South Africa in New Zealand 2011-12 March 19, 2012

Current attack one of South Africa's best - Domingo

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Which captain in world cricket would not want to be Graeme Smith? The South Africa captain seems to have it all - a team that has performed to match its reputation of being cricket's best travelling bunch, a clutch of experienced players who come to the party more often than not, youth that sprouts up at every corner and most of all, a bowling attack that is unquestionably dynamic, explosive and effective.

"He's said that he is probably more happy with this attack than he ever has been," Russell Domingo, South Africa's assistant coach, said of Smith. "He's got all facets covered. He's got Vernon [Philander] who is skilfull and controlled, he's got Dale [Steyn] who is aggressive, he's got Morne [Morne] who brings a different dimension, he's got a lesgpinner [Imran Tahir], he's got the experience of [Jacques] Kallis."

Having all those things would not matter much if Smith did not know how to use them. So far, his management of the attack has been exceptional as he has alternated their roles as aggressors and containers shrewdly. "A captain is generally going to be as good as the players are, or as good as your bowlers are. At the moment Graeme's got a really good bowling attack to work with," Domingo said.

"He can set fields according to plans because they are skilled enough to execute those plans. Maybe when the bowlers aren't that skillful or mature or experienced, it's not that easy to stick to a plan." Smith has had the luxury of, for example, being able to put a man at deep square leg to wait for a Brendon McCullum pull and being able to instruct his bowlers to bang it in short to him.

The other most distinct individual attack Smith has led was the one with the new ball-pairing of Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini through the mid 2000s. The pair was also a good mixture of accuracy and attack but did not have a key third element that Smith's seamers today have - a spinner who does more than hold up an end. "As a unit, this is probably one of the top bowling units that South Africa has produced in a while because there is no bowler that you can target because everybody is at you all the time. Everybody knows what is expected and has got the skills to execute it," Domingo said.

While Tahir has not had the success he has been craving, there is an unsung heroism about his presence in the side. South Africa simply know they have another wicket-taking option. Their belief in Tahir has resulted in him being willing to change certain aspects of his game and learn to play a more defensive role if needed. "Ultimately he's doing his job," Smith said, after the Hamilton win. "I'm hoping that when we get on that real turner he'll come to the party then and pick up some crucial wickets. But for the moment I think he's doing a good job and we all still have a lot of faith in him and we're comfortable with where we sit with him."

Wickets have mostly fallen in the direction of Vernon Philander, which has left the rest of the attack with very little to fight over. Philander's extraordinary success - 45 wickets in six Tests at an average of 13.6 - has been a key part of South Africa's overall ascendency. Domingo said although Philander's numbers have belied belief at times, they are not all that unexpected. "He has been an outstanding bowler in domestic cricket for three years so it's no surprise that he has done so well," Domingo said. "He's got an unbelievable amount of skill, really good control, can bowl a good bouncer, is up mid 130s and a lot of self confidence which is a great recipe for fast bowler. He has got controlled aggression which is great."

New Zealand's batting line-up has also made the South African attack's job easier. With only five specialist batsmen and a heavy reliance on at least two of them, McCullum and Ross Taylor, batting has emerged as New Zealand's weaker suit. "We do think that if we make early inroads we can put their lower order under pressure with the pace," Domingo said. "We see it as a perceived weakness that we can exploit. There's a lot of pressure on three or four of their batters to put in big performances and it is an area we can exploit."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pratchett on March 22, 2012, 16:17 GMT

    @rawcrickettalent - I agree! Akram was the king, Younis was brilliant, Ahktar was a little haywire though. My best lineup post 1990 would be Akram, McGrath, Warne... The fourth is impossible to choose... Damn. If the wicket was spinning then obviously Muralitharan. If not... Then... er... I'd go with Pollock, because he could bat as well. But it would be nice to add some pace i.e. Younis, Donald or Lee...

  • 4cricketluv on March 21, 2012, 21:15 GMT

    This article is about South Africa's current bowling line-up and refers to past bowlers in South African cricket. I noticed a few subscribers referring to "choking" when the article has nothing to do with temperament at big tournaments. This makes me think of someone who uses racial slurs in an argument or bring up old events because he/she has lost the debate and has run out of credible arguments. Oh and by the way, I agree that one day cricket is definitly not the pinnacle of cricket! People who think so are probably not old enough to know!

  • surfking on March 21, 2012, 11:38 GMT

    i think SA will win eng series steyn is currently best bowler in the world vern is looking amazing morkle with his bounce. also smith has an exceptionable record against england AB is great against any team rudolph has experience in english conditons and then kallis and amla!!! you don't get a better team then that.

  • gazzafanatic on March 20, 2012, 22:09 GMT

    The main problem South Africa faces is in the balance of their team. Our batting line-up (top 6)is in fact stronger on paper (and our bowling line up probably on par, if not slightly less experienced- but more complete than the prior attacks). Our problem is that we now field 6 specialist bastmen, a keeper who is short of runs, and 4 specialist bowlers versus a lineup that used to bat down to 9 (with our number 9 having a test match century to his credit). So our batting looks short because expectations are higher when you have a top5 including Smith, Kallis,Amla & Devilliers - and dont have the Pollock's, Symcox's, and Hall's/Klusener's to put on an extra 150 for the last 4 (it would be interesting to look at the proportion of runs scored by top6 vs bottom 5 for SA in 90s vs current). The weaklinks are no 6 (Rudolph needs time) , no 2, and Boucher (sadly). Bringing in Botha for Tahir could add more balance when we are playing on non turning tracks

  • Pratchett on March 20, 2012, 15:26 GMT

    @andy - all comments are subjective! Steyn isn't better than Donald. No way dude. Rudolph better than Rhodes? Never in a milliion years mate! Also, Klusener could bat. Philander is still a newbie. Lance is better (for now).

  • Andy1102 on March 20, 2012, 13:24 GMT

    @Pratchett: very subjective analysis, for instance: Kirsten>Petersen; Gibbs<Smith; Cullinan<Amla; Kallis>Kallis; Cronje<AB; Rhodes<Rudolph; Boucher>Boucher; Pollock>Morkel; Klusener<Philander; Elworthy<Tahir; Donald<Steyn On my count that's 7 to 4 in favour of the current team.

  • dummy4fb on March 20, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    I thought I should break the news to everyone.. NZ has more storms and we will have rain across the ENTIRE COUNTRY this weekend... There will probably be no cricket - we may get a day or 2 if we are lucky!! nice work NZC, move all our tests to the middle of autumn / start of winter! Even if we only get 2 days, Im sure its enough time for Philander to take another 5 for

  • rawcrickettalent on March 20, 2012, 4:59 GMT

    I think Pakistan's bowling attack in the late 90's was probably the best ever...Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis,Shoaib Akhtar at his best and 2 awesome spinners in Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq(the creater of Doosra) ...how many of you agree with me.......

  • Wallaroo on March 20, 2012, 0:01 GMT

    What surprises me is that the Saffa's forget Kallis when talking about bowling but only mention him in batting. Kallis is without a doubt an exceptional batsman but also an economic wicket taker. Most of my countrymen will disagree but I don't care. IMHO Kallis is the greatest cricketer of all time. Bradman the greatest batsman, Warne the greatest bowler, Rhodes the greatest fielder but Kallis has it all. I certainly think that SA cricket is extremely blessed at the moment and deserve the accolades it receives.

  • dummy4fb on March 19, 2012, 22:19 GMT

    Test cricket is the pinnacle of cricket - fact! Cannot wait for a Test tournament to be established - SA are ace... BOKKKKKKKKKKKKKKE

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