Is this the end of Dale Steyn? Regardless of the answer, now is the time to think about his successor.
According to Proteas team doctor Mohammed Moosajee, Steyn could be out for at least six months after surgery to patch up his bowling shoulder. We need no reminder that it was the same joint Steyn injured in the first match against England back in December. That was a ‘stress reaction’, a condition so rare that only one case had been seen before.
Steyn hates talk of his demise but, really, we have to ask the question. After 23 932 deliveries at the highest level, over 12 years: is this the end of Steyn? Not because of any diminishing of desire or talent, for his five wickets of back-to-his-best bowling against New Zealand gave us an idea of where his mind and abilities are.
Everyone wants Dale Steyn back with his fire and brimstone, but we are asking the question of his shoulder. He puts so much effort into his deliveries that this vital piece of equipment, it seems, can’t take it any more. Dr Moosajee was at pains to point out that Steyn passed all fitness tests before he was allowed back after his first injury, while Steyn, with more hope than conviction, believes he may have rushed his return. Now, he says, he will let it heal properly.
But if he did indeed pass all fitness tests, it is even more a damning indictment on the state of his shoulder, that it should break again so easily. When he is declared fit again, Steyn will be approaching his 34th birthday, and while that in itself is not an obstacle, it is a huge milestone for a 34-year-old stressed-out shoulder.
I cannot for a moment contemplate Steyn adjusting to becoming a medium-pacer, even if he wanted to.
Cricket South Africa must acknowledge the realities, and start working now on his succession.
We must consider, too, that Morne Morkel is in the tailend of his Test career while Vernon Philander remains an enigma.
The usual suspects are waiting in the wings. So, what’s left? Hardus Viljoen, on the back of a successful foray into England, may yet re-emerge; Marchant de Lange may also fulfil the promise he has held since his aborted tour of England in 2012, and Duanne Olivier is pushing for a flicker of recognition.
But CSA must now put all their resources and efforts into grooming the likes of Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi. Both are just 20 years old and on an upward trajectory. They bowl with true pace. Obviously, they are nowhere near ready for such high-profile exposure, but CSA must do everything they can to prepare them. And they must do it now.
They are the future.