TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SA kept their heads above water in the World T20 by beating Afghanistan in Mumbai on Sunday, but a casualty of that success was JP Duminy’s left hamstring. And, perhaps, the stature of Dale Steyn.
Duminy limped off clutching at his leg after chasing a batted ball in the first over of Afghanistan’s reply to SA’s total of 209/5 – which proved to be a bridge runs 37 too far for the gutsy Afghans, who were dismissed for 172 with the last ball of their 20 overs.
What wretched luck for Duminy, who emerged from 17 innings without a half-century in all formats for SA with a sturdy 54 not out against England on Friday.
But at least Duminy made it onto the park. Not so Steyn, who was dropped in favour of David Wiese.
Happily for SA, Afghanistan did not have the firepower to make the most of Steyn-sized hole in SA’s attack. They blitzed their first 50 off 22 balls – all but five of those deliveries faced by their roly poly pocket rocket of an opening batsman, Mohammad Shahzad, who hit high, wide and handsome for his 44. But no-one else reached 30.
“There were some really good shots being played; he put us under pressure,” Faf du Plessis said. “It’s tough to start like that. You almost don’t know where to go.
“You need someone to stand up and luckily I had that with Chris Morris. He had great intensity and brought us back into the game.
“You want your quick bowlers to stand up and show aggression. That’s what South Africans pride themselves on, that kind of in-your-face bowling.”
Morris did just that, bowling mostly full and straight for his career-best haul of 4/27, which included Shahzad’s wicket.
“It’s a bit daunting sometimes,” Morris said. “But as a bowler that’s what you’re paid to do – try to get wickets and restrict runs.”
All of which came after AB de Villiers lit up SA’s batting with a dazzling 64 off 29 balls, the best effort in an innings in which Quinton de Kock, Du Plessis and David Miller slunk away shaking their heads having failed to capitalise on decent starts.
But the real story was about the man who wasn’t there …
Duminy’s enforced exit was an opportunity to put Steyn, with all his experience and presence – besides his booming throwing arm and classy fielding skills – into the mix, albeit in a non-bowling capacity. Instead, Farhaan Behardien fielded for Duminy.
Du Plessis’ explanation for Steyn’s omission was that “the Mumbai wicket skids through and that’s not Dale’s style”.
SA should not, and did not, need Steyn to beat mighty minnows like Afghanistan. But the stalwart fast bowler’s absence can only raise questions.
Is Steyn carrying the can for a poor bowling performance against England, when he went for 35 runs in two overs as part of an attack that failed to defend 230?
Is he no longer considered part of SA’s best XI, and that on one of the faster pitches teams will see in this tournament?
Is his workload being managed extra carefully to make the most of what is left of his career?
Is a fresh injury being hidden and frantically treated?
Steyn has been such an important figure in SA’s teams for 10 years that if he stubs a toe the rest of the dressingroom fractures a femur.
For SA’s next trick they will have to beat Chris Gayle in Nagpur on Friday, or likely fall out of the running for the semi-finals.
Ten other West Indians will also be in attendance, but Gayle alone matters.
Can Steyn stop him? Yes. If he plays.