Steyn fires up for Australia batsmen
The only thing remotely wicked about Dale Steyn is his sense of humour. Unaffected by the accolades heaped on him, the world's best bowler has also been known to be one of the nicest and one of the cheekiest.
Whether it's admitting to having a midnight McFlurry in London the night before the final day of the Lord's Test in August or confessing with a straight face to quite enjoying the opportunity to "basically kill someone with two bouncers an over, or try, legally," Steyn is the kind of player journalists like because he does not hold back. For that reason, he is also the kind of bowler batsmen dread.
When Steyn decides he is in the mood, it's time to be afraid. Very afraid. He does not only let it fly but does so with incredible control and is able to achieve swing in conditions where others would not even be able to make the ball veer a touch. The hour after tea at the SCG on Sunday was one of those times.
With the tour match going nowhere, as most tour matches tend to, Graeme Smith decided it would be a good idea to let the quicks off their leashes for a little while and Steyn went wild. Perhaps one of the thoughts in the back of his mind was that Shane Watson has been injured and Ricky Ponting remains a doubt for the first Test so one of Rob Quiney or Phillip Hughes may earn a place in the XI and he wanted to rough them up. Knowing Steyn, that was probably not the case, but he did it anyway.
In typical bloody-minded fashion, he bowled his five overs as though they were his last. Fast seems too gentle a word to describe it; Steyn was positively zooming. He reached a speed that Jacques Rudolph, who was fielding in the slips, thought was "around 150kph," and had the ball hissing past Hughes' ears. "I played against him a couple of years ago where he bowled the same kind of spell," Rudolph said with a knowing smile which suggested he was pleased not to have to be on the end of Steyn again.
Rudolph said Steyn used the opportunity to "get into good rhythms," ahead of what is expected to be a seamer's playground in Brisbane. "It seams and that suits us because those are the kind of wickets we play on at home," Rudolph said, before adding a cautionary word. "For our bowlers, it will be important not to get carried away with the bounce. The length will be important, and we need to settle into that as quickly as possible."
While working on the length, Steyn fired in a few bouncers, one of which hit wicketkeeper AB de Villiers flush on the fingers. He took a few moments to recover and there may have been fears about him picking up yet another injury, having already battled a back and ankle problem in the last three weeks. Rudolph said it was nothing major. "If you see how quickly Dale was bowling, you would understand," he said. "AB even stayed on the field - he's fine."
As much as the spell was an opportunity for Steyn to show off, it was also one for the batsmen to prove their ability to withstand. Liam Davis could not and succumbed to a pull shot that went as wrong as can go. It gave Hughes a chance to bat though and he managed admirably. Having had history with the South Africans - after his superb run against them in 2009 - it was clear he was the target and he played an accomplished, defensive innings without being rattled by the quality of the bowling he was facing.
"I hope that Phil Hughes grows a leg from that," Andrew McDonald, the Australia A captain said. "Dale ramped it up from the first innings. I think it was quite evident he knew he was only going to bowl five or six overs and he threw everything at our two batters out there. For them to come through that against the world's best bowler, or one of the world's best bowlers, is a fantastic effort."
The second South African bowling effort lasted only 10 overs but that short session was a enough to provide a tasty entree to the main course. It was a chance for Australia's fringe batsmen to have their say as injuries continue to mount in their camp and a telling reminder of what Steyn can do.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent