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Can Dale Steyn squeeze into South Africa's World Cup plans?


Dale_Steyn_South_Africa_cricket_SABefore the IPL earlier this year, South Africa had just finished a Test series against Australia that was both mentally and physically gruelling, and looked well in shape as the team to beat in World cricket. They had brushed aside India at home, although the ODIs told a different story, and the series win against Australia at home, their first since readmission, proved to be a huge relief to a team that seemed to be lacking inspiration in Tests.

The ODI outfit seemed settled. AB de Villiers was back in stupendous form and with Heinrich Klaasen and Aiden Markram coming in, the batting looked ominous. The bowling line-up was fairly well settled with Lungi Ngidi, Wiaan Mulder, Andile Phehlukwayo, Junior Dala all making their way in to back up Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada. It lacked experience but it was reasonably well built.

Dale Steyn was nowhere in picture. He had last played an ODI way back in October 2016 and hadn't even played a T20I since then. His Test career was at a crossroads due to constant injuries. Any over, let alone a match, squeezed out of Steyn appeared to be a bonus.

Six months later, the story has changed entirely. AB de Villiers has retired from international cricket after constantly tussling with himself about his workload. Morne Morkel has taken the Kolpak route. And Dale Steyn is back in coloured clothing, scoring half-centuries with the bat and clocking 145 kmph with the ball.

In a memorable return to ODI colours, Dale Steyn lifted South Africa from a precarious 101/7 to 198, scoring 60 of those runs. Even as that played its part in securing him the Man of the Match award ahead of hat-trick man Imran Tahir, who picked up a six-fer, it was Dale Steyn's fiery spell with the ball that grabbed everyone’s attention. He finished the ODI series with 5 wickets from 2 matches at an average of 9.6.

The euphoria of Steyn in limited-overs cricket had died the moment Grant Elliott sent his length ball flying over long-on, that fateful World Cup semi-final. The Phalaborwa Express seemed past his expiry date and the additional baggage of injury meant his hopes of making another World Cup were close to zilch.

Yet, with the 2019 World Cup less than ten months away, Dale Steyn is steaming in, delivering 145 kmph killers aimed at batsmen's throats. While the cracking pitch might have heightened his effect, Steyn seemed well oiled by the doctors and truly fit, a miracle given how he was hobbling about not so long ago.

The grit and perseverance of the seamer deserve special mention. But does he fit into South Africa's World Cup plans already?


“Good thing is that I am playing a lot of cricket these days. My last game was two weeks ago and I feel cricket fit. While bowling I couldn't feel my fingers, they were freezing! I was looking to hit the deck hard and the Zimbabweans found it tough,” Steyn had said after the match.


With overs behind his back, Steyn may not be a spent force after all. South Africa are missing Kyle Abbott and Morne Morkel in their line-up from the last World Cup. With Rabada and Ngidi spearheading the pace attack, they sorely lack experience. Vernon Philander could be a late addition to the squad, but Steyn brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge of conditions.

There are few fast bowlers raising their hands up from domestic cricket, which means South Africa are left to pick their fast bowling group from the current squad, plus Philander coming in additionally if needed. Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris and Wiaan Mulder are the all-rounders South Africa have backed (the last three, at least) and two of them are likely to make it to the final fifteen, which leaves possibly four spots for the out and out seamers.

Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi are certainties. They may not want to push for Philander unless the conditions in England get better for seam bowling, because the Test all-rounder is virtually a new ball bowler in ODIs and can barely be used in the death.

This leaves us with Dale Steyn.

Managing Steyn until the World Cup and squeezing the best out of him while keeping him injury-free will be a huge challenge for Ottis Gibson and South Africa. But if they do manage to keep the Titans seamer fresh, they might have an invaluable addition to their World Cup squad. It might be counting your chickens too early to hope Steyn stays on until the World Cup, but if his return to ODI cricket is anything to go by, expect Steyn to come roaring in at the Home of Cricket in green and gold.


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