposition for any left-hander to face. Morkel's natural angle which is into the left-hander from around the wicket can cramp a batsman for room and with him getting awkward bounce, it becomes even more difficult to play him.
Strauss is also a batsman, who is shorter in stature and his favourite shot is the cut. Here, one can notice Strauss hanging slightly back and not covering his off-stump, as he is on a look out to make room and play the cut shot. In short, the cut shot is a bread and butter shot for England's captain, but against Morkel, it becomes his weakness.
When Morkel cramps Strauss for room, Strauss tends to play slightly away from the body, as he is so keen on playing the cut. As Strauss would be in no position to play the shot because of Morkel's lift and his natural angle, he loses his wicket by edging it to the keeper, or by bottom edging it onto the stumps. Two classic dismissals I can remember are, Morkel bowling a lifter from around the wicket and getting Strauss out caught at Leeds and almost a replica of that dismissal at Centurion in 09/10.
Interestingly, the Windies who have just played out a test series against England, planned to get Strauss out with Roach looking to go wide of the crease from over the wicket so as to open up Strauss slightly and produce the edge.
Yes, one can cognizance that Strauss can find himself in trouble against Morkel, but will his partner Cook get some respite while facing Morkel? Unfortunately, the answer is Cook just can't imagine of living in a wonderland while facing up-to Morkel.
The taller Cook will look to come forward, but with Morkel again looking to cramp the left-hander for room, it won't be easy to play him. In simple words, oceans may dry up, or Mt Everest may melt, but Morkel's lifters to left-handers won't.
It isn't like this article is all about Morkel and England's openers, as England have a few more prolific batsmen in their ranks. One of them is Ian Bell. In recent times, Bell has been in sublime form especially, when he faces up-to fast bowlers from the opposition, but up against Morkel, he needs to be at his best.
Bell can suffer from what I call as Mark Waugh syndrome. Very early in his innings, Ian Bell has the habit of just not moving his feet and as a result, he will neither go back, nor come forward. It does indicate that with Bell, there is always a chance of him nicking one of those back of a length deliveries to the keeper. It doesn't surprise me that after Ntini, it is Morkel who has dismissed Bell on most number of occasions.
The classic Morkel v Bell duel at Capetown can be taken as a example. I don't know whether the picturesque Capetown ground at the foot of table mountain inspired both Morkel and Bell to go toe to toe at each other, but it was a battle royale for sure. On one hand, Morkel bowled with pace and hostility, but that day Bell played with the concentration prowess of a Buddhist monk and kept Morkel at bay. Eventually though, Bell inexplicably played at one of those back of a length deliveries that could have been left alone and lost his wicket. It does show that even when set, Bell has the habit of poking at one of those back of a length deliveries, which can be left alone outside the off-stump.
I have talked about how Morkel will look to bowl at most of England's batsmen, but how can I leave the pure entertainer and the game changer KP?? KP too will have a tough task on his hands, while facing up-to Morkel. KP is a compulsive puller, but he rarely ever rocks back to pull. On occasions, he can get away with it as he is ridiculously talented. Here, who can forget KP having the chutzpah to pull a ballistic missile bowled by Akthar in Pakistan in 05/06 for a six on the front-foot? At the same-time, one can remember Mitch getting him out at Sydney and of course, Gul recently in UAE with bouncers. I am sure the giant Morkel will also bowl a few snorters at him around his throat.
Having said that the biggest threat for KP will always come from South Africa's top gunman Stengun. Steyn will look to pitch it up and bowl the outswinger right on off-stump with a hope of tempting England's main man to play across the line and send his stumps for a walk in the park. It is a plan, first tried by McGrath at Oval in the 05 Ashes and perfected by the talented Windies fast bowler Taylor in the second innings at Jamaica in 2009.
A few may wonder is this Morkel all about hitting back of a length and intimidating the batsmen? In recent times though, he has shown that he can bowl the yorker too. Until the final innings of the final test in the Land of Long White Cloud, Morkel seemed to be very hesitant to bowl the yorker, but in that test, he blew away New Zealand's middle-order with yorkers. Even in the IPL, Morkel bowled yorkers with ease.
I don't know whether it is the present coach of Saffers Donald, who has said to him that for a tall bowler, the yorker can be a trump card. The simple fact is, when the batsmen are hanging back, thanks to the bounce that Morkel can get and with the ball coming from such a height, the yorker can trouble even the best in the business. It isn't just England's main batsmen who have to be aware about Morkel's new found weapon, but even the lower-order players should look out for that lethal yorker.
Just having a looking at some of the points that I have written about the man from land of Brobdingnag, it may seem like England will be confronted by a leviathan monster. The good news is, Morkel can blow hot and cold. I am sure Smith till now hasn't understood this labyrinthine world of Morkel.
Kallis - Kallis isn't just a colossus of South Africa's batting line-up, but also a fine support bowler. During the early part of his career, Kallis could get prodigious swing, but nowadays, relies more on using his strong shoulders to hit the deck hard and to use the surprise bouncer.
These days, Kallis is a very reluctant bowler, but on his day can still surprise the best in the business with his surprise bouncer. Kallis's duel with the mercurial England bat KP will be interesting to watch. As KP doesn't hold back while facing up-to the short ball, Kallis will definitely look to outsmart him with a few bouncers.
As I said before, early in his innings Bell tends to play with lazy footwork. So, I do expect Kallis to test Bell's footwork early in his innings with well pitched up deliveries so as to get him out LBW, or bowled. Here, one can remember Kallis cleaning up Bell at Leeds with a well pitched up delivery in 08.
South Africa also have Marchant de Lange and Tstsobe in their squad. Both of them may come into the equation, only if one of the main strike bowlers get injured. Marchant de Lange is a greenhorn, who can hit the deck and bowl quick. At present, he is very raw and shouldn't trouble top-class batsmen, but under the tutelage of Donald, one can expect him to ameliorate his standards as a bowler.
As far as Tstosobe is concerned, he seems to have gone backwards as a bowler. There was a time, when he was the first change bowler for South Africa, but from what I have seen of him, he perhaps doesn't have the penetration to succeed in test cricket. The left-armer can swing the new ball and with a old ball in hand, looks to vary his pace from around the wicket.
So, who will win this battle between made in South Africa's pace battery and England's formidable batting line-up? Can Stengun annihilate England with his pace and swing? Can Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Morkel, finally show that he is consistent? Can Smith continue the improvement he has shown in recent times as a captain? Can the new sensation from South Africa's secret fast bowling factory, Philander continue to take wickets for fun? All questions will be answered when this mouth watering test series starts on July 19th at Brit Oval
A few apocalyptic prophets have already predicted that South Africa with their battery of pace bowlers will end England's reign as the kings of test cricket by smashing them into smithereens. I though, will wait and watch, as it won't be easy to acclimatise to the English conditions for the Saffer quicks and England have a good side.