Dhaka - The Proteas head into a second consecutive major ICC limited-overs tournament with a fitness cloud hovering over pace spearhead Dale Steyn.
The 30-year-old limped through last year’s Champions Trophy in the United Kingdom, playing just one game, and ultimately missed the all-important semi-final defeat to England at The Oval.
But now, although being rested for the recent three-match T20 series against Australia after pulling up with a hamstring strain in the final Test at Newlands earlier this month, Steyn is still struggling with the same injury just two days ahead of South Africa’s much-anticipated World T20 opener against Sri Lanka.
The World’s No 1 Test bowler delivered just 2.2 overs in the Proteas’ warm-up match against Bangladesh A on Tuesday and was a notable absentee from Wednesday’s final warm-up game against Pakistan.
South Africa, spearheaded by their pace bowlers, cruised to an easy eight-wicket victory, their second warm-up victory in two days after the Proteas beat Bangladesh A by five wickets.
Left-arm pacemen Beuran Hendricks, Wayne Parnell and Lonwabo Tsotsobe grabbed two wickets apiece as they ripped through a fragile Pakistan batting lineup, dismissing their opponents for just 71 in 17.3 overs. Faced with the easiest of chases, South Africa had no problem reaching their target with six overs to spare.
Cricket South Africa initially diagnosed Steyn’s recent flare-up as “some tightness in his hamstring” on Twitter, but Proteas media liaison Lerato Malekutu confirmed to the Cape Times at the team’s Dhaka hotel prior to the Pakistan game that “Dale was assessed as having mildly aggravated his previous hamstring strain.
“He will receive treatment from the physio (Brendon Jackson) and undergo rehab to give him the best chance of recovery/selection for the first game,” said Malekutu.
South Africa can ill-afford to lose Steyn. He is not only a threat with the new ball, where his early strikes are crucial to Faf du Plessis’s team gaining momentum in the first six powerplay overs, but he also delivers crucial spells at the death.
He relishes the responsibility of being the leader of the Proteas bowling unit, taking equal pleasure in assisting a young fast bowler in fine-tuning his gameplan as he does in watching a batsmen’s stumps cart-wheeling.
Steyn’s mere presence on the field will no doubt have a calming influence on the likes of rookie fast bowler Hendricks should the selectors opt to go with the 23-year-old left-armer from Cape Town for such a high-pressure tournament.
The Proteas would not be the only losers should a high-quality performer like Steyn fail to get out of the starting blocks, as the tournament has already lost a marquee player in the form of Australia’s Mitchell Johnson.
It seems the intense battles the world’s two premier fast bowlers shared during an epic Test series recently in South Africa have taken their toll, with Johnson being ruled out last week with a toe injury.
Although Australia clinched the series in a thrilling final Test in Cape Town, the honours were evenly split between Steyn and Johnson as neither could walk away with the title as the undisputed fast-bowling champion of the world.
Meanwhile, Du Plessis’s troubles with his own hamstring strain, which have forced the skipper on to the sidelines for the two warm-up games here in Bangladesh, have at least had some sort of silver lining.
In the captain’s absence, the Proteas have trialled AB de Villiers in the crucial No 3 position, with JP Duminy coming in at No 4, followed by the big-hitting left-handed duo, Dave Miller and Albie Morkel.
Many believe De Villiers is best suited to the Proteas’ overall gameplan as a No 3 batsman, and while it may just be an interim stop-gap measure, at least coach Russell Domingo is showing signs that he may be tempted to use his ODI captain higher up the order in the shortest format of the game.
All SA times
March 22: Proteas v Sri Lanka, Chittagong (11.30am).
March 24: Proteas v New Zealand, Chittagong (11.30am).
March 27: Proteas v Qualifier B1, Chittagong (11.30am).
March 29: Proteas v England, Chittagong (3.30pm).