Has Pace Bowling Ever Had It So Good?
South Africa has a great fast bowling tradition
Watching the South Africans complete a clean sweep of the three Test series against Pakistan I was amazed by the quality of their fast bowlers. Much has been said and written about the Indian pace attack and how it is the finest in Indian cricket history. India of course has not had a great tradition of producing fast bowlers and that is why the bowlers are now the subject of focus.
South Africa on the other hand have had a great fast bowling tradition. In the fifties and sixties before they were excommunicated from international cricket bowlers like Neil Adcock, Peter Heine, Peter Pollock and Mike Proctor had terrorized batsmen the world over with their pace and hostility.
Since readmission to Test cricket in 1992 the tradition has been maintained by the likes of Allan Donald, Shuan Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. But it is safe to say that never in South Africa’s history – and they played their first Test in 1888 – has the fast bowling department been the kind of embarrassment of riches it represents today.
Steyn is still around but at 35 the great man seems to be playing a supporting role with the emergence in quick succession of Vernon Philander, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier. They just keep coming off the assembly line and astonishingly one seems to be better than the other and the overall stats associated with all of them are of the eye rubbing and mind boggling category. In the three Tests against Pakistan for example Olivier took 24 wickets at just 14.7 apiece.
The temptation is there to compare the South African pace attack with the Indian pace attack which has also performed admirably over the last year in South Africa, England and Australia besides India.
These are the two countries in the forefront as far as searing hot pace is concerned. In the three match series played in South Africa a year ago fast bowlers from both sides made their presence felt in no uncertain terms and came out with equal credit.
Indeed the growing feeling is that pace bowling the world over has never had it so good. For the true connoisseur of the game there is no better sight than a fast bowler in full flow, hurtling down bouncers and yorkers, sending stumps flying with thunderbolts and making the ball move this way and that with late swing. And these days there is much to savour as almost all teams have bowlers capable of doing all these things.
In the past a couple of teams had great fast bowlers but the pace bowling of other sides was not quite world class. These days however there are many teams which can boast of a high velocity pace attack.
Besides South Africa and India who as I said are in the forefront in this regard England, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan too are well served in the pace department. But they lack the firepower of the South African and Indian attack in that they have two very fine bowlers but the rest can only be called support bowlers.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad may be ageing but they still pick up the wickets regularly and their experience is unmatched. Much the same may be said about Tim Southee and Trent Boult but for both England and New Zealand the support from the likes of Neil Wagner and Ben Stokes is not exactly up there.
Australia is better served with the trio of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc with the experienced Peter Siddle waiting on the sidelines. Pakistan have Mohammad Abbas and Mohammed Amir but the support of Shaheen Afridi and Hasan Ali is well short of world class. The remaining Test nations can boast of one world class bowler at best but overall it can be seen why pace bowling has probably never had it so good.