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Siddhartha Vaidyanathan in Chennai
March 24, 2008
Cricketers talk of picking up habits. Batsmen make sure they remember their feet movements and bowlers talk of repeating their delivery motion. A minor alteration here, a slight variation there could be the difference between a poor day and a great one. Dale Steyn has picked up a fine habit over the last year: snapping up Man-of-the-Series awards with dangerous regularity.
When someone gets one Man-of-the-Series prize, it's time to take note; three in a row is pushing things to the extreme. When West Indies and New Zealand don't figure you out, Bangladesh really don't stand much of a chance. Pakistan were in some trouble too and a few more wickets there could have brought another such award. Surely this isn't just about speed; it's about deadly effectiveness.
"Once you find the recipe for success it's best to stick to it," Steyn said ahead of the first Test. "So I won't be changing much. It's worked so far, so hopefully I can take that form into this Test match and the whole tour."
The 'recipe' has been so successful that he's stormed ahead of several South African bowlers, snapping up 100 wickets in just 20 Tests. He reached the mark two Tests quicker than legends like Hugh Tayfield and Allan Donald and left Neil Adcock, Andre Nel and the two Pollocks - Shaun and Peter - also behind.
South Africa will be expected to use Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel to hit the deck hard while Jacques Kallis and Paul Harris employ more restrictive methods. Styen, though, will be the chief weapon, expected to do the penetrative job.
What Steyn may soon discover, though, is the quality of batsmen he's up against. The line-ups he's destroyed are no pushovers but this batting order could be a different proposition. "The Indians have a good side," he said. "We will do our video analysis and find the flaws and weaknesses in their batting and bowl accordingly. I'm not going to look at how good their batsmen are or at a particular batsman, I'm going to bowl to their weaknesses. I'll just take it one batsman at a time."
The muggy weather in Chennai will force him to stick to short bursts but Steyn insisted there would be no pressure to pick up wickets in every spell. "Depending on the day, you could possibly get in 8-10 overs in a spell," he said. "But we'll be looking to keep it short and sharp and keep the bowlers fresh.
"That's been the beautiful thing about the season so far. Graeme [Smith] has never put me under any pressure. I've been given the ball to do a job and I've been fortunate enough to be able to do it. We've got Morne [Morkel], Makhaya [Ntini] and others who can take five-fors and bowl teams out, and I get the freedom to run in and take wickets. I've been given the freedom in this series too, to run in and bowl sharp, short spells and hopefully I can carry my form into this series. But if not, there are others who can do the job."
Quick and straight, Steyn has shown the ability to hover around the 150kph mark but his priority, unlike a few other fast bowlers, isn't related to the speed gun. "Polly and [Glenn] McGrath have shown that you don't really need to have speed to become the world's best bowler," he said. "But it's a good asset to have. Pace is something that doesn't come around too often and India have found someone in [Ishant] Sharma and we have the potential in guys like Morne and myself. Again it's where you bowl the ball that counts. It's good to have pace but you have to take what McGrath and Polly did and hopefully add a bit of pace to it."
Has he spoken to anyone about what it takes to be successful in India? "I've toured with Polly in the past, there's Graeme and we've got [Mark] Boucher behind the stumps who has kept to some of the best bowlers in different conditions. We all talk in the nets. The best people to speak to are probably the batsmen because they can tell you what the most difficult thing to face is. I'm privileged to have these experienced guys standing at slips or behind the wicket to me and they're shouting something to me in Afrikaans every ball."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala