South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis concedes Dale Steyn may not be seen at Test level again as the paceman battles to recover from a shoulder injury sustained against Australia.
Steyn, one of the most decorated bowlers of his era, has not played competitive cricket since November, when he broke a bone in his right shoulder during the first Test against Australia in Perth.
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The 34-year-old’s absence did little to halt South Africa’s momentum as they claimed a 2-1 series victory before prevailing in three-Test series against Sri Lanka (3-0) and New Zealand (1-0).
Steyn had planned to be of a part of the South Africa A squad’s tour of the UK earlier this year, with a view to proving his fitness ahead of the Proteas' four-match Test series against England, but he was ruled out.
The visitors went on to lose that series 3-1, with the fitness of Vernon Philander also providing headaches for South Africa.
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Steyn is now targeting the Proteas two-Test series against Bangladesh, starting in late September, for a comeback.
But du Plessis admitted the gun fast bowler faced a massive challenge to charge in again in the five-day format.
Steyn’s extraordinary career at the top level has garnered 417 wickets from 85 Tests at 22.30 apiece. He also has 238 wickets across ODIs and T20Is.
“It’s all about his injury,” du Plessis told SA Cricket magazine.
“To come back and bowl 145-150km/h will make it a difficult task to play Test cricket again.
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“But I’m hoping he does come back because in England having his experience would have been as valuable as having Morne (Morkel) and Vern there.
“You don’t replace those guys. I’m hoping he’ll make a return for us, especially in the Test team, but he’s got a lot of work to do to get back.”
Steyn still sits eighth in the ICC Test bowling despite the fact he has been sidelined for more than nine months.
"My recovery is going well but it is taking a little longer than I expected it to," Steyn said at the CSA Annual Awards Dinner in May.
"I am able to do a lot of things, like running, hiking and gym work, but bowling is not one of them, and I won't be ready in time (for the England tour).
"Obviously, one of the reasons for me playing with the A side was so that I could get some match fitness before the Tests. So, before that Bangladesh series, I will need to play a bit."