JOHANNESBURG – More than a year since breaking down in a Test match in Perth, Dale Steyn returns to competitive cricket in a domestic T20 match in Kimberley on Wednesday night, wearing the light-blue colours of the Titans.
The RamSlam T20 Challenge has already been lit up by some sparkling performances after the competition’s first weekend – Sarel Erwee’s century and the prodigious hitting of Khaya Zondo, AB de Villiers and Albie Morkel, and Steyn’s return is sure to capture the attention of cricket enthusiasts even more.
Steyn’s shoulder has something of the ‘bionic man’ about it, what with a pin that’s been inserted to keep the thing together, while at the same time the muscles around that area of the body have been strengthened too over the course of his extensive rehabilitation period.
The 34-year-old ace has been building up his bowling mileage in increments in the last couple of months and has admitted that he’s needed to trust himself to bowl fast again.
That will be one of the most intriguing aspects of Wednesday night’s match. Does he feel comfortable enough to let the ball go at the speeds to which he was accustomed in his pomp?
Titans coach Mark Boucher has said Steyn won’t be pushed too hard initially, and that he’ll be reliant on the bowler to explain how he feels after each outing.
Perhaps the greater challenge for Boucher is how to fit Steyn into his talent-laden starting team.
Even without him last Sunday, the Titans were too powerful for the Highveld Lions in their tournament opener at SuperSport Park.
However, with the exception of Morkel, who claimed 3/12, their bowling was perhaps not as efficient as they would have liked.
Steyn would most likely come into the starting team in place of David Wiese – not a like-for-like replacement, but one that will bring to the fore an interesting aspect of the Titans’ game plan regarding the all-round ability of Malusi Siboto.
The 30-year-old, one of the heroes of the Titans’ triumph in the competition last season, has been pushed by Boucher to improve his batting this summer to turn him into an all-rounder.
In terms of balancing the side, the Titans need that second all-rounder, and the often unsung Siboto has shown improvement in that area of his game, producing some useful innings in the Sunfoil Series, including the second half-century of his career.
Given how powerful the Titans’ batting looked on Sunday, Siboto – likely to fill the No 7 spot – may not even be needed.
Farhaan Behardien, Aiden Markram and Wiese weren’t required against the Lions, as the Titans, thanks to Morkel, De Villiers and Quinton de Kock, overwhelmed one of the stronger attacks in the competition.
The Knights have a lot of experience they can call upon with the ball though, with Marchant de Lange their spearhead, while Ryan McLaren and Shadley van Schalkwyk won’t be intimidated by the superstars in the opposing ranks.
In Eddie Leie, they have a game-changing leg-spinner.
The Knights also have some stars of their own in their batting line-up, and it was thanks to skipper Theunis de Bruyn – who will be desperate to prove a point in this competition given the presence of all the Proteas and David Miller – that they won their opening game in PE against the Warriors.
There are once again many intriguing mini-battles to look forward to on Wednesday evening, but for the most part, eyes will be on the Titans’ No 6 Steyn and just how quickly he will bowl.
Wednesday’s match starts at 6pm.
Albie Morkel (captain), Farhaan Behardien, Junior Dala, Henry Davids, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi, Malusi Siboto, Dale Steyn, David Wiese.