• Steyn must stem emotions

    Former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX says Dale Steyn will need to keep his emotions in check on the cusp of becoming South Africa’s most successful Test wicket-taker.

    The three-match Test series between South Africa and Pakistan promises to be a mouth-watering prospect. Both sides will look at their bowling and think that they have that base covered. It’s rather a question of whether they can put enough runs on the board. That is really what the series is going to come down to, and we are going to see which heroes are going to be born on the batting front.

    The challenge for Pakistan, who were whitewashed the last time they toured South Africa, is to counter the fast bowling on bouncier pitches with lateral movement. Mickey Arthur would have talked long and hard about leaving the ball well in the channel, which you don’t often do in subcontinental conditions.

    The first Test in every series is always on a knife’s edge, and whichever team gains the ascendancy early on during a three-match series is set to prosper. The one advantage Pakistan will be relying on is the presence of Arthur as their head coach. Having played in South Africa and coached the Proteas he will know the conditions, the wickets and the players. Owing to Arthur’s presence, there will be a big guiding hand there, but whether Pakistan have the wherewithal to see it through remains to be seen.

    However, I never underestimate Pakistan, as they ooze flair and talent. The days are gone when they were poor fielders and made elementary mistakes. Under Arthur, who took over in 2016, Pakistan has become a tough side to beat and they have built momentum over the last couple of years. I believe Pakistan’s seventh-place standing on the ICC Test rankings belies their current ability.

    On their day, I would suggest that they are better than their ranking suggests and have the potential to beat anyone. One a good day they boast enough talented batsmen to take a bowling attack apart and they certainly possess the bowlers to knock you over if you show any weaknesses. Similarly, South Africa’s bowling attack can blow Pakistan away.

    Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada will do the bulk of the work and will get the lion’s share of the wickets. All eyes will be on the former to see when he breaks Shaun Pollock’s record for the most Test wickets taken by a Protea bowler. It will be an awesome achievement, as the Phalaborwa Express is clearly the best fast bowler South Africa has produced since readmission. It will be an absolute treat to witness him break the record in front of his home crowd in Centurion. I foresee the Steyn narrative capturing the imagination of the first Test match.

    Steyn swings the ball away and is bowling at good pace at home. However, the question is: can he keep his emotions in check? There is no doubt that there will be plenty of emotions flying around because that is always the case when people are staring down records. As a player, you want to get it out of the way as quickly as possible because you don’t want it hanging over the team. Everyone knows that Dale needs that one wicket and it’s all-encompassing. My hope is that Steyn gets through the Test, breaks the record and escapes injury.

    With Vernon Philander unavailable for the first Test owing to injury, Duanne Olivier is the third seamer. The leading wicket-taker in the inaugural Mzansi Super League is a great prospect, but he has had to wait in line. His performances with the ball have been pretty good – he has amassed 17 wickets in five Tests for South Africa – but he will still feel like an outsider looking in. He will feel as though every time he gets a chance for the Proteas he has to take wickets in order to stay in the starting XI.

    For me, Ottis Gibson and Faf du Plessis need to recognise the pressure Olivier is under and manage the process by making him feel part of the team.


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    Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty Images

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    Pat Symcox