Castrol Index tips Proteas pace battery to shine
Back in the Seventies and Eighties, the West Indies produced a relentless battery of fast bowlers who would rip through the opposition batting with rib-cracking pace. All-time greats like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, and Colin Croft ruled the roost and inflicted terror in the minds of batsmen. With the passage of time, though, the art of pace bowling has undergone a slight change. The addition of skill and precision to raw pace has made sure that modern batsmen continue to have a torrid time while facing today’s fast bowlers. One such group that has revolutionized the art of pace bowling is the South African unit. The likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Jacques Kallis, Albie Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe have combined together to help the Proteas reach great heights. Having won back-to-back Test series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand at home, the Proteas now face an uphill task of facing the No. 1 Test side, England, in their own backyard.
The English batsmen have been in awe-inspiring form of late and one thing that can stop their juggernaut is this fiery African pace attack spearheaded by Steyn and followed by Morkel and Philander. Raw pace, the ability to swing the ball both ways and the capacity to bowl incessant fast spells sets Dale Steyn apart from the others. He has been in breathtaking form lately and glimpses of his prodigious talent were witnessed in the recent Indian T20 League. Raw pace combined with controlled swing in the Quick Start and Extreme Performance Overs garnered him 51 Index points and a decent Bowling Efficiency of 52 as he singlehandedly helped team Hyderabad achieve some respectability in an utterly dismal campaign. Since the last couple of series (against Sri Lanka and New Zealand), he has been one of the top performers on the Castrol Index for the Proteas having scalped 23 wickets from 6 matches. He will be the biggest threat for the in-form English openers.
Another fast bowler who has impressed to the core is the tall, lanky and aggressive Morne Morkel. He too produced some top performances in the Indian T20 League as seen from his heroics for Delhi, especially in the Extreme Performance Overs. His ability to generate bounce on the flattest of tracks, and deliver toe-crushing yorkers at any given time makes him one of the deadliest bowlers in the current scenario. On 27th March, 2012, Wellington played host to one of the most hostile spells of fast bowling as Morkel wreaked havoc and almost singlehandedly won the match for the Proteas with his sandshoe crushers, picking up 6/23 on Day 5 of the third and final Test against New Zealand. His stainless line and length achieved him the best Bowling Efficiency of 202 and a staggering overall Index of 122. He will be productive particularly against the English left-handers as he tends to cramp the batsmen up by bowling at tight angles.
The biggest boon for the men from the Rainbow Nation has been the emergence of Vernon Philander. With 51 wickets from 7 matches at an astounding average of 14.15 and a strike rate of 26.7 in the last 12 months, the 27-year-old from Bellville has brought about some Index-topping performances in a short span so far. A Castrol Index-ripping (177 points) 10-wicket haul in the 1st Test against Sri Lanka at the Centurion in December 2011 forced the Lankan batsmen into bewilderment as the Proteas outclassed the Lions by a humongous margin of 106 on the Index. Philander then followed it up with another 10-wicket haul against the Kiwis in the 2nd Test at Hamilton, topping the Index for his team (133 points) powering the hosts to a 67-point victory on the Index. His biggest strengths are his discipline and the ability to swing the ball both ways. And with the kind of form he is currently in, we can expect another wicket fest from him on the seamer-friendly English tracks.
Jacques Kallis has been serving South African cricket unceasingly not only with the bat, but also with the ball. His ability to break partnerships and provide crucial breakthroughs at any given time makes him an ideal fourth seamer. His versatility is his biggest advantage. Albie Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe have been waiting in the wings for a long time and form perfect back-ups in case any of the top three are injured. Albie Morkel produces enormous swing while Tsotsobe has impressed with his control and accuracy.
With an ominous batting order, the presence of this ferocious bowling line-up makes South Africa a perfectly balanced team. The English pace battery of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions, too has been performing exceedingly well of late but it’s the possession of extra variety (pace, skill and aggression) that makes the Proteas hold the upper hand. With the conditions conducive to swing bowling, the seamers in the form of their lives and South Africa one series win away from topping the Test charts, Castrol Index tips the industrious South African pace battery to shine and bring home a stupendous victory.