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Feature

Meet the quicks: South Africa's fast bowlers for the India series

The home side have gone big on pace in their squad. Here's a quick look at the seven who made the cut (and the two who missed out)

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
23-Dec-2021
With Nortje knocked out by injury, Rabada and Ngidi will have to shoulder the fast-bowling load  •  Associated Press

With Nortje knocked out by injury, Rabada and Ngidi will have to shoulder the fast-bowling load  •  Associated Press

A series between South Africa and a side from the subcontinent is usually about showing off seamers, but in 2019 it didn't quite go the way you might think. Instead of South Africa's pace attack powering through India, it was the Indian quicks, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, who left Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi in the dust. And while the Indian pack may be licking their lips at the thought of being able to do that again, in seamer-friendly conditions, South Africa are pulling out all the stops to match them.
Although the Covid-19 conditions under which this series will be played have necessitated bigger squads on both sides, South Africa have included not five or six but seven seamers, overseen by bowling coach Charl Langeveldt. They've covered their bases when it comes to genuine pace, skilful variations and out-and-out aggression.

The front runners

Kagiso Rabada
The most recognisable and celebrated member of South Africa's attack is only 26 and carries the responsibility of leading them against India. Rabada is, by some distance, the most experienced international among the pace pack and is the only one in the squad ranked in the ICC's Test top ten. His reputation precedes any explanation we can provide here, except to say he is known for his pace and aggression, especially in big moments against big players, which bodes well for the contests he will be part of against the likes of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. Over the last few years Rabada has also developed several impressive variations, including a well-disguised slower ball. Although collective achievement will be top of his mind in this series, there is a personal milestone for him to aim for: Rabada is nine wickets away from leapfrogging Vernon Philander as South Africa's seventh-highest Test wicket-taker.
Recent form: Rabada was the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket in 2018, with 52 wickets from ten matches, and he was South Africa's highest Test wicket-taker in 2019, with 33 wickets from eight matches. He played just two Tests in 2020, and four so far in 2021; he has taken a total of 23 wickets in these two years.
Lungi Ngidi
With more time off the field than on it through much of 2021, Ngidi is desperate to get game time and re-establish himself as a regular in all formats. Despite lengthy absences from the game this year, he is not carrying an injury. He missed South Africa's tour to Sri Lanka for personal reasons and was benched for the IPL and T20 World Cup, which gave him time to fine-tune his fitness. His task for this summer is to translate that into bowling success. Expect longer spells from him, if he plays, and more focus on accuracy than out-and-out fury.
Recent form: Ngidi has not played competitively for five months but in the first half of the year he featured in four of South Africa's five Tests. He has 14 wickets at 19.14 and has South Africa's best bowling average of the year so far.
Duanne Olivier
As the first of South Africa's Kolpak returnees to be re-selected for Tests, Olivier's challenge is to win hearts, minds and matches. Some South Africans still bear a grudge about his leaving and then answering a question about whether he wanted to play for England in the affirmative. They may forgive him if he can replicate the fuller lengths that brought him success on the county circuit in home conditions that seem to cry out for short balls. Luckily Olivier already has practice and has been playing for the Johannesburg-based Lions since his return to the South Africa set-up. He has been the standout bowler in the first-class competition so far, was recalled at the first opportunity, and is tipped to make an international comeback in this series.
Recent form: Olivier is the leading bowler in the domestic first-class competition, with 28 wickets at 11.14 and with two five-wicket hauls. He comes back into international cricket off a fairly successful run for Yorkshire over the last three years: 75 wickets in 25 matches for the county, but at a somewhat bloated average of 32.42.

The left-armers

Marco Jansen
Kohli is the reason Marco Jansen got his first big break. The India Test captain was impressed with the young bowler in the Johannesburg nets three years ago, which may have led to his name doing the rounds in India, and an IPL deal earlier this year. Jansen only played two matches in the tournament and has limited first-class experience, with only 19 caps, but in the absence of Anrich Nortje, and bowler-friendly conditions, South Africa may choose to unleash him. At close to seven feet tall, Jansen is expected to be the bearer of many bouncers, and will likely be tasked with making the visiting batters feel as uncomfortable as possible.
Recent form: Jansen is 16th on the first-class wickets chart for this season, with ten wickets at 12.30. He was the fifth leading bowler in the series between South Africa A and India A, with six wickets at 31.83.
Beuran Hendricks
It's difficult to see any reason for Hendricks' inclusion in this squad except as injury cover. He has played just one Test, in January 2020, but has been around the squad as cover in several series since. Hendricks has a wealth of first-class experience under his belt, with more than a decade worth of professional cricket, close to 400 wickets, and is known for his ability to swing the ball. He may feel he has missed out on a longer international career but he has operated among strong contemporaries and may have to content himself with only a handful of opportunities in the near future.
Recent form: Hendricks has played three first-class matches this season, including two of the three unofficial Tests against India A. He has taken just one wicket, for Western Province against Boland, and went wicketless against India A.

The back-up

Glenton Stuurman
Stuurman, who some call the next Vernon Philander, may have thought himself in line for a debut last summer but an injury just ahead of the series against Sri Lanka ruled him out. If South Africa think someone who moves the ball in subtle ways and probes outside the off stump for extended periods of time is needed to both keep India on their toes and wear them down with persistence, they may turn to Stuurman, though that may only happen once the series moves away from the spicy surfaces of the Highveld. If they don't, he could find himself on the sidelines again, but with a lot of Test cricket this season, including in New Zealand, where Philander profited, he may be capped at some stage.
Sisanda Magala
With an array of cutters and slower balls, and expertise at the death in limited-overs cricket, Magala is a bowler South Africa have been wanting to play since before the pandemic. A bunch of injuries meant they had to wait until 2021 to include him, and he might find himself picked as an all-format cap by the end of the year. Magala's challenge is to stay fit through the summer, and if he plays, to live up to a domestic reputation that includes the ability to win matches. He is a crafty operator and makes up for what he doesn't have in speed with skill.
Recent form: Magala has played in three of four rounds of the four-day competition this summer and is seventh on the wicket-takers' list. He has taken 15 wickets at 14.33, including one five-for.

Who's missing?

Anrich Nortje
Ruled out of the series with a persistent hip injury five days before it starts, Nortje will miss out on the opportunity to add to his dozen Test caps and to establish himself as Rabada's right-hand man. Although Nortje is known for being quick, he should be equally lauded for his consistency. He is difficult to score off and uses the short ball with discretion. For now he will remain three wickets away from 50 in Tests.
Recent form: After finishing 2020 as South Africa's leading wicket-taker in Tests (16 at 32.50), Nortje is on track to possibly repeat the feat in 2021. He currently leads the pack, with 25 wickets from five Tests at 20.76, six ahead of his nearest rival, Keshav Maharaj. He also tied with Dwaine Pretorius as South Africa's best bowler at the T20 World Cup, taking nine wickets at 11.55.
Lutho Sipamla
After taking ten wickets in two Tests against Sri Lanka last summer, Sipamla has been overlooked for Test series against Pakistan and West Indies, and now against India. He was left out of the touring party to the Caribbean so he could spend time playing for South Africa A, and he was their second-most prolific wicket-taker against Zimbabwe A in a series played over the winter. Sipamla made his mark on the international stage for accuracy and keeping his cool - his first 12 overs in Test cricket cost 66 runs but his next 27.5 only went for 101 and yielded two handfuls of wickets - and he is likely to be called on in future.
Recent form: Sipamla was South Africa A's leading bowler in the series against India A, taking nine wickets at a shade over 33. He has played only two matches in the domestic first-class competition but took 12 wickets at 13.50, including a career-best of 6 for 34.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent