CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The fitness of experienced fast bowler Dale Steyn will be of even more interest to South Africa in the coming days after their most potent wicket-taker Kagiso Rabada was ruled out of the remainder of the four-test series with Australia.
Rabada, fresh from a match haul of 11-150 as South Africa won the second test by six wickets on Monday to level the series at 1-1, was suspended by the International Cricket Council for two games after reaching the threshold of eight demerit points.
The 22-year-old has taken 15 wickets at an average of 16.80 in the series so far, with his raw pace and accuracy testing the quality of the visiting Australia batsmen.
The responsibility of filling his shoes in the third test at Newlands starting on March 22 will likely fall on one of two South African stalwarts approaching milestones.
The hard wicket is likely to provide more bounce than in either Durban or Port Elizabeth where the first two games were played and that should suit the tall Morne Morkel, who has announced he will retire at the end of the series.
The 33-year-old has 297 test wickets and will be eager to add three more before he calls it a day, though his match figures of 3-121 in the first test suggest he lacked rhythm, especially in the first innings.
There is a school of thought that Morkel would have played at Newlands anyway given the nature of the wicket, coming back into the side for Lungi Ngidi who replaced him for the second test.
The performance of the 21-year-old in Port Elizabeth, where he was impressive with match-figures of 5-75, will have given the selectors second thoughts however.
South Africa will also have to make a call on Steyn, who sits on 419 test wickets, two behind the country’s all-time leader in the five-day game, Shaun Pollock.
He broke down with a heel problem in South Africa’s first test victory over India at Newlands in early January, having just come back from shoulder and groin injuries.
Steyn’s recent injury woe has means he has played one test in almost 18 months and he did not get through that one.
He was due to play a provincial four-day game starting on Thursday to try and prove his fitness, but local media reported that he had postponed his comeback by a week.
At this stage, it looks as though his fitness and lack of game time would be too much of a gamble for the selectors.
Another option would be all-rounder Chris Morris, who won the last of his four test caps against England last July.
Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris