The Proteas need Dale Steyn to shrug off his latest injury setback and play a central role at the World Cup in England, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Ottis Gibson should be a worried man. All four of his fast bowlers are nursing injuries of varying severity. Meanwhile, the Proteas’ first World Cup match against England at the Oval is less than four weeks away.
Kagiso Rabada has the potential to be one of the stars of the tournament in England. It should concern the Proteas’ coaching staff, however, that one of the team’s premier strike weapons was recently rested by his IPL side due to a stiff back.
One would hope that Rabada – the full package in terms of pace, control and mental strength – recovers to play a key role at the global tournament. It would be a tragedy if he exacerbated the injury while competing in the less important IPL.
Lungi Ngidi (side strain) and Anrich Nortje (shoulder) were forced to miss the IPL due to their respective niggles. Both are expected to recover in time for the World Cup.
Steyn has been in the spotlight over the past week or so due to a troublesome shoulder injury. The 35-year-old has already seen a specialist since leaving his IPL side and returning to Cape Town.
The Proteas will come together at a pre-World Cup camp on 12 May. The selectors have until 23 May to call up a replacement to the 15-man squad.
The respect for Steyn within the Proteas set-up borders on reverence. Whether you speak to the coaches, the grizzled veterans or the younger players, they all agree that Steyn is an asset to the team.
Steyn’s been the Proteas’ destroyer-in-chief for more than a decade. The quality of his bowling aside, he’s often lifted the team with his unique brand of intensity and energy.
The Proteas can’t afford to be without this edge at the coming World Cup. Rabada has grown since making his debut in 2015 and is the highest-rated South African quick – at fifth – on the ICC rankings. The Proteas’ chances of winning their first world title will increase significantly if Rabada and Steyn are operating in tandem over the next couple of months.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Proteas attack since the World Cup squad was announced. South Africa may appear spoiled for choice, but when you remove one or two of the big names the group is suddenly light in the experience department.
Rabada and Imran Tahir have found some form in the IPL. The fast bowler currently leads the overall wickets table with 25 in 12 games. The leg-spinner has taken 21 in 13.
The 23-year-old Rabada has played 66 ODIs, but has never featured at a World Cup. Tahir (98 ODIs) is at the other end of the age scale and has been to two global tournaments (2011 and 2015).
Tahir is one of seven players in the 15-man squad to have attended a previous World Cup. What’s interesting to note is that six of the uninitiated eight players are either specialist bowlers or bowling all-rounders.
Four of those players – namely Dwaine Pretorius, Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi and Nortje – have played fewer than 20 ODIs. While their raw ability has been evident, it’s fair to wonder if they have the experience to cope with the pressure associated with big World Cup matches.
In those challenging situations, it may help a younger bowler to have a senior man standing at mid-off and offering advice. Tahir falls into that category, as does Steyn, a veteran of two World Cups and 125 ODIs.
Gibson may have to rethink the make-up of the bowling attack if Steyn fails to pass fit in the coming weeks. The replacement has to add value as a strike bowler and as a sounding board to the younger players. That said, the selectors won’t find anyone with the same energy and intensity that has marked Steyn as a player apart for the past 15 years.
The Proteas will have reason to hope for a title success if Steyn travels with the squad to England later this month.
The loss of their talisman on the eve of the tournament, however, will seriously hurt their chances of going all the way.
Photo: Dean Lewins/EPA