Australia in SA

Steyn removal hinders Proteas

2014-03-01 22:58
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – They call him the Steyn Remover ... but for just how long will bowling trump-card Dale Steyn be “removed” from the South African attack in the remainder of the decisive third Test against Australia at Newlands here?

The pedigreed fast bowler broke down with a right hamstring strain after the first ball of just his 11th over as the Proteas were made to toil rather grimly on Saturday, experiencing the rare, flimsy return for them of one wicket per session on a belter of a track for stroke-players.

They were under pressure from the moment Michael Clarke won an inviting toss and took the logical decision under sunny skies of batting first, and with the controversial, outspoken David Warner very much to the fore – a handy little psychological result for the Aussies, wasn’t it? – have worked themselves into a position where a score in excess of the 450-mark is invitingly on, and perhaps then some.

That is often considered the “security” total in the first innings of a Test, where the team posting it have the luxury of knowing they should at least not lose the encounter from that position in eight or nine instances out of 10.

Frankly, with visiting skipper Michael Clarke unbeaten and having amassed major Test runs (92 of them) for the first time in many weeks, the eventual tally of Australian runs may well end up looking greatly more gruesome than 450.

So unless there are major strikes by the Proteas’ hitherto hard-pressed bowlers pretty soon after the resumption of hostilities on Sunday, Graeme Smith’s charges will be playing a fair amount of catch-up cricket just to make sure they do not lose the game and thus the series as well.

As things stand, the goal of becoming the first SA team since Ali Bacher’s legends of 1969/70 to win a home series against the Baggy Greens already begins to look ominously elusive.

But that said, when a swashbuckling customer like Warner (135 at a strike rate of 88) has put such an imperious stamp on a day’s play, you are guaranteed that the match is moving fast, which does allow for twists and turns as it progresses – and the often remarkable bounce-back qualities of the world’s current No 1-ranked side can never be discounted.

If the Proteas are to hit back with some venom, Steyn’s state of readiness – or otherwise – to do his bit for the cause on the second day and beyond could be a vital factor.

One of the reasons, after all, that South Africa are happy to pursue a policy of fielding seven batsmen and four pacemen at present (with two part-timers making up their spin component) is that the quickies are intended to rotate often and offer up short but incisive spells.

The absence of just one – and particularly if it is the indisputably blue-chip Steyn – plays havoc with that dynamic, and it certainly showed for much of the second half of day one as the attack lost much of its sting and was walloped about with particular Aussie glee in the lengthening shadows.

It has to be admitted, too, that even when Steyn was still part of Saturday’s arsenal – the fact that his complaint has been described by management as a “strain” is mildly comforting news -- the South Africans were taking a rather unpalatable bruising from Warner and company.

There were occasional barrages of quite spiteful payback from Morne Morkel, who targeted Clarke for bodily assault and battery, but the very fact that he weathered the storms will only have inspired the previously out-of-touch right-hander to convert this into a truly epic innings.

Keep in mind that Clarke had also prospered brilliantly in the first innings of the last Newlands Test between these countries in 2011/12, making 151 out of a total of 284.

It was the game where Australia capitulated to a horrendous 47 all out in their second dig, and there were some delighted reminders from one or two visiting scribes in the media centre on Saturday when the first innings on this occasion reached 47 without sacrifice in the wickets column as ludicrously early as the first ball of the eighth over!

That rather summed up the Proteas’ wastefulness and relative lethargy with the first new ball, plus just how collectively determined the tourists were to make hay consistently in the favourable conditions.

Of course two can tango quite elegantly, and the Proteas with their own array of aggressive batsmen are yet to have a crack at the crease themselves.

But it will not have escaped their attention, as they overnighted on Saturday, that forecasts still indicated a chance of gloomier skies and some rain for the second day, which could impede their own quest for smooth flying in the runs column if Mitchell Johnson and company suddenly come into their own in livelier conditions.

First though, there’s much more grafting to do just to set up SA’s own visit to the crease ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ozinsa  |  dale steyn  |  cape town  |  cricket

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