Cape Town – Dale Steyn was thoughtfully “rested” the last time the Proteas played a one-day international series … now it is time to return him to the 50-overs frontline in the interests of both the player and the greater national cause.
When the Phalaborwa Express was omitted from the SA side which played in the off-season triangular against West Indies and Australia in the Caribbean – they failed to make the final – the not unreasonable argument from the selectors was that the veteran was being preserved for Test duty, traditionally his most illustrious suit, and the eager quest for the country to return to higher terrain in that fold.
“He is vital to our ambitions in the longest format … (but) he is certainly not out of the ODI picture and could well feature in the home series against Australia,” convener Linda Zondi was quoted as saying in early winter.
Now those very ODIs against the old enemy – five home matches starting on September 30 – loom larger and provide the next significant challenge for South Africa after a limb-loosener, with respect, against Ireland at Benoni a few days earlier.
There are several compelling reasons why Steyn should feature for at least part of that series against the currently No 1-ranked Australians, not least being that he is earnestly seeking to up his work-rate in preparation for the Test tour Down Under – in November – which follows.
Soon after a welcome five-wicket haul to help secure both the second Test and series against New Zealand at Centurion, Steyn admitted that he needed to get “as many overs under the belt as I can” to be at optimum capability for the three Tests in Australia, where the seemingly resurgent Proteas will attempt to win a third away series on the trot against those foes and keep climbing back up the rankings.
A judicious role in the ODIs could be just the right medicine in that regard, with SuperSport commentator and former Proteas team-mate Shaun Pollock suggesting he play perhaps three of those fixtures.
“Net practice is totally over-rated for a player of his quality,” reminded Pollock, adding that he felt Steyn (match figures 8/99 at SuperSport Park) had produced his best bowling in around 10 Tests.
Especially having come off a period marked by an unusual saga of injury setbacks, and with the great paceman hardly a greenhorn at 33, a delicate balance needs to be struck between deploying him too much across the codes, and cotton-woolling him excessively, with the risk of rustiness creeping in.
So Pollock’s suggestion of a selected trio of ODIs for Steyn against Australia – the series is played, in order, at Centurion, Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town – seems to strike the correct balance.
If that occurs, it would also provide in-form Steyn with the opportunity to score a mental point or two – no guarantees, of course, in the increasingly pyrotechnic world of one-day cricket! -- over a few Aussie batsmen he should later encounter in the Tests.
There is a school of thought, and it is not a completely daft one, that the lean strike bowler should focus almost exclusively henceforth on the Test arena he so treasures, to enable him to prolong his career there for as long as possible.
Also to take into account is that by the time the next World Cup comes around, in England in 2019, Steyn would turn 36 in the midst of it, so it is a bit of a long shot (though not impossible) to expect him to still be involved in ODI fare by then; new blood has to be at least partially on the wise men’s minds for that.
But his natural competitive instincts also remain to want to represent his country wherever and whenever feasible, regardless of the landscape.
It would also be naïve to jettison such a class act from 50-overs cricket too prematurely, given that the Proteas still desperately need to mend that lengthy, general ICC major tournament bogey -- and there are opportunities long before the next CWC.
The first is next year’s ICC Champions Trophy, also to be staged in England and Wales, in early June.
Given its scheduling in the reasonably early UK summer, former national captain Kepler Wessels is just one pundit who reminded that “seam conditions” ought to be prevalent – a perfect scenario for a bowler of Steyn’s pedigree.
After inquiry, Sport24 awaited confirmation from Zondi on Monday on when the Proteas’ ODI squad would probably be revealed.
It makes sense for Dale Willem Steyn’s name to be attached to it …
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