South Africa v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 4th day January 6, 2012

Endless possibilities but still concern for SA

South Africa have revitalised their bowling attack in one season and now have discovered further options to take them forward. But they are not the finished article just yet.

Press the rewind button. Stop when you get to January 2011, South Africa v India, Newlands. Look at the hosts' bowling attack.

South Africa had set India a target of 340 to win the decider. An injured Gautam Gambhir defied the pack all day, victory was a fleeting thought and a hard-fought, tooth-and-nail draw was the result. Scoring rates were low in the second innings and South Africa were soon in defensive mode. Paul Harris (remember him?) bowled 30 overs and went wicketless, at less than a run an over. Rahul Dravid treated each ball like a brick in his wall.

Fast-forward to January 2012 and you will be forgiven for seeing a different host team. Sri Lanka were bowled out twice in succession. South Africa needed just four bowlers to run through them the first time and then enforced the follow-on. Imran Tahir bowled 32 overs in the second innings and ended with 3 for 106.

On the face of it, a comparison is pointless. Sri Lanka are a completely different team to India; now and when the latter were living it large at the top of the ICC rankings. For Sri Lanka to even think of competing with South Africa in the decider, they would have to score "at least 450" according to Tillakaratne Dilshan. Like India, they were obliterated in the first match and carried out a demolition of their own in the second. Unlike India, they didn't have too much to prove in the third Test and so they didn't.

South Africa have faced more hostile opponents, like Australia just two months ago, with whom they drew 1-1. They have also faced teams with more at stake when they play a series against them; like England, three series ago, who had a reputation to maintain and build. They were unable to get over the line on both those occasions so maybe some of the shine has been sanded off this victory, against sixth placed Sri Lanka.

There are still concerns. It means someone like Morkel needs to find himself after a quiet series. Lonwabo Tsotsobe or Wayne Parnell may still be able to muscle their way into South Africa's Test attack

Still, South Africa can only play who is put in front of them and they used the series to revolutionise a bowling attack that has always been dominated by seam bowlers to blend pace, craftiness and spin into a potent combination. Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir controlled proceedings while Jacques Kallis got up to speeds of over 140 kph and took wickets at crucial times to give a taste of what is to come from a more open-minded South African attack.

Lauded for its dynamism at the beginning of the South African summer, the Proteas' bowlers used their best opportunity at Newlands to showcase their potential. Specifically, Philander and Tahir displayed what they can offer and it paints an optimistic picture of the future.

Philander had a dream debut, with 30 wickets from his first four Tests, the last six of them were achieved on a pitch that was not seamer-friendly. There was concern when Philander was picked and succeeded that he would not be able to emulate his form on flatter decks. He proved this wrong, maintained a questioning line and length, and did not defer from his on-or-about off-stump line. His bad balls could have been counted on one finger.

His maturity was obvious; the many things he learnt from his two seasons of hard graft after being dropped from the national side have shone through. Talk in domestic circles was that Philander was the one man on the South African provincial circuit that batsmen feared, that he could exploit anything that was in the pitch and that he would cripple a batting line-up. Sri Lanka can testify in the affirmative.

The other bowler who came to the fore was Tahir, who finally had a window big enough to display his skills. He bowled 53 overs in the match, close to 30% of the total of 181 overs and four balls that South Africa spent in the field. In Centurion, Tahir bowled just 10 of the 86.5 overs that were delivered and in Durban 48 of the 186.4. Cape Town provided the conditions and the situation for him to be used more frequently and to greater effect.

The rough outside the left-handers' off-stump gave him constant turn, he disguised his googly well and he had the tail-enders attempting big shots off him, for which they paid the price. Tahir's role in the South African attack is not certain and they may still miss a pure, holding bowler in the Harris mould. But Tahir has shown that with a bit of faith and clever captaincy, he can come into his own.

There are still concerns, most notably Morne Morkel, who seems to needs to find himself after a quiet series. It means someone like Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who took four wickets in his first-class comeback, is not out of the mix. With the ability to bowl consistently over long periods of time, Tsotsobe, and fellow left-armer Wayne Parnell, may still be able to muscle their way into South Africa's Test attack.

Fast-forward to 2013 and with the rate of progression South Africa have made, the bowling may have undergone even more impressive changes. Possibilities are endless from here.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • G on January 8, 2012, 13:57 GMT

    no mention of de Lange. Tsotsobe is canon fodder don't get carried away by his success in limited overs format and the jury is still out on Tahir already 30 . for god's sake why not some one work on Mokel's run up. Donald learn from Billy see how he has turned around a bowling line up in a matter of months. Morkel is not the one to be dropped it is be the supporting staff. an article calling for a trundler into the side, stupid piece, I mean you should have better things to do than this.

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2012, 20:50 GMT

    Tsotsobe is a good block bowler whereas Morkel goes for Wickets. If one is playing against Australia and India, I would choose Tsotsobe. For other teams, I still think Morkel is a better option. Morkel needs to know there is competition and he will shape up.

  • Andrea Francesco on January 7, 2012, 18:54 GMT

    I think we have all the right components to challenge with England and Australia, it saddens me to say but Australia with the bowlers they have discovered seem to be very strong again, the Ashes will be interesting. The thing that the Proteas need to do is just discover that consistency. I agree with Findlay that batsmen would much prefer to face Tsotsobe, If Morkel's confidence is on top form, then he is one of the best bowlers in world cricket. I would if I had to change the team, drop Morkel for de Lange. He has great potential after playing so little, I think a season in county cricket would do him well, plus a full season of domestic cricket. I think Donald has been brilliant and have yet to realise why England did not want him or why Arthur did not hire him when he had the chance? De Wet has been injured a lot is my understanding on why he has not played again. I think Tahir will get better and better, having Paul Adams is helping him a lot.

  • Muhammed on January 7, 2012, 17:25 GMT

    actually who"s this firdouse moonda????? is he Indian, surely>>> becoz of his artical i can understabd that... pls dont give comment on south africa"s capabilities ok.... go and analyse what is all abt indian cricket.., they r struggling like bangaladesh ,,,,give u r Ideas to improve u r nation"s cricket rather than CONCERN south african cricket. ALL ESPN Indian columist they are thinking best cricket all abt INDIA, THEY ARE ONLY gaining out of cricket nothingels. I want to see u MR.Firdouse u r opinion over Indian Cricket......

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2012, 16:56 GMT

    Going forward, Villas should be in for Boucher, and De Lange in from Morkel. That will give us strong batting all the way down, with a powerful mix of different bolwers too. That will most likely be our best team, and possibly the best in the world?

  • S on January 7, 2012, 14:15 GMT

    Well everyone knew it is going to be a defeat for SL. However, credit should still be given to SL for winning at least one test match in SA and that too after a loosing streak in the recent test series. The were not paid their salaries, there were political wrangles in the board. Despite all these they still one a test away from home. Let's wait and see the ODI series. Good luck guys.

  • Dru on January 7, 2012, 13:01 GMT

    In my opinion Tahir didnt show enough at Newlands. He got two lefties out of the rough and a tail ender but hardly troubled the rest. I still think SA should go wtih him as he will improve and SL's are decent players of spin. On pace bowling front its amazing that a bowler in the 10 ten is under presure for his position. Again my call is stick with Morkel and SA should consider playig an all pace attack unless the wicket suits him.

  • Deon on January 7, 2012, 8:51 GMT

    SA does not need a holding bowler because they have Kallis. Seriously, Firdose, you have to start backing the SA team. Your views are more Indian than South African. Where does your loyalty lie?

  • muhammed on January 7, 2012, 8:47 GMT

    I don't believe there is an issue with the attack, it is capable of dismantling England particularly now that Imran does give them 4 and 5 day option which SA did not have before. I think Rudolph should be replaced with Duminny with Petersen opening. Rudolph left opted to qualify for England and changed his mind, no where this happens!

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2012, 6:25 GMT

    While discussing the choice between Morkel, Tsotsobe and Parnell you seem to have forgotten about de Lange. He just took 8 wickets @15 on debut, did you not watch the second match?

  • No featured comments at the moment.