Cape Town – Dale Steyn, fit and firing and on the verge of greatness, looks set to play in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle on July 12.
If he does, it will be his first international match since the first Test against India at Newlands back in January.
Having only just returned from a shoulder injury that kept him out for over a year, the freakish heel injury Steyn picked up on day two of that Cape Town contest suggested that he may have reached the end of the road in Proteas colours.
Instead, he immediately set about making yet another recovery.
Six months later, Steyn is back to full fitness and he capped off a short and successful stint with Hampshire in England by winning the Royal London One Day Cup final at Lord’s on Sunday.
With the focus now back on Test cricket and needing just two more scalps to equal Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in the format, Steyn will meet up with the Proteas in Sri Lanka this week.
Morne Morkel has retired, and Steyn is the front-runner to come straight in for his former Titans team-mate.
Regardless of the conditions that await, skipper Faf du Plessis is leaning towards backing a trio of fast bowlers that must be considered one of the most dangerous in the world.
“No matter what the conditions are, a big strength of our team will always be the fast bowlers, especially with the personnel that we have,” Du Plessis said.
“Steyn, Kagiso (Rabada) and Vern (Philander) are all very good all-wicket bowlers, so no matter what the conditions are, those three have proved that they can do it on any surface.
“Dale has a fantastic record in the sub-continent and KG at the moment is gold and can do everything. It’s nice to see Dale fit again and bowling in England.
“Those three will be a big threat to any batting attack and then we have Keshav as well. If we want to or if we need to, we can look at a second spinner.”
Those words suggest that 22-year-old Lungi Ngidi will be the seamer to miss out, which would be understandable given his lack of exposure to the sub-continent.
With conditions in Sri Lanka almost certain to favour the spinners, as was the case when the Proteas fell to a 3-0 series defeat in India in 2015, Keshav Maharaj emerges as a major player for the visitors.
Should Du Plessis opt for a second spinner, he would need to choose between Tabraiz Shamsi and the uncapped Shaun von Berg.
While backing his seamers may be first-prize, any conditions bearing a resemblance to what the Proteas faced on that dreaded Indian tour would force a rethink.
“I’m expecting tough conditions going over there,” Du Plessis added.
“I think Sri Lanka will feel that we have a better side than them on paper and they will try and make the conditions as dry as possible to spin as much as possible. That will be similar to what we had in India, so it will be a nice opportunity for us to Test ourselves in tough conditions again.
“I think there were a lot of lessons learnt from the batters and we almost had to start from scratch to get better. Hopefully we have made some learning curves and there is some experience.”
Proteas Test squad:
Faf du Plessis (Titans, captain), Hashim Amla (Cape Cobras), Temba Bavuma (Cape Cobras), Quinton de Kock (Titans), Theunis de Bruyn (Titans), Dean Elgar (Titans), Heinrich Klaasen (Titans), Keshav Maharaj (Dolphins), Aiden Markram (Titans), Lungisani Ngidi (Titans), Vernon Philander (Cape Cobras), Kagiso Rabada (Highveld Lions), Tabraiz Shamsi (Titans), Dale Steyn (Titans), Shaun von Berg (Titans)
PROTEAS TOUR TO SRI LANKA:
July 4: SA arrive in Sri Lanka
July 7-8: Two-day practice match, P Sara Stadium, Colombo
July 12-16: 1st Test match, Galle
July 20-24: 2nd Test match, Colombo
July 26: One-day warm-up match
July 29: 1st ODI, Dambulla (Day match)
August 1: 2nd ODI, Dambulla (D/N)
August 5: 3rd ODI, Kandy (day match)
August 8: 4th ODI, Kandy (D/N)
August 12: 5th ODI, Colombo (D/N)
August 14: T20 International, Colombo (D/N)