TELFORD VICE, Kingsmead
ALMOST 600 deliveries were bowled at Kingsmead on Monday. Three of them might have been watched more closely than all the rest put together.
An hour before the fateful balls were sent down, Dale Steyn interrupted his follow through to clutch his right shoulder after bowling his 20th delivery in England’s second innings on the third day of the first test.
He left the field and during his absence the press were told he had sustained a shoulder strain and would undergo a scan.
Five overs later Steyn was back on the field. Ten overs after that he stood at the top of his run, ready to bowl.
Which is when those fateful three balls came. Steyn seemed to get through the first two in one piece and the third, which nicked something as it veered down Nick Compton’s leg side, brought an appeal for caught behind.
SA reviewed Rod Tucker’s decision, but nothing on the replays provided enough evidence to overturn the on-field call of not out.
The crowd were still getting over that disappointment when they looked up to see Steyn, downcast, stalking off the field once more. When he reached the boundary he threw a paper cup at a cooler box in disgust. Damn. Not again.
Steyn swooped into this match on the wings of of expectation created by him returning to fitness having missed three-and-a-half of SA’s tests in India with a groin injury.
The anticipation was heightened when James Anderson was ruled out for Kingsmead with a calf injury.
That, surely, would hand SA a telling advantage. Instead, the home side go into the fourth day looking down at least one barrel of impending defeat: England will resume 261 runs ahead on 172/3.
Steyn returned but did not bowl again and his throwing from the field was reduced to under-arm efforts using his left arm.
The scan, SA team manager Mohammed Moosajee said, was “inconclusive – there were no tears to any of the muscles or the tendons or the ligaments; we’re treating it more as a shoulder spasm-cum-stiffness”.
SA will find out during the warm-up this morning whether Steyn will bowl on Tuesday.
Such grim news took from Dean Elgar the glory he had worked so hard for and so richly deserved. He batted for almost six-and-a-half hours for his undefeated 118 to became the sixth SA batsman and the first since Gary Kirsten in Faisalabad in 1997 to carry his bat.
For that, Elgar thanked the pitches on which he averaged 19.57 in seven innings recently.
“India didn’t give us a lot of confidence, but personally it did me the world of good,” he said. “Sometimes you need that kick up the backside to remind you that your comfort zone needs to get broken.
“India made me more aware of my surroundings and made me appreciate my batting position a little bit more.”
Among Elgar’s congratulators was Graeme Smith.
“We’re very similar in character when it comes to showing that little bit of … You know … I want to say the word but I’m not going to say it …”
The word is balls, Mr Elgar, and you have earned every right to say it.
It is a cold heart indeed that is not warmed by watching Elgar scrap and squabble and stand as tall as his 1.77 metres will allow him to stand to score his runs. To see him do so for so long and so successfully is to understand cricket as a game for humans even in this age of super human players.
Elgar’s sturdiest support on Monday came from one of the latter, Steyn, who helped him add 54 at a touch less than three to the over in a stand that endured for 80 minutes. That partnership aside, no-one was able to stay with Elgar for more than 31 balls.
Moeen Ali’s precision and patience saw to that. The off-spinner bowled 150 deliveries and just 38 of them yielded runs. He took 4/69.
Dismissed for 214 – SA last passed 300 in January, or 10 completed innings ago – the home side were already 89 runs in the red when England began their second innings.
The Steyn saga didn’t help, but as he has done before in the world No. 1’s absence, Morne Morkel promoted himself from lieutenant to captain of the attack with confidence and capability. Dane Piedt, too, probed and parried well.
But with three catches going down – two dropped by De Villiers – SA were always going to struggle to stay in the running.
England’s batting first turned around Compton, who shared a stand of 71 with Joe Root. Root has since taken on the senior role in an unbroken partnership of 53 with James Taylor.
The three lions are indeed rampant.