Cape Town – They call him the Steyn Remover ... but for just
how long will bowling trump-card Dale Steyn be “removed” from the South African
attack in the remainder of the decisive third Test against Australia at
The pedigreed fast bowler broke down with a right hamstring
strain after the first ball of just his 11th over as the Proteas
were made to toil rather grimly on Saturday, experiencing the rare, flimsy return
for them of one wicket per session on a belter of a track for stroke-players.
They were under pressure from the moment Michael Clarke won
an inviting toss and took the logical decision under sunny skies of batting
first, and with the controversial, outspoken David Warner very much to the fore
– a handy little psychological result for the Aussies, wasn’t it? – have worked
themselves into a position where a score in excess of the 450-mark is
invitingly on, and perhaps then some.
That is often considered the “security” total in the first
innings of a Test, where the team posting it have the luxury of knowing they
should at least not lose the encounter from that position in eight or nine
instances out of 10.
Frankly, with visiting skipper Michael Clarke unbeaten and
having amassed major Test runs (92 of them) for the first time in many weeks,
the eventual tally of Australian runs may well end up looking greatly more
gruesome than 450.
So unless there are major strikes by the Proteas’ hitherto
hard-pressed bowlers pretty soon after the resumption of hostilities on Sunday,
Graeme Smith’s charges will be playing a fair amount of catch-up cricket just
to make sure they do not lose the game and thus the series as well.
As things stand, the goal of becoming the first SA team
since Ali Bacher’s legends of 1969/70 to win a home series against the Baggy
Greens already begins to look ominously elusive.
But that said, when a swashbuckling customer like Warner (135
at a strike rate of 88) has put such an imperious stamp on a day’s play, you
are guaranteed that the match is moving fast, which does allow for twists and
turns as it progresses – and the often remarkable bounce-back qualities of the
world’s current No 1-ranked side can never be discounted.
If the Proteas are to hit back with some venom, Steyn’s
state of readiness – or otherwise – to do his bit for the cause on the second
day and beyond could be a vital factor.
One of the reasons, after all, that South Africa are happy
to pursue a policy of fielding seven batsmen and four pacemen at present (with
two part-timers making up their spin component) is that the quickies are
intended to rotate often and offer up short but incisive spells.
The absence of just one – and particularly if it is the
indisputably blue-chip Steyn – plays havoc with that dynamic, and it certainly
showed for much of the second half of day one as the attack lost much of its
sting and was walloped about with particular Aussie glee in the lengthening
It has to be admitted, too, that even when Steyn was still
part of Saturday’s arsenal – the fact that his complaint has been described by
management as a “strain” is mildly comforting news -- the South Africans were
taking a rather unpalatable bruising from Warner and company.
There were occasional barrages of quite spiteful payback
from Morne Morkel, who targeted Clarke for bodily assault and battery, but the
very fact that he weathered the storms will only have inspired the previously
out-of-touch right-hander to convert this into a truly epic innings.
Keep in mind that Clarke had also prospered brilliantly in
the first innings of the last Newlands Test between these countries in 2011/12,
making 151 out of a total of 284.
It was the game where Australia capitulated to a horrendous
47 all out in their second dig, and there were some delighted reminders from
one or two visiting scribes in the media centre on Saturday when the first
innings on this occasion reached 47 without sacrifice in the wickets column as
ludicrously early as the first ball of the eighth over!
That rather summed up the Proteas’ wastefulness and relative
lethargy with the first new ball, plus just how collectively determined the
tourists were to make hay consistently in the favourable conditions.
Of course two can tango quite elegantly, and the Proteas
with their own array of aggressive batsmen are yet to have a crack at the
But it will not have escaped their attention, as they
overnighted on Saturday, that forecasts still indicated a chance of gloomier
skies and some rain for the second day, which could impede their own quest for
smooth flying in the runs column if Mitchell Johnson and company suddenly come
into their own in livelier conditions.
First though, there’s much more grafting to do just to set
up SA’s own visit to the crease ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing