Australia A v South Africans, Sydney November 1, 2012

Steyn's masterclass in durability

Though modesty caused Dale Steyn to shy away from the assertion that he is the best bowler in the world, it cannot be disputed that over the past eight years he has been the best managed. Despite a method that relies on delivering the ball at high speed with near to maximum effort most of the time, Steyn has missed remarkably few Test matches for South Africa.

Since he became an established part of the team, only two Tests in England in 2008 stand out as major matches Steyn has been unable to take part in, and those were not for any bowling injury but a broken thumb. As Australia's hierarchy wrestle with the matter of how best to develop the talent of their young fast bowlers, notably the increasingly injury-afflicted Pat Cummins, Steyn's example stands out for its good sense and its simplicity.

Put simply, Steyn's schedule is prioritised around Test series and major ODI and Twenty20 tournaments. The glut of bilateral series that exist around them are scarcely his concern, something borne out by the fact he has played just 66 ODIs and 28 T20Is. By picking Steyn's battles carefully, South Africa's coaching and selection staff have ensured that at 29 he is still around to help them win the war - driving the national team to the top of the ICC's Test rankings.

"I think I've been managed well. We've got a good trainer - Rob Walter - and I think our coaches that we've had over the last couple of years ... the messages that have been sent back to the coaches from the trainers have been the right ones," Steyn said. "I've only played a handful of one-day internationals - I've only played like 80 one-day games. For someone that's been playing as long as I have in my Test career I probably should have played double that at least. So they've managed me bloody well. I'm pretty stoked about that."

There was some circumstantial help earlier in Steyn's career. One of his least happy memories is of being taken for 58 runs from five furious overs against Australia at Melbourne's Docklands Stadium in January 2006. While Steyn was chastened by the experience, it also encouraged selectors to choose other bowlers for many of South Africa's ODI assignments, leaving him fitter and fresher for Tests.

"At the start of my career there were guys like Polly, Makhaya and Andre Nel, so it was a bit tough to break into that team," Steyn said. "Those kinds of [management] conversations are happening now, more so with the Champions League, the IPL tournaments. I'm playing one game for Brisbane Heat.

"Those kind of tournaments that I'm taking part in just mean that I'll be playing more cricket, so Cricket South Africa understand that and want us to play in the big tournaments I think ... World Cups, ICC trophies and games like that."

Self-knowledge has helped too, of course. The brash young Steyn who was humiliated by the blazing bat of Phil Jaques at Docklands also spent plenty of energy by bowling at the top of his register in the nets, something he seldom resorts to anymore. Those former Australian players who have bemoaned the fact that young bowlers do not deliver enough overs in the nets may be surprised to know that Steyn's workload is monitored just as carefully.

"Our trainer tries to keep us down to a minimum, yesterday I probably bowled more overs than I should have, but today I'll take it easy because of the game tomorrow," Steyn said. "It's about man management, you've also got to know your body. When I was younger I probably over-bowled myself a lot because I just wanted to bowl and bowl and bowl.

"Now it is about managing myself and knowing my best deliveries I've got to bowl in the game and save all my strength for the game. So just managing myself - you don't see Usain Bolt breaking the 100m world record during training sessions all the time, and it's the same thing for me, there's no point breaking the speed barrier all the time."

With durability has come maturity, and Steyn is happy to admit he has mellowed somewhat from his earlier days. That includes his humble view that other bowlers around the world can deliver better balls than he does, but may not be able to do so for as many Test matches in a row.

"In all honesty I think there is probably better bowlers than what I am," he said. "I think I'm one of the guys that have consistently played for South Africa and performed well. When Graeme needs a wicket or something like that he kind of hands me the ball and I've been fortunate enough to take the wickets for him.

"If I'm playing every Test match and taking wickets those points rankings mean I'm always going to be up there. But it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm the best and most skilled bowler in the world. I think there is probably better bowlers out there."

Of course, there is still plenty of aggression to go with the forethought. But Steyn has learned to channel that, too. "I think cricket brings out a more aggressive side in me in all honesty," he said. "Where else in the world do you get the opportunity to basically kill someone with two bouncers an over? Or try, legally. That can bring out the anger in anyone. I think off the field I'm pretty chilled, but on the field it's all business."

A business made less risky by shrewd management.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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