Steyn wants to emulate Lee
There's bad news for batsmen the world over: Dale Steyn wants to bowl, like his hero Brett Lee, at 145 kph even when he's 34. And bad news for bowlers in the IPL: VVS Laxman, peerless in the five-day format, wants to prove himself in the game's shortest version with his new team Kochi. These were some of the revelations by the two players, who received ESPNcricinfo's Test batting and bowling awards for 2010 in Bangalore on Monday.
An evening that included Ian Chappell and Sanjay Manjrekar was marked by nostalgia, humour and insight into cricket technique and strategy. Chappell warmed up for the evening with a chat with cricket historian Ramachandra Guha on the relative merits of Bishan Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna, and how the art of spin bowling had changed over the years.
Then it was down to the main event - a discussion involving the two players and the two commentators. When Laxman, modest as ever, said that in his early days, he used to struggle against spin while being comfortable against pace, Chappell related a conversation he had with Shane Warne after Laxman's 281 in the 2001 Kolkata Test. "Warnie didn't think he had bowled too badly. I said, 'you didn't mate, but when someone comes down three metres and drives you through mid-on, and then next ball you go a bit higher and shorter, and he pulls you through midwicket, that's not bad bowling, that's just bloody good batting.'"
While Warne may have struggled against Laxman in Kolkata, Steyn blew the Indians away in Nagpur with his late movement at furious pace. Manjrekar felt that despite South Africa's clinical emphasis on discipline and routine, Steyn brings a Pakistani flavour to fast bowling. Steyn said that instead of looking to develop muscles, a fast bowler's fitness work should be geared towards making sure that he is able to bowl quick for as long as possible. "You want your fast bowlers to run in and bowl at 140 kph at the start of the day, and at the same speed at the end of the day as well."
The respect both men have for each other showed when Laxman said that the Indian batsmen just looked to get over Steyn's spell. "Everyone knows he is the best bowler in the world at the moment. We don't look to give him too many wickets, even though he takes lots of them." Steyn recalled that the mood Laxman was in Durban, he didn't know where to bowl to him. "I got the feeling that this guy had me worked out before I actually bowled the delivery. It's a terrible feeling to have," Steyn said. "I felt I was wasting my energy. I can't remember him playing any flashy shot in that innings. He just waited for us to drop it short or bowl on the pads."
Laxman was also in the zone in Mohali against Australia, where he battled a bad back to take India to an improbable one-wicket win in the company of the tail. That innings will also be remembered for how the usually unflappable Laxman suddenly waved his bat threateningly at Pragyan Ojha and admonished him for not taking a single. "Instead of people admiring the knock and the win, everyone was asking me what I said to Ojha," Laxman said. "It came with not wanting to give up the match when we had come so close. It was important for me to take the strike as it was the fifth ball of the over. Ojha got a little confused because MS Dhoni had got out in a similar manner, and he did not want to lose his wicket. But the anger just came out, I myself was surprised, and apologised to Ojha at the end of the over."
Laxman will have few regrets when he looks back at his Test career, but he said that there is still some unfinished business. "I just want to prove myself in the Twenty20 format. So my next target will be to do well for Team Kochi in the IPL."
Steyn looked back at what got him hooked on to the game, and said that Jonty Rhodes' run-out of Inzamam-ul-Haq in the 1992 World Cup stood out. "I must have imitated that in my backyard so many times. I used to look up to Allan Donald and Brett Lee. I was changing room attendant during the 2003 World Cup, and I saw Brett, and I couldn't believe it. He was just fantastic. I want to be like him when I am 34. He still runs in and bowls 145-150 kph, and is an incredible athlete."
The lean yet lethal Steyn epitomises what, according to him, Jacques Kallis often says about fast bowling - "you don't have to be built like Tarzan and bowl like Jane." On the other hand, there is Laxman who, according to Manjrekar, "finds comfort when others are in discomfort."
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo