Dale Steyn is three wickets away from surpassing Shaun Pollock to be South Africa's highest wicket-taker in Tests. © BCCI

Dale Steyn is three wickets away from surpassing Shaun Pollock to be South Africa’s highest wicket-taker in Tests. © BCCI

The ongoing Football World Cup in Russia has offered enough memories for anyone’s Twitter timeline to be filled with a range of expressions. But for those with a cricketing bent of mind there have been two clippings – this and this – that have equally occupied the mind space over the last two weeks. Those two terrific deliveries from Dale Steyn to dismiss Cheteshwar Pujara in the English County circuit has only left fans wondering what would be in store when he returns to international cricket.

Steyn went wicketless in 12 overs in South Africa’s two-day warm-up game against Sri Lanka Board XI, but come the first Test and he will be raring to go. South Africa’s first of the two Tests against Sri Lanka, which gets underway at the Galle International Stadium from Thursday (July 12) will be Steyn’s first international game since he limped out of Cape Town Test against India in January this year. It was his first game in 13 months after recovering from a shoulder injury, and the heel injury only complicated things further.

The way Steyn took his time to recover and proved his credentials for Hampshire over five games is a remarkable story. When Steyn takes the field, his immediate goal would be to take three wickets and become South Africa’s highest wicket-taker in Test cricket. He is currently on 419, while Shaun Pollock heads the list with 421 scalps.

Steyn, though, will be without his two good friends – Morne Morkel and AB de Villiers – who have retired from international cricket over the last few months. That, automatically, gives Sri Lanka a good chance to script a famous Test series win over South Africa.

Sri Lanka will once again rely on their spinners led by Rangana Herath, who is expected to retire by the the end of the year, to create trouble for the South African batsmen. A lot will depend on how Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, two batsmen with worldwide credentials, and Dean Elgar hold the South African batting together on a pitch known to take sharp turn.

Sri Lanka come into the home season on the back of a controversial tour of Windies, where they drew the Test series 1-1 but their captain got suspended for one game because of ball tampering. That Dinesh Chandimal will be back in action to face Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada can only be good news, just like the return of Angelo Mathews, who had missed the previous assignment because of the birth of his baby.

Both South Africa and Sri Lanka are temperamentally different sides, and the side with the willingness to hang on for that extra hour or an extra session would be favourites to take the lead.


Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Angelo Mathews, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Janith Perera (subject to fitness), Danushka Gunathilaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal (vice-capt), Dilruwan Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Lahiru Kumara, Lakshan Sandakan, Kasun Rajitha.

South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Lungisani Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Shaun von Berg.