South Africa v West Indies, Champions Trophy, Group B, Cardiff June 14, 2013

Unrelenting Steyn mutes power hitters

Dale Steyn can be an interesting yardstick to measure how good a batsman you are. Not for the first time in recent memory, he managed to suffocate the destructive Kieron Pollard

Marlon Samuels kicked his left leg in disgust as he head-banged his way back in denial after an erroneous shot selection. The previous delivery, he had thrashed a Dale Steyn length ball coming into him for a four over midwicket. Next ball, Steyn improvised, changing the length, pitching fuller. Samuels went for the same stroke and was embarrassingly bowled.

It was a highly charged atmosphere. Samuels, in the company of the best finisher currently in Twenty20 cricket, Kieron Pollard, had pulled West Indies back in to the match after West Indies found themselves in a desperate situation playing catch-up with the D/L par scores since the departure of Chris Gayle in the 12th over. At the 15-over mark, West Indies were still adrift by a massive margin of 144 runs.

A couple of overs later, West Indies opted for the three-over batting Powerplay. Steyn had bowled a tight three-over first spell, allowing just 12 runs including the wicket of Johnson Charles. Surprisingly, AB de Villiers had bolted his best racehorse till the third over of the innings, having started with the offspin of JP Duminy. Realising that Charles' raw aggression could backfire the experiment badly, Steyn replaced Duminy.

It was the first time Steyn was playing in the tournament. He had been declared fit only two days before the match hence he had some free allowance. But the look of disbelief on Steyn's face after Gayle punched a fuller ball on the middle stump to the straight boundary was stunning. It only helped him up charge up quickly.

Against Samuels he understood that as long as he did not bowl short, he would be fine. And the batsman too paid respect to Steyn. Thirty-five runs had come against Ryan McLaren and Robin Peterson, so Samuels knew the only way he could defeat Steyn was by remaining quiet. But Steyn has the ability to force you out of your comfort zone and take him on. Samuels was the victim today.

The beauty about Steyn is not his run-up. His beauty lies in his speed. No matter which format of the game, whatever the pitch or the conditions and whoever is the batsman, you can bet on Steyn being unrelenting. Friday was the same. De Villiers brought Steyn on whenever the best batsmen were threatening to steal the match away: Gayle, Samuels, Pollard - each of those batsmen failed to take the attack to Steyn and that proved to be the decisive factor.

Two balls after removing Samuels, Steyn, bowling slightly wide of the crease, bowled it short of a length. But it was the speed, 90 mph, which surprised both Pollard and de Villiers keeping wicket and even threatened the spider cam, which retreated safely in time as the ball raced for five wides. Steyn was absolutely livid that de Villiers had failed to pouch that. Like an edgy boxer in a spaceship, Steyn hopped twice before raising his hands in anguish.

Steyn is an intense bowler. He does not dabble in too many variations. You rarely see Steyn dumbfounding batsmen with slower balls. You do see him regularly confounding batsmen with extreme speed coupled with subtle movement. It also helps if you can bowl lines and pitch lengths like clockwork.

It is just not his unerring accuracy but also the quest to pitch the ball on that length, which Allan Donald described as "fuller than normal", that makes Steyn unplayable. "You can't get to him. You can't get a big stride to him. He suffocates you in the crease, and that's where he gets people nicked off, because he bowls a fuller length and swings it at high pace," Donald said.

Steyn can be an interesting yardstick to measure how good a batsman you are. Take Pollard, who can smash most bowlers to smithereens. However, against Steyn he has rarely succeeded. Check Steyn v Pollard during Sunrisers Hyderabad's away match against Mumbai Indians. Pollard won the match for Mumbai by smashing the pedestrian pace of Thisara Perera after Steyn had played him like a puppet. Even today, Pollard faced the most deliveries from Steyn, but managed just nine runs off 11 balls faced, including frequent hits-and-misses.

With his exhilarating pace and penchant to attack the off stump, Steyn brings the Test match mentality to the limited-overs game. With such an attitude, Steyn makes his captain's job easier.

"It's great to have Dale back. He's definitely an X-factor for us. I called on him a few times today, especially the last spell into the wind, and he picked up a vital wicket for us," de Villiers said. "So, the way he handled the pressure and the way he actually gave his best for the team was very inspiring.

"I think everyone learnt a lot from that, and he made the whole bowling unit follow him, and like I said, they stuck together as a team today, right from Robin Peterson, the way he bowled was amazing, right through to a guy like Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ryan McLaren, to Chris Morris. They all had something to aspire to, and it worked out, so a lot of credit has got to go to him."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ayesha on June 16, 2013, 23:45 GMT It looks like you have not played too much cricket. Do not measure the pace of Steyn by what the speedgun says. The speedgun measures the projected speed at the point of release. We all know that the ball will always slow down, by a fraction, after pitching, and it also loses velocity in the air. The factor that sets Steyn apart is that his deliveries skid, i.e. maintains speed, or maybe marginally increases speed, after pitching. So when the batsman is actually playing Steyn, he would find him quicker than Lee/Bond. Even Sachin Tendulkar accepted that Steyn's spell @ Cape Town in 2011 was one of the fastest and most testing spells he ever faced. And if you check the speed gun for that day it never really touched 150 kmph (which Lee/Akthar/Bond would touch frequently in their prime). Also, please add the late swing to all this and we realise why Steyn has such an amazing strike rate. Steyn is definitely among the best 'fast' bowlers to have played cricket.

  • varsha on June 16, 2013, 11:13 GMT you are just clutching at straws. What does his records against "countries good at pace bowling" have to do with anything. I am sure every single fast bowler will have a better record against teams who are weaker against pace bowling. The crucial fact of the matter which you have ignored is that, and that bears repeating, is that Steyn is playing in an OVERWHELMINGLY BATSMAN-FRIENDLY ERA. For example, I read once that Holding, for instance played in an era where test matches had an average of 800 runs per match. Steyn has a similar average in an era where the average runs per test is over 1000! Steyn is a legend already to me (and many others), and quite possibly the best bowler of his generation.

  • Mike on June 16, 2013, 7:06 GMT

    Steyn >>> McGrath. Plain and simple. McGrath was an overrated line and length bowler with a diva-like attitude when things didnt go his way. (See his spat with Sarwan for proof) Ignoring strike-rate, of which Steyn is superior to McGrath, taking skills into account: speed, variation and range of speed, ability to swing, seam or cut a ball, reverse swing etc., Steyn simply trounces McGrath in those respects. Ask any cricket fan or connoisseur of who the greatest bowler/match winner of the dominant Australian team from '95-'05 and Warne's name will pop up more often than McGrath's. Ask a cricket fan the same question of the South African attack and you will hear Steyn mostly and maybe a Philander vote here and there. McGrath could be replaced with Stuart Clark. Steyn = Irreplaceable. P.S. McGrath looks like a worse looking version of Jim Carrey.

  • mukesh on June 16, 2013, 6:31 GMT

    @legfinedeep - please go and check out averages of dale steyn and mc grath against the teams which are traditionally good against pace bowling , you will see that dale steyn is still some distance away from being a mc grath !

  • mukesh on June 16, 2013, 6:12 GMT

    @ Amol_Ind_SA - i think you misunderstood what i said , i didn't say mcgrath/wasim as the fastest , i said they were the best . fastest doesn't always have to be the best. and on a separate topic if we are talking just about pure raw pace then there is lee , akthar and bond.. steyn is not that fast. i am not saying Dale steyn is bad , he is in fact very very good , its just that people always bring up the pace of steyn as a big deal , so just making my point that there are faster bowlers out there.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2013, 4:06 GMT

    for me steyn is better than mcgrath, simply due to his wicket taking ability. I mean any captain wouldn't mind him considering another 2 runs if he takes wickets 2 overs earlier.

  • varsha on June 16, 2013, 0:27 GMT

    SMH @ people who say McGrath was faster/better than Steyn. Mcgrath was a pedestrian trundler compared to Steyn-gun with his attacking, incisive bowling. You can't argue with the stats - his tremendous SR blows McGrath out of the water. Plus, we should also correct for the fact that Steyn is bowling in what is overwhelmingly a batsman's era, yet she still manages to pick up wickets like clockwork. Can only imagine how much more lethal he would have been in the 90s, when a 250 score in a ODI was considered a very challenging get, compared to nowadays when you regularly have more than run a ball innings and much higher scoring games.

  • Dennis on June 15, 2013, 20:22 GMT

    @Abitha You've basically described the total opposite of Steyn. He was one of the fastest bowlers out there regularly hitting 145kph+. He's always staring and sledging batsmen. One of the reasons why I used to not like him. Mind you, since he was on the sunrisers in IPL, I like him a lot more now. Definitely agree with everyone who says he's one of the best in the world right now. You don't very often find someone that fast with that much control.

  • Dummy4 on June 15, 2013, 16:05 GMT

    Steyn's great skill is his control over speed. In test matches he bowls around 135 most of the times but in crucial times he can crank it upto 145-148 easily. He rarely bowls inswinger, if he can develop this weapon he can more lethal. People who says steyn is not as good as past greats like mcgrath,wasim lives in past fantasy.