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Fast bowlers

All you need is speed

At times it seems fast bowlers are all South Africa's got. But with each as potent as the next, picking just two won't be easy

Telford Vice

December 8, 2009

Comments: 61 | Text size: A | A

Allan Donald at the top of his run-up, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 1st day, March 4, 1994
Allan Donald: enormous talent, and results to match © Getty Images
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There's a line in Hunter S Thompson's mad road movie of a book, Hell's Angels, that sums up South Africa's relationship with fast bowling. Having admired the bikers' gleaming machines from a distance for several minutes, a couple of gawking youngsters dared to come within earshot of their foreboding owners. "We like your bikes, man. They're really sharp," one said. "I'm glad you like them," came the wistful reply from an Angel nicknamed Gut. "They're all we have."

In the same way, South Africa are a team to be reckoned with. But sometimes all they seem to have are their fast bowlers. Fortunately for the South Africans, they seem to unearth quality quicks almost as frequently as the Angels used to land themselves in trouble.

Unlike in other regions renowned for producing pacemen - the Caribbean and Pakistan, for instance - South African conditions are tailormade for those who yearn to remove batsmen with indecent haste, or at least to knock their blocks off. Fast pitches that aren't short of bounce are standard issue in the country. But that hardly makes South Africa unique. Rather, it's the lateral movement that these surfaces offer that spurs the bowlers on. Add the legendary South African work ethic and a large dollop of natural athleticism, throw in the trademark aggressive swagger, temper it all with mental toughness, and supply fielders who will catch or stop almost anything, and it isn't difficult to see where all those fast bowlers come from.

They tend to take their wickets with sheer pace and persistence, and they can be close to unplayable on responsive surfaces. But there is a lack of craftiness to their bowling that reveals itself on flat pitches. The ability to swing the ball through the air is also a rare gift in South Africa.

Bloodyminded captains who insist on blasting out opposing teams have played their own role in shaping the South African fast-bowling mindset. Above all, simplicity rules in the land of the Protea. And there is nothing as uncomplicated as a stump cartwheeling through the air even as the stricken batsman is frozen at the crease. Herewith, a magnificent seven adept at doing exactly that and more.

Shaun Pollock
Not remotely nasty, nor uncouth or lacking in human warmth. In fact, not even that fast. But a finer quick bowler would be hard to find.

Allan Donald
Fast, furious and frequently fatal. Genuine talent is a far rarer commodity in South Africa than guts and grit, and he possessed some of the rarest talent ever found anywhere. Better yet, he made the most of it.

Neil Adcock
Injuries forced him to become one of the first non-West Indians to realise that bowling chest-on was significantly easier on the body. Perhaps the quickest in the game in his prime.

Makhaya Ntini
Much more than South Africa's first African Test player, as some might prefer to remember him. A tireless titan who has sweated buckets for his mountain of wickets. The thumping heart of the South African team.

Dale Steyn
Seemed wary of his own extreme pace early in his career, as if he might injure himself as well as the batsman. He duly made a false start, but maturity has come quickly. Now he couldn't care less about the batsmen.

Peter Pollock
Started cricketing life as an opening batsman, moved on to become one of the game's premier fast bowlers, fathered another world-class paceman, and served as South Africa's selection chief. Perhaps he should be on the allrounders' shortlist.

Fanie de Villiers
The leading South African fast bowler of the years immediately after his team's readmission. Relentless, quick and always astute, he may have been seen as a limited-overs specialist initially, but had plenty more to offer.

We'll be publishing an all-time South Africa XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your fast bowlers click here

Telford Vice made his Test debut as a cricket writer in Barbados in 1992 - the match that marked the end of South Africa's isolation

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Posted by sweetspot on (December 11, 2009, 11:16 GMT)

It may be good to have a battery of fast bowlers while playing in SA conditions, but not having variety will hurt any team while travelling to other countries and different conditions. In the shorter version of the game, with extreme batting friendly conditions, even high quality pace attacks are taken apart these days, but a spinner like Van Der Merwe, ah! Can he spring a surprise or two! To me, South Africa are the most exciting spectacle physically, given their fielding is always top class. Their batting looks great because of chaps like Duminy and Kallis, but their bowling, right now, apart from Steyn, doesn't look all that threatening. And even Steyn goes for a few in rubbish pyjama pitches.

Posted by sabbir_ahmed_sajib on (December 11, 2009, 8:43 GMT)

if we have to pick 2 specialist pacer it has to be Donald and Ntini

Posted by TravelBandit on (December 10, 2009, 14:12 GMT)

@ manasvi_lingam : Yes, I know about Colin Bland's batting prowess - 1669 runs in 21 tests at 49.09 are excellent figures. However, he was primarily in my team as 12'th man so that he could field if need be!

Regarding Jonty Rhodes - I don't want to knock Jonty Rhodes, for whom I have the greatest respect as a player and true sportsman, but unfortunately his batting skills weren't quite up to test match standard. In today's world he would be an ideal ODI/T20 specialist.

Posted by TravelBandit on (December 10, 2009, 14:06 GMT)

@ narenvs : Thanks, glad you liked my team! I've been following cricket for 35 years and have read loads about the players of old. It was tough leaving Aubrey Faulkner out, but he just didn't quite make it as a batsman or bowler, and there was no more room for another allrounder. Same with Clive Rice. Both of these were awesome, all-time greats, but did not quite make my SA XI. Vince van der Bijl was an automatic choice, as other people have commented on as well. What a great player he was, and useful as a lower order batsman as well.

Posted by Curlybrownitem on (December 10, 2009, 9:58 GMT)

Of all the omissions so far, Van der Bijl is perhaps the most glaring - arguably the best bowler never to play a test, while one has been included who played only 18 in the modern era AND managed to bowl his own side out by hitting Devon Malcolm on the helmet! Le Roux is another obvious omission. Of those selected its Donald and S Pollock for me Some have said Pollock wasn't quick enough to open in this company but, with respect, that's irrelevant, because Procter and Donald would open most of the time. Interesting that SP has been included in both this list as well as in the all-rounders: in my view, Rice should have been in the AR list instead, SP being primarily an outstanding bowler who also bats well. Like a few others, I 'd want to pick 3 of these and no spinner (especially as I've got Faulkner and Procter): since can't have big Vince, it would be Peter Pollock.

Posted by heathrf1974 on (December 10, 2009, 1:35 GMT)

As an Aussie, Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald did not trouble Aussie batsmen as much as they should have, so I think they're overrated. Fanie De Villiers I believe was a better bowler than those two. However, I would pick Dale Steyn and Peter Pollock for my team. They have consitently troubled all teams.

Posted by Azfar on (December 9, 2009, 22:25 GMT)

It is quite surpising to see that the list has only 2 bowlers from the pre-1974 era. Also Fanie De Villiers inclusion is quite a surprise. He was never genuinely quick. In fact Kallis should have been considered given the fact that he has taken more then 200 wickets in Tests & ODI's.

Posted by Engle on (December 9, 2009, 18:44 GMT)

The simple selection is picking Alan Donald. After that, one has to decide who best to select to complement him. That person would have to be effective, yet different from AD. Variety is important to counter an opposing batsmen's strengths. Is there anything Adcock can do that AD cannot do better ? Is there anything that S.Pollock can do that AD cannot do better ? My leaning is towards the latter question, with S.Pollocks probing line and control. So, Shaun surely secures the speed slot with the added bonus of his batting. Though I have this faint feeling the selectors will go for Adcock for era representative reasons.

Posted by Clodbuster on (December 9, 2009, 7:55 GMT)

Hugh Tayfield is the only spinner being considered - what about John Traicos. True he played for both SA and Zimbabwe but so did Bland, Procter and Tayfield. Still among the best at 40 - surely he must be considered.

Posted by Milan31 on (December 9, 2009, 6:59 GMT)

I think its premature to say this but i guess if given the opportunity Morne Morkel will be the lethal bowler in the world now.

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Telford Vice Telford Vice, crash-boom-out left-hand bat, sort-of legspinner, was never sure whether he was a cricket person. He thought he might be when he sidestepped a broken laptop and an utter dearth of experience to cover South Africa's first Test match in 22 years in Barbados in 1992. When he managed to complete Peter Kirsten's biography as well as retain what he calls his sanity, he pondered the question again. Similarly, when he made it through the 2007 World Cup - all of it, including the warm-up matches - his case for belonging to cricket's family felt stronger. But it was only when the World Twenty20 exploded gloriously into his life in 2007 that he knew he actually wanted to be a cricket person. Sort of ...

South Africa Jury

Luke Alfred
Sports editor of the Sunday Times in Johannesburg; author of Lifting the Covers: the Inside Story of South African Cricket and Testing Times: The Story of the Men Who Made SA Cricket
XI: Smith, Richards, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, S Pollock, Goddard, Tayfield, Donald
Ali Bacher
Ali Bacher
Captained South Africa in 1970, when they defeated Australia 4-0; was managing director of the South African cricket board through the 1990s, and executive director of the 2003 World Cup.
XI: Richards, Mitchell, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, Procter, Tayfield, Donald, Adcock
Colin Bryden
Colin Bryden
Editor of the Mutual & Federal SA Cricket Annual; has reported on more than 130 Test matches.
XI: Richards, Barlow, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, Procter, Tayfield, Donald, Adcock
Archie Henderson
Archie Henderson
Sports editor of the Times in South Africa; formerly sports editor of the Cape Times and the Argus in Cape Town. Has been a journalist since 1967.
XI: Richards, Smith, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Procter, Lindsay, Tayfield, Donald, Adcock
Rob Houwing
Rob Houwing
Chief writer for www.Sport24.co.za and formerly editor of the Wisden Cricketer (South African edition).
XI: Richards, Smith, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Barlow, Procter, Boucher, S Pollock, Tayfield, Donald
Rudi Koertzen
Rudi Koertzen
Has umpired at Test level for 17 years - seven of those on the ICC's elite panel - standing in over 100 Tests (the second umpire to do so) and 200 ODIs.
XI: Richards, Mitchell, Barlow, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, Procter, S Pollock, Tayfield, Donald
Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp
Broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency; has covered more than 40 tours and 120 Test matches since South Africa's return to International cricket. Author of a biography of Gary Kirsten.
XI: Richards, Smith, Nourse, G Pollock, Kallis, Barlow, Boucher, Faulkner, Procter, S Pollock, Donald
Krish Reddy
One of South Africa's foremost cricket historians and statisticians, and a cricket book and autograph collector; co-author of a history of South African cricket with Andre Odendaal and Christopher Merritt.
XI: Richards, Taylor, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Procter, Cameron, S Pollock, Tayfield, Donald
Andrew Samson
Andrew Samson
Cricket South Africa's official statistician since 1994; has covered over 130 Test matches for radio and TV as scorer/statistician.
XI: Richards, Mitchell, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Faulkner, Waite, Procter, S Pollock, Tayfield, Donald
Telford Vice
Telford Vice
Cricket writer since 1992, when he covered South Africa's first Test on readmission, in Barbados; author of a biography of Peter Kirsten.
XI: Richards, Smith, Goddard, Kallis, G Pollock, Nourse, Boucher, S Pollock, Tayfield, Ntini, Donald

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