ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v South Africa, Group B, World Cup 2011, Nagpur
Bowling depth gives South Africa options
Imran Tahir has given South Africa the joker they needed to form a full pack of bowling options, If his injured finger forces him to miss the India game, South Africa might turn back to a more familiar asset - their seamers
Firdose Moonda in Nagpur
March 12, 2011
Johan Botha and Robin Peterson and have always been very handy cards to have in South Africa's pocket. They typically perform the holding role, controlling the mid-sections of an innings and taking wickets when needed. Both can also bat a bit. Usually though, only one of them has played at a time and most of the time that has been Botha. They tended not to operate as a pair, one being a left-arm spinner and one an offspinner.
Then the joker came along in the form of Imran Tahir, and suddenly the spinners formed a complete pack. Tahir did for them what the right colour scarf does for someone's eyes. Peterson and Botha, already good spinners in their own right, somehow seemed to be spurred on by his presence, and their own wicket-taking abilities grew. Tahir has emerged as the leader and those who follow him, including the part timers, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis, have been able to bowl around him with much more success than South Africa has ever had with spinners before.
The reality, however, is that the joker has to disappear for ten days and there is a very, real possibility that those ten days have already started, and that he will not feature in the game against India. The challenge for the other spinners, and the bowling attack as a whole, will therefore be to make sure their house of cards doesn't collapse in his absence. Much will depend on the combinations that are selected for the two matches that Tahir does not play in. It's unlikely that anyone can replace him as the joker but the king, queen and jack have to be able to devise a plan to make up for what South Africa will lose by not having him.
"Now that Imran is out for ten days, they will more than likely play both Johan Botha and Robin Peterson," Paul Adams, the former South Africa left-arm spinner, told ESPNCricinfo. It would mean a confidence-boosting recall for Botha, who was left out of the last two matches, after opening the bowling against the West Indies. Before Tahir arrived, Botha was South Africa's premier limited-overs spinner and although he was never as attacking as Tahir, he brought his own brand of aggression.
His chief role, as Graeme Smith once outlined, was to control the middle of an innings. It was something Botha had made his own and it has worked for him since South Africa beat Australia in home and away series in the 2008/9 season. At times, it may have been formulaic, with most opposition knowing when to expect Botha to come on, knowing that they would have to work harder for their runs in that period and knowing that he may snag a couple of wickets, but it was a formula that worked.
Botha's job changed with the opening act of South Africa's World Cup, when he was made to open the bowling. "Botha was used because of number of left-handers in the West Indies team," Adams said. "It's a sign that South Africa are selecting their attack according to who they are playing." It's that specific selection for the opposition that resulted in Botha missing out on the last two matches, if the logic follows, and because South Africa needed an extra batsman and a backup wicket-keeper, Morne van Wyk, both times. Botha is widely regarded as South Africa's captain-elect, but the new thinking means that not even the man next in line for the throne is assured of a spot in the starting eleven.
Peterson's journey has not been as clear cut as Botha's. Usually a fringe player in the side, having been around for almost nine years and only playing in 43 ODIs, his critics believed his job was more to carry drinks than responsibility. In this World Cup, however, he has not only pressed the mute button on them but thrown the remote control away, featuring in all three games and been given the most strategic job of the competition so far - opening the bowling against England. Peterson was the most important part of Smith's trap that was set up for Kevin Pietersen. The plan worked in more than ways than one and at the end of his first spell, Peterson had figures that read 4-2-4-3.
In the games against West Indies and England, it was Tahir who was the highest wicket-taker with four scalps, usually getting a crucial breakthrough in the middle order and then helping to mop up the tail. "Imran has been used particularly to strike at different stages of the game, in the powerplays and at the back end when the batsmen are wanting to more attacking. With his variation and difficulty to read, he becomes more effective in taking wickets then," Adams said. Without that, the striking job has to be done by someone else.
This is where the bowlers that have gone unnoticed at this tournament may come back into play in a big way. The quicks, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, who have been outshone by the spinners, have an opportunity to show they are still here, on a surface that should favour them, especially Steyn and his reverse swing. It could even open the door for Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who was the leading wicket-taker in the home series against India over the summer, and who has yet to have a run in this tournament.
It could well be a case of normal service resuming for the South African attack in Nagpur - with the seam bowlers opening and looking to create early breakthroughs. "Robbie also brings a wicket-taking option in those middle overs," Adams said, a statement that illustrates that the spinners may be back to the task of controlling the innings from a certain point. It will again, have to be carefully thought out, but being the usual way that they go about things, it may not seem so. With the number of options South Africa have it's something that speaks about the strength of their attack that that they can "build a specific plan with each game they play."
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