With surplus bounce,prolonged seam movement and conditions nearly custom-made for swing,South Africa has a lot to offer for a fast bowler. Ironically,few overseas pacers have tasted significant success in these parts. Former SA pacer,Fanie de Villiers,tells Bharat Sundaresan why thats been the case,chalks out a potential pitch-map for Indias five-man pace attack and explains why he thinks Bhuvneshwar Kumar could be a secret weapon.
What are the basics required for a fast bowler to make an impact in South African conditions?
Most South African batsmen handle short-pitched bowling well. Im not talking about bouncers,but about the short of length delivery. Theyre good with that. They are effective players against pace,which means when the ball is short of a length,they have enough time to see the bounce,to gauge if there is any movement from the pitch or through the air and then adapt to that. The bowlers struggle to get wickets because you cant just get wickets with normal stock deliveries anymore in South Africa. Your better players dont get out against them. They get out when you think them out. When you bowl a strategic short ball,when you pitch the ball for a strategic drive,when you set your fields for attacking shots,and are aware that 1 out of 5 times the batsman attempts the shot youll get his wicket. Clever bowling gets you wickets in South Africa.
What in your opinion constitutes clever bowling?
I remember,during my time,if I took 40 wickets during a first-class season in South Africa,six or seven of those were through my stock delivery while the rest were through variations. Variation differs from a short-pitched delivery,differs from one where you get a straight drive and differs from a wide and full delivery outside off-stump that you need to drive through the cover-point area. Then there is the three-quarter pace half-volley outside off stump that tempts him into the drive. He thinks it is a bad ball and throws his bat at it,bringing your slips into play. You need to have six or seven different deliveries other than your stock delivery to get wickets in South Africa.
Is it true that the ball seams for much longer in South Africa than anywhere else?
That is true. If you analyse and compare the turf,the wickets in South Africa dont have a lot of soft clay,the kind youll find in India,Australia and England. Our pitches have a lot of organic matter. If you go to the bottom of any lake or river in South Africa,on the sides,you will find black organic matter. Thats where our oil and coal has been derived from over millions of years. That organic matter is very sticky and when it goes dry,it becomes rock hard. So any indentations that are made on it when it dries up remain there. Even the heavy roller wont have an effect on it. Thats why even when an old ball hits those indentations in the right areas,it seams because its not a smooth,flat area.
In the other countries I mentioned,those indentations can be rolled out. On the first day,when theres moisture in the top 3-4 cms of the organic matter,that decides what happens later on during the Test match. Then you get the cracks,because of the organic material,its like ice. When ice melts,its much smaller than it is when its not melted. The same is with our organic material the moment it dries,its much smaller. Thats why you get bigger and deeper cracks,because its pulling together.
How,as a bowler,do you exploit them though?
Those little cracks can also make a little bit of difference if you use it strategically. You need to identify a specific area,even if its short of a length,and aim for it. You set a field for those cracks or indentations. Its generally more the indentations than the cracks,unless theyre really big. Its very seldom that the cracks play a huge role in South Africa.
Is the bounce on South African wickets different to those in Australia?
We have got quicker wickets. Newlands is quick. Kingsmead is very quick. The Wanderers,if prepared properly,is very quick. Its not pace and bounce that Indian batsmen are used to. So the problem they have is not undisciplined batting but the muscle-memory batting. Now when you bat,everything happens automatically. You cant think about it,its instinctive. So the instinct of a guy who hooks,he cant go without it. Thats why they get themselves into trouble over here. Again,the important difference is our turf that allows us to,on the day,prepare it very quick or make it slower. If you are unlucky and it is very quick,you could even dare to win the toss and bowl first because you can bowl a team out. If your bowlers are limited in skills,then you bowl first to take wickets and make sure you use the conditions. Because two days later,the wickets get softer and drier,and bounce less .
Are the conditions in South Africa more conducive to swing bowling in comparison to others countries
Swing happens anywhere in South Africa because of the moisture and swing happens if you bowl against the wind. Durban is fantastic,so is Newlands. Even Joburg and Centurion,which are up north in the Highvelds. The Kookaburra is exactly the ball to use here. If you are a good swing bowler,you can swing it with the old ball. If you are one who uses conditions to swing the ball,Im afraid you will struggle to move the old ball. But if you take the likes of myself,Kapil Dev,Philip DeFraites and Manoj Prabhakar,we swung the old ball. Didnt matter where we were bowling in the world because we had the right action,the right grip and the right angle of the wrist. It all depends on if you are a real swing bowler or one who swings it now and then.
What about the scope for reverse swing?
Reverse swing doesnt happen much in South Africa because theres not a lot of granular support from the pitch. The clay wickets in India,for example,leave granular pieces that scratch the ball easier. We have grass covering here. We have organic material that holds pitches together better. So it makes reverse swing much less effective. In other places,you lose the swing quickly because of the sandpaper effect thats when you can wet one side more and work on the other side to keep it dry and use reverse swing.
Strangely,very few modern-day (post 1992) fast bowlers from overseas have enjoyed much success in South Africa and the leader,by far,is Indias Javagal Srinath,who took 43 wickets at an average of 25.27 in 8 Tests and a strike-rate of 51.9.
Why did Srinath do better?
Srinath was a fast bowler who wanted to pitch it up. He wanted to bowl fuller lengths and not just short of a length,and hear your slip cordon go,Well bowled,well bowled,as it passes the bat. But that wont get people out. Your fuller-length deliveries will get you wickets. You need to buy people out. You need to have a captain who says bowl a half-volley,bowl full,bowl fuller and Ill set the field for it. Let them drive.
Your figures in South Africa make for impressive reading too. What stands out is that 70 per cent of your 51 dismissals,at 20.94 apiece,were caught-behind,bowled or lbw.
I bowled a fuller length. Bowled short of a length for four deliveries,dried them up,then I bowled my wider delivery on a fuller length to tempt them. They always chased it. Some of the top batsmen fell for it. Except Carl Hooper,who never fell for it. I never bowled a sharp inswinger. I bowled wide of the stumps,then I landed it closer to the stumps and bowled an off-cutter for lbws. If you have a good away-swinger,then you can line up right-handers for lbws better than anybody else. I and Prabhakar were the first ones to start using slower deliveries in Test cricket,and one of my regular victims with it was Sachin Tendulkar,because he always chased it. A slower off-spinner with a quick action that got him out. The off-cutter is a great option against left-handers too.
Is there a feeling among South African bowlers that Indian batsmen are susceptible outside their off-stump?
The thing with Indian batsmen is that they have a tendency of planting their front-foot on off-stump or even middle-stump and driving outside the off-stump. You get away with it in India because theres no bounce and you always connect with the middle of the bat. In South Africa,it will bounce extra and the ball will hit the side of your bat. Thats where the difference comes in.
Most modern Indian batsmen dont play the orthodox game where you put the front-foot right over off-stump,and you try and drive. Bouncy wickets,you cant play the drive so freely. But they think if in India I play the drive on the up,why cant I do it here. Its muscle memory,the automatic response that is the problem. Thats why you need to bowl full. Thats why you want batsmen to drive on the up,because the up is much higher here.
Will someone like Bhuvneshwar Kumar,who lacks genuine pace,prosper in those conditions?
Hes a lovely swing bowler. Its a pity hes not quicker. I dont know why hes so thin. Because if he can work harder on his body and run in faster,he will be a huge weapon. But he will be much quicker and more potent in South Africa. To be quicker on Indian wickets,many hours in the gym is the only way out for him. I was showing my boys the other day how well he was moving it both ways and we were all very impressed. Its fantastic to see.
So Kumar will have to keep his length full?
Especially,someone like him needs to pitch the ball up and can even err on the side of being fuller in South Africa. His short of a length will not be effective. He cant be too straight though. If he gets driven through mid-off,hes bowling too straight. If hes being driven through cover and cover-point,hes bowling the right line. Thats how he can and will get guys out.
You need good captaincy. Less people on the leg-side and more people covering the off-side. The problem with most captains is that if you get driven for four,they say youve bowled a bad ball. They should realise that is one of the most important tactics of a fast bowler. Then you need to set the field for those. They have a fine-leg for a bad ball,which is a waste for a genuine swing bowler like Kumar.
Put him in the covers. So you get the batsmen to drive four or five times in that direction. So one out of five times he will nick it. So say,three times the cover fielder stops it,one is in the gap for four but you get him with the fifth. One out of five will go towards the slips. Very unlikely that anybody will drive five out of five from the middle of the bat. If youre bowling five-six overs in a spell and not bowling a half-volley,you are not doing a great job as you wont get too many wickets.
Can someone of Kumars pace trouble batsmen with a bouncer in South Africa?
Its startling but the fact is that your slower fast bowlers get more wickets with the bouncer than any other express bowler. Because against them,the batsman looks to hook. But the slower fast bowlers catch you unawares because youre not scared of them,so youre on the front-foot and you end up late on the shot. So someone like Kumar can make his bouncer very effective. And good field placement will help.
There are two bouncers. One that a batsman picks up from off-stump and hits through square-leg and one that is more in line with leg-stump and hit to fine-leg. He must be good enough to bowl the right one for his field and mix it up. The leg-stump bouncer is,I feel,a more potent option as you can control the outcome better,have a fine-leg and also ensure that it gets stopped. A young fast bowler who struggles with his bouncer and gets hits through mid-wicket or square-leg should go wide of the stumps while delivering,and aim it towards the leg-stump with the angle.
Do you think Zaheer Khans return will help India?
Absolutely. He is one of the old boys and hes probably lost some pace. The stint with Adrian Le Roux is sure to have made a difference to his life and career. He also gets Graeme Smith out all the time and hes one of those who can bowl anywhere. He needs to pump up the pace slightly. I have always believed that he can bowl much quicker than he is bowling now. That is because he has a very slow run-up but a beautiful action. Hes the kind of bowler who needs momentum to bowl quicker. He could still work on that. Its different for left-armers in a way. They can afford to bowl short of a length more from over the wicket because of their angle across the right-hander.
Do you see Ishant Sharma playing a role similar to the one Morne Morkel does for South Africa?
Sharma with the long hair? Hes not an effective bowler. Hes involved too much with his own image. He needs to focus more on cricket. Thats why hes in and out of the team. Hes got a hell of potential. Hes got height,a beautiful action but its a personality shortage. But he might do well on this tour,mind you. Hes the kind of guy in the team that can influence everybody elses performance. Hes not a pro-active guy that can help and support,and make the team better. Hes one of those self-centred individuals. But you never know.
What do you think would be the perfect combination as far as the pace attack is concerned?
The best pace combination on South African wickets is one that works together. Guys who can strategically attack and strategically keep the runs down. That makes wickets fall. Here,you cant just keep runs down and expect wickets to fall. You need to keep attacking. If a Sharma,for instance,bowls short on the on-side and gives away boundaries,it influences what is happening at the other end. It is counter-productive.
You need disciplined and effective fast bowlers working in pairs. You cant win Test matches with one quality bowler. If Allan Donald is leaking runs from the other side,and Im keeping the runs down and then bowling the strategic wide delivery for the drive,chances of the batsmen leaving it are very high as they have already scored a lot of runs from the other end. You need to ensure that theres harmony. Help each other out. You need to buy wickets and set them up for your partner at the other end. Those are good combinations.