TELFORD VICE, Bangalore
THERE were bangs galore in Bangalore on Wednesday because of Diwali, which even in daylight hours was marked by exploding crackers that rent the air randomly all over this rackety city. And, for the third straight day, there was rain.
How the latter did not soak the fuses and thus deaden the din was anyone’s guess. Divine intervention, perhaps.
SA might need something like it to get Dale Steyn onto the park on Saturday. A groin strain took him out of the attack for India’s second innings in the first test in Mohali and, spinners’ pitch or not, the visitors missed his presence.
Steyn comes running down a mountain of achievement at batsmen, but he is much more than a player in this SA team. Not unlike AB de Villiers or Hashim Amla, he reminds his comrades who they are as a band of men and how they have reached heights they might never have scaled without leaning on giants like him.
Ask yourself which opponents and what pitch would cause Steyn to be omitted and there is only one answer: none.
So his fitness test, scheduled for today during SA’s first training session since Monday, will be among the most closely watched events of a tour not short of attention in two countries and beyond.
And yet there was no stress to be seen in Steyn as he posed gleefully for selfies with agog fans at the airport on Monday as SA travelled from Chandigarh to Bangalore. Greatness wears its crown easily.
If Steyn doesn’t make it, Morne Morkel seems over his quadriceps problem and would make a like-for-like but not quite seamless seamers’ swap: fine fast bowler that Morkel is, no-one is Dale Steyn except Dale Steyn.
The other side of that coin is the expected return of JP Duminy from his hand injury, probably at the expense of Simon Harmer. This would add significantly to SA’s ranks in terms of balance, experience and – as with Steyn – presence.
That is especially true in a middle order that looks, and sometimes plays, like a tiger without stripes when Duminy is not there.
As much as Steyn is about fire, Duminy is about ice. And if you put fire and ice in the same XI you get water too hot for most opponents to handle.
South Africans keeping tabs on their team from home will be in limbo, their Mohali memories darkened by shadows of India’s spinners sniping at tentative batsmen surrounded by fielders and then celebrating another wicket.
The series itself has been in limbo since that match ended on Saturday, more than two days early.
The South Africans have since taken to the golf course and the like, India’s players dispersed to be with their families for Diwali, and their board made several sweeping decisions at their annual meeting.
Among them was to threaten the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association (DDCA) with moving the fourth test to Pune if they didn’t fulfill certain requirements, including providing outstanding balance sheets.
That has been done, which should free up enough funding from the national board for the DDCA to settle a debt of the equivalent of R51.66-million in back taxes.
Consequently, DDCA and Delhi government have spent their Diwali locked in negotiations to find a way forward.
“We have heard good things from the chief minister’s office,” a DDCA official said. “We are very positive and expecting a Diwali gift.”
Probably not a cracker up the you-know-what, then, but a test in Delhi next month as planned.