Cape Town – For the little it is worth in the relatively lightweight world of Twenty20 cricket, the comeback might have turned out a lot worse statistically.
Dale Steyn, returning to competitive action for the Titans a year and two weeks after he broke down with a serious shoulder injury in a Perth Test match against Australia, was unceremoniously thumped for 17 runs in his first over – the Knights’ free-spirited Grant Mokoena to the fore – in a RAM SLAM T20 Challenge fixture on Wednesday.
Running in just a little tentatively up front, as he shared opening duties with Albie Morkel on an inconveniently teeth-chattering night in Kimberley, Steyn was quickly reminded there is sometimes no room for charity or sentiment in this brand of the game as Mokoena presented a full and cavalier blade, blasting a three-strong salvo of boundaries off the legendary 34-year-old speedster.
The Phalaborwa Express’s long-awaited first delivery was a no-ball overstep, and that was all the invitation -- given the luxury of a free hit, next delivery – that the batsman needed to start clubbing vigorously.
Included in the mini-onslaught was one remarkable instance on the slow, spongy surface where Mokoena cleverly transferred weight to the back foot to a not too poorly-pitched ball and still “spooned” him cleanly to the long-off fence.
Still, even in that ginger, loosening over, Steyn served up one heartening little reminder of his awesome pedigree when he beat the right-hander all ends up outside off stump with a ball that nipped away a fraction.
He was quickly withdrawn from the attack for the remainder of the Powerplay – that might have been the intention anyway, who knows – but then returned, this time into the biting breeze, to send down consecutive overs from the start of the ninth.
Immediately, he was in the wickets column as home captain Theunis de Bruyn drove him straight down the throat of AB de Villiers – never the best fielder to pick out – on the mid-on boundary, which must have served as a nice little anxiety-settler for Steyn.
Visibly finding a semblance of rhythm, he then went for only three singles in the remainder of the over, and his next and final one of the game was similarly parsimonious, the five runs conceded meaning he ended with acceptable enough figures of 3-0-25-1 in the comfortable Titans victory.
There was no special venom, seemingly no remarkable gas, as Steyn simply went about his cautious (though poignant to his swollen fan base) business in a workmanlike way.
It turned out every bit as long-time colleague De Villiers, speaking on television just ahead of the Knights’ chase, hinted it might: “We just want him to enjoy himself a bit tonight; not too much pressure.”
Perhaps Steyn’s effort was best summed up by veteran SuperSport commentator Brett Proctor, who witnesses more domestic cricket than most: “Just to see him get through a spell unscathed physically (was the happy outcome) … he can say he’s had a workout.
“It wasn’t quite the script he may have wanted, but something to work with. We should see better and better from him the more confident he gets.”
It was, at least, the beginning of a measured trek intended to see Steyn – 417 wickets in the Test arena, where he is an undoubted champion and a tantalising four scalps short of Shaun Pollock’s national record – stick his hand up hungrily for a place in the South African side to play Zimbabwe in an inaugural four-day Test in Port Elizabeth from Boxing Day.
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