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Is time running out for Dale Steyn?

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Dale_Steyn_South_Africa_Test_cricketThe cricketing world has seen some of the greatest pacers making batsmen dance to their tunes. The legendary pacers from the West Indies, particularly Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding, dominated the 80s, followed by the duo of Ambrose and Walsh who formed a remarkable bowling partnership in the 90s. Pakistan boasted that most fearsome pair of fast bowlers in Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram.

Dennis Lillee was known for his never say die attitude. Around the millennium, there were the likes of McGrath & Lee. Across the Indian Ocean, Allan Donald was called White Lightning with good reason. From England, action man Fred Trueman possessed some great bowling acumen. And there are so many more. They used to terrorise batsmen's mind with their dynamism with the ball.

 

Today, in the batsman's era, Dale Steyn has been buoyant, ferocious and undoubtedly the pacer who has made the biggest impact. Very few generate the kind of intensity Steyn does when in full flow. His phenomenal ability to bowl fiery spells and take wickets seemingly at will makes him the stand out fast bowler of this generation. He holds the unique feat of being the No.1 bowler for a record 263 Tests.

Over the years, we've seen Steyn's pace wind down. While the Proteas management has taken great steps not to overburden his workload by reducing his limited overs commitments, the age factor has started to show. In the last two years, Dale Steyn has missed out on several important series due to injuries.

There's no doubt that Steyn is a valuable asset for any team due to the stature he holds and his experience. While his speed has dipped, he has persisted with the accuracy. However, his fitness issues have been pulling him off lately.

In the recently concluded Australia-South Africa series, Dale Steyn walked off the field on Day 2 of the first test due to an aggravated shoulder injury. His niggles had returned to haunt him. Scans revealed that he required a surgery which may well sideline him from any cricket for 6 months.

On the other hand, South Africa weren't quite affected by his absence as they went on to win the series 2-1, riding high on some splendid performances with the ball by Philander, Abbott and the very talented Rabada. This makes you wonder if Steyn has anything more left to offer. His absence for the next 6 months casts a shadow over his future. With young guns making their presence felt in the Proteas squad, this could pose a big challenge for Dale.

After hosting Sri Lanka and visiting New Zealand, the next big assignment for South Africa is in England next summer, followed by early 2018 when the Proteas are slated to host India and Australia.

The challenge & the selection conundrum facing the management are to see whether Steyn will be able to maintain his fitness levels throughout the next season. One more injury might well mark the end of his career and Steyn would probably not like to leave the international arena that way. It might be too soon to make judgements on his recovery, but this has not been the first time he has been injured and out in the recent past.

Earlier last year, he had to cut short his Indian tour after sustaining a groin strain in the very first Test match. 7 weeks later, he came back for the Boxing Day Test against England at home and claimed 4 crucial wickets in the first innings. However, a shoulder strain during England's second innings ended up ruling him out of action for the remainder of the series. Adding to that, the Proteas went on to lose both the aforementioned series.

 

What stands good for Dale Steyn is that in spite of the breakdowns, there has hardly been a dip in his wicket taking abilities. He has prolonged his stay as the warrior with the ball for the Proteas. Now a veteran of 417 wickets, Steyn is just four wickets short of the South African record for most wickets, held by Shaun Pollock.

Pollock brushed off the milestone, stating that Dale Steyn will be remembered as the best Test bowler South Africa has produced, even if he never gets back on to the pitch to claim the record of being his country's most prolific wicket-taker.

For the cricketing universe, it would be incredibly sad to even imagine Steyn never returning to the field again. The Proteas would be more than willing to have him back, but at the same time they will also have to learn to live without him.

However, as the saying goes, every setback is a platform for a comeback. It would be really overwhelming to watch him play in the white jersey again. Only time will tell what the future has in store for Dale Steyn.

 

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