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February 20, 2012
While the batting component of South Africa's Twenty20 squad received a boost with Richard Levi's swashbuckling century against New Zealand, the bowling department is still searching. Rusty Theron has not been able to showcase the death-bowling skills that once made him the man who was thought to be able to defend any total, Lonwabo Tsotsobe does not always find the right lengths and Marchant de Lange, while promising, is still inexperienced.
With their preparations geared towards the World Twenty20 in September, South Africa are likely to turn back to a trusted hand to spearhead the attack. Dale Steyn, who does the job in both the Test and ODI formats, has not been included in the squad for the current three-match series against New Zealand but is likely to be an important part of the plan to capture an ICC trophy for the first time since 1998.
Steyn has not played a Twenty20 for South Africa since May 2010, during the tour of the West Indies that followed the World Twenty20. Since then, South Africa have played nine matches in the format and have used seven different seamers, four of whom have been juggled in the opening berth. Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Albie Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe have all shared the responsibility of the new ball but none of the four seem to have made the job their own the way Steyn often does. He may get the opportunity to do so again.
South Africa play eight Twenty20s after the tour of New Zealand, five against Zimbabwe and three against England and, if selected, Steyn will be raring to go in all of them. "I am definitely available for selection and I have spoken to Gary [Kirsten] about it," Steyn told ESPNCricinfo. "The thing to remember is that if I am playing every Twenty20 and every ODI and every Test match for South Africa then we will have a reason to worry about happens when I am not available for whatever reason. I play more than enough Twenty20 cricket in the IPL."
According to Steyn, his exclusion from the Twenty20 squad is recent times has served the dual purpose of giving him adequate rest time between series and allowing the selectors to test the depth of the South Africa's bowling reserves. "It's good for someone like Marchant [de Lange] to play and to see what he can do," Steyn said.
De Lange made his Twenty20 debut in the second match against New Zealand on Sunday. It was only his second match in the format, having only played one game for his provincial union, Easterns, and it was a baptism of fire for the 21-year-old. He was hit for 43 runs in his four overs, the result of a combination of aggressive batting and small boundaries.
"You have to give credit to him because he bowled to the short boundary on the leg side in three of the four overs," Johan Botha said. "I spoke to him afterwards and he said everything felt a bit rushed. I said, 'That's how it is, the game really speeds up in Twenty20s,' and he said to me he has got to change a couple of things. So he is thinking about the game and he wants to learn. He did also pick up the big wicket of [Martin] Guptill at a crucial stage."
South Africa showed intent to beef up in the bowling department for the second match. De Lange replaced Theron, who had was a casualty of the first fixture that South Africa lost, and Parnell came in as an extra bowler in place of Colin Ingram. He bowled the penultimate over, which only cost three runs and seemed to get the yorker right. "We bowled two really good overs at the end of the innings to close it out and stop it from going to 190 or maybe 200," Botha said. de Lange bowled the last over that cost 11 runs.
Although South Africa were able to prevent New Zealand from reaching a par score in Wellington, Botha, who opened the bowling, acknowledged that there is a need for improvement. "We've definitely got some work to do. Our bowling is going to be important especially on these small grounds where you need to be precise," he said. "As a bowler, you can't take your foot off the gas for 24 balls."
A bowler who understands that impeccably is Steyn. His exclusion from the Twenty20 squad has been perceived as acknowledgement of South Africa's new wave of players - the squad also excludes veterans like Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis. The difference is that Steyn will be back. "The guys can't keep playing forever and it's good to see some young guys come in," Botha said. "But, Dale will be around the team, he is 20-something . In big tournaments, he will be around the team."
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