Pakistan haven’t had a lot of success in South Africa, particularly in the longest format of the game. They have won only two Tests out of 12, losing nine and managing one draw. With the conditions likely to suit the quicker bowlers, a stern test awaits Pakistan batters.
South Africa’s pace attack is one of the best in the world and each one of them presents a different challenge to the batsmen. And with a Pakistani batting lineup prone to collapses and having had a fair share of troubles in swinging conditions, the journey ahead won’t be easy. The last time they visited South Africa for a Test series in 2013, they were welcomed with a sound 211-run thrashing in Johannesburg, where they were bundled out for 49 in their first innings.
One of the best fast bowlers of his generation, Dale Steyn’s ability to swing the ball with superb control makes him one of the standout prospects.
Predominantly, Steyn can swing the ball away from right-handers (back into left-handers), but what makes it more effective is the fact that he does it from closer to the off-stump (for a right-hander), which draws the batters into the shot a lot more.
Steyn can swing the ball with excellent control ©Associated Press
The right-hand batsmen have to make sure they remain side-on especially when the ball is swinging away from them, hence, operating in straighter lines. Once you start ‘opening up’ more, that’s where the bat cuts across the ball and the outside edge is found.
With the older ball, Steyn can reverse it at higher speeds. Mostly, he will look to bring it back into the right-handers, which means batsmen have to be wary of not falling across their stumps.
Vernon Philander is quite different when compared with the likes of Steyn and Kagiso Rabada. While the other two colleagues can swing the ball at high speeds, Philander mostly relies on movement off the deck.
The ball usually comes out in a straight line from his hand and when it pitches, it moves either way off the surface which essentially means you’re playing him off the wicket. Once the ball travels in one direction after it is released, you’ll assume it won’t do much after hitting the deck.
Vernon Philander relies on movement off the pitch ©AFP
With all that skill set, the length which he bowls is extremely crucial to his success. Most of the times, he drags the batsmen forward and as a batsman, to make an adjustment after you have committed to the shot is almost impossible.
One of the most exciting fast bowlers in the world cricket right now, Rabada has everything that it takes to be a complete fast bowler. He can swing the ball both ways with great control which makes it harder for the batsmen to work him out.
One of his best skills were on display against Adam Voges at the WACA in 2016, when South Africa toured Australia. The young fast bowler got the ball to reverse both ways, leaving the Australian batter completely at sea. His lines and lengths were impeccable, challenging the forward defence of the batsman all the time.
The other quality associated with Rabada is the ease at which he bowls really quick. It is obvious with most of the bowlers when they put in a real effort to bowl fast but with Rabada, this is not the case.
Rabada can swing the ball both ways at high pace ©AFP
A classic example of this came when South Africa were playing England at the Rose Bowl last year. At that time, Jason Roy was going through a window of bad fortune with a glaring technical weakness of his bottom hand taking over. Rabada was honing in around off-stump on a length and was averaging 88 mph at one point.
Out of nowhere came a very full ball, clocked at 93 mph, aimed right at the stumps. Roy’s bottom hand took over once again as he played all around the line of the ball, leaving his stumps rattled.
If Pakistan can counter this pace attack and put runs on the board, they have every chance to win this series. They have reached South Africa approximately two weeks ahead of the first Test and are scheduled to play a tour game as well, the first game on Boxing Day will be a different ball game all-together.