CWC: Sayonara to Steyn?

2015-02-04 22:00
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Enjoy Dale Steyn’s CWC 2015 for South Africa while you can ... there must be every chance it will be his swansong World Cup.

Nor would it surprise this writer and other observers if he greatly scales back his commitment to the one-day international arena – or perhaps takes even more extreme action than that? -- after the Australasian tournament in order to prioritise, in his advancing years, the Test format.

That, after all, is where the vast majority of his glittering landmarks in the international game have been achieved, and there are further attractive milestones he can yet target.

Steyn is a class act, and such cricketers tend to be formidable in both environments: he is no exception, and will be a vital cog in the Proteas’ bowling plans for the World Cup.

But he has also traditionally been used rather sparingly for 50-overs combat outside of major global tournaments, as evidenced by a surprising statistic brought up by SuperSport commentator Mike Haysman during the recent home bilateral series against West Indies – he has played 96 career ODIs, but either been rested or absent for other reasons from a further possible 88 in the period (spanning some 10 years).

It tells you that limited-overs is very much Steyn’s second area of emphasis for his country, with the purists’ favourite, the five-day game, atop his own affections by some distance.

That is just one powerful reason why it seems to make so much sense for the Phalaborwa Express, 32 in June, to retreat further from the gruelling international fixtures treadmill after CWC 2015 by targeting Test cricket almost like never before.

As much as anything else, it would be a great time to do so, as the No 1-ranked Proteas soon run into a period where Tests fittingly return to centre stage in a pronounced way for them after a lean phase.

After successive Subcontinent series later in the year, against Bangladesh and India, England arrive for a headline four-Test 2015/16 series – and then in a particularly busy period between late August 2016 and March 2017 South Africa provisionally play no fewer than 12 further Tests, spread between New Zealand (home and away), Australia (away) and Sri Lanka (home).

These are all opportunities for Steyn to swell further his array of records; he sports 396 scalps from 78 Tests to lie 12th on the all-time global list for Test wickets and second for South Africans behind Shaun Pollock whose 421 figure is clearly under great threat of eclipse by the current strike bowler.

Including Pollock, there are only seven fast bowlers presently ahead of Steyn (the top three wicket-grabbers are all spinners, headed by Muttiah Muralitharan on a seemingly untouchable 800) and all have retired.

Glenn McGrath is the top seamer on the list with 563 wickets, and who is to say where Steyn, now in touching distance of 400, may eventually finish up as far as his own career tally is concerned?

In ODIs, by contrast, the modestly-used Steyn (151 wickets at 25.14) is a long way down the world pecking order in the “poles” column, and there are as many as six compatriots ahead of him: Pollock (way ahead on 393 from a mammoth 303 matches), Jacques Kallis (273), Allan Donald (272), Makhaya Ntini (266), Lance Klusener (192) and CWC squad-mate Morne Morkel (152).

This will be Steyn’s second World Cup, following the 2011 event on the Subcontinent, and even one of his closest advisors and backers over the years, former Proteas bowling coach Vincent Barnes, conceded to Sport24 that “it might be difficult to manage him all the way to another”.

The next is in England in 2019, and Steyn would turn 36 smack in the midst of it.

“It’s obviously up to Dale to decide what his future holds after this World Cup,” says Barnes, “but Test cricket has usually been where the desire and hunger lies more for him.

“If he did decide to downscale or give up one format, it would probably be ODIs.”

Meanwhile, though, Barnes reckons the paceman leaves for CWC 2015 in excellent personal fettle: “I think he’s right on top of his form ... good rhythm and confidence, and bowling swiftly but with good control. He’s so hungry for that (winners’) medal.

“He was in a similar space for 2011, and there he bowled exceptionally well throughout.”

Steyn’s CWC 2011 was marked by 12 wickets in six outings, including a memorable, decisive haul of 5/50 against eventual champions India in a South African win at Nagpur.

Craig Matthews, former SA seam bowler and national selector, agrees that “36 might be pushing it a bit” for a veteran Steyn to light up the 2019 tournament.

“He is the kind of guy whose requirement is all about bowling quick ... not the sort to slip into a medium/fast kind of mode as those limbs get older.

“So yes, we should appreciate him while we can at this particular World Cup, even if the vast majority of his really standout performances don’t actually come in the one-day arena.”

Matthews is quite spiritedly not among the lobby who feel Steyn might be best employed as first-change bowler for the Proteas at the World Cup.

“I don’t go with that: he’s leader of the attack and I’d want him striking up front. I am not sure Morne (Morkel) has quite the control you would want if he takes the new ball instead.

“My own wish would be to see Steyn given, say, four overs right up front to try to knock over a couple of batsmen, keeping a slip or two in place, and then a couple of smaller spells further down the innings.

“We shouldn’t rely too much on (leg-spinner) Imran Tahir for wickets in the middle period; there may not be a lot of turn on Australian pitches.”

Matthews feels the Proteas have looked vulnerable to assault at the death too much before when the opposition boast the luxury of wickets in hand, so the more dismissals they can achieve at the front end, the better.

And that is precisely where he wants Dale Willem Steyn to be influential ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cwc 2015  |  dale steyn  |  cape town  |  cricket

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