Pace pack exposes Indian chinks

Pace pack exposes Indian chinks

Since their one-day series defeat against Pakistan at the turn of this year, the Indians have been an unstoppable force in the 50-over format, winning the next six series on the trot.

But Dale Steyn & Co broke through that carefully built castle with ridiculous ease; masterminding South Africa’s 141 and 136-run win in the first and second one-dayer at the Wanderers and Kingsmead. Never in this season has the Indian batting line-up looked so vulnerable, so hapless, as they appeared against the Proteas in this series.

If you want to place your finger on one person for India’s tame surrender, then it is Steyn. The exploits of the 30-year-old fast bowler from Phalaborwa has been too well-chronicled to detail all over again, but this one-day series underlined why Steyn is the best in the world.

Rohit Sharma’s consistency in the opening slot has been a big factor in India emerging winners in a number of one-dayers this year. But Steyn made the Mumbaikar look like an amateur, not allowing him even to touch the first 15 balls. The pace, bounce and swing that Steyn generated on a spicy pitch was too much for him to handle, in fact, for many in the Indian top order.

But the Durban one-dayer was expected to offer the Indians some relief. After all, the pitch was not as juicy as at the Wanderers, and the boundaries were much shorter, but Steyn took all that away from the equation with a clever spell.

In Johannesburg, he used his searing pace to rattle the Indians, but on a relatively sluggish pitch at Kingsmead Steyn kept the Indians on a tight leash with his control over his craft.

That’s what makes Steyn wonderful bowler to watch and a scary opponent – high skill levels and ability to assess the conditions to perfection. South African one-day skipper AB de Villiers stressed on the importance of having Steyn in his side.

“It is a pleasure having him in the side. He’s certainly a very skillful bowler. I try and bowl him at the right times, when he will be most effective. He was very effective in every single spell he bowled.

“He brings a lot of intensity and energy to the party. He leads the bowling attack really well, setting a good pace for us up front for the rest of the bowlers to follow,” said De Villiers.

De Villiers made a significant point there. The rest of the bowlers – Morne Morkel, Lonawabo Tsotsobe and Ryan McLaren – ensured the platform given by Steyn wouldn’t be wasted.

Tsotsobe, who shares the new ball, looks an innocuous customer if you compare him with Steyn, a sitting duck for Indian batsmen. He doesn’t have the pace of Steyn or the bounce of Morkel, but what the left-arm pacer does is to pitch the ball consistently on or around the off-stump, cramping the batsmen for room and forcing them to take some risks against him.

Morkel uses his height to great advantage. Indeed, the lanky fast bowler can go for a few runs, especially in the limited over formats, but in turn he can get you wickets. The younger of the Morkel brothers – all-rounder Albie is the elder – can generate awkward bounce from his 1.96M frame, and at a high pace too.

Then comes the third constant in this South African attack – McLaren. The right-arm pacer is a notch below Steyn and Morkel when it comes to pace.

But McLaren, a product of the county cricket when he joined Kent, operates in a way more English than South African.

McLaren’s focus is on the right length, and just refuses to bowl bad balls; he’s always there on your back, creating trouble with tight balls on the middle and off-stump.
So, how can the Indians escape from the vicious claws of these relentless pace battery? Virat Kohli offered a way forward. “It’s all about assessing the condition, learning from the games that you have played and staying positive.”

They need to do that immediately because this short trip doesn’t give too many chances to bounce back.

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