South Africa in Australia, 2012-13 October 11, 2012

Dependability versus depth in pace battle

South Africa's Test touring party to Australia contained few surprises, but it also outlined the clear contrast in how the two teams will handle their fast bowlers

If the South African Test touring party to Australia arrived more or less as expected, it also confirmed a battle of contrasts among the fast bowlers: South African dependability versus Australian depth.

Among South Africa's travelling 15, there are only four pacemen. The uncapped bowling allrounder Rory Kleinveldt will back-up the outstanding trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, while Jacques Kallis provides his familiar versatility. The captain Graeme Smith and the coach Gary Kirsten are in no doubt what their best XI is, and far from fearful that one of their top three quicks will break down.

Australia's pace planning for the series is far more preoccupied with depth, likely to include the presence of five quicks, plus Shane Watson, in training before each match. The seasoned duo of Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus can be expected to play in all three Tests, but there will be rotation beyond them, as James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins all appear likely to get at least one match against the South Africans to spread the load among their younger bodies.

Australia's coach Mickey Arthur said that while a settled side was an advantage for South Africa, the home batsmen had the chance to make fatigue a factor in the series if they could stick out the early spells of Steyn, Morkel and Philander.

"It certainly can be a help for us, if we can get those guys back and having to bowl third and fourth spells then we're in a good position," Arthur told ESPNcricinfo. "That might fatigue them just a little for the next Test match.

"They've got the three top guys, Kleinveldt and then Kallis, but they're very clear on the team they're going to play, and they're just looking at who best can slot in as a like for like replacement if any of their quicks go down."

The tall and strapping Marchant de Lange would have been favoured as South Africa's reserve, but was unable to be considered as he recovers from back stress fractures. Arthur said Kleinveldt is drawn from a similar template, offering a "bang it in" approach for hard Australian pitches, though his lack of any Test experience will mean a vexing initiation if one of the top trio does get injured.

"I think Marchant's got a little more pace, but they're obviously looking for bowlers who can really hit the deck hard, which Rory does," Arthur said.

The presence of two spinners, Imran Tahir and Robin Petersen, suggests that the tourists may use a different tweaker according to the conditions they are presented with. Petersen may be called upon to perform the kind of stopping role Paul Harris filled on the successful 2008-09 visit to Australia, particularly in Brisbane and Perth. This would leave Tahir to take up a more attacking commission in Adelaide, with a surface more given to sharp spin. Arthur could not envisage both slow men playing in the same side.

"That would really surprise me, it's not really their style," Arthur said. "They're pretty much like us, their best attack is when their quicks play, so I guess they'll use Imran Tahir as an attacking option certainly in Adelaide. I can't see them playing two though."

While Australia's selection of Test-proven fast men appears broader, Arthur acknowledged there would be considerable weight on the shoulders of both Siddle and Hilfenhaus to stay fit and in strong rhythm. They will again be asked to deliver the sorts of sustained spells that were so effective against India last summer, a requirement heightened by the early season absence of Ryan Harris due to his recovery from shoulder surgery.

"Peter's got a massive role leading our Test attack, him and Benny, they've got a massive amount of leadership work to do," Arthur said. "Peter's embraced that and he showed us last year that he could handle that."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on October 14, 2012, 22:01 GMT

    @woodybp on (October 14 2012, 17:04 PM GMT) - yes, he's recovering.

  • Paul on October 14, 2012, 17:04 GMT

    Why is nobody mentioning Ryan Harris? Is he injured again or what

  • Cameron on October 14, 2012, 12:42 GMT

    @Hammond: perhaps I can suggest you read the comment from RednWhiteArmy (October 13 2012, 00:38 AM GMT) & it may make some sense. No "rewrite" as you put it, just pure statistical truth. Only five Eng v. Aus test wins on home soil from 2001 to present (which fits with RednWhiteArmy's "over a decade" claim). As opposed to six Australian test wins in England in the same period. History & current form do not lie: England is not strong at home. My point being: refuting the lofty assertion that this coming Ashes are far from a foregone conclusion.

  • Justin on October 14, 2012, 7:55 GMT

    I think bowling wise all things are equal, but batting wise the Aussies are up against it. Its still the pointing, hussey and Clarke show...and ridiculously one failure from pointing and hussey and the knives will be out to drop them (even though there are less than no suitable replacements). Horses for courses could be key with the Aussie attack. Starc should play in Perth - he was swinging the ball into the right handers beautifully against India just as Mitch Johnson did against the poms. I'm not sure hilfy should play all 3...I think pattinson should....with Cummins and hilfy changing in and out. We've always had the south African batting lineup under control, the last 3 losses I can think of (twice in Australia the last time they toured and the first test in south Africa) we lost from seemingly unloseable positions. Morkel and kallis have always been cannon fodder for our bats, just need to conquer steyn or philander.

  • disco on October 14, 2012, 3:26 GMT

    @Marcio, dry air = no swing = myth. Check the physics of laminar flow.

  • disco on October 14, 2012, 3:06 GMT

    @Ramanujam Sridhar, interesting comment re hughes considering johnson's form in the same series.

  • Dummy4 on October 13, 2012, 21:23 GMT

    The aussie batting will hold the key, if they get in and get big scores like Clarke and Ponting in particular did against India last year then we have a contest, but I fancy the Saffas to just have too much power and too good together, Australia are building for the back to back Ashes and will use this as the best test they can get with any results a bonus

  • Geoffrey on October 13, 2012, 14:48 GMT

    @Vishnu27- nice rewrite there- since 2001, England have one two test series to Australia one. Australia did have possibly the greatest test team of all time in two of those contests so cannot see your point?

  • Truter on October 13, 2012, 13:20 GMT

    If AUS young bowlers perform at their best and stay injury free, AUS are to win the series. Keep in mind that they haven't been tested against proper batting. They could fail and the SA attack, which is experienced and fairly reliable, can perform at their best also and whitewash the series, though both scenario's are highly unlikely. So the prospect of an AUS whitewash can be dismissed immediately. The AUS batting will probably be their downfall though. If AUS prepare green-tops, they will definitely have the firepower to challenge the SA batting, but then the SA bowling attack will certainly run through the brittle AUS batting line-up. AUS can prepare flat tracks to aid their batsmen, but they might not dislodge SA's batting line-up and meanwhile SA's bowling still posses a threat. According to the odds, SA are to win this series by 1 or 2 tests. But the game is played on grass, not paper. Such a shame it's only 3 tests. Let's hope the squads are fit to play in time and stay fit.

  • Cameron on October 13, 2012, 13:07 GMT

    Fairly rich comment from RednWhiteArmy. Do you realise of the 15 tests played in England v Australia since 2001, England have ONLY won five? While drawing 4 & losing 6? Not quite Fortress England.

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