(Cricinfo) South Africa may be without the world’s No.1 batsman and bowler for their must-win second Test against Pakistan. Dale Steyn had to cut short his training session on Sunday after feeling tightness in his right hamstring and did not train yesterday, while Hashim Amla, who is awaiting the birth of his second child, will be ruled out of the match if he is unable to leave Durban by tomorrow at around mid-day.
Steyn was attended to by the South African physiotherapist yesterday morning but the full extend of his injury will only be known in a day’s time. “We should have a better idea of the situation tomorrow,” Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa’s team manager who is also a medical doctor, told ESPNcricinfo. “We need a 24-hour period before we can determine exactly what’s wrong.” South Africa’s vice-captain AB de Villiers said Steyn was excluded from training as a precaution and they are hopeful he will be passed fit to play.
Steyn has suffered from a variety of niggles in the last five months which led to him being left out of the limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka in August. He only played in only one of South Africa’s four Champions Trophy matches and was struggling with a left groin problem before being given an extended period of rest to recover from what he revealed as “five injuries, including side-strain, groin, glute, neck and a bit of an ankle problem.”
He had returned to full fitness ahead of the Champions League T20 and declared himself ready for the South African summer. The latest setback comes after a Test in which he bowled the most overs among South Africa’s seamers – 33.4 in total – although he showed no signs of discomfort while on the field. All of South Africa’s players were carefully managed in the heat, with Steyn one of the bowlers using ice-vests and umbrellas during drinks breaks.
If he is unable to play, South Africa could bring in reserve seamer Rory Kleinveldt, who has previously stood in when Vernon Philander was injured. This may also inadvertently help solve their conundrum of which seamer to leave out to make room for an additional spinner. South Africa played the first Test in Abu Dhabi with Robin Peterson as their specialist tweaker and JP Duminy playing a part-time role.
Speculation is rife that Imran Tahir will be brought into the XI to add an attacking option although South Africa continue to play down talk of his inclusion.
De Villiers said Peterson, “bowled really well to me in the nets today,” and he expects the spinner to replicate that in the second Test.
“I know Robbie has got full support of the boys and the management. He has done really well with bat in hand and with the ball there were a few deliveries that missed the edge when they could have hit it. I think he will get it right in the next Test.” De Villiers did not rule Tahir out completely, but admitted his lack of first-class cricket – the legspinner has not played in whites since February – is a worry. “He has the potential to bowl a side out but I also don’t know about his confidence at the moment because he hasn’t played in a while. It’s still something to think about.”
South Africa’s other possible change to the XI will be enforced if Amla cannot make it back to the UAE in time to play. As of yesterday morning, his wife Sumayya had not given birth. Moosajee however said the team will wait as late as they can before they take a call on Amla. “He won’t need any time to adjust so as long as he can be on the plane by tomorrow afternoon, he should be fine to play,” he said.
If Amla cannot make it, Dean Elgar will most likely replace him. Elgar was benched in favour of Duminy and last played during the home series against Pakistan. Although he has not been entirely convincing in his first few Tests – with a century against New Zealand and not much else to his name – Elgar is actually a top-order batsmen and de Villiers hopes he will perform better in the place he is more accustomed to batting in.
“It’s a big test for Dean. He hasn’t played a Test match for a while but looking at his record in domestic cricket, he has been playing really good cricket,” de Villiers said. “He has got a great attitude when it comes to playing cricket as well and that’s exactly what we need.”
South Africa’s have described the Dubai Test as being all about mental strength and theirs will be challenged severely if they are without both their No.1s. Bowling coach Allan Donald is also not with the group, havingreturned home for family reasons. Despite all that, de Villiers remained upbeat.
“We are still the No.1 team in the world and we are going to try play like it.”
Pakistan are not taking South Africa’s troubles as a sign of good fortune for themselves because they expect the replacement players to be just as good. “They will miss them because Amla and Steyn are their top players. But they will come hard at us,” Younis Khan said. “In their culture, it doesn’t matter who is playing for them. It only matters how they play. They will have some plans against us.”