Steyn woe: Polly’s SA record safer?

Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)

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 year.

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 then.

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 compatriot?

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 from February.

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 takes over.

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 calendar years.

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 energy-sapping then.

Is Steyn going to surprise us with his longevity?

Right now the answer is blowing in an unpredictable wind ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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