Are SA bowlers soft‚ or too fast?

England's Liam Plunkett shakes hands with South Africa head coach Ottis Gibson during nets session at the Oval in London on May 29 2019.
England's Liam Plunkett shakes hands with South Africa head coach Ottis Gibson during nets session at the Oval in London on May 29 2019.
Image: Reuters/Paul Childs

South Africa have earned their reputation for producing quality fast bowlers the hard way — by producing them era in and era out.

But this generation of the country’s quicks are earning the kind of reputation they don’t want‚ especially not with a World Cup upon them: are they soft?

“Over the two years I’ve been here‚ I looked at the sort of bowling attack that I thought I needed to come and to win a World Cup in England‚” Ottis Gibson said on Sunday.

“It was [Dale] Steyn‚ [Kagiso] Rabada‚ [Lungi] Ngidi‚ and [Anrich] Nortjé came on the scene with the x-factor I was looking for.

“But we lost two of them before the tournament started. And now Lungi today.”

Rabada and Steyn left the Indian Premier League early with back and shoulder injuries‚ and the latter has been on ice since April 21.

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Nortjé broke his thumb before the squad left South Africa and was replaced by Chris Morris‚ while a hamstring problem took Ngidi off the field at the Oval on Sunday.

That complicated South Africa’s job of trying to beat Bangladesh — they didn’t‚ going down by 21 runs — which followed their 104-run loss to England.

Played two‚ lost two is not the way to start a World Cup‚ particularly when your next game is against one of the favoured teams.

South Africa face India in Southampton on Wednesday. What might their attack look like?

Ngidi will be sidelined for up to 10 days‚ so he won’t feature.

“Dale is getting closer every day‚” Gibson said. “He reckons he is sort of 85-ish percent.

“We have to decide whether 85% is good enough to play against India.”

Other options are Dwaine Pretorius‚ who bowled seven solid overs for 42 and no wicket against England‚ and Tabraiz Shamsi‚ who has missed both matches.

South Africa’s best have been Andile Phehlukwayo and Imran Tahir‚ who have taken seven wickets between them — as many as the other six combined. They are South Africa’s only bowlers who have conceded less than a run a ball.

There’s surely a lesson in the fact that Phehlukwayo and Tahir are also the only frontline bowlers used who are not trying operate at full pace.

“We conceded 54 runs in the last four overs [against Bangladesh]‚” Gibson said. “If you bowl that way you aren’t going to win many games.”

Three of those overs were bowled by Rabada and Morris‚ who have looked ineffective in the two matches. South Africa have always produced fast bowlers.

Now they need clever bowlers.

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