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

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