Nervy wait for SA, Oz pacemen
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The looming Test series between South Africa and Australia is being touted as primarily a shootout between the best two current pace attacks in the world ... but will each side be fully staffed on that front?
It is a question worth asking at this stage because some key figures are walking an injury tightrope a few weeks out from the keenly-awaited three-Test combat on our shores between the Proteas, still comfortably ranked No 1 in the world, and the 5-0 Ashes-regaining Baggy Greens.
South Africa’s management have just revealed that long-time spearhead Dale Steyn
has been granted additional time to recover from a small rib fracture and will play no part in the remainder of the Cape Cobras’ Ram Slam T20 Challenge campaign.
Proteas fans will be holding thumbs that the Phalaborwa Express, still the country’s chief “fear factor”, is only being cotton-woolled as a precautionary measure, and he does have a happy reputation for putting niggles and even slightly more serious ailments behind him pretty speedily for the most part.
In Australia, meanwhile, Ryan Harris, who backed up England’s biggest Ashes nemesis Mitchell Johnson superbly on the strike bowling front, has also served notice that he is planning to bite the bullet on the South African safari.
Harris, 34 and a late developer in Test cricket - he has only played 21 Tests, though averages an impressive 21.56 with the ball - says there are “bits floating around” in his right knee and it requires surgery which he will put off until after the keynote tour.
There will obviously be certain risks, thus, to Harris pounding in spiritedly at SuperSport Park, St George’s Park and Newlands respectively, even if the knee holds up fine in the preparatory period for the series.
Two other Aussie speedsters, the left-arm Mitchell Starc and also James Pattinson - both proven candidates for the broader Aussie Test squad if fit - have been in cautious recovery from back stress fractures although
Pattinson is back in action and has been included in the Australian squad for the imminent one-day international series against England.
But an even more recent development Down Under may just be causing a shudder or two in South Africa.
While he is probably a very long shot, at best, to make the tour cut, the 20-year-old tearaway Pat Cummins is reportedly geared to make a franchise-level comeback for Perth Scorchers in Friday’s Big Bash League encounter with Sydney Sixers at the SCG (the tournament is being televised locally on SuperSport).
Although it may seem hard to believe, the massively injury-plagued Cummins has not yet played any further Tests since his sensational debut for the Baggy Greens in the second and final Test of their shorter last tour of South Africa in 2011/12.
Only 18 at the time, Cummins gave plenty of Proteas batsmen a serious hurry-up at the Wanderers, when he earned second innings figures of 6/79.
To rub further salt into the Proteas’ wounds, he then helped Johnson get the Aussies over the line in a thrilling finish with the bat: they steered their country from 292 for eight to the required target of 310 for a series-sharing triumph.
Perhaps only a sensational sequence of Big Bash T20 performances would be enough to persuade the selectors to risk him for the SA trip and longer-format activity; there has been talk that Cricket Australia may curtail him to limited-overs fare until 2015 as he is gradually nursed away from his injury nightmares.
With a bit of luck, though, both teams will have just about their fullest fast bowling arsenals available, come the first Test at Centurion from February 12 ... because that is exactly what connoisseurs of the Test format want.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing