LONDON – “Howzit boytjies.”
Dale Steyn chirped from the middle to a group of South African journalists standing on The Oval boundary edge watching his every move.
The main practice may have been taking place on the other side of the field, where Hashim Amla was striking the ball sweetly on the ground that he only has the sweetest memories of, but everyone was focused on Steyn.
It was always going to be touch and go for Steyn to be on the right side of his fitness race for tomorrow’s tournament opener against hosts England, and watching him limber through a few run-throughs with fitness coach Greg King nobody needed Proteas coach Ottis Gibson to confirm what everyone already knew.
Steyn will play no part when the curtain is raised on the global jamboree tomorrow morning, with a return only being penciled in for the India clash next Wednesday. With rookie fast bowler Anrich Nortje having already being forced to withdraw before departure from OR Tambo for Heathrow, the selectors now face a conundrum.
Do they play the extra all-rounder like Gibson suggested?
“At the moment we have three all-rounders – (Chris) Morris, (Andile) Phehlukwayo and (Dwaine) Pretorius – one of those three could come into the equation,” Gibson said.
Although The Oval pitch had “a tinge of green to it”, and the overhead conditions were gloomy with a frosty wind accompanying it yesterday, I was more interested in Gibson mentioning that left-arm chinaman spin bowler Tabraiz Shamsi was also in the reckoning. “We also have Shamsi, he could also come into the equation,” Gibson said.
It is no secret that the Proteas brainstrust – Gibson and captain Faf du Plessis – are fast bowling enthusiasts. Gibson, partially through his Caribbean heritage, backed up his acute knowledge of the craft, and Du Plessis due to his beastly desires, are always going to lean towards 140km/* -plus missile launchers.
But if Gibson wants his team to be “brave” like he alluded to yesterday, saying “you just have to be brave, because that’s what it comes down to” then the selection panel, on which the Barbadian serves, has to equally play their part. And that’s why Shamsi must line-up at The Oval tomorrow.
England boast the most feared batting line-up at this World Cup. They are aggressive, relentless and swing lustily all the way down to No 11. It is a style that devours medium-pacers delivering the ball around the 130km/* mark. Although England’s players, particularly opener Jonnny Bairstow, have performed admirably in the recently IPL, it was only last year that captain Eoin Morgan admitted they needed to improve against the slower bowlers, particularly those of the wristy variation.
The Proteas possess arguably one of the finest leg-spin craftsman in Imran Tahir who not only throttles the middle overs, but also strikes. In tandem with Shamsi, the duo could potentially tighten a noose around a batting unit that for all their bravado succumbs when confronted by high-quality spin.
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* Zaahier Adams is reporting for IOL Sport from the Cricket World Cup