Cape Town – He is probably a little biased, considering that he was a member of some famously lethal West Indies pace quartets in his heyday, but Michael Holding feels the Proteas must maximise their pace arsenal in Test matches.
The visiting SuperSport/Sky commentator reckons the now-deposed world No 1 team, who come off successive series losses to India away and England at home, should pin their faith in a “full house” of quickies in many instances in the short- to medium-term future.
Holding was speaking after the Proteas’ impressive last-day demolition of remaining England resistance at Centurion on Tuesday – with Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel to the fore – for a consolation 280-run triumph in the four-match series.
South Africa will have a problem fitting in all of their best pacemen for the next series at home to New Zealand in early spring, assuming that Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, key absentees over the last few weeks, are properly fit again.
That will especially apply if they stick to the current formula of fielding seven specialist batsmen in the absence of a true all-rounder, and wish to include a spinner amongst a four-man-only attack.
“South Africa should field four fast bowlers on the majority of surfaces,” Holding said in examination of the Proteas’ chances of bouncing back to the premier position in the pecking order sooner rather than later.
If they failed under such circumstances, he said, it would probably be more because of shortcomings from the batting division than any perceived imbalance to their bowling.
Clearly by saying “majority” he was making allowance for the fact that on the Subcontinent, for instance, it would usually be foolhardy not to field at least one recognised spinner.
But the Proteas don’t revisit those unique conditions for a while. As the ICC’s Future Tours Programme schedule stands, their next assignment there will be in Sri Lanka in mid-2018.
If the Proteas take Holding’s advice, local fans might get the first chance at long last, when the Black Caps visit Kingsmead and SuperSport Park this August, to witness all of Steyn, Rabada, Morkel and Philander in action together in the five-day format ... although likely pitch slowness, pre-summer, would have to be taken into account in shaping the bowling unit.
Rabada has already become a “must pick” for Tests in the immediate future – hopefully his one-day load will be carefully managed – following his amazing late-series feats against England, whilst Steyn and Philander pretty much pick themselves on compelling statistical weight if in best physical shape.
The last-named player also becomes an important batting stabiliser in the No 8 berth; important considering the ongoing vulnerability of South Africa’s tail despite some grittier collective efforts of late.
But on Tuesday the lanky stalwart Morkel also issued a powerful notice that he has no wish to be sidelined with one of his most spiteful bursts of the summer on the closing day of the England series.
Whilst Rabada impressively did the majority of the mop-up in the wickets column, Morkel got the procession rolling with a snorter of a delivery to dismiss James Taylor caught behind, fending in front of his nose, and also induced the dangerous Ben Stokes into a mistimed pull on the increasingly uneven track to be pouched on the fence.
“I wouldn’t want to be facing Morne Morkel on that track today,” said former England captain and adhesive batsman Mike Atherton, reminding of the big man’s virtues when conditions do become hazardously up-and-down.
The 31-year-old has carried a major mental and physical load in recent months, considering that he has often headed a green-looking pace group, and also played seven Test matches in succession (three in India, all four against England) since as recently as November 14.
If the Proteas do elect to go all-pace in the immediate future, someone like Morkel would be freed up to bowl shorter, more attacking bursts, helped by the fact that the seasoned Philander, for example, is good at closing up one end economically once the new ball has lost its shine.
Now it just remains to be seen whether Holding gets his wish ...
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