A crick­eter with no cricket

Lesotho Times - - Sport - Rob Houwing

CAPE TOWN — Dale Steyn is be­ing wrapped so tightly in cot­ton wool that it must be slowly suf­fo­cat­ing him.

The vet­eran pace­man was the most no­table bowl­ing omis­sion from the 15-strong Proteas squad re­vealed late last week for the tri­an­gu­lar one-day in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment in the Caribbean dur­ing June fea­tur­ing West Indies, Aus­tralia and South Africa.

He did not bag a seam berth in a spe­cial­ist arse­nal in­stead made up of Kyle Ab­bott, Morne Morkel, Chris Mor­ris, Wayne Par­nell and Kag­iso Rabada.

In some senses, it was grat­i­fy­ing to hear se­lec­tion con­vener Linda Zondi say in the of­fi­cial Cricket South Africa re­lease ac­com­pa­ny­ing the rev­e­la­tion of the party: “In the short term our im­me­di­ate fo­cus must be to get back among the top-ranked Test na­tions and for this rea­son we are rest­ing (Steyn) for this tour.

“He is vi­tal to our am­bi­tions in the longer for­mat.”

Zondi, again not in­cor­rectly, pointed out that the Proteas, who have sunk to sixth in the Test peck­ing or­der, will have a heavy load in that par­tic­u­lar arena next sea­son, so you do not want to over-bowl a cham­pion cus­tomer who turns 33 in mid-year.

Oops, did some­one say over-bowl? The worry I have is that, right now, the Pha­l­aborwa Ex­press could hardly be bowl­ing less.

It is for that very rea­son that I would have wished him to be part of the June ex­er­cise, if only to tune him up prop­erly at a suit­ably high-cal­i­bre level for the five-day ac­tiv­ity which be­gins for South Africa some seven weeks later.

And I say that the risk of be­ing ac­cused of hypocrisy, be­cause I also favour the no­tion that Steyn, a Test thor­ough­bred if ever there was one, scale back or elim­i­nate al­to­gether ODI and Twenty20 in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments for his twilight era.

The only rea­son I would have in­cluded him for the loom­ing tri­an­gu­lar — not ex­actly al­limpor­tant, given how far out we are still from the next 50-overs World Cup — would have been to en­sure he doesn’t start the Test sea­son too no­tice­ably “cold”.

It has been well doc­u­mented for some time that Steyn, who boasts the eighth high­est tally of Test wick­ets in his­tory for a seam bowler (406 at 22.53), is at his best when he boasts de­cent rhythm or, as they also say, “overs be­neath the belt”.

In­stead there is a real dan­ger, as things stand, that he will en­ter the first of two home Tests against New Zealand (Kingsmead, from Au­gust 19) grossly un­der­cooked.

In a sit­u­a­tion ad­mit­tedly com­pounded by an un­usual cat­a­logue of in­juries — though few you could brand se­vere — over the course of sev­eral months, do you want to know how many days of com­pet­i­tive cricket (ex­clud­ing that much-pub­li­cised, once-off Cape Town club match) Steyn has played in the 2016 cal­en­dar year thus far?

The an­swer is seven — in­clud­ing two pretty low-key warm-up matches for the Proteas ahead of the ICC World Twenty20.

All of them have been in the blink-andyou’d-miss-it T20 for­mat, too.

The tally in­cludes just one ap­pear­ance so far for his Gu­jarat Lions fran­chise in the on­go­ing In­dian Pre­mier League, where he bowled a miserly two overs for 17 runs against Sun­ris­ers Hy­der­abad on April 21.

Clearly short of a gal­lop even then, he sent down only two overs for 17 runs in a match where the en­tire at­tack took a pum­melling from de­struc­tive Sun­ris­ers open­ers David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan, who clat­tered their way to a 10-wicket vic­tory chas­ing an un­de­mand­ing tar­get.

Hardly able to cap­ture any kind of “form” through ever-swelling non-ac­tiv­ity, Steyn suf­fers from be­ing in a squad that in­cludes other over­seas stars of the short­est for­mat like Dwayne Bravo, Aaron Finch, Bren­don Mccul­lum and James Faulkner, and there is a re­stric­tion on the num­ber you can field in any one out­ing.

The last time he turned out in any kind of first-class cricket was, of course, the dis­tant Box­ing Day Test against Eng­land at Kingsmead just be­fore 2015 ran its course, when he re­minded of his en­dur­ing pedi­gree with first-in­nings fig­ures of 4/70 be­fore break­ing down af­ter 3.5 per­sonal overs of the English sec­ond knock.

With win­ter upon us in South Africa, and Steyn not in the Proteas’ Caribbean plans which de­prives him even of a few po­ten­tially valu­able 10-over stints, it begs the ques­tion: what sort of ex­tended-form cricket, if any, is Steyn go­ing to earn to get his en­gine suit­ably warmed for the Black Caps Tests?

The lone “bless­ing” is that he is sched­uled to rep­re­sent Ja­maica Tallawahs in the Caribbean Pre­mier League from June 30 to Au­gust 7, but again this is un­der the ubiq­ui­tous T20 um­brella and hardly the ideal way to brace him for the more marathon-type rigours of Tests.

A ser­vant of Es­sex and War­wick­shire pre­vi­ously in county cricket, I would have pre­ferred to see Steyn play a few Cham­pi­onship matches in Eng­land if that had been pos­si­ble and he had been will­ing — re­mem­ber that short-term stints there are in­creas­ingly the vogue for over­seas pros and a few 18- to 20-overs-a-day sort of op­por­tu­ni­ties might have done him the power of good be­fore the Kiwi chal­lenge in the spring.

There seems to be a ris­ing lobby be­liev­ing Steyn is all washed up as South Africa’s Test spear­head, per­haps tak­ing their cue from the way co-great Al­lan Don­ald rather sud­denly lost his sting and quit the arena in Fe­bru­ary 2002.

But “White Light­ning” was in his 36th year by then, whereas Steyn is two or three years short of that mark him­self and still in­sists he is in fine phys­i­cal and en­ergy-level nick out­side of in­jury has­sles.

Sidestep­ping the naysay­ers, I am pre­pared to be­lieve at this stage that his race isn’t run; that fur­ther glo­ri­ous sta­tis­ti­cal land­marks may yet be within his grasp in cricket’s most tra­di­tion-steeped en­vi­ron­ment.

Is he go­ing to hit the ground run­ning in late Au­gust, though?that’s where I am a bit less cer­tain — Sport24.com

Dale Steyn.

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