Steyn: A cricketer with no cricket

2016-05-10 10:10
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Dale Steyn is being wrapped so tightly in cotton wool that it must be slowly suffocating him.

The veteran paceman was the most notable bowling omission from the 15-strong Proteas squad revealed late last week for the triangular one-day international tournament in the Caribbean during June featuring West Indies, Australia and South Africa.

He did not bag a seam berth in a specialist arsenal instead made up of Kyle Abbott, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell and Kagiso Rabada.

In some senses, it was gratifying to hear selection convener Linda Zondi say in the official Cricket South Africa release accompanying the revelation of the party: “In the short term our immediate focus must be to get back among the top-ranked Test nations and for this reason we are resting (Steyn) for this tour.

“He is vital to our ambitions in the longer format.”

Zondi, again not incorrectly, pointed out that the Proteas, who have sunk to sixth in the Test pecking order, will have a heavy load in that particular arena next season, so you do not want to over-bowl a champion customer who turns 33 in mid-year.

Oops, did someone say over-bowl? The worry I have is that, right now, the Phalaborwa Express could hardly be bowling less.

It is for that very reason that I would have wished him to be part of the June exercise, if only to tune him up properly at a suitably high-calibre level for the five-day activity which begins for South Africa some seven weeks later.

And I say that the risk of being accused of hypocrisy, because I also favour the notion that Steyn, a Test thoroughbred if ever there was one, scale back or eliminate altogether ODI and Twenty20 international commitments  for his twilight era.

The only reason I would have included him for the looming triangular – not exactly all-important, given how far out we are still from the next 50-overs World Cup – would have been to ensure he doesn’t start the Test season too noticeably “cold”.

It has been well documented for some time that Steyn, who boasts the eighth highest tally of Test wickets in history for a seam bowler (406 at 22.53), is at his best when he boasts decent rhythm or, as they also say, “overs beneath the belt”.

Instead there is a real danger, as things stand, that he will enter the first of two home Tests against New Zealand (Kingsmead, from August 19) grossly undercooked.

In a situation admittedly compounded by an unusual catalogue of injuries – though few you could brand severe -- over the course of several months, do you want to know how many days of competitive cricket (excluding that much-publicised, once-off Cape Town club match) Steyn has played in the 2016 calendar year thus far?

The answer is seven – including two pretty low-key warm-up matches for the Proteas ahead of the ICC World Twenty20.

All of them have been in the blink-and-you’d-miss-it T20 format, too.

The tally includes just one appearance so far for his Gujarat Lions franchise in the ongoing Indian Premier League, where he bowled a miserly two overs for 17 runs against Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 21.

Clearly short of a gallop even then, he sent down only two overs for 17 runs in a match where the entire attack took a pummelling from destructive Sunrisers openers David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan, who clattered their way to a 10-wicket victory chasing an undemanding target.

Hardly able to capture any kind of “form” through ever-swelling non-activity, Steyn suffers from being in a squad that includes other overseas stars of the shortest format like Dwayne Bravo, Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum and James Faulkner, and there is a restriction on the number you can field in any one outing.

The last time he turned out in any kind of first-class cricket was, of course, the distant Boxing Day Test against England at Kingsmead just before 2015 ran its course, when he reminded of his enduring pedigree with first-innings figures of 4/70 before breaking down after 3.5 personal overs of the English second knock.

With winter upon us in South Africa, and Steyn not in the Proteas’ Caribbean plans which deprives him even of a few potentially valuable 10-over stints, it begs the question: what sort of extended-form cricket, if any, is Steyn going to earn to get his engine suitably warmed for the Black Caps Tests?

The lone “blessing” is that he is scheduled to represent Jamaica Tallawahs in the Caribbean Premier League from June 30 to August 7, but again this is under the ubiquitous T20 umbrella and hardly the ideal way to brace him for the more marathon-type rigours of Tests.

A servant of Essex and Warwickshire previously in county cricket, I would have preferred to see Steyn play a few Championship matches in England if that had been possible and he had been willing -- remember that short-term stints there are increasingly the vogue for overseas pros and a few 18- to 20-overs-a-day sort of opportunities might have done him the power of good before the Kiwi challenge in the spring.

There seems to be a rising lobby believing Steyn is all washed up as South Africa’s Test spearhead, perhaps taking their cue from the way co-great Allan Donald rather suddenly lost his sting and quit the arena in February 2002.

But “White Lightning” was in his 36th year by then, whereas Steyn is two or three years short of that mark himself and still insists he is in fine physical and energy-level nick outside of injury hassles.

Sidestepping the naysayers, I am prepared to believe at this stage that his race isn’t run; that further glorious statistical landmarks may yet be within his grasp in cricket’s most tradition-steeped environment.

Is he going to hit the ground running in late August, though?

That’s where I am a bit less certain …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



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