Dale Steyn, left. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Dale Steyn, left. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Dale Steyn is the ace and Shaun von Berg the joker in the pack of players SA will send to Sri Lanka for July’s Test series.

Steyn has played in only five of SA’s past 29 Tests and bowled just 101.3 overs because of shoulder and heel injuries.

But he is three scalps from surpassing Shaun Pollock as SA’s leading Test wicket-taker, a milestone that‚ at 34 and with his body not what it was‚ is unlikely to remain within his reach for long.

Steyn took 1/80 from 10 overs in a one-day game for Hampshire last week‚ his first outing for five months. At the weekend he got through 26 overs in the first innings of a championship match against Surrey and claimed 2/91.

"It is very welcome news to have Dale back in our pack of world-class seamers‚ particularly in view of the retirement of Morné Morkel [in April‚ after the series against Australia]‚" a Cricket SA release quoted selection convener Linda Zondi as saying. Zondi confirmed that Kagiso Rabada‚ who missed the Indian Premier League because of a stress reaction in his spine‚ was also good to go.

Shaun von Berg. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Shaun von Berg. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

Steyn’s return was always on the cards, but there would not have been many bets on Von Berg cracking the nod.

Left-armer Keshav Maharaj is SA’s first-choice slow bowler and the selection of left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi‚ who has not played a Test since making his debut in the third match of the series in Australia in November 2015‚ has some kind of logic behind it.

That said‚ six spinners‚ among them off-spinner Dane Piedt‚ took more wickets than Shamsi in last season’s franchise first-class competition.

But Titans leg spinner Von Berg — at 31 a veteran of 96 first-class games but never capped at international level — is a bolt from the blue.

Off-spinner Simon Harmer‚ the country’s leading wicket-taker with 47 first-class successes last summer‚ has taken himself out of the selectorial mix by signing a Kolpak contract.

But the second-best bowler in SA’s domestic cricket in 2017-18 was Senuran Muthusamy‚ the Dolphins left-armer, who took 33 wickets at 26.54.

Von Berg was next on the list with 29 at 41.75.

Even so‚ Zondi and his panel have not got much wrong during their tenure.

The release quoted him as saying: "A key factor in our selection process was to cover all our bases and all possible conditions that we may encounter in Sri Lanka.

"The two additional spinners to back up Maharaj have both had excellent records in recent times in our domestic cricket.

"Von Berg also gives us additional batting strength in the lower order."

Specialist batsman

Less surprising was the selection of Heinrich Klaasen‚ who made an impressive start to his international career in the white-ball formats last season.

"He provides wicketkeeping cover for Quinton de Kock and is also a contender for a specialist batting position‚" Zondi said.

The latter is a reference to the vacancy in SA’s batting order, which opened recently when AB de Villiers retired from the international arena. Theunis de Bruyn seems the likely choice to replace him.