Dale Steyn expected some rustiness, perhaps even some nerves.
But the Proteas paceman came through his first match after a year out injured in fine fettle by claiming a crucial wicket and playing his part in the Titans’ 38-run victory over the Knights in the RamSlam T20 Challenge in Kimberley on Wednesday night.
The 34-year-old had last played competitively in the first Test of the series last year against Australia in Perth, where he injured his right shoulder.
Subsequent surgery saw a pin inserted into the joint, and Steyn has spent months doing rehab with an eye on getting back into the South African Test team.
His start, bowling the second over of the innings, on a chilly and blustery evening in Kimberley in another dominant display by the defending champions was an inauspicious one when he overstepped the front line.
Thereafter, Knights opener Grant Mokoena smashed three consecutive fours as Steyn conceded 17 runs in his first over back.
THIS SUMMER WE CONQUER CRICKET
The Multiply Titans get their #RAMSlam away record off to a winning start with a 38-run victory over @KnightsCricket in Kimberley #KNIvTTN #conquercricket pic.twitter.com/euywn0ZsfI
Titans captain Albie Morkel switched him around and he bowled his next over, the ninth of the innings into the strong wind, and had immediate success when he had Knights captain Theunis de Bruyn caught by AB de Villiers on the long-on boundary.
De Bruyn, along with David Miller, are the Knights’ two most important players, so dismissing the former was a major turning point in the match.
The Knights could only reach 161/7 in their 20 overs in reply to the Titans’ 199/4.
Miller lost his wicket in the next over when he tried to reverse sweep Tabraiz Shamsi and was well caught by Quinton de Kock, who had a difficult evening otherwise.
Steyn’s third over, which turned out to be his last, went for just four runs, which included a wide.
For the most part he seemed to be bowling within himself, which is understandable, given how long he’s been out of the game.
An excellent diving stop in the covers later in the innings, from which he thankfully stood up, would have been pleasing to Steyn and Proteas supporters, suggesting his shoulder was strong.
Whether he plays in the Titans’ next match against the Warriors in East London on Friday will be determined by how well he’s recovered.
The match turned on the last three overs of the Titans innings in which they scored 56 runs, thanks mainly to Farhaan Behardien, who again underlined his credentials as one of the best ‘finishers’ in the domestic game by hitting 37 off only 14 balls, with three fours and three sixes to help the visitors reach 199/4 in their 20 overs.
The Knights had kept a lid on the powerful Titans batting unit, which despite half-centuries from Henry Davids and Aiden Markram, struggled to come to terms with a sluggishly-paced surface.
However, the decision to bowl part-time spinner Aubrey Swanepoel in the 18th over turned into an error, with Swanepoel – whose first three overs had cost just 16 – conceding 22.
De Villiers continued his fine start to the competition, scoring 43 off only 20 balls.
As good as he and the rest of the Titans batsmen were, though, Wednesday night was all about Steyn, and the signs in his first game back were very good.