That fiery spell by Dale Steyn in Canberra was an important one in the context of South Africa’s World Cup campaign.
So much of that South African performance against Ireland was expected. The world class batting lineup dominated a rank amateur Ireland bowling attack. The Proteas piled on as many as 411 runs, and eventually won by a 201-run margin.
What was encouraging to see was the intent in the field. It was the performance by the bowlers and the captaincy of AB de Villiers that suggested the Proteas are improving at what is a key juncture of the tournament.
We’ve been waiting for Dale Steyn to spark to life in this tournament. On Tuesday in Canberra, the world’s best bowler rekindled the flame with a fiery opening spell.
Forget the fact that he was bowling against an associate nation or that he went for runs in his first two overs. He bowled consistently at 145 km/h and even hurled down one fireball at 149 km/h. He wasn’t afraid to bowl short. He wasn’t afraid to get up into the batsman’s face. He had that crazy look in his eyes, a look South African fans haven’t seen for some time.
Steyn is back. Perhaps not to his best, not just yet. But what was witnessed at the Maunka Oval may just be the starting of something. That flame must be fanned in the remaining pool matches. By the time the quarter-final arrives, it must be a raging inferno. Steyn must be at his very best.
Steyn took just two wickets on Tuesday, but he could so easily have had three or four. I would argue that the number of wickets he claimed in this particular fixture was not as important as his approach. In this respect, it was encouraging to see him cranking up the pace and bowling at the batsman’s body. If he builds on that in the coming weeks, he will be a handful for any batsman in the knockouts.
The Proteas are a better team when Steyn is fit and firing. He struggled with an ailment at the start of this tournament, and battled to bowl with any rhythm as a result. His trademark aggression was certainly missed in the clash against India, which the Proteas lost. Had he delivered a typically fiery display, he may have claimed some important scalps. He may have inspired his team-mates to do the same, and in that event South Africa would have defeated India.
His intensity is so often infectious. We saw on Tuesday what it meant to the team. Kyle Abbott bowled beautifully and finished the game with career best figures of 4-21. Morné Morkel also contributed with 3-34.
Steyn and Abbott did the bulk of the damage up front, reducing Ireland to 48-5. De Villiers may well have pushed Steyn, Abbott, and Morkel to bowl through and finish the Irish off. Instead, the Proteas skipper opted to explore a few other options with a view to utilising them in later games.
It was a wise decision, and one that should pay off down the line. Steyn and Abbott have picked up some much needed confidence from the contest against Ireland. De Villiers, as well as the South African selectors, will also have learned something about the part-time bowlers.
For Faf du Plessis and Rilee Rossouw, this was match practice. They are so often spoken about as bowling options, and this was a good opportunity for exposure. Neither did particularly well against Ireland, but at least they will go into the business end of the tournament with some overs under the belt.
More would have been expected of Farhaan Behardien at the Manuka Oval. He doesn’t contribute much as a No 7 batsman, and may lose his place in the batting order when JP Duminy returns from injury or if Quinton de Kock slides down.
Behardien didn’t bowl in the game against the West Indies, and went for 13 runs in two overs against Ireland. South Africa need to move on from this option. There’s no need to be emotional about it. Behardien just doesn’t add value.
When Vernon Philander and Duminy are fit, they should be pushed back into the starting lineup. Steyn has started to fire and resume his role as the leader of the attack. That bowling unit now needs to settle as a combination over the next couple of games. A four-prong seam attack, Tahir, Duminy, as well as part-timers such as Du Plessis and Rossouw should provide De Villiers with more than enough options.