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

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