Proteas in England
Steyn's back in business
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Dale Steyn has had considerably better innings figures than the two for 99 he achieved in England’s first innings of the opening Test at The Oval on Thursday and Friday, and will also eclipse them many more times in the next few years.
Yet he was crucially at the heart of South Africa’s stirring recovery act after a first day nicely described by The Daily Telegraph’s Derek Pringle as having been spent “wiping the sleep from their eyes”.
Lethargic, and with the Phalaborwa Express especially out of sorts with the world and seemingly himself, the Proteas played second fiddle on Thursday, only to restore an even keel in a follow-up crusade of great aplomb.
The tourists needed someone to light the fire and it was the bowling pack-leader who did so with some stealth, ripping out overnight centurion Alastair Cook for the addition of only one run to his name and then also inducing a hugely inelegant “withdrawal” stroke to a short ball from Ravi Bopara.
Those two scalps acted as a broader shot of adrenaline to the entire South African team, who just looked so much more animated and committed for the remainder of day two.
There are bound to be further, positive short-term effects to Steyn, particularly, getting a really solid workout after several months of relative inactivity – so often an impediment to quick men getting out of the blocks smoothly again.
As David Lloyd pointed out in commentary, it was the perfect way for him to eliminate rust and this ought to pay dividends for the Proteas as the unacceptably short series progresses.
Steyn and most of the rest of the attack had had lamentably little “intense” bowling in the two county warm-up games, but back in the real-deal arena they appear to be finding their feet rapidly now – Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis were barely less impressive as England’s first knock failed to deliver the 400-plus that had seemed so very achievable after the first day’s play.
Understandably, the 29-year-old Steyn may be feeling just a little stiff and sore on Saturday, where he may anticipate the luxury of a deserved, entire day’s personal dormancy unless the Proteas collapse at the crease in their reply.
Not only was that his first genuinely long bowl for months, it was also his lengthiest one-innings spell in a Test match since as far back as the drawn New Year Test of 2011 against India at Newlands, where he sent down 31 overs for a return of five for 75 in the visitors’ first innings.
So these miles on the clock at The Oval really ought to put him right back into the kind of mental and physical groove he desires.
This Test is slowly earning a reputation for unfruitful opening partnerships, and on Friday it was Alviro Petersen’s misfortune to follow the Andrew Strauss trend of being sent packing for a duck.
But with captain Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla dropping anchor convincingly, the Proteas seem pretty well-placed for what seems an essential mission to do the bulk of their big scoring in the first turn at the crease – because the dry pitch is likely to start wearing with some rapidity.
The last time South Africa began a Test series in England, at Lord’s in 2008, they did things a bit “wrong way around” at the crease.
It required a gargantuan second knock, after they had been handed the indignity of following on 346 runs in arrears on the first innings, to save the game ... and they duly provided it, batting out 167 overs with centuries from all of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and the no longer active Neil McKenzie thwarting an increasingly footsore home attack.
The committed rearguard action was also instrumental in ensuring a handy shift in momentum in the series as the Proteas, a little ring-rusty entering the Lord’s game, were delighted under the circumstances to come away with the draw and then greatly stiffened their overall act for the decisive next two Tests, both won to ensure a famous English summer triumph.
Despite their obvious mettle in getting off the hook, South Africa were also just a little fortunate that Lord’s was in the midst of an unusual trend at the time: a reputation for getting better, rather than worse, for batting as Test matches wore on.
Much more conventional wisdom looks like applying here ...
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