Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 17, 2014

Steyn needs better support - Ntini

There was only one winner of the fast-bowling contest at Centurion Park, but Makhaya Ntini believes South Africa can turn the tables if Dale Steyn is given the support that Mitchell Johnson receives

It was billed as a battle of the bowlers and after one round there is already a clear leader. Mitchell Johnson's 12 for 127 was the difference between Australia and South Africa in Centurion and poured cold water on the flames that were supposed to spark between him and Dale Steyn. But that does not mean the clash can be called just yet.

Even though the series is moving to more placid pitches in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, Makhaya Ntini thinks South Africa's attack can still have their say. For that to happen, he told ESPNcricinfo, they have to allow Steyn to operate at his most effective and the rest of the line-up to conform to their roles better than they did in the first Test.

"Steyn needs to bowl in four or five over spurts when you can get 100% from him. That's how to use him as a main strike bowler and nothing else. Then he can bowl at 145kph and faster through the spell," Ntini said, suggesting that Steyn should be managed in the same way Johnson is by Australia.

While Steyn did not bowl a spell longer than five overs at Centurion, typically he starts off with a six-over burst at the beginning of innings and follow-up spells are about five-overs long. The pattern was not exactly that in the first Test but Steyn was still South Africa's most used pace bowler, sending down 29 overs in the first innings, more than Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Ryan McLaren, and 43.2 overs in the match compared to the 35 Philander and Morkel offered up. The difference was markedly less with Australia's attack. Johnson bowled 33.1 overs in the match compared to Ryan Harris' 29.4 and Peter Siddle's 29.

Steyn's stamina despite his upset stomach was impressive, but the back-up bowlers less so. "He wasn't feeling very well, which is one thing and we all know how capable he is," Ntini said "If you can see Steyn is bowling at 60% and doesn't have the energy and isn't aggressive then someone else should take over. They shouldn't all go flat."

McLaren admitted South Africa's attack dropped their intensity after lunch on the first day and because conditions also became easier for batting that allowed Australia to get away. In lulls like that, Ntini would like to see Morkel "taking over," and someone else like McLaren doing a holding job so that Steyn can be "only used in critical moments." And in those moments, Ntini would like him to see him use his licence to attack strategically.

"When you are the leader of the attack you have to plan your bowling so that you don't overuse any delivery. You can't be bowling six bouncers in a row, you have to know when it's time to attack. In general, South Africa overuse the short ball and you can see Australia have a game plan for that."

Luckily, Steyn does not have to rely on the bouncer excessively. Jason Gillespie believes Steyn's main weapon is "bowling the fuller ball, challenging the pads, stumps and outside edge" and said his "consistency with line, length and pace make him a constant threat."

Johnson poses the same kind of danger, but for different reasons. "Johnson comes in from a different angle, a bit slingy, which makes it more difficult to judge. Slingy bowlers can bowl the same length ball for a different result," Gillespie said. "For example a short-pitched ball can pass the batsman at sternum height or nose height so the unpredictability is always in the back of the mind."

With Steyn batsmen are more aware of what they are going to get but that does mean it is any more comfortable. "With Steyn, I believe batsmen don't have that fear of getting hurt, it is simply the fear of getting out," Gillespie said.

Ntini thinks South Africa can come into their own by operating as a unit to make Steyn's wicket-taking ability more dangerous. Johnson is Australia's outright threat, he is able to do that because Harris and Siddle play their part. "Siddle bowls 99% of deliveries in the same area," Ntini said. "He helps create pressure."

McLaren should be the person doing the same role for South Africa and Ntini would stick with him rather than opt for Wayne Parnell. "Nobody can be judged on only one game," he said. "If you use Parnell, your three seamers are offering the same thing in terms of pace. You don't need that in Port Elizabeth."

So what do you need there? "You just have to hit proper lengths," Ntini said. "You need someone to be a boring bowler, going at two runs to the over and keeping it outside off stump because for one of those balls the batsman is going to play the wrong line."

That could mean a twist in this bowling battle with the stage set for the official No.1, Philander, who has barely been spoken about in the contest of the quicks at all, to do this thing. "Why not?" asked Ntini.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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