Cape Town – A crazy, teasing range of emotions would have
been evidenced in the South African dressing room after dramatic day two of the
first Test against Australia at the WACA on Friday.
The general buzz, you can pretty sure, would have been
brilliant, following the most inspiring of comebacks to pluck back a slight
initiative from the Baggy Greens after the tourists’ ominously second-fiddle
status on Thursday.
But the upbeat mood would also have been crucially tempered
by the confirmation at stumps that champion pace bowler Dale Steyn has suffered
a fracture in his already problematic right shoulder, a part of his anatomy
obviously so crucial to his demanding trade.
The 33-year-old legend will play no further part in the
three-Test series – unless he is required to bat one more time in Perth – and
return to Cape Town for likely surgery.
Such a scenario, team manager Dr Mohammed Moosajee reminded
afterwards, would probably mean a painstaking rehabilitation process spanning
anything between six months and a year.
It would be worrying even to a much younger strike bowler,
so whether Steyn could bounce back once more from injury, quite possibly as he
enters a 35th year, is a particularly open-ended question.
We know he is a tough, feisty competitor and person, but any
speculation that his Test career may be over could not, frankly, be regarded as
overly bleak or unjustified right now.
Some small consolation, just in case this ends up being the
closure of a rich chapter, would be that his last and 417th wicket
on Friday not only nudged him deservedly into 10th spot in the
pantheon of world Test wicket-taking icons of all time, but was a particularly
His contribution to this gripping Test match may have brutally
ended – and Shaun Pollock’s SA record of 421 scalps suddenly looks that bit
safer -- but by snaring a flying Aussie kingpin David Warner for 97, Steyn did
at least (pre-breakdown) open the door at a vital time to an amazing collapse
by the host nation – from 158 for one, to an inexplicable 244 all out.
With Vernon Philander and debutant left-arm spinner Keshav
Maharaj to the fore in the wickets column, and Kagiso Rabada skittling Usman
Khawaja with an absolute ripper from around the wicket, the Aussies could only
register a hair’s-breadth first knock lead of two.
It was light years short of what they would have expected to
post in that regard, midway through the first session when they seemed only to
be turning screws on Faf du Plessis’s team.
The revitalised Proteas – so rightly hailed by commentator
Mike Haysman for an “extraordinary performance” – then capped off the day by
advancing in cool, calculated fashion to 104 for two at the close, some early
setbacks neutralised by an unbeaten alliance of 59 between pocket battleships
Dean Elgar and JP Duminy.
Although this fixture has fluctuated like scenes in a
Hollywood action blockbuster, it is not without merit to suggest that South Africa
sport the whip-hand.
That said, exactly what will the impact be of Steyn leaving
a gaping hole in the already only four-strong specialist Proteas attack for the
Australian second dig?
He will be sorely missed on a track likely to deteriorate a
fair bit, particularly given the expectation of temperatures in the unforgiving
high thirties on Saturday – something that makes it imperative the remaining SA
batsmen make the Australians toil beneath the sun on the contest’s middle day.
The workload on the two remaining seamers, Rabada and
Philander, could be upped hugely when the hosts eventually go off in pursuit of
their target, although at least Maharaj has set out a strong stall in the spin
department and Duminy and Elgar can weigh in with part-time stints to combat
burnout by others in the attack.
It also helps that few SA bowlers were too stretched in the
Aussie first innings, which only lasted a manageable 70.2 overs.
That measured sage of TV commentary, Tom Moody, who also
knows the WACA so well, fancies that “anything north of 300 will be a real
challenge” to the Baggy Greens, also pointing out the lopsided degree to which swashbuckling
Warner, again, will be key for them.
“He was playing a different brand of cricket to all the
other Australians (in the first innings),” said Moody. “So there are additional
sub-plots and pressures in their line-up.”
Strap in. The rest of this nail-biting Test may still not be
for the frail-hearted …
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