Steyn on course for Wanderers comeback
Dale Steyn gave South Africa's pace pack a boost ahead of the third Test in Johannesburg by resuming bowling on Tuesday. However, Vernon Philander remains a doubt as he is still recovering from torn ankle ligaments.
Steyn, who injured his shoulder during the Boxing Day match and sat out the current Test at Cape Town, tweeted his delight at getting back into the nets. "Start bowling again today. #lekker," he posted. He was also spotted at Newlands on Monday with Kyle Abbott, who also appears to have regained fitness after sitting out this match with a hamstring niggle.
If Steyn is fully fit, he would slot straight back into the XI even though South Africa will be concerned about how much he will be able to give them. Steyn has been injured nine times in the last two-and-a-half years, has sat out four of their last six Tests, and his problems seem to stem from each other.
He missed three of the four matches in India after suffering a groin strain in the first Test which ultimately resulted in seven weeks on the sidelines. That lengthy period of time off the field contributed to the shoulder problem, caused from heavy bowling loads in the Durban Test after a period of rest. Even though South Africa would be running the same risk by playing Steyn at the Wanderers, given the resources they have at their disposal, they may not have any other choice.
Philander looks unlikely to be ready for that match even though his projected recovery period of between six and eight weeks comes to an end on Thursday. He will not be playing in the round of first-class matches that starts on that day and will need to have some match fitness before he can be considered for a Test comeback. He could play in the following week's fixture which starts on the same day as the Wanderers Test on January 14 and put himself into contention for the final Test at Centurion at the end of the month.
Given that Philander could still feature in the series at some stage, he is likely to be named in the squad for the last two Tests, which will be announced by the South African selectors at the end of the Newlands Test and before the first-class matches which begin on Thursday. That will leave the selectors with no time to assess the performances of JP Duminy, Rilee Rossouw and Hardus Viljoen, who were all released from the national squad to play in those matches.
Duminy and Rossouw may not find a space in the Test XI after South Africa's line-up re-found their form on a flat pitch but Viljoen may be retained in the squad, ahead of Chris Morris, who had a forgettable debut. The Wanderers is Viljoen's home ground and he took 20 wickets in two games there in the first two first-class matches of the season.
There is a change expected in the batting department with Stiaan van Zyl likely to be sent back to his franchise and a new opener called up for the final two Tests. Stephen Cook is the obvious candidate but there are other options in Rossouw or de Kock, albeit in a makeshift capacity.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent