Steyn blow may not change SA method

2018-01-06 21:07
South Africa's Chris Morris, centre, celebrates with team-mates (AP).

Cape Town - South Africa, even with the cruel Dale Steyn setback, may well have set out their strategic stall for the remainder of the three-Test series against India.

The chances have probably only increased  despite the first contest at Newlands remaining a little short of halfway through - that the Proteas will wish to field a quartet of pace bowlers at both looming Highveld venues, SuperSport Park and the Wanderers respectively.

Naturally the revelation late on day two on Saturday that veteran speedster Steyn has an injured heel and is almost certainly side-lined for the rest of the series will be taken strenuously into account as the combat moves onward.

But didn’t we see enough evidence in India’s first innings at Newlands to suggest that “four quicks” is the likeliest way to undo the team atop the world’s rankings over the course of the next few weeks? I would argue in the affirmative.

Thanks to the admirable combination of enterprise and talent from No 7 batsman Hardik Pandya, India were able to stay at the races, as they say, on the still engrossing but slightly less high-octane second day’s play.

Yet only just: Pandya’s 93, in only his fourth Test match and first away from the Subcontinent, accounted for almost 45 percent of his team’s runs in their first innings of 209.

Bear in mind also that India’s first-knock deficit remained a significant 77 runs - and even more pertinently that, between India’s top six, only a grand total of 71 runs were accumulated.

And this on a surface that had given up a fair bit of its first-day sting.

Indeed, had Pandya been sent packing by a reasonably routine catch in the cordon - Dean Elgar the erring figure - on 15, the Indian total might well have had an altogether sorrier combined look to it.

It is exactly that statistical information, plus no lack of visible evidence in play itself, that should have stiffened the resolve of head coach Ottis Gibson and his lieutenants to stick to a quartet of pace options at usually bounce-friendly Centurion and then Johannesburg.

Put it this way: a Proteas victory at Newlands should help convince them to retain the status quo in team composition, whilst if India come from their currently disadvantageous position to prevail themselves in the first Test – which has heaps of time still for a result – the host nation will only be under deeper pressure to ensure they can do the 20-wickets task at SuperSport Park.

Things went just a little ragged both on the bowling and fielding front for SA toward the end of the Indian innings, which had once tottered on 92 for seven, but in the period in which they dismantled the cream of the Indian batting, the relentless pressure applied by all of Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel was massively instrumental in that stranglehold.

Someone like Rabada, for example, was really freed up to “let it go” and did so quite venomously at times, at one stage bowling three or four deliveries on the trot at more than 145km/h and showing a zeal for rapping fingers, midriffs or ribs, into the bargain.

Yes, Steyn’s infuriating new injury - at least a long way on the anatomy from his much-monitored right shoulder, which seems to be doing just fine - forces a personnel rethink.

In some ways now, we will also a see an unexpected, fresh trial for a three-seamer approach in the pivotal Indian second knock at Newlands.

But unless the tourists roll over notably limply in pursuit of whatever target they are set (SA boast a lead of 142 with eight wickets to play with) the remaining trio of Proteas quicks may have to put in some relatively back-bending work at the tail-end of this Test.

There is then a fairly fast turnaround to the second Test next Saturday, so that workload factor will have to taken into the selection discussion.

Just as he was getting into a groove so promisingly, Steyn kicking his heels during the Centurion clash - or should I say gingerly nursing at least one of them? - is inconvenient to the say the least.

But with someone like Chris Morris ready and eager for fresh duty within the current squad mix, and an exciting bolter like 21-year-old Lungi Ngidi just on the outside as things stand, the go-for-the-jugular approach may very well not be binned …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  dale steyn  |  chris morris  |  cape town  |  cricket

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