Fast bowlers December 8, 2009

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

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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