July 13, 2012

'This tour could be the stuff of legend'

Former England and current South Africa bowling coach Allan Donald runs the rule over the bowling line-ups of both sides

I've been on lots of tours and seen lots of cricket. But this series is special: I honestly feel that those of us fortunate enough to be able to watch it can consider ourselves privileged. We are seeing two excellent teams with the two best attacks in world cricket go head to head in a series that could confirm which is the best. It really doesn't get any better.

How do I see it going? It's too tight to call. It could come down to one session, one dropped catch, one moment of inspiration. I know this is a big claim, but it could be as good a series as the 2005 Ashes.

South Africa have a daunting bowling attack, a formidable batting line-up and the desire and experience. But so do England. And, in all my cricket experience, I've never seen a country with a better crop of young quick bowlers than England have at present. Every tour to England is a joy, but this one could be the stuff of legend. I can't wait.

South Africa

Dale Steyn We all know what Steyn brings to the game: he bowls at good pace, swings the ball and has superb control. He is also a wonderful competitor and a fantastic leader of the attack. His fitness is so good that he is just as quick at the end of the day as at the start, and he is able to bowl long, fast spells. One of the factors that might be unappreciated is his experience of county cricket; it's something that he talks about at length. His experience of bowling on different pitches will count for a lot. His Test record - 272 wickets in 54 Tests - is simply amazing and I truly consider it a privilege to watch him operate at close quarters. What makes him special is his ability to pounce when small threats are imminent, and his five-wicket haul stats - he has taken 17 - prove why he is the world's No.1 strike bowler.

Vernon Philander He will share the new ball with Steyn. He is not the quickest, but he swings the ball both ways and asks question after question of the batsman. Facing him is an intense business: every delivery threatens and he wears teams down with his relentlessness. His Test record is ridiculous - he's really riding the crest of a wave at the moment - and with his experience and in English conditions, there is no reason why he should not be able to sustain it. He wasn't a bowler I knew a lot about when he was first picked - it was 2007 and I was out of the country - but I can now understand what Gary Kirsten saw in him: Philander is a tough nut and a clever bowler and he just keeps getting better.

Morne Morkel He has taken another step forward in the last six months. Maybe there were times, in the past, when he was not aggressive enough, but now he has found a way to harness his inner hostility and has become a truly formidable bowler. He is very tall, very strong and bowls in really ugly areas for a batsman. He is a silent assassin, and sometimes doesn't get enough credit for his hard work in partnership with Dale Steyn. The bounce he gets from just back of a length is horrible. He is a rhythm bowler, and the longer he bowls the better he bowls and, if the Oval pitch is as hard as it used to be, he could be a real handful there. He also complements Steyn in a very effective way: one of them pushes the batsman back, one of them drags him forward. Both of them gain movement. They make a hostile, skilful partnership on any pitch.

"In all my cricket experience, I've never seen a country with a better crop of young quick bowlers than England have at present"

Marchant de Lange What a man to have waiting in the wings. He reminds me of Patrick Patterson: he is a big man, very strong, has a similar action, and he relies on brute force to propel a heavy ball. He really excites me, but he is a player we have to look after. He bowled a lot of overs in the nets during the IPL and he is at an age when he is still developing. He showed on his Test debut - when he took 7 for 81 against Sri Lanka - that he can make an impact at this level, and in a couple of years he could be a really special bowler. I think there is a good chance he will play in the first two-day game on the tour, and even if he doesn't play a Test on this trip, the experience will be beneficial. He will be back.

Jacques Kallis He is relishing this series. Despite his phenomenal record, he is still under-appreciated as a cricketer and as a bowler in particular. Yes, we all know he is a great batsman, but he has nearly 300 Test wickets too. That's incredible. He is a very placid man but, if angry and when required, he can still get the ball into the high 80s easily. He has kept himself wonderfully fit and even if there are times when his body aches a bit, he will never - never - shirk his responsibility for the team. His versatility makes him so useful: he can swing the ball; he can keep it tight with his excellent control and he can bowl with pace and attack the batsmen. He is the ideal third or fourth seamer. How long will he continue? Well, he wants to win the World Cup badly. Very badly.

Imran Tahir He is going to have a huge role to play in this series. He has only played a few Tests, but his first-class career record - with over 500 wickets at an unbelievably good strike rate - underlines the fact that he is a man who can take wickets on any surface. Such is his desire to attack that there are times when he can be a bit costly, but there is nothing better than taking wickets, and he has now learned when to attack and when to remain patient. At some stage in the series, he will find a pitch that helps him, and then watch out England. He has such variation and so many tricks that I think he is going to have a massive series. He is a quality man as well as a quality bowler, so he is an asset off the pitch too, and I think what you'll see on this tour is a man who not only has all the tricks but now knows when to use them. He went to Pakistan recently to work with his hero, Abdul Qadir, and that can only have helped. I can't wait to see him celebrating the wickets: his joy is infectious.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe Lonwabo is waiting in the wings if any of the top three fast bowlers are injured. He has worked very hard on his fitness and his bowling and, while he is not the quickest, he is very accurate and relentless in his areas and can swing the ball with good control. It's fantastic to know that he and Marchant de Lange are in the wings as back-up if we do have injuries.


James Anderson His stats talk for themselves these days. He used to be in and out of the side but now he knows his body and his game. Ever since he became the leader of the England attack, pretty much in 2008, he has been brilliant. He swings the ball both ways, he has incredible control and, while he is not quick, he is quick enough. He asks a lot of questions with the new ball, so South Africa will have to watch him closely. He is going to be one of the keys of the series.

Stuart Broad He has come into his own over the last couple of years and has formed a strong partnership with Anderson; a partnership very similar to Morkel and Steyn. He is tall and has genuine pace and hits areas very heavily. He is similar to Morkel as these two are of similar height and pace. I look forward to the tussle between these two.

Tim Bresnan Bresnan was tipped for big things from a young age but, for a while, it didn't look as if he was going to fulfil all that talent. He has now. He is a hell of a cricketer. I recall him coming through at U19 level. He was talented, but maybe a bit chubby. Now he is solid; a really strong man who is in great shape. I like him as a bowler and a man: he just gets on with it. He is happy to bowl the hard overs and can fulfil several different roles when required. He rushes batsmen a bit more than they are expecting, he can swing the ball and move it off the seam. The England management deserve some credit for the way they have backed him and invested in him. He is paying them back now that he has become the finished product.

Steven Finn I remember the first time I saw him. It was at Uxbridge in 2008 and I was really impressed. He is very tall, very quick - seriously quick - but, even more importantly, his attitude is ideal. He really gets stuck in these days, and it says a great deal for England's strength that he might need someone else to suffer an injury to win a place in the team.

Graham Onions It's crazy how many good bowlers England have. Both sides do, actually. Onions attacks the stumps, gives the batsmen little and constantly asks questions of them. From England's point of view it's good to see him back after the injury problems he has had, and he will be banging at the door to win another opportunity.

Graeme Swann I remember him from the tour to South Africa in 2000. He hardly played and it seemed for a few years as if he would be lost to international cricket. But he has seized his second chance and developed into a fantastic cricketer. The key with Swann is his control: he hardly bowls a bad ball. His record to left-handers is superb, and having taking 13 five-wicket hauls in 44 Tests, he is a player for whom the South Africa team has the upmost respect. He is a genuinely funny man too, but he is no joker on the pitch. He keeps it tight for England and, given any help, can attack very effectively. He really is the man that makes the attack work.

Allan Donald is speaking alongside Mike Atherton and Jeremy Snape at the inaugural Wisden 150 Club Lunch at the Kennington Oval on 16 July. For more information, and to apply for a place at the lunch, click here

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo