Dale Steyn bagged his 300th wicket in Test cricket at Newlands against New Zealand a few days ago as the visitors were dismantled for 45 in their first innings and the hosts cruised to victory within three days.
It took him just 61 Test matches to get there, which makes him the joint third-fastest to do so. South Africa’s pace ace has an impressive record, one which has been praised endlessly, but the man himself often doesn’t seem to grasp just how good he is. Whenever the subject is brought up, he shifts focus to it being his job and he often shies away from the limelight.
“I’ve played a lot of games for South Africa and I’ve always been under the impression that if you do that, you’ll get wickets. If I’m fit and I’m playing, I’m going to take wickets. Just like if I were a batsman who was fit and playing, I’d score runs. In that respect I’m happy to keep doing it and I’m lucky to have picked up wickets quickly. I’m happy to keep doing that,” Steyn said after the Test at Newlands.
Such has been Steyn’s approach. He has always wanted to be the best in everything he does, and now he is. He’s worked hard to become the best bowler in the world, but sometimes his talent doesn’t seem to register.
“I think Dale does realise how good he is, but he’s such a humble guy, he doesn’t always acknowledge the praise,” Vincent Barnes told The Daily Maverick. Barnes coached Steyn from his debut in 2004 until he [Barnes] moved across to take charge of the High Performance centre in 2010.
Perhaps Steyn doesn’t need to acknowledge much. His record speaks for itself: the ball does the talking when the critics are banging at the door or when the opposition is getting cheeky. The quick always seems to find a way back into the action and it’s not always pleasant for those on the receiving end.
The second innings saw the Black Caps bat much better as the wicket flattened out. South Africa, and in particularly Steyn, resorted to some short-pitched bowling as a result. The New Zealanders struggled with the short stuff, and while Steyn did admit some of the shorter deliveries might have been because he started to get a bit “grumpy”, the Proteas approach will depend a lot on what kind of wicket greets them in Port Elizabeth.
“Our approach will depend on the wicket. If it’s similar to the wicket here on day one then we’ll use the same line and length we used in the first innings [at Newlands],” said Steyn.
Being dismissed for 45 is soul-destroying and demoralising for anyone, and while the talk around carrying momentum is often bogus, Steyn laughed when asked whether he hoped the mental scars from that first innings at Newlands would still linger come Friday.
“I bloody well hope so. They batted well in the second innings,” the quick said.
New Zealand was quick to move on from the defeat, though. While skipper Brendon McCullum insisted that the team was hurt and taking time to reflect, the Black Caps were back in the nets the day after they were crushed.
South Africa itself took some time out – a good thing for players like Steyn, who need to be managed carefully. The quick has previously lauded the South African team’s managers for the way they have looked after his workload, and while is was grateful for time out, he’s aware there’s no chance to rest on his laurels.
With another Test match coming up, Steyn was raring to go after the Test already, and while he admitted that he was pleased to have reached the 300 mark, he was well aware of the task at hand – a series win over New Zealand.
“I’ve got a lot more to offer. I’m very happy to have picked up 300 wickets and all the records that come with that. But I have another Test match to play in PE and a lot more wickets to take, and a few more years I’ve got in these legs and arms. Taking 300 wickets is great, but I look forward to hopefully taking some more. I’m stoked,” Steyn added.
He’ll have it all to play for in Port Elizabeth, and while the conditions might not exactly be fast bowler-friendly, Steyn seems to thrive no matter what conditions are thrown his way.
As a cricketer, he is mercurial. As a human being, he is grounded, humble and some might say a little bit strange. His venom, his fire and his passion and desire to be the best makes for a volatile mix – as close to a perfect bowler as can be found in the modern era. The spearhead of the South African attack certainly looks like he still has plenty to offer. Which is bad news for the world’s batsmen, and the best news for the Proteas. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Dale Steyn (L) is congratulated by teammate Hashim Amla after dismissing Australia’s Nathan Lyon at the WACA during the fourth day’s play of the third cricket test match in Perth December 3, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer