Proteas’ superlative, sorrowful day

2016-11-04 14:31
Dale Steyn (Getty)

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 priceless one.

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 …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  dale steyn  |  cricket


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