TELFORD VICE, Durban
AND then there was only one. With Mitchell Johnson having retired and James Anderson ruled out of the Kingsmead test, Dale Steyn is the sole stormtrooper of speed still standing in all of cricket.
Morne Morkel? Too nice. Kyle Abbott? Too clever. Kagiso Rabada? Too new. Stuart Broad? Too girlish. Steven Finn? Too random.
Steyn? Nasty, brutish and not as short as he seems in the impolite company of his pace peers. Anderson? A fast bowler’s fast bowler, sleek and slippery and oh so silkily skillful.
Is anyone else up for the entirely unofficial title of baddest bastard bowler in the game? No.
Anderson will, it is to be hoped, sort out his injured calf in time to rage hard against the dying of the twilight of his career in the second test at Newlands on New Year’s Day.
Steyn, just back from a groin strain that took him out of SA’s attack for all but the first innings of their series in India, will know exactly how Anderson feels.
The Saffer from Phalaborwa is 32. The Pom from Burnley is 13 months older. Look at their faces and you see men who have put more miles on their bodyclocks than others of their age.
How many deliveries can they have left before even one more becomes too many? Once they have gone, when might we see their like again?
But, for now, Hashim Amla is a happy captain: “He (Steyn) has been the best bowler in the world for the past five or six years. Rankings say that, his performances say that and not having him play in India was a big blow for us.
“It’s great to have him back as a bowler but also as the leader of our attack. He is fit and raring to go.”
Asked before the Kingsmead test about Anderson’s withdrawal, Amla played with a bat straighter than any he wields in the middle.
“We don’t place too much emphasis on who they have or who they don’t have. For us it’s about doing what we do best. Who leads England’s attack doesn’t make a difference to us.”
If you believe that, you also believe David van Rooyen is a suitable choice to steer SA’s economy into calmer waters.
Broad, too, chose to venture further from rather than closer to the truth: “If you talk to Jimmy he feels he could have played (in Durban). It’s just a slight niggle but the management decided it really wasn’t worth the risk in the first test. There’s a feeling he’ll be okay for Cape Town.
“We do know this is a four-test series and we want him to play a part in it. We’ve got such depth in the squad there’s not the need to take a risk. He’s disappointed but with the strength in depth we’ve got in this group it’s not a hammer blow to us.”
England coach Trevor Bayliss also seemed to pull a fast one: “It’s always a concern if your leading bowler or leading batsmen misses a game, but the last time Jimmy missed one we did pretty well.”
That was at the Oval in August – where Australia won by an innings.
Just as Johnson has left a hole far bigger than the sum of his parts in the Australian team, a void that will take some filling, so SA were not half the team they could have been in India had Steyn been fit.
But England seemed to be getting used to doing without Anderson. He has been forced to withdraw from two of their last six tests and pulled up lame in another, and they have won two of those games.
Perhaps that’s Bayliss was on about. Or perhaps bowlers like Anderson, Steyn and Mitchell can’t be restricted to the reality that pins down the rest of us. For them, legend is life and life is legend.