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We asked, he answered: Steyn’s return and other talking points from SA’s win against NZ

We asked, he answered: Steyn’s return and other talking points from SA’s win against NZ

South Africa did exactly what made them the best team in the world by wrapping up a convincing 1-0 win over New Zealand. They absorbed the pressure and thrived. There’s still a long road ahead back to the top of the Test rankings, but after a tough few months, they can breathe a sigh of relief for now. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

‘They came, they saw, they conquered’ will be rewritten for cricketing purposes to: ‘We asked, he answered, next question’. Such was the resounding response Dale Steyn sent to anyone who might have been wondering whether he’s still ‘got it’ or even, heaven forbid, interested in playing Test cricket.

South Africa’s pace ace bagged a five-for in the second innings against New Zealand to help set up a 204 run victory over the Black Caps in Centurion on Tuesday. The win ensured South Africa won the series 1-0 and moved up two places in the rankings – from seventh to fifth.

South Africa had been the dominant force throughout the Test, having lost the toss and being sent in to bat, the home-side amassed 481 runs before declaring, with every single one of the top five managing a half-century – and Faf du Plessis converting his efforts into triple figures.

The bowlers responded in similar fashion, bowling New Zealand out for 214 as only Kane Williamson managed a half century for the opposition. South Africa elected not to enforce the follow-on and while their batsmen were a bit more skittish in the second innings, they managed an entirely respectable 132-7 before calling their innings to a close after the first hour on day four.

The three-prong fast bowling attack then did what they do best: hunt in packs. Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada did a demolition job on the Kiwis and wrapped up the win before the official close of play on day four. It was quite a statement from a team that looked in the doldrums just a few months ago. Here are the key talking points.

Dale Steyn is back – and how!

After day four, Steyn reckoned he’d not quite got back to what he is capable of. He’ll probably tell you the same if you asked him again on Tuesday, but if five wickets at an economy rate of 2.02 is classed as not quite back to his best, then South African fans will be smiling. For the last 18 months or so, Steyn has been slowed down by injury. Some even questioned his willingness to still play Test cricket, when he could be earning far more money as a hired T20 gun.

Watching him speak in the press conference on Monday, it’s quite obvious that he still has a lot of unfinished business on the Test cricket pitch. Of course, winning makes things a bit easier and will make him feel a little bit lighter, but when he’s got the bit between his teeth, he’s hard to stop. Steyn is just six wickets away of overtaking Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in Tests, and while he’s not one for chasing records, this is one accolade that he has most definitely earned.

What the batting line-up tells us about the future of the Test team

In AB de Villiers’ absence, JP Duminy walked in at number four. That spot usually belongs to De Villiers. Thus, we might be able to argue that Duminy was technically speaking the replacement for De Villiers. But when De Villiers returns for the series against Australia, the question is – who drops out now that Faf du Plessis is back and if Dean Elgar has recovered from his injury? Du Plessis was dropped for the final Test against England at Centurion, after scoring 86 in Cape Town, and while his record over the last two-and-a-bit years isn’t too hot, it’s marginally better than Duminy. Duminy’s average since 2014 is 31.85 and Du Plessis’ is only marginally higher at 34.70. Both have scored two centuries in this time while Du Plessis has six fifties and Duminy has just two. Both players have played memorable knocks in Australia, so the selectors have plenty to ponder.

Temba Bavuma making the middle order spot his own

While watching Stiaan van Zyl try to find a way to fit into the Test side has been frustrating, not helped by selectors playing musical chairs with his position, Temba Bavuma’s adaption to the format has been a revelation. Not only has his batting been adaptable, he’s also been immense fielding at short leg. There were some doubts over Bavuma’s ‘readiness’ for the format from some corners, but surely all concerns have now been dispelled. Bavuma offers a reliable option in the often-shaky middle order, and he can steady the ship if all things go to pot from the top five.

How South Africa fell from grace

Sure, South Africa was absolutely awful in India last year and at times, rather pitiful against England at the start of 2016. But hindsight is always 20-20, and one has to wonder if things against the English would have been a little bit different if both Philander and Steyn were fit? Not only are they exceptional bowlers, but their experience in leading the attack was quite clearly missed. The challenge for South Africa now is to ensure the next generation of bowlers learn as much as they can from these greats while they can.

 A sigh of relief, for now

There might have been a few nervous fans at the start of this series. And after the damp squib in Durban, where the batting left much to be desired, that nervousness might have been warranted. But South Africa has finally done what everyone expects them to do: dug their way out of a hole. It’s a long way back to the top of the Test rankings and there are a fewplayers who will have to continue proving that they deserve to be part of this side, but for the time being, the team and management can breathe without the constriction of expectation. DM

Scorecard summary: South Africa won by 204 runs

South Africa 1st innings 481-8 declared: JP Duminy 88 (158), Faf du Plessis 112* (234); Neil Wagner 39-8-86-5, Tim Southee 35-5-114-1

New Zealand 1st innings 214 all out: Kane Williamson 77 (133), Neil Wagner 31 (30); Dale Steyn 20-3-66-3, Kagiso Rabada 16.3-4-62-3

South Africa 2nd innings: Quinton de Kock 50 (43), Temba Bavuma 40* (113); Tim Southee 16-6-46, Trent Boult 14-3-44-2

New Zealand 2nd innings: Henry Nicholls 76 (140), BJ Watling 32 (87); Dale Steyn 16.2-4-33-5, Vernon Philander 14-4-34-2

Photo: Cricket – New Zealand v South Africa – second cricket test match – Centurion Park, Centurion, South Africa – 30/8/2016. New Zealand’s Henry Nicholls (R) plays a shot as South Africa’s wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock looks on. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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