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Firdose Moonda in Johannesburg
February 5, 2014
Allan Donald, South Africa's bowling coach, has warned Australia to expect a fully-firing Dale Steyn from the first morning of the first Test of the upcoming series. Although Steyn has not bowled for five weeks, in which he was given extended rest to recover from a rib injury, Donald insisted Steyn would not require any additional time to get back into the swing things.
"We cant afford for him to ease into it. Graeme wants him to be full tilt right from the start," Donald said, after the second day's play in the tour match. Steyn bowled 8.5 overs to follow up from the three he delivered on Tuesday and came off a slightly longer run-up than the one he used on day one. Quinton de Kock, who faced Steyn early on, said initially "there was no pace there, he was just working on his areas" but Donald noted Steyn got quicker as the day went on.
Steyn got rid of the Composite XI's tail to finish with three wickets and show heartening signs that his self-belief is ballooning. "The biggest thing when you are coming back from a rib injury is confidence," Donald said. "You do feel hesitant at first. You need to get back that confidence in getting through your action. But for a guy who hasn't bowled a ball in a month, Dale is looking good."
Although Donald called Steyn a "freakish sort of guy" who can "slot straight back in" after a layoff, he also said Steyn, like any other bowler, needs to work his way back by slowly increasing his load. "Every day he needs to build," he said.
The comeback should be declared complete on Thursday. Donald said Steyn will have one more spell and promised it will be a nasty one. "He will be bowling quicker, running in harder off a nice long run up with full momentum," he said. "That will give him that confidence and form that you take into a massive series."
South Africa need Steyn at his best because he will be the spearhead in what has been dubbed a battle of the bowlers, which Donald expects to be as explosive as it sounds. "Michael Clarke has every right to say he rates his attack No.1 because what a hell of a performance over five Tests," he said, referring to Australia's Ashes triumph.
"They're a good attack, they showed that against England. They have got variation in their attack and so have we. That's where it will be fantastic viewing from the side to see how these guys match up against each other."
Steyn's direct competitor, especially where pace and the label leader of the attack lies, is Mitchell Johnson, who will enjoy the knowledge that four of South Africa's Test batsmen, including Alviro Petersen and Graeme Smith twice, were dismissed by left-armers in the ongoing warm-up match. Donald called Johnson's recent form the "best I have seen him bowl in a very long time".
Donald was particularly impressed with the combination Johnson's speed and control. "He never gave England a sniff, he was so tight with the channels he bowled and his pace through the air," Donald said. "He softened them up with very good short balls and his follow-up balls were the ones that were very quick through the air. His overall control was the best I've seen for a while."
That type of discipline is something Donald was hoping from Wayne Parnell and he believes there was a glimpse of it in South Africa's second innings. "He showed a lot of intent. There was presence in his run up, which is important," Donald said. "I thought that stood out today, he had good pace and good control." Parnell appears the frontrunner to slot into South Africa's Test XI, which would add another speedster into what is already a cauldron of quicks.
With so much fire and brimstone in the lead-up to the series, it is easy to get carried away but Donald said South Africa are aiming for the same kind of calm they achieved when they prepared to take the Test mace off England in 2012. "There is no point jumping in with both feet down people's throats," he said, the mixed metaphor only emphasising the point. "This team doesn't stand for that. We built up very calmly towards England. And it feels exactly the same. It feel eerily the same."
Then, South Africa took a trip to Switzerland in the lead-up to the tour where they spent time with explorer Mike Horn. This time, they will spend two days in Hoedspruit, a town close to the Kruger National Park, where they will assist Mark Boucher in his mission to save the rhino. The getaway is aimed to give them perspective and when they return to fine-tune for the Test, Donald expects them, and the attack specifically, to be more than ready.
"This South African attack - from where we started our journey against England almost two years ago, to where we are now - we've got what it takes to deliver. We know what we stand for, we know what to expect from each other and whenever there has been big questions asked of us in the past, someone, or the whole attack, has stepped up." Donald believes it will be more of the same again.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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