Dale Steyn has been ruled out of the Test series against India, after seeing a foot and ankle specialist on Sunday, the third day of the first Test. Steyn will be reassessed in four to six weeks' time. He had sustained significant damage on his left heel in Cape Town.
Standing on crutches at the end of the Test, which South Africa won by 72 runs on Monday, Steyn told the host broadcaster that he should be 'up and running in six weeks'. "I'm on the crutches because I've got a no bearing weight on the leg for a while, at least two weeks, which makes it seem worse than it actually is," he said. "But it's right underneath the heel, so it's extremely sore to stand on or step on. And as you know, as fast bowlers we land on that front foot pretty often. So I'm going to have to give it time to recover - six weeks, and I'll be up and running again."
In his first Test in over a year, Steyn bowled with fire to nip out two wickets and move within two scalps of equalling Shaun Pollock's South Africa record of 421 Test wickets. "I feel incredibly bad for Dale," Faf du Plessis, the South Africa captain said. "Having been injured myself, I know it takes a lot of time and effort to try and get back. Dale worked for a year. It was great to see him back and it looked like he didn't go anywhere. Standing at slip, he looked like he could nick off guys at any time. Luckily, it's not his shoulder again."
Steyn suffered the injury just before tea on the second day, when he landed awkwardly in the footholds, and then pulled out of the last three balls of his over. He was immediately taken for a scan, which showed that the plantar fascia (the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes) has separated from the bone. He saw a specialist on Sunday, who confirmed the nature and extent of the injury but was unable to provide any means of speeding up his recovery.
"I get quite close to the stumps, but that ball, I came a little bit wider and landed on the side of the foothold," he said. "And I must have slipped on it a little bit. I walked back, stood there for a little bit, went to the top of my mark and tried to run, and I was like, 'no, this isn't happening'. I thought it was a bit of a bruised heel and they said, 'let's just go get an MRI to be 100 percent sure'. It showed up a little tear in the muscle underneath the heel."
Steyn is currently in a moon boot and will be reassessed as his recovery progresses. South Africa's selectors have named Duanne Olivier, who played against Bangladesh, and Lungi Ngidi, who has returned to form after a back injury over the winter, as replacements.
Given that Steyn's injury has occurred just over seven weeks before South Africa host Australia in March, he could be doubtful for the start of that series as well. Steyn would probably need some game time before playing international cricket again. South Africa's franchise four-day competition resumes in February, which could give Steyn an opportunity to play long-format cricket in a bid to make another Test comeback. South Africa will also be playing ODIs and T20s against India in February, which Steyn may target.
"Yeah, that (getting ready for the Australia series) is the plan. Next two weeks, nothing on my feet. Stay off my feet. After that, I'll start walking around, and in about four weeks, I'll start running and then look to start practicing again in six weeks. That's a long time. I spent a whole year out, so when someone says to me six weeks, it doesn't sound too bad," he said with a laugh.
This is the fourth major injury Steyn has suffered since late 2015. A groin problem sustained in India in November that year kept him out of three of the four Tests on that tour, and when he returned on Boxing Day 2015, he suffered the first of his two shoulder injuries. He was unable to play three of the four home Tests against England, but was fit by the time New Zealand played in South Africa in August 2016. He played both Tests before breaking a bone in his shoulder in Australia in November 2016, and was out of the game for 14 months before making a comeback against India.
Steyn has now not completed three of the last five Tests he has played. "If it was my shoulder, which I was struggling with over the last year, that would have been extremely disappointing," he said. "But this is a cricket injury, it's like a batter getting hit on the hand and breaking a finger. So I'm okay with that, just got to put it away and get on with the job."