Dale Steyn may have taken a pounding during South Africa’s one-day international series sweep over Australia, but he remains key to his country’s hopes when they take on their long-time rivals in a Test series next month.
Just four days after completing an historic 5-0 victory in a one-day series, South Africa’s cricketers will board a flight to Perth on Sunday for an even bigger challenge – three Test matches in Australia.
What happened in South Africa may not have much bearing on the Test series, with conditions and playing personnel being very different.
Only three of the Australian one-day squad – captain Steve Smith, David Warner and Mitchell Marsh – are likely starters in the Test series, which starts in Perth on November 3.
Nine of South Africa’s one-day winners are in the Test squad, however, including Steyn, whose five one-day wickets came at a cost of 50.80 runs each, while he leaked runs at a shade under seven an over.
Fellow fast bowler Kagiso Rabada, also expected to play a key role in the Tests, was marginally worse. He also took five wickets, but at an average of 52.80 in conceding 7.33 runs an over.
South African captain Faf du Plessis said both fast bowlers were aware they had performed below expectations but said he expected both to step up in Australia, especially Steyn.
“Dale in Test cricket is a different breed,” he said. “In Test cricket it’s about consistency and making sure you bowl in good areas for a long period of time.
"When Dale gets that red ball in his hand he’s just a different bowler. He is still our number one bowler in Test cricket and for us to have a successful tour of Australia, Dale Steyn will be the guy to make or break that for us. I’m confident he will have a good series.”
Du Plessis admitted, though, that Steyn’s fitness would be crucial.
Now 33, the long-time number one bowler in Test cricket suffered groin and, more recently, shoulder injuries that severely restricted his appearances last season.
“His shoulder looks okay,” said Du Plessis. “That’s a challenge -- to make sure that he stays fit and that he can bowl for long periods of time. Our bowling attack needs to be fit for us to win a series in Australia.”
Australian vice-captain Warner was among those who benefitted from Steyn’s struggles in the one-day games.
Warner, the top scorer in the series with 386 runs at an average of 77.20, including a magnificent 173 in the final game, scored 94 of his runs off 77 balls he received from Steyn, without being dismissed by the fast bowler.
But Warner said he was not underestimating Steyn ahead of a duel which is likely to be critical in the Tests.
“You’ve always got to respect Dale,” said Warner. “He’s a world-class bowler, a great athlete. He always charges in and you just never want to upset him.
"That’s something I learned fast when I first made my international debut. He’s a guy that can really get on top. He has this spark in him and this spell in him and you’ve got to get through that.”