World Cup door still open for Steyn, Philander

Vernon Philander (Gallo)
Vernon Philander (Gallo)

Cape Town - With 17 One Day Internationals (ODI) left for the Proteas between now and the 2019 World Cup in England, it is beginning to seem unlikely that stalwarts Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn will feature in that squad. 

But, speaking at Cape Town International Airport on Friday, Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis insisted that the door was still open and that both players could come into the mix between now and then. 

Steyn's problems with injury have been well-documented, but he is back to full fitness now and played in both Test matches in Sri Lanka. 

The 35-year-old, now back playing T20 cricket with Hampshire, left that two-Test series with just two wickets to show for his efforts and failed to get one more to overtake Shaun Pollock as the leading South African wicket-taker in the format. 

Still, Steyn is as hungry as ever and has expressed his desire to keep playing cricket for South Africa for as long as possible. 

Steyn has only played in 12 ODIs since that unforgettable World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand in Auckland in 2015 and his last ODI came in October, 2016 against Australia at Newlands. 

Philander's recent record in the format is even more startling. 

A controversial selection for that Auckland semi-final ahead of Kyle Abbott, Philander has played just 2 ODIs since, the last of which came all the way back in August, 2015 against New Zealand in Potchefstroom 

Philander, considered one of the best Test bowlers South Africa has ever produced, has played a total of just 30 ODIs since making his debut in 2007

To put that into perspective, 22-year-old Andile Phehlukwayo now has 29 ODIs to his name since a 2016 debut against Ireland in Benoni. 

While Steyn will always come into the selection conversation in any format as long as he is fit and available, the call for Philander's participation in England is more complex. 

The reason he is still being spoken of as an option is because of the seam-friendly conditions that England wickets have historically dished up. 

There are few bowlers in world cricket with more accuracy and control than Philander, and he has always been an appealing prospect up north. 

"Of course ... anyone can still put their name in the hat. There is a lot of time left," Du Plessis said on Friday.

"It's about trying to give guys game time and that's going to be the challenge ... where and when you fit in different players."

If Philander and Steyn are going to stake a claim for 2019, they will have to start playing ODI cricket soon. 

The Proteas host a three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe that starts at the end of September, and that would be the perfect opportunity to gauge where both players are in terms of what they can offer this ODI side.

The impressive form of Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi in Sri Lanka, however, provides another stumbling block for Philander and Steyn. 

Ngidi is the leading wicket-taker in the series so far with 10 while Rabada will be one of the first names on the World Cup team sheet. 

"I'm really excited about our opening bowling combination of Kagiso and Lungi," Du Plessis explained.

"That's very nice for us. They strike for us and they get wickets."

As long as that remains the case, it is hard to justify giving the new ball to anybody else in England, regardless of experience or proven pedigree.

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