Cape Town – It
was going to be the perfect comeback setting.
Test against largely undemanding Zimbabwe at Port Elizabeth … what better way
to tune in afresh to the requirements of the long-form arena, ahead of the huge
seemed a fighting chance that Dale Steyn, already an established legend of fast
bowling, might brush off the cobwebs with sufficient stealth to go past Shaun
Pollock’s SA record of 421 Test scalps at St George’s Park.
five to do so, and let’s not forget that both Morne Morkel and Keshav Maharaj
managed respective innings hauls of precisely that tally in the two-day
massacre of the cowed neighbours.
intervened beforehand – again – as the 34-year-old, supposedly in increasing
recovery from a long-term shoulder injury, was laid low in PE … this time by a spectacularly
Sadly it has
meant a domino effect, if you like, in the sense that further absence from the
first-class landscape means rustiness only increases for him: a full 14 months
will have drifted by in that context should Steyn turn out in the first Test
against the top-ranked Indians at Newlands from next Friday.
that’s an increasingly pertinent word, don’t you think?
By his own
admission (and there are many bowlers who would say this), the Phalaborwa
Express performs better the more he bowls.
So if he’s
not bowling -- or only sending down dribs and drabs at lower levels as has
happened for several weeks – surely by extension there is significant,
ill-advised risk associated with any fast-track return in the glamour tussle
beneath Table Mountain?
pretty obvious, however much you may yearn (and many, many the world over will)
to see him steam in at a personal favourite Test venue that crowds still flock
to in consistently healthy numbers.
this is Dale Willem Steyn: 417 Test wickets at 22.30, strike rate 41.4.
dealing with a special case.
So if he
manages to show marked lustre and cranks it up increasingly in the now extended
practice time the Proteas squad will enjoy before the mouth-watering opening of
Indian hostilities in eight days’ time, yes, he will inevitably enter the
thoughts of the brains trust with mounting levels of temptation.
To my way of
thinking, though, his best chance of a comeback at one of the most fitting Test
grounds possible lies with a tactical desire by the hosts to go in with a five-strong
attack rather than just four.
Proteas opt for a return to the “seven batsmen” principle at Newlands, then
fielding a hugely undercooked Steyn in a pace battery cut to only three –
in-form left-arm spinner Maharaj is virtually guaranteed a berth – frankly
As it is,
every representative of the five-man unit engaged at St George’s Park,
including still raw bowling all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo, pulled his weight
there, albeit that conditions were often so favourable to them and the
opposition so feeble.
if South Africa are serious in any desire to “bomb” India on borderline sporty
surfaces during this series, fielding Steyn alongside Vernon Philander, Morne
Morkel and Kagiso Rabada remains an enticing thought for game one, where key
markers are so often set in a series.
say respite for batsmen would be in short supply if that quartet feature together
for the very first time.
If we are
going to cut Steyn some further slack in his presumably ravenous desire to get
involved at Newlands, it is that the ground has seen him bowl a string of
magical spells in Test cricket – one against England’s Paul Collingwood comes
very swiftly to own mind.
too, Steyn fires even better at Newlands than he does overall: 13 prior Tests
at the ground have seen him snare 65 scalps at 21.93, including 12 from two
contests against the Indians (average 17.16).
represent compelling evidence for having him close at hand, as they say, in the
lead-up to next Friday.
But here’s a
slightly sobering thought: if he doesn’t play at Newlands, then what price him
appearing in the remaining two (both Highveld) Tests, either, given that he
will only have receded into further non-use and the drawbacks associated with
It’s a riddle
wrapped up in a conundrum, boxed in a mystery and taped by a dilemma …
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