South Africa are keeping their most precious object as safe as possible ahead of their World Cup opener on Sunday. Pace spearhead Dale Steyn bowled largely off a short run-up in an extensive, four-hour training session on Friday, after bowling just seven overs in the first warm-up match and being rested for the second.
Despite Steyn’s seeming lack of activity, team management have stubbed out suggestions he is injured and explained they are simply saving him for when they need him most. “Everyone is fine. We rested Dale in the previous match to make sure he is 110% but everyone is fine,” Allan Donald, South Africa’s bowling coach, said.
So far, South Africa have escaped any major injury worries in the lead up to the tournament after the two players carrying the biggest concerns recovered in time for takeoff. Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy returned from ankle and knee problems in the home series against West Indies, with de Kock recovering a month ahead of schedule. But since South Africa’s arrival in New Zealand, niggles have cropped up. AB de Villiers experienced tightness in his hip and sat out the first warm-up game against Sri Lanka on Monday while Farhaan Behardien was forced out of the second against New Zealand with back stiffness on Wednesday.
Those minor issues will fall far off the radar if Steyn comes under the spotlight, as he did earlier in the week. A local paper received a tip-off from what turned out to be a prankster who told them Steyn was hurt in the nets at Hagley Oval and helped off the field. There were no journalists at the ground at the time – the small South African contingent of reporters had yet to reach town and the reporters at the ground were concentrating on New Zealand’s training – but a dutiful scribe checked up on the situation and was emphatically told none of it was true. But when Steyn was rested from the warm-up match the next day, there were few sets of raised eyebrows.
If Steyn is carrying a niggle, it is unlikely to be too serious. He took part in most of the practice session on Friday and still has a day and a half before South Africa’s first ball is bowled. At worst, if he has to sit out the first game, South Africa have back-up in Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell that is expected to be enough to be able to cope against their neighbours even though Donald said they would not become complacent with the David-Goliath situation they face upfront.
“All these so-called minnow teams – and Zimbabwe are no minnow team, they’re a Full Member of the ICC – they have always found a way to scrap. There’s no way anyone in this World Cup will disrespect Zimbabwe. We’re taking them absolutely very seriously,” Donald said. “We got on the bus in Christchurch after the New Zealand game, and AB just said, ‘It’s time to lock in.’ Everyone’s excited. Even arriving here for this training session, we know it’s right on the doorstep. We’re very eager to get on with it.”Kicking off the campaign will put South Africa face to face with two tags they have worn heavily in past tournaments: favourites and chokers. These days they have learnt to deal with being called both those, Donald said. “That tag will never go away. We’re always coming here as favourites. I think there’s a very calm confidence about this group that I haven’t felt before,” he said. “The next question will be how we deal with the chokers tag. We embraced that four years ago. That will never go away until we win an ICC event. We’ve got to come out and prove it.”