Cape Town – A few months ago it was much
more a question of when rather than whether Dale Steyn would leapfrog Shaun
Pollock as leading all-time wicket-taker for South Africa in Tests.
But the latter prospect has arguably increased
in validity with the Phalaborwa Express, for the first time in his once largely
uninterrupted career, falling increasing prey to injury in his 33rd
It would be premature to get overly maudlin
about Steyn’s prospects of extended further involvement in the Proteas’
five-day cause ... who knows, perhaps he even makes a welcome reappearance in
the fourth and final Test against England at Centurion from January 22, if the
series is still alive by then?
But his troublesome shoulder injury
meanwhile remains a source of some consternation, as the champion fast bowler
undergoes further scans and medical advice to pinpoint the problem.
Certainly it was not in the SA script a few
weeks back for Steyn to contribute fewer than 30 overs – all in the first Test
in Durban, where he broke down – over the course of the first three encounters,
nor for his oft-successful hunting partner Vernon Philander to be sidelined for
the entirety of the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy hostilities.
But it will fuel inevitable whispers, among
the glass-half-empty society, that Steyn may be succumbing all too quickly to
the effects of his heavy workload over the past decade or so ... a bit like
Allan Donald rather suddenly ground to a halt in 2002, albeit at age 35 by
If he does play no further role in the
England series, after officially being ruled out of the key Wanderers clash
from Thursday on a track which might have proved right up his alley, Steyn will
already have ticked over into his 34th year by the time New Zealand
visit our shores for a two-Test series in very early spring (August).
As things stand, he remains 15 wickets
behind Pollock (421 at 23.11, 108 Tests) on the South African Test scalps list;
the all-rounder stands ninth overall in history with Steyn (406 at 22.53, 82
Tests) not far behind in 12th.
But is Steyn even going to get past his
Provided that he is, indeed, mercifully
able to put his current catalogue of injuries and niggles behind him by then,
his saving grace may well be the fact that the Proteas have a particularly busy
Test roster next season, allowing several opportunities for him to get
consistently prolific in the wickets column once more.
After the Tests against the Black Caps,
South Africa play four in Australia, before returning home for three against
Sri Lanka at the home summer peak and then a further trio away to New Zealand
A personal belief is that Steyn, carefully
rehabilitated and monitored, will bounce back for a further couple of years of
Test activity and has simply had an unusually rotten run of luck in 2015/16 as
his body just begins to remind him he is not indestructible as “veteran” status
But if for whatever reason he doesn’t –
remember that Pollock retired from Tests at age 34 – then the latter’s South
African record may stand for a whole lot longer than many of us would have
anticipated last year.
That is because there is no current Proteas
Test player remotely close to either Pollock or Steyn for Test victims: the
nearest is Morne Morkel (getting on a bit himself, at 31) on a still-distant
234 at 29.51 from 69 Tests.
All three men in between – Makhaya Ntini (390 wickets), Donald (330) and Jacques
Kallis (292) – are obviously no longer active in Tests, although Kallis
trundles on in the Twenty20 global merry-go-round.
The one thing I have reluctantly given up
on, particularly considering Steyn’s frustratingly stop-start last few months,
was my daring (OK, crazy?) theory some three years back that the great paceman
had a chance of eclipsing Aussie legend Glenn McGrath to become the most productive
Test seamer of all time.
McGrath lies fourth on the global Test
wickets list, behind three spinners, with 563 scalps from 124 Tests at 21.64,
and Steyn would really have to go some from here to get to that mark.
He is a pretty formidable 157 short, although
he has shown a few times previously over the course of his 12-year career that
he is capable of achieving roughly that tally in the space of fewer than four
Bear in mind, too, that McGrath soldiered
on in Tests to a month short of his 37th birthday in early 2007,
although the general cricket calendar was still a little less cluttered and
Is Steyn going to surprise us with his
Right now the answer is blowing in an
unpredictable wind ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing