Not since the West Indies first unveiled their range of outstanding pace bowlers in the mid-1970s – a factory that remained productive for over a quarter of a century – have we seen such an assembly line of world class pacemen like South Africa has produced since their readmission to international cricket in 1991. Like it was with the West Indians there seems no end to this assembly line as even when a great bowler leaves the scene another just as good if not better takes his place.
South Africa’s pace bowling tradition is not as strong as the West Indies. Its initial successes were scripted by their spin bowlers Bally Balaskas, Reggie Schwarz and Bert Vogler. Later on of course there was Hugh Tayfield South Africa’s finest ever spin bowler. But the first pair of fast bowlers to really attract attention – Peter Heine and Neil Adcock – made their appearance in the fifties. Peter Pollock was their spearhead in the sixties and he was joined later in the decade by Mike Proctor but just as they were proving to be destructive South Africa were banned from international cricket.
The pace bowling tradition however became much stronger since their readmission. Allan Donald was the first to impress with his pace and hostility and even among the plethora of outstanding fast bowlers in the 90s he stood out. No doubt he provided the inspiration for a number of budding fast bowlers and in the last two decades South Africa have produced some of the finest. Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel have carried on the tradition so admirably that in the past few years South Africa have had the best pace bowling attack in the world.
Even as Pollock and Ntini retired, there burst upon the scene Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada. And now that Morkel has called it a day and Steyn will obviously not last very long they already have ready replacements in Lungi Ngidi and the latest find Anrich Nortje. In fact South Africa unearthed the best of the new breed of fast bowlers in Duanne Olivier who in ten Tests picked up 48 wickets at 19 apiece. But he has now signed a Kolpak deal with Yorkshire and that certainly is a big blow for South Africa.
But perhaps in the ultimate analysis it will not mean much for the others are still around and more are bound to appear. And what is particularly eye catching among the South African pacemen is the stats against their names. The average and the strike rate are the best among fast bowlers the world over.