JOHANNESBURG – If Dale Steyn says he is fit to play, then he’ll be pulled straight back into the Proteas Test team for the Boxing Day encounter with Zimbabwe, Ottis Gibson said on Monday.
Steyn is expected to be back on the field for the Titans when they start the defence of their T20 Challenge title in just under a fortnight, and Gibson is not concerned that the 34-year-old quick won’t have played any first-class cricket since injuring his shoulder in Australia a year ago.
“He’s got a lot of cricket (he can play), albeit T20 cricket, before the Tests, but there’s also a lot of time where we can build up his workload and we can see if he’s 100 percent fit,” said Gibson.
Steyn has played just five of South Africa’s last 25 Test matches – over a period spanning two years.
He broke down injured in the middle of three of those five Tests – once with a groin problem and on the other two occasions with shoulder ailments, the last of those coming in the first Test against Australia in Perth 12 months ago.
While Steyn, who’s played 85 Tests, has reportedly made a full recovery and has posted videos of himself on social media practising in the nets, it would still be understandable if there were concerns about him getting through a match and even a series without inhibiting his team again.
Gibson, for now, isn’t sharing those concerns. “It’s Dale Steyn,” said the Proteas coach, “not some average guy from down the road.
“It’s Dale Steyn, one of the best fast bowlers the country’s ever produced. If you look him in the eyes and ask ‘Dale, can you make it?’ and he says he can, then he’s given that opportunity.”
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A return to full fitness for Steyn will help ease some of the concerns for Gibson following his first month in charge.
While results against a poor Bangladesh outfit have been very good, Gibson said his biggest worry was ensuring that a few key players get back to full fitness ahead of a very busy summer for the national team.
“Perhaps fitness is something we need to look at going forward. It’s not easy when you have that many quality players who would most likely be in the team, injured, therefore that’s something we have to look at… we have started to look at how we can make that side of things better,” he said.
Beside’s Steyn, Gibson was without Vernon Philander for the entirety of Bangladesh’s tour, while Morné Morkel tore an abdominal muscle in first Test and Duanne Olivier hurt his knee in the second.
Philander came through the Cape Cobras’ last Sunfoil Series match, indicating his readiness for the rest of the season, while Morkel is set to return for the latter half of the T20 Challenge.
Gibson provided some clarity about Morkel’s future too, after the tall fast bowler had hinted at taking up a contract overseas as his career winds down.
“We had a really good, honest discussion, and he’s committed his future to us over the next couple of years,” said Gibson.
“Obviously the World Cup is a big thing, and he’s well aware that there can be no guarantees about that. In 2019, it will be form, fitness and conditions – that sort of stuff (that will be considered).”
Gibson, who will head back to England for a few weeks on Wednesday, said his initial interactions with the South African team had been enjoyable.
“People have said Bangladesh might not have been great opposition, but we still have to play the way we want to play, and we have been able to do that. As a new coach, it couldn’t really have gone much better.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the opposition, but we’ve been able to play a dominating brand, front-foot cricket I called it when I first came.”