Sri Lanka in SA
Steyn dilemma for Proteas
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Whether to rest champion fast bowler Dale Steyn or allow him further opportunities to recapture some surrendered sparkle is a matter that will probably weigh on the minds of the South Africa brains trust going into the fourth one-day international against Sri Lanka at Kimberley on Friday.
With the series safely secured at 3-0 in the Proteas’ favour after the Duckworth/Lewis-determined outcome in Bloemfontein on Tuesday night, the likeliest inclination may well be to give the Phalaborwa Express a breather, especially bearing in mind the country’s punishing away schedule for 2012 which includes multi-pronged tours of New Zealand (fairly shortly) and later England and Australia.
But there is also a case for allowing him the remaining two ODIs - or maybe at least one of them - against the Lankans to re-sharpen his act a little in preparation for the visit to the Land of the Long White Cloud.
By his own demanding standards, after all, Steyn has not been in the most brilliant of bowling nick this season, although he has pretty much retained his exemplary performance levels in the Test arena, where he remains ICC top-ranked bowler by a considerable distance.
But for some reason he continues to find regular, pronounced ODI success a bit more elusive and seems irritated by it - he is as proud a cricketing competitor as anyone on the world circuit and clearly wants to be knocking batsmen over in that format as much as he does in the extended game.
Yet he is struggling to stamp his mark in a big way on the present series, with a single wicket to his name in each of the first three games and a tendency toward expensiveness in East London and then Bloemfontein.
Steyn was also iffy in the prior ODI series against Australia, which the visitors won 2-1, as he experienced similar problems with his economy rate.
Overall in ODIs, he has now taken 89 wickets in 60 appearances at an average of 28.12 and economy of 5.15.
Compare this with a predecessor as the country’s spearhead, Allan Donald, now his bowling coach: although he played many more ODIs (164) than Steyn currently has, White Lightning grabbed 272 scalps at 21.78 and a significantly better economy rate of 4.15 - even if he operated in days when lower totals and a more conservative batting approach were common.
Of course in the Test fold Steyn is right up there with Donald statistically, and may very well end up eclipsing him in career terms.
Like many others of his trade, Steyn is a bowler who thrives on rhythm and good loads of overs to fine-tune his game.
So he has arguably not benefited much from the new policy, in the early AB de Villiers captaincy tenure, of constantly shuffling the bowlers to give the Proteas less “predictability”.
There is a case for saying the trend is being overdone, but you also cannot quibble too much when the scoreboard against tourists traditionally known for their ODI lustre and proficiency reads: South Africa 3 Sri Lanka 0.
In Bloemfontein on Tuesday, Steyn bowled two fleeting overs in a first-change capacity within the first 10 overs of the Lankan innings, and only went for three runs.
But then he was debatably removed from the attack as he built up a head of steam; when he returned for later spells he was given some “tap”.
I suspect that Steyn will, indeed, be pulled out of one or both of the looming ODIs with longer-term concerns in mind, and have an opportunity for mental and physical refreshment even if part of him may wish to recapture some missing links in his armoury in Kimberley or at the Wanderers on Sunday.
It needs to be kept in mind that he sent down more overs than any other seam bowler in each of the Test series against Australia and Sri Lanka this season.
Plus “benching” or even releasing him would give the Proteas another illuminating chance to examine the credentials in the 50-overs landscape of a Wayne Parnell or Vernon Philander ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing