South Africa focus on improving yorkers
Barring their superior performance in the second Twenty20 of the tour, Pakistan have not given South Africa many lessons to learn. It is a Pakistani fast bowler, though, that South Africa bowling coach Allan Donald is holding up as an example to his charges, because he wants them to emulate his exemplary ability to endanger toes.
"It's Wasim Akram," Donald said in Centurion, where the team regrouped ahead of the second ODI on Friday. "We watched some footage of him the other day for the bowling group to understand what bowling yorkers is actually about.
"We want to become the best death-bowling unit in the world and we want to close games out while being under enormous pressure. With Wasim Akram you always knew when you faced him at the death that there was no hope. He moved the ball both ways and that's what we want to be: unpredictable, not just one dimensional."
Death bowling was identified as perhaps the only weakness of the South African attack after their series against New Zealand earlier this summer. They set New Zealand only 209 to win the first match, so an examination of their bowling there is probably unfair, but in the next two games South Africa's attack gave away 53 and 46 runs in the last five overs.
To prevent that happening again, Donald introduced a new goal in the Pakistan series. "Nailing yorkers is our No.1 priority," he said. "Not being able to bowl them often enough is what has let us down in the past, particularly when we are defending."
Instead of regular net sessions where bowlers send down a specific number of overs, Donald has set training up to concentrate on fuller lengths. He uses both newer and older balls to get bowlers to bowl deliveries that swing and reserve-swing, and he also recreates match situations. "We want to practice the specifics under pressure and so we are moving more into game scenarios and executing those then. We also video these sessions so the guys can have visual feedback."
Since Rusty Theron's brief appearance and subsequent injury, death bowling has not been assigned to anyone in particular and some have seen that as a fault. Role definition has proven to be essential to South Africa's success - think of the failure of the floating batting line-up as an example - and it would seem prudent to task one or two bowlers with that job.
Donald is not doing that, though, because he wants the whole attack to become competent at death bowling. "We want a collective group of guys who get thrown the ball and who have the confidence to execute yorkers at will at any stage," he said. "We could have a situation where Dale Steyn is the death bowler and his number may come up and he gets hit all around the park, and so we might have to ask someone else to do that. We want a collective improvement in bowling yorkers."
Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Rory Kleinveldt and Ryan McLaren have all shown ability to find the base of the stumps but none of them do it consistently. What they are more comfortable with is sending down streams of short balls and McLaren, in particular, used it effectively in the first ODI.
Donald said the move to more yorkers will not stop them from bouncing batsmen. "We've talked about using the short ball in Bloemfontein because of the very big field there and it worked," he said. "We will still use the short ball, it is a massive weapon in one-day cricket."
But an intimidating arsenal needs more than just one dangerous weapon and Donald wants to equip his bowlers with what he believes is the best. "Whether it's wide, swinging into the pads, or winging away from a large angle, we need to bowl the yorker. Anyone can hit back of a length, anyone has a back of a hand bouncer but you need a wicket, the ball that really does it is a gun yorker."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent