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Steyn return keeps Australia on guard

Before the series started Australia had identified AB de Villiers as the man to keep in check but with news that he will be sidelined for the next two months, they have had to turn their attention elsewhere. Now, they have earmarked Dale Steyn as the South African who will pose the biggest threat especially as they know he was recently wounded in the ODI format.

"He's a class bowler and has been for a long time," Steven Smith, Australia's captain, said. "I watched the Test series against New Zealand, where he was almost back to his best. I think he's been left out of their one-day side for a while, so he's probably out to prove a point."

Officially, Steyn was rested from the triangular series, which also featured Australia, in the Caribbean in June. But he was allowed to play in England's Natwest T20 Blast so, unofficially, he was left out. Steyn admitted as much during the New Zealand Tests in August. "I can't even make the one-day team now," Steyn said, after he had surged back with eight wickets in the Centurion Test.

That was Steyn's first completed Test in more than 18 months, after he was forced out of six of South Africa's eight matches in the 2015-16 season with injuries that he picked up in the other two. But last month Steyn showed signs of old when he bowled at good pace and swung the ball to finish as the series' leading wicket-taker. Now, at the same venue, Steyn will make his comeback to the 50-over team and stand-in captain Faf du Plessis is certain he will want to do just as well.

"Dale's personality sometimes is a bit cranky, that's why you see that fire when he gets a wicket and that's why we love him like that," du Plessis said. "I think when he came back, felt like he needed to prove a point. He is the No. 1 bowler in the world. If you don't produce the goods regularly, people are going to ask questions and that comes with its own pressures. Now he is back in the one-day team and he will try and make a huge impact and try and show everyone that one-day cricket is still a big part of his future."

Steyn has said winning an ICC trophy remains a goal of his and, with the Champions Trophy nine months away, it is within reach. He is expected to play in several ODIs before that - after this series South Africa host Sri Lanka and then go to New Zealand - and du Plessis hopes the mere prospect of Steyn will work to South Africa's advantage. "The fear that he puts into opposition, just the name itself - you only have a few guys around the world who can do that," du Plessis said. "His skill and experience is something you can't get overnight. If Dale is fit and 100% and wants to bowl quick, he is an extremely big asset."

Perhaps more worryingly for the opposition is that the make-up of South Africa's team, which will now include at least two allrounders, means Steyn can be deployed slightly differently. Instead of merely seeing off Steyn's opening spell, they may have to contend with him for longer up front because South Africa have several other bowling options to use mid-innings and at the death.

"If Dale is bowling well, he can bowl six or seven up front to try and strike whereas in the past, if any one of your opening two bowlers had to bowl more than four overs you are taking those overs out of at the end of the game," du Plessis said.

Kagiso Rabada has emerged as one of the candidates who can operate at the end of the innings while Andile Phehlukwayo, who debuted against Ireland, is another. Kyle Abbott is a third. Then South Africa have Wayne Parnell and Dwaine Pretorius to operate in the middle period along with the spinner and JP Duminy, taking the number of bowlers in their team to seven.

It is a balance du Plessis wants applied in the long term, especially as the allrounders develop. "Once you have a six and a seventh bowler in the team, it's great for a captain. We've got Wayne, Andile and Dwaine. Between the three of them, at least two can put their hands up and really become good one-day cricketers for South Africa," he said. "We've been lacking that and so always when we were picking a team, the side was unbalanced. We were either one batsman short or one bowler short. I am hoping two of them will step up in this series."

Du Plessis' aims for whoever makes the allrounder spot their own is that they will contribute as much with the bat as with the ball, especially because South Africa are also looking to combat another problem: slow scoring rates in the middle overs. The 25-40 over period is where South Africa have sometimes let the game drift but with power-hitting allrounders, du Plessis hopes that will change.

"Most of the time, we've only had six batsmen and that makes you a little hesitant when you come to those overs," he said. "You can't lose wickets because your tail starts at seven or eight and goes down to eleven, so you have to sit a little bit in those periods. With us having a longer batting line-up now it allows us to push a bit harder."