India v South Africa, 1st Test, Nagpur, 3rd day February 8, 2010

Paced to perfection from Steyn

S Aga

Click here to listen to the press conference

"He maintained mastery of orthodox outswing and inswing from a neutral position without telegraphing his intent. He was lithe, with a wickedly fast arm that elevated him to express status. Only in inches was he lacking - but he even turned that to his advantage with a bouncer as malicious as they come, skidding on to the batsman." Mike Selvey could have been writing about Dale Steyn, and not Malcolm Denzil Marshall, who took his final Test wicket, Graham Gooch, when the boy from Phalaborwa was all of eight years old.

Pound for pound, Marshall was probably the greatest fast bowler of all time. Doubters need only look at the tour of India in 1983, when his 33 wickets at 18.81 came against a batting core - Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri and Kapil Dev - that finished with 81 centuries between them. Steyn is no facsimile of the Bajan titan. His action is far more classical and side-on, where Marshall was more open-chested. But like his predecessor, Steyn can bowl furiously quick, and hoop the ball both ways. When he nips it back off the seam as well, he's nigh on unplayable.

The masterclass in Nagpur had everything, conventional swing with the new ball that got him the wickets of Murali Vijay and Sachin Tendulkar and a blistering reverse-swing whirlwind after tea that saw India lose their last six wickets for 12. Steyn's figures for that passage of play were 3.4-2-3-5. At the WACA in its pace-and-bounce heyday, it would have been eye-catching. On a relatively placid Nagpur pitch, it was mindboggling.

Ignore Virender Sehwag, a batting iconoclast. The other Indian batsmen faced 62 balls from Steyn, scoring 17 runs. That would suggest that he frustrated the opposition out. Far from it. Each man was worked out in a certain way. Vijay had already been troubled enough by the outswinger when Steyn summoned up the sort of incoming delivery that had detonated the stumps of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell in the recent home series. Tendulkar had driven an outswinger for four in his previous over, but one pitched slightly shorter and a couple of inches closer to middle stump suckered him into another drive that only found the edge. It was straight out of said-the-spider-to-the-fly.

Even as he finished with 7 for 51, Steyn spoke with special fondness of the Tendulkar dismissal. "That one, and Vijay just before him," he said almost bashfully. "I worked him [Vijay] out quite nicely with two balls that went away and then bringing one back in which he left. That kind of stuff just doesn't happen out in the middle. We've really planned it.

"As a quick bowler, you know that if you pitch the ball up, you'll get driven," he said of the trap set for Tendulkar. "But when you pitch it up, you have a chance of finding the edge of the bat. I didn't mind being hit for four down the ground or being nicked through the slips. If he's willing to drive, there's a chance I can get a wicket. That's the risk you take when you pitch up."

Circumstances too played a part with the ball splitting open after 55 overs, by which time India had progressed to 212 for 4. Paul Harris and JP Duminy bowled a couple of overs with the replacement before tea, and then the fun commenced. "Corrie [van Zyl] sat us down at tea and said that the session after lunch wasn't good enough," said Steyn. "We didn't get the wickets that we wanted. We had the ball changed and once it started to reverse and we got one or two lucky dismissals, it just started a roll."

He certainly isn't the first South African quick to wreak havoc in Indian conditions. Even though he never delivered the sort of headline spell that Steyn managed on Monday, the great Allan Donald took 17 wickets at a paltry 16.11 in his four Tests in India. Lance Klusener once took eight in an innings at the Eden Gardens, but Steyn hadn't asked for notes from either before embarking on this latest Indian adventure. "To be honest, I haven't spoken to anyone like Allan," he said. "But one thing that does happen in our side is that information gets passed on. When those guys leave, they pass it on to the remaining guys. Information on these wickets and how to bowl in these conditions will remain in our team. It's up to the players in the side to actually go out there and execute the plans."

To be honest, I haven't spoken to anyone like Allan [Donald]. But one thing that does happen in our side is that information gets passed on. When those guys leave, they pass it on to the remaining guys. Information on these wickets and how to bowl in these conditions will remain in our team

The biggest part of that plan was reverse swing, something that Steyn had stressed even in the build-up to the series. "You're not going to get a lot of sideways movement off the wicket because there's not a lot of grass on them," he said with a smile. "You've got to rely on getting the ball to do something through the air. I said before that a ball bowled at 145k, whether it's in Jo'burg or Nagpur, is still 145ks in the air. The plan was to hit the deck hard, with pace."

India's extra-long tail was especially clueless against the kind of reverse swing that Waqar Younis once perfected. But just as lethal were the inswingers he bowled with the hard new ball. "It's something I've been working a lot with in the nets," he said. "I don't want to reveal all my secrets. You work on these things and then it's nice to see guys shoulder arms and then the ball cannons into the stumps. I got Bell like that in Johannesburg and that was where it started from. It's a skill that you have to have in your armoury as a pace bowler."

Sehwag took 34 off the 38 balls he faced from Steyn in the first innings, but was altogether more shaky the second time. When he flailed one to slip, South Africa's job of going one-up in the series was nearly half done. Emboldened by Steyn's post-tea burst, Graeme Smith hadn't gone the safety-first route and batted again. "Some of the guys wanted to know if we should go out and bat again and really take the game away from India," said Steyn. "Or whether the bowlers had enough energy to come out there and bowl for another 25 overs. It was a quick chat and it worked out quite nicely. We wanted to pick up two to three wickets and we were able to get two."

Five years ago, Jason Gillespie produced one of the finest fast-bowling performances (9 for 80) seen on Indian soil as Australia romped to a 342-run victory at the old stadium across town. That though was a rather more helpful surface, with tufts of grass seldom seen on the subcontinent. Without that assistance, Steyn did what Marshall had done so memorably at Kanpur in the opening Test of that '83 series, blitzing the batsmen with subtle movement at high pace. Steyn is hardly an imposing physical specimen, and it was an Indian bowler that Sunil Gavaskar recalled when asked about Marshall Law at Green Park. "He actually bowls more like Kapil, especially that outswinger. But he's about 10k quicker."

On largely lifeless pitches, that extra hustle makes all the difference. Unless Tendulkar produces the kind of once-in-a-lifetime innings that VVS Laxman played in the Garden of Eden, India will be out of chips and on the street long before this match enters a fifth day.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muhammad on February 9, 2010, 21:26 GMT

    @Faisal-sorry, Shiaibs not an all-time great-the others are though. Steyn is different from the legendary Pakistani pacemen in that he is mainly an outswinger at good pace.Time will tell whether he can sustain these performances.

    Difficult to categorise Steyn-smallish in stature,,fast,coventional swing both ways,skiddy bouncer,reverse swing,aggressive and whole hearted. Cant think of a replica bowler from the past with all these attributes in one package

  • Seenu on February 9, 2010, 19:38 GMT

    @Faisal, most Indian batsmen who fell to Steyn were laid low by the nippy off-cutter, I don't think it was reverse swing. If you saw the replays, they showed the wristy action of Steyn that suggested an off cutter than any swing. Agree, fast bowlers have been the nemesis for Indian batsmen but then name a few subcontinental batsmen who have consistently come up winners against genuine pace bowling.

  • Seenu on February 9, 2010, 19:28 GMT

    It was never about the lack of Dravid,Laxman or Yuvraj. Had they been around, they would have gotten out the same way Tendulkar did, not that it mattered. What hurts is that our "pacers" were flatter and more insipid than even Kallis, who bowled faster than our "pacers". Steyn haunted the entire Indian line up with one patent off-cutter, he didn't get a single wicket off short pitched deliveries,while Harris could bowl his negative leg stump line and break the resolve of the likes of Dhoni, that too twice. Harbhajan hasn't picked up wickets against even the Bangla minions and he was still picked. Any God fathers can answer why?

  • Sakib on February 9, 2010, 4:23 GMT

    It took Aussies 2 years to recover some of their old strength. By the look of things it will take India 20 when Sachin, Dravid and Laxman retires.

  • Vinod on February 9, 2010, 4:08 GMT

    The ongoing test match reminds me of one thing - that Dale Steyn is a bowler who does whatever the legendary bowlers have done in the past. The comments by the readers are so frustrating. Rather than blaming about the incapabilities of the Indian batsmen, why don't you just give credits to this legendary bowler....and enjoy the action. Team India is young and is bound to learn from experience. No need to cry about it.

  • LALITH on February 9, 2010, 2:29 GMT

    India knew before the series comments that they still could be number 1 if they manage to draw the series.India were going for a draw only.If smith batted again then he will cetainly waste time and India has a more chance to draw the match.It was a good decision to ask India to bat again as SA need to go for the kill if to be number 1 in the world.No one can retain number 1 if any team go for defensive. The best example is AUSTRALIA. They were never defensive but offensive always and that's how they retained number 1 for a long time. Well done SA.

  • Sankalp on February 9, 2010, 2:23 GMT

    After seeing Badri, I am convinced and reiterate India need Badri and Kaif, two solid folks in the line up after Dravid-SRT-Laxman. Badri and Kaif have test material in them and have been baked for higher test level via domestic cricket and in Kaif's unfortunate case many solid test performances that somehow always lead him to getting dropped. My heart goes out to Kaif (who yet again took Central to semis by scoring successive centuries) when he sees Saha and Rohit (who failed in Ranji) get a nod ahead of him. Badri and Kaif are the "Husseys" who toil and perform. We have to move over Yuvraj.

  • Ross on February 9, 2010, 2:08 GMT

    Waspsting: the bowler Steyn most resembles is Hadlee - gliding run-up, quicker, move it both ways in the air & off the pitch, average nearly as good, lethal. Hadlee made NZ a world beater in the 1980s, Steyn will do the same for SA.

  • Manasvi on February 9, 2010, 2:00 GMT

    The ICC rankings are a real joke to have projected India as the no.1 team. And Steyn has the potential to become an even greater bowler than the likes of Donald, Ambrose, Waraw, Wasim, Walsh and McGrath. He is faster than most of the others on the list, achieves a great deal of swing and reverse-swing and he has bowled on extremely batting friendly pitches and still taken loads of wickets. @Shafaet: Indians also remember the next Test where Steyn and co bundled out India in little more than a session. And though India is probably a no.3, it is still the best Asian team around, along with Sri Lanka. Pakistan have a lot of catching up to do in Tests and ODIs.

  • Shanthal on February 9, 2010, 1:39 GMT

    Dale Steyn is undoubtedly the best bowler in the world... he' been on the curve ever since he demolished New Zealand a few years ago... I'm been sooo amazed by some of the comments on BBC with some Aussies claiming Bollinger and Siddle to be better bowlers? Consider Dale' age, he' advanced soo fast and with 5-fors in Australia, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka... there' no one who can claim is anything but the best bowler in the world today. One of his most impressive bowling spells though was the 2nd Test against the Windies in SA (after WI had won the first Test)... Steyn was injured and decided to slow down and bowl at 130-134... and still picked up 8 for the game... which really showed he' much more than a pacy brute... although none of us mind the nasty stuff... a Great, thinking bowler... who could reach 200 wickets before the end of the series... and that strike-rate is unheard of in modern times. Hope to see him and Morkel complete the job.

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