Neil Manthorp highlights the problems facing South Africa's selectors as they search for the next generation of fast bowlers

One of South African cricket's proudest traditions goes on trial at Edgbaston and there are more than a few doubters who believe Graeme Smith's team lack the ability to maintain it.

Whatever the results over the years, South Africa have always had fast bowlers who made life uncomfortable for opposition batsmen and made them work hard, mentally and physically, for their runs. Is that now the case? Many ask the question and, increasingly since the team arrived in England, many say not.

South African cricket was never always strong, despite the last seven or eight years when it has presented the best - and perhaps only - viable challenge to Australia's dominance. But the one constant in the last 40 years has been the depth of fast bowling talent in the country. Now that appears to have diminished.

As far back as 1997 Makhaya Ntini was heralded as the 'new Allan Donald', and he may still be getting there. But Donald enjoyed the best back-up support in the world in those days, and now the new captain, Smith, looks in vain for a man to add his own fire to the pace and hostility of Ntini.

During isolation from the world game the country's domestic game was scattered with world-class pacemen good enough to have graced any international line-up, a possibility that some considered during the 21-year isolation from international competition between 1970 and 1991.

Even before the 'rebel' years in which quicks like Garth Le Roux, Vintcent van der Bijl, Mike Procter and Clive Rice graced the English county scene with unqualified success, the SA tradition of match-winning fast bowlers had been carried into the 1950s by Peter Heine and the 1960s by Peter Pollock.

By the time of readmission to the international stage, South Africa had a wealth of fast bowling talent at their disposal and, led by a rampant Allan Donald, bowled rather than batted their way to the World Cup semi finals in 1992. Meyrick Pringle, Richard Snell, Brian McMillan and the late Tertius Bosch were Donald's lieutenants in those days and they were quickly followed by Craig Matthews, Fanie de Villiers and Brett Schultz. Heck, fast bowlers were so thick on the ground as the 1990s came to an end that even the side's best batsman, Jacques Kallis, could bowl at 145 kilometres an hour.

But now Kallis is at home in Cape Town and that is just the beginning of the problems. Whisper it, Englishmen, because he may yet haunt you, but Shaun Pollock's lack of pace means batsmen can play him on the front foot and his wicket taking deliveries can be largely left alone. It may still be devilishly difficult to score off him, but survival is far less of a challenge than it was.

Ntini is now Smith's banker - loyal, fast, aggressive, fit and willing to bowl 30 overs a day, even more. It isn't even worth thinking about what might happen to South Africa's attack should he break down or have a bad day, or two. Pollock and Ntini cannot, of course, bowl all day. So what happens then?

Two out of three pacemen, with a collection of two Test caps between them, will provide the back-up. Charl Willoughby is a left-armer who can swing the ball, at no great pace, but bagfuls of wickets for Basingstoke in the English leagues ought not leave Marcus Trescothik and Michael Vaughan quaking in their boots. He has one cap, against Bangladesh in Chittagong, to his credit. He took one wicket.

Dewald Pretorius also has one Test cap, earned against Australia 18 months ago when he was belted all over Newlands in Cape Town. He is a big-hearted trier who also has one Test wicket.

And finally there is Monde Zondeki, who has neither a wicket nor even a cap. But he has got pace, and plenty of it. The trouble for South Africa's selectors is that he has also just recently recovered from a serious shoulder injury, albeit his non-bowling shoulder, sustained in a car accident shortly after SA's ignominious exit from the World Cup in March this year. He has played just 14 first-class matches and claimed one five-wicket haul, against Somerset last week.

Omar Henry, South Africa's national selection convenor, hasn't got much to choose from. "Any one of these guys could make a name for himself in England. They might grab their chance with both hands and establish themselves straight away. They all have the potential, that's why we picked them," Henry said before joining the squad two weeks ago. But his confidence was countered by his admission that he was, well, 'on a mission'.

"There is a fast bowler out there, somewhere in South Africa, who will make us all proud by winning matches and taking over Allan's crown," Henry said. "He might even be in the squad at the moment, but if he isn't then I will find him. I will not rest until I find him. We have a proud tradition of fast bowlers and we will live up to it."

That may be so, but the 'here and now' reality of South Africa's tour is that the word 'popgun', never applied to a South African attack since readmission in 1991, may be closer to making its debut than ever before.