South Africa’s best-laid plans were washed away by unseasonal rain in Cape Town on Sunday, no play being possible on the third day of the first Test against India, but the interruption is unlikely to prevent a result.
Although the home side were unable to build on it, the lead is still a promising 142 with eight wickets in hand and, with more than 90 overs available today – and the rain forecast to stop – adding another 200-odd runs and then having a dart at the Indian batsmen late on the fourth afternoon should be well within the capabilities of the Proteas.
While drought-stricken Cape Town was celebrating some much-needed rain, Newlands was a gloomy sight, with the entire mountain enveloped in clouds, but the mood in the South African camp is also miserable, even though they are in a good position, due to the awful news that the talismanic Dale Steyn is probably out of the series.
While the short-term agenda of winning the Test match is still in place, Steyn’s unfortunate heel injury means the long-term plan for the series triumph is under threat.
Steyn is probably going to be out of action for four to six weeks, meaning the strategy of playing four frontline pacemen is going to have to be reviewed for the second Test, which starts at pace-friendly Centurion on Saturday.
Chris Morris is the most like-for-like replacement in the current squad in terms of being a fast bowler, but the team management is facing some criticism for leaving out batsman Temba Bavuma and a change in balance could be on the cards.
A fresh squad is also being chosen for Centurion, so the likes of Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi or Dane Paterson could come into the picture.
For Steyn, who had fought so hard to make his comeback after 14 months on the sidelines and was clearly relishing roaring in on the Test stage again – he also made life more uncomfortable for the batsmen than his figures of 2/51 suggest – it is another agonising setback.
The 34-year-old was consulting an ankle specialist on Sunday and, while there was no fresh news on the prognosis by the time stumps were called, Steyn is almost certainly facing a few weeks more out of the game.
Just how much of a reprieve it is for the Indian batsmen, who had to be saved by a remarkable counter-attacking 93 by all-rounder Hardik Pandya after the visitors had crashed to 92/7 in the first innings, will become clearer once they set off in search of a target at Newlands that South Africa will be hoping is more than 350.