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Bob runs the rule over England and South Africa's quicks

Bob Willis Posted 11th July 2012 view comments

I don't think we have seen a contest between two sides with such slick bowling units in quite some time, so England's series with South Africa should be a cracker.

England's batsmen are more comfortable against pace and, if Ravi Bopara comes in for Jonny Bairstow, they will all be in decent form, but Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis are top-quality bowlers who will each pose different threats.

Kallis, Steyn and Morkel: can the Proteas pacemen unsettle England?

Kallis, Steyn and Morkel: can the Proteas pacemen unsettle England?

The hosts, meanwhile, are the masters of swinging the ball consistently; it doesn't seem to matter who they face and what conditions the play them in, the England attack can move the ball at will, generate both conventional and reverse swing, and bowl the opposition out.

Read below to get my assessment of the seamers that will be on show this summer...


Dale Steyn is the number one-ranked bowler in Test cricket for good reason. He combines electrifying pace with deadly accuracy, which is something you rarely get from a fast bowler; it's usually one or the other. He bowls wicket-to-wicket and doesn't waste many deliveries by pitching them wide of the stumps. However, the 29-year-old hasn't been so fluent in games with England, averaging 35 against them compared to his overall Test match bowling average of 23. He is a better bowler than when he has previously played England, but Andrew Strauss and co like the ball coming onto the bat so they can work it into the gaps and keep the scoreboard moving. I think England can deal with Steyn.

I think England will encounter more problems from the swinging deliveries of Vernon Philander, who has been a revelation since he entered the Test match arena, claiming 51 wickets from his first seven games. Moving the ball is a terrific skill and it seems to be the in-vogue way of picking up wickets now, as with Test cricket played on mostly flat pitches you can't rely on getting deviation off the seam. Philander gets plenty of swing and backs that up with tremendous control. We've seen Mitchell Johnson swing and seam the ball, yet on occasions it can go all over the place. Philander, though, is very consistent. He is not the quickest bowler on the circuit but he is one of the most effective.

Morne Morkel is a beast of a man, standing at 6ft 6in, and generates quite alarming bounce when he bowls a good length, let alone a short one; he is a big danger when he gets it right. That said, the wet weather we have encountered will make the pitches slow and easy paced which may negate his threat, while he also bowls enough bad balls for you to get scoring opportunities. He doesn't have the control or accuracy of his fellow seamers Steyn and Philander, which explains his average of over 30, and of the three, I would suggest he is the most vulnerable. But that is just nit-picking because he is still a top-drawer international bowler, with 129 Test match wickets to his name and no doubt plenty more to come. England will have to be at their best to stifle him.

I think Jacques Kallis is one of the most underrated cricketers of all time and his statistics would suggest that he is the best all-round player ever. He has a batting average not too short of 60, while his bowling record - 274 wickets at an average of 32 - would stand alone, too; he is a top-class Test match bowler. I'm not too sure how much he will bowl but he is a great foil to the other seamers, and is capable of fulfilling an attacking or containing role. England won't find it easy to see him off and he mustn't be underestimated.


James Anderson looks irresistible. He is in exhilarating form at the moment and claims wickets under any circumstances, on any pitch, and in any weather conditions, while he very rarely bowls a bad spell. He has had a fair amount of bad luck so far this summer as when Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad have been picking up wickets, he has had catches dropped and missed the outside edge. He should pose no end of problems for the South African batsmen, particularly Graeme Smith. The Proteas skipper has scored a hoard of runs against England in the past but I don't expect him to do so this time; he is a strong lbw candidate early on and I would back Anderson to get the better of him.

I was highly critical of Stuart Broad when we played Sri Lanka over here in 2011, when he bowled far too short and kept trying too many different things in order to take wickets. But the message has got through to him and he is now more focussed on bowling a good length. Broad is much more threatening these days, while he is also an excellent presence to have on the field because he is a great competitor and likes to be in the thick of the action. He is getting close to the consistency of his teammate Anderson, bowling fewer wild spells and fewer loose deliveries.

Tim Bresnan, apart from the washout at Edgbaston during the West Indies series, has won every match he has played for England and has become a vital cog in the side. Bresnan is a workhorse who will bowl over after over with the minimum of fuss and often comes into his own when he has an old, flat track to work with. He relishes the task of trying to get wickets on an unresponsive surface and is an excellent exponent of reverse swing, albeit at a lesser pace than Simon Jones, who ripped Australia apart during the 2005 Ashes. He Is very canny and, of course, is held in high regard by the England hierarchy because of the threat he offers with the bat, in addition to his main job with the ball.

Steve Finn is probably one of the unluckiest bowlers in the world. He would walk into any other Test side due to his combination of high pace, steep bounce and ability to swing the ball, as he showed in the ODI series with Australia by taking eight wickets in the four games that took place. He will probably miss out on a spot in the first XI as England like the safety valve of Bresnan's batting but he will not weaken England's attack if he comes in and you could say he would enhance it.

England begin their series with South Africa at 10am on Thursday and you can see all the action live on Sky Sports 1 HD.

Comments (10)

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Paul Conway says...

Steyn has been world no.1 for a few years now. I don't think that the England openers will have it all their own way although he is better against right handed batsmen than left handed ones. Anderson is much improved but the edge Steyn has is that he can bowl very quick when he needs to.

Posted 12:00 17th July 2012

Raj Nair says...

I can only have a hearty laugh at the comments made by Micheal Kourk above. Perhaps we should allow him to build his castles in the air about SA winning 3-0 which is the joke of the century ! By the way who performed better in flat docile pitches in UAE ? Jimmy averaged 27 something and Steyn had wickets at 50+ Check records before writing. SA are the all time chokers best at that. England all the way. 2-1 or 2-0 eng. Thanks

Posted 08:16 17th July 2012

Owain Bass says...

I am very excited about this series. England are a high quality outfit that will be tested by South Africa and the challenge will hopefully bring out the best in them. I am looking forward to seeing AB De Villiers and Kallis bat. Hopefully the weather stays fair. KP to get big runs.

Posted 21:47 16th July 2012

Jack Gray says...

@ Gertchen and Michael. Typically cocky South African fans. English pace bowlers have been in great form for over two years and we have an outstanding home record to suit. Our batting record against Pakistan was woeful, but if you saw how our bowling unit performed on dry slow pitches you are a fool to underestimate them. Our bowling attack has been the best attack for a couple of years and rarely under perform. Furthermore they have done it against every team in the world at some point or other. We are test #1; ODI joint #2 and 20:20 champions, it is not our fault that SA don't play enough cricket we simply beat whoever is in front of us. Morkel is highly overrated, reminds me of Steve Harmison somewhat, great pace and impressive bounce on a length but very very wayward, not worried about him in the slightest. Tahir is okay. Philander will swing it a lot but that doesn't always get you wickets if you can't control it. As far as i'm concerned we have nothing to prove and should be considered favourites. I admit that Kallis is in a league of his own, but I think SA have more weaknesses in their batting lie up. Smith will struggle against Anderson, Duminy is weak, it will come down to Amla and Kallis. The loss of Boucher is bad news too as you will miss someone who battles.

Posted 17:00 16th July 2012

Fulu Nepfumbada says...

Should have been a 5 test series. The wicket in most wickets in england is similar to that of the wanderers and supersport park so I dont c us(SA) strugling with conditions. The wost that can happen from this test is a draw for South Africa thats what we back home expect from the proteas. We cannot lose this one. We beat u in the rugby series recently and the only sport that the english can beat us on is soccer but even there they are not so great. Come on Proteas lets do it on their own background. KP,Trott, Strauss you shoild come back home when you retire. lol. Sorry people am just an optimistic South African dont judge please.

Posted 14:32 16th July 2012

Jon Gregory says...

Finn should play. We have all rounder ability in Broad and Swann. In my opinion Finn has all the attributes to become an England great, even a world great. He needs to play Test cricket. England need him to play Test cricket! Take nothing away from Bresnan, he's a fine cricketer, but Finn is a potential world class fast bowler with genuine pace and bounce. Get him in!

Posted 08:36 16th July 2012

Gertchen Boonzaaier says...

The English media always has a lot to say about their team and can make them seem better than they really are. Aprt from Anderson (who i really rate), the rest of your pace attack will never get into a South African side. You guys should really start giving credit where its due and Kallis is one of the greatest crickteters of all time#respect

Posted 08:28 16th July 2012

Michael Kourk says...

I am sick and tired of being told how wonderfull Anderson and broad are.Has anyone looked at ther average 30 (THIRTY)!!! which doesnt compare with some of the truly great bowlers from the past (or present)even from england .Willis 325 wickets ave 25 and snow ave 26.To compare anderson with steyn is a complete joke as steyn has taken more wickets from twenty fewer tests and has a superb average of 23 which is truly world class.This England team are completley overated as they were thrashed 3-0 by Pakistan.Truly great teams should overcome turning pitches.I think South Africa will win 3-0 as this england batting line up will crumble under pressure as they did in Pakistan,and are being undermined by petersens selfish behaviour

Posted 14:37 15th July 2012

Asif Raza says...

Bob has nicely highlighted the main strength of the both sides but I'm looking towards the batting strength of the concern sides because every thing is in favour of the bowlers including weather and in these tough and testing conditions how the batsmen will survive it will be worth watching. The bowlers and conditions will surly test the technique of the batsmen and it will be a great test for the two legends I mean KP and Kallis. I am very keen to watch these legends' technique, mental toughness and temperament in these conditions.

Posted 11:27 14th July 2012

Sunny R says...

Definitely the two best attacks in world cricket and hard to call the better one. Spin-wise, Swann has the edge over Tahir although he's still really good. I think England's familiarity with the conditions will help us to come out on top - just. Expecting a great series - a travesty we're not seeing 5 test matches though

Posted 23:07 13th July 2012

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