Dale Steyn back in Proteas Test squad‚ but selectors spin a surprise

Dale Steyn is back in the Proteas Test squad after a lengthy injury layoff.
Dale Steyn is back in the Proteas Test squad after a lengthy injury layoff.
Image: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Dale Steyn is the ace and Shaun von Berg the joker in the pack of players South Africa will send to Sri Lanka for next month’s Test series.

Steyn‚ 34‚ has played in only five of South Arica’s past 29 Tests‚ and bowled just 101.3 overs‚ because of shoulder and heel injuries.

But he is three scalps from surpassing Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker — a milestone that‚ at 34 and with his body not what it was‚ is unlikely to remain within his reach for long.

Steyn took 1/80 from 10 overs in a one-day game for Hampshire last week‚ his first outing for five months‚ and at the weekend he got through 26 overs in the first innings of a championship match against Surry and claimed 2/91.

“It is very welcome news to have Dale back in our pack of world class seamers‚ particularly in view of the retirement of Morne Morkel [in April‚ after the series against Australia]‚” a Cricket South Africa release quoted selection convenor Linda Zondi as saying.

Zondi confirmed that Kagiso Rabada‚ who missed the Indian Premier League because of a stress reaction in his spine‚ was also good to go.

Steyn’s return was always on the cards but there wouldn’t have been many bets on Von Berg cracking the nod.

Left-armer Keshav Maharaj is South Africa’s first-choice slow bowler and the selection of left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi‚ who hasn’t played a Test since making his debut in the third match of the series in Australia in November 2015‚ has some kind of logic behind it.

That said‚ six spinners‚ among them off-spinner Dane Piedt‚ took more wickets than Shamsi in last season’s franchise first-class cometition.

But Titans leg spinner Von Berg — at 31 a veteran of 96 first-class games but never capped at international level — is a bolt from the blue.

Off-spinner Simon Harmer‚ the country’s leading wicket-taker with 47 first-class successes last summer‚ has taken himself out of the selectorial mix by signing a Kolpak contract.

But the second-best bowler in South African domestic cricket in 2017-18 was Senuran Muthusamy‚ the Dolphins left-armer who took 33 wickets at 26.54.

Von Berg was next on the list with 29 at 41.75.

Even so‚ Zondi and his panel haven’t got much wrong during their tenure.

The release quoted him as saying: “A key factor in our selection process was to cover all our bases and all possible conditions that we may encounter in Sri Lanka.

“The two additional spinners to back up Keshav Maharaj have both had excellent records in recent times in our domestic cricket.

“Von Berg also gives us additional batting strength in the lower order.”

Less surprising was the selection of Heinrich Klaasen‚ who made an impressive start to his international career in the white-ball formats last season.

“He provides wicketkeeping cover for Quinton de Kock and is also a contender for a specialist batting position‚” Zondi was quoted as saying.

The latter is a reference to the fact that a vacancy in South Africa’s batting order opened last month when AB de Villiers retired from the international arena.

Theunis De Bruyn seems the likely choice to replace him.

South Africa squad:

Faf du Plessis (captain)‚ Hashim Amla‚ Temba Bavuma‚ Quinton de Kock‚ Theunis de Bruyn‚ Dean Elgar‚ Heinrich Klaasen‚ Keshav Maharaj‚ Aiden Markram‚ Lungisani Ngidi‚ Vernon Philander‚ Kagiso Rabada‚ Tabraiz Shamsi‚ Dale Steyn‚ Shaun von Berg.

Fixtures:

July 12 to 16: 1st Test‚ Galle

July 20 to 24: 2nd Test‚ Colombo

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