Mohammed Shami’s absence will certainly leave a gaping hole in India’s planning but former South African pacer Fanie de Villiers believes that Rohit Sharma’s men have the best chance of ending a 31-year wait for a Test series win in the Rainbow Nation. De Villiers, once a well-known exponent of the slower delivery in white ball cricket and Allan Donald’s worthy new ball partner till the mid 1990s, complimented Jasprit Bumrah, Shami and Mohammed Siraj for being a pace unit that has understood the importance of line more than length in pacer-friendly conditions, unlike some of the earlier India attacks. “Indian team has arrived in South Africa with its best ever chance (to win a series),” De Villiers told PTI during an exclusive interview ahead of the Boxing Day Test starting December 26.

Sitting in the museum of his sprawling mansion, which is a stone’s throw from the Supersport Park, the man, who once troubled the iconic Sachin Tendulkar with his well disguised slow off-cutters, explained what made this Indian attack special.

“For the first time they have got fast bowlers, who can bowl ‘the line’ and not just hit the length. They can bowl on the imaginary ‘fifth’, ‘sixth’ off-stump line. If you can get at least four balls on that corridor, that’s how you win Tests,” said the bowler, who had a stunning economy rate of less than four in 85 ODIs and less than three in 18 Tests.

“India have been coming for many years but very few of your fast bowlers were line bowlers. But now you have Bumrah and Siraj. Yes, I agree that Shami not playing makes a massive difference. But Siraj and Bumrah are bowlers who can bowl line, whereas South African bowlers bowl from off to leg stump.

“Because they (Proteas pacers) are youngsters running and trying to bowl fast. Only Rabada can bowl that good line, I think India have got the best chance ever.” Talk about Rabada and there’s a twinkle in his eyes as he rates him on par with Dale Steyn in terms of quality and ability.

“You have to understand when did the fast bowler start playing. Rabada had the privilege of being a big boy and did lot of gym and Rabada would have made any Test cricket team, from early days and it puts him in league of Dale Steyn, who would have made every Test team,” he said.

No one knows the Centurion track better than De Villiers, who has literally grown up bowling at Supersport Park.

“Let’s put it holistically. It is a wicket (pitch) where the ball carries to keeper and where the ball hits the bat harder (after pitching). It’s a wicket where you can get into trouble hooking. Here on this track, line is more important as you can always vary your length.

“You can use humidity to swing the ball and hence I was saying fast bowlers wins you Tests, especially at Centurion. I think you have a hell of a game coming your way.

“I think, India have a 65 percent chance of winning this Test series,” he declared when asked if he considers it a 50-50 contest in Shami’s absence.

Need to be patient with Kohli

When it comes to tackling the peerless Virat Kohli, De Villiers wants the South African team to play the waiting game.

“Only way to get a Virat Kohli kind of batter out is a very orthodox way of bowling on the fourth stump channel and play a waiting game. And wait for that one delivery which nips a bit far away. You can’t attack a good player,” he was straight.

He cited Tendulkar’s example to drive home his point.

“Like in case of Tendulkar, it was silly to always wait for leg before (to an incoming delivery). Because he would hit you through mid-wicket. So bowl those deliveries outside off-stump (to Virat) and wait for one to either nip away or nip in.”

I would have survived IPL

De Villiers’ international career ended in 1998, at least a decade before the T20 revolution took the cricket universe by storm and when asked if he would have got a multi-million dollar deal like Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc, he stared laughing.

“I started bowling slow bouncers back in late 1980s in local cricket but thought it might be dangerous to do it in international cricket… I have always been an inventor of new ideas and established them to fall back on all the time,” he said.

Bowling is a difficult art and one needs to work consistently to develop.

“It’s very difficult to understand bowling if you don’t work hard at it. Guys need to be disciplined, inquisitive and teachable and that gets you interested in what you can do. Not every player evolves with time but I was a guy who evolved. Definitely, I had the innovative streak.” So what about an IPL deal? “Obviously, you are thinking money when you talk about auctions but I would think in lines that could I have coped. I could bowl yorkers. I started the trend of slower deliveries.

“From a fast bowler’s perspective, you need to be innovative to survive the IPL. I would have been less expensive because of my ability to bowl yorkers and slower ones.” He says in simple words how can one survive the IPL.

“In IPL, either you have to bowl really fast or really innovative to survive. I think I would have fallen in innovative category quite effectively. So missed out (on IPL), yes, but no complaints, as I had a wonderful career.”

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