Whenever India tour overseas, we start talking about swing and seam movement and its right to some extent because in places like England, Australia and New Zealand, it’s the movement of the ball which does the most of the damage, but, it’s not quite the case with South Africa. In South Africa, it’s the pace which you have to deal with.
When you go to England, you know that there will be a lot of grass on the pitches and the ball will seam all over. When you go to Australia, you know that there will be a lot of bounce in the pitches and your back foot play will be tested, but, when you go to South Africa, you are not quite sure what you are going to get. One day you might come across a surface where it’s all about chin music, the other day, it can be a sluggish surface as well.
Once a great Australian player was asked if he would like to face hostile fast bowling in Perth or on a two paced track, he had answered ‘Perth’. It might sound a bit awkward, but, it’s true. In Perth, you know that the ball would race past your nose or your ribs, but, at least you are sure about the bounce. You know that the ball is going to rise up to this extent, but, when you play on a two paced track; you are never sure about that. One ball would go over your shoulders, the other one wouldn’t rise even up to your ankle. That’s the biggest challenge for a batsman. When he is not sure about the bounce, he would never go forward and would always be in danger of being caught in the crease.
That’s the reason the batting is tricky in South Africa. If they produce a quick pitch, it’s too quick. But, when they decide to prepare a slow track, they make it two paced where the odd ball bounces steeply and the odd one doesn’t even leave the ground.
I am not saying that there will be no movement at all in South Africa. With Dale Steyn around, you can never keep swing out of the picture, but, it’s not going to be vicious swing as we expect in England or New Zealand. The main challenge for the Indian batsmen there would be to counter the pace of the surface.
Remember South Africa has got bowlers who are ideal both for the quick and the two paced surfaces. Dale Steyn is not only a swing bowler, he can smash the wicket too by holding the ball cross seam when needed. The same can be said about Morne Morkel as well. Probably, he doesn’t get as much swing as Steyn gets, but, when it comes to hitting the deck, he is not an inch behind Steyn. With his height, he is even more lethal.
While facing the South African attack in South Africa, two things are vital. First, if you are nimble footed or not i.e. if you are able to transfer your weight from front foot to back foot quickly or not and second, if you are watching the ball till the last second or not because with variable bounce, if you don’t do that, there are chances of you getting hurt.