South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town January 5, 2011

A spell from hell

Dale Steyn's bowling was like a dream which made those watching feel it wasn't from the real game but on Play Station 4
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One has seen Dale Steyn bowling in the mid-140s before, and effectively at that. One has also seen him swing the ball prodigiously in the air. But what we witnessed on Day 3 of the Newlands Test was inconceivable, phenomenal: it was that rare spell of fast bowling I'd never seen or faced hitherto, not even at the club level with those dodgy two-piece balls that swing a great deal. It was like a dream which, at one point of time when the broadcaster showed the replays of all the balls together, made those watching feel it wasn't from the real game but on Play Station 4. The ball was not just swinging, it was dancing to Dale's tunes.

I truly believe that playing the swinging ball is a lot about guesswork. There's no way to ascertain that the ball will swing X inches in the air and move X inches after pitching. Hence playing one efficiently involves an educated guess, based on the experience of playing the swinging ball over the years, about how to put out your bat at a specific place. As a batsman you follow certain time-tested theories to negotiate the swing - for instance, wait for the ball to come and play close to the body, try and play the second line, which effectively means relying on your judgment with regard to where the ball would finish when it reaches you, which may be a foot or two inside or outside the point of delivery.

Batsmen are always better off if they know where their off-stump is, for leaving the ball is as important as breathing is to stay alive. But when someone is in the middle of a spell like the one Steyn was, you can only pray and hope to be lucky, for luck will supersede method on these occasions. Take for instance the ball that dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara. It started from or even slightly outside the leg stump. Now you're taught all your life that if out-swingers go too far inside, the ball will follow its path instead of bending towards off. Just like you can easily leave the balls pitching way outside off-stump, even if the ball is coming in a long way, for the ball wouldn't come back beyond a point.

Going by the book, Pujara could have easily turned his bat hoping for the ball to follow its usual path, but this spell was unusual and required an extraordinary tactic. The ball wasn't following the rule but the orders of its operator. Pujara should have wiped out what he had learnt all these years and kept the bat straight while saying a little prayer to ensure that the ball hit the bat and not the pads and stumps. It's like convincing yourself that some day, when an apple falls from the tree, it will start flying instead of hitting the ground because gravitational force wouldn't work. It was a spell in which you'd struggle even if you were informed in advance of the amount of swing.

This one spell from Steyn has got to go down in history for its almost supernatural worth and shock value. While I have already conceded to not having played or watched such a spell, the closest would be Brett Lee's opening surge in the 4th Test match at Sydney in 2003-04, for he too was swinging the ball at great pace. But that was a Day 1 track with lots of moisture and the ball didn't challenge the rule as much as it did at Capetown. You could still flick the ball pitched on leg stump.

Such was the clout of Steyn that it took Sachin Tendulkar, with all his steely resolve and technical prowess, to keep him at bay. What a repeat show it promises to be on Day 5 between the best batsman and the best bowler.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • harshthakor on January 7, 2011, 4:22 GMT

    One of the great spells of sustained fast bowling I have seen which brilliantly combine pace,,swing and seam in addition to control.Steyn reminded me of Holding and Lillee.With more luck,he may have ripped the heart of the Indian batting ,and with with abit of more luck would have captured te prize wicket of Tendulkar much earlier.

  • rohanblue on January 6, 2011, 17:41 GMT

    Muhammad Faisal Khan Durrani send azhar ali , umar amin and adnan akmal to me fr batting tips, i play in my backyard everyday, i can bat better than them...

  • on January 5, 2011, 20:54 GMT

    let steyn prove his abilities in asian pitches...so wait for the world. after that we can call him the best bowler in the world. the more from steyn from other SA & indian bowlers is his accuracy, nothing more. Dont predict a fast bowler in swing pitches like one in australia and sa. we would love to see lasith mallinga in this pitch. but credit to indian bowlers too. now we see lots of bouncers from indian bowling attack. sure our bowling dept. is developing very much under zaheer. And is growth is fast. but one should not forget line and length. THE TRUE FIGHT IS TOMORROW. HOW INDIAN BATS MANS GOING TO FACE THE SA BOWLERS. CAN INDIA WIN? YES SURE INDIA WILL, IF SEWAG AND SACHIN CLICKED. the only 2 best bats mans technically qualified in this pitch are sachin & jaques kallis.

  • on January 5, 2011, 19:58 GMT

    I dont know how old is this author, but he should go back and watch Imran vs India in 1982-83 series, when the ball was going bananas, so much so that Gandapa Vishwanath was bowled while leaving the ball, Vishwanath was a star unlike Pujara. Then he should also watch the two Ws over the years and will not say that he never saw it before. He just is creaating sensation and that's all, by saying he never saw this spell before. I think he did not even saw the two Balls Shoaib bowled to Stars like Dravid and Tendulkar back to back and got them castled. The difference is those spells would kill the batsmen instantly unlike this spell, and thats why it was a prolonged spell. But, as a Pakistani I grew up watching our bolwers doing this day in day out, so no surprise for us. Maybe for an Indian it is,

  • sskris1 on January 5, 2011, 19:36 GMT

    Take a bow Steyn. Great piece of fast bowling. Steyn is #1 fast in the world w/o a shadow of doubt. I hope Zaheer and Sreesanth can take a tip from the master. I have no question that Steyn will rip through the Indian order tomorrow to win the series for RSA. I am happy to see that our guys fought hard after the debacle in centurion. It never looked like India would take 20 wickets in a match, but they have done it twice. Great Test match and good luck to both the teams. I hope it doesn;t rain. go India

  • on January 5, 2011, 18:51 GMT

    Danis Lillie,Garner,Holding,Wasim,Waqer,Walse,Mcgrath,Donald,steyn?? Steyn rocks. He may well go beyond everyone as murali and warne did in spin bowling.

  • Saurav47 on January 5, 2011, 18:38 GMT

    I love to see the bowling spell of Steyn and his art of taking wickets , even if its my home tean India is on the recieving end.......... Really Best fast bowler of last decade............................

  • on January 5, 2011, 18:02 GMT

    This has been an awesome, simply awesome test !!

    Essentially only 2 sessions out of 12 so far have gone for one team - one for India (SRT/Harbhajan partnership) and one for SA (Kallis/Boucher partnership)

    All other sessions have been tightly contested - it has been tremendous to watch.

    Cricket at its best

  • Wall_Master_Specialist on January 5, 2011, 17:58 GMT

    Donald, Akram, McGrath, ........ I would see Steyn in the list...

  • ElPhenomeno on January 5, 2011, 17:44 GMT

    If one hasn't seen a spell like that in last 10 years its only because there aren't many great fast bowlers left. Wasim, Waqar, Ambrose used to do it on like a regular basis.

    Not that I blame Aakash, he barely played at the highest level and you rarely see spells like that at the local state level.

  • harshthakor on January 7, 2011, 4:22 GMT

    One of the great spells of sustained fast bowling I have seen which brilliantly combine pace,,swing and seam in addition to control.Steyn reminded me of Holding and Lillee.With more luck,he may have ripped the heart of the Indian batting ,and with with abit of more luck would have captured te prize wicket of Tendulkar much earlier.

  • rohanblue on January 6, 2011, 17:41 GMT

    Muhammad Faisal Khan Durrani send azhar ali , umar amin and adnan akmal to me fr batting tips, i play in my backyard everyday, i can bat better than them...

  • on January 5, 2011, 20:54 GMT

    let steyn prove his abilities in asian pitches...so wait for the world. after that we can call him the best bowler in the world. the more from steyn from other SA & indian bowlers is his accuracy, nothing more. Dont predict a fast bowler in swing pitches like one in australia and sa. we would love to see lasith mallinga in this pitch. but credit to indian bowlers too. now we see lots of bouncers from indian bowling attack. sure our bowling dept. is developing very much under zaheer. And is growth is fast. but one should not forget line and length. THE TRUE FIGHT IS TOMORROW. HOW INDIAN BATS MANS GOING TO FACE THE SA BOWLERS. CAN INDIA WIN? YES SURE INDIA WILL, IF SEWAG AND SACHIN CLICKED. the only 2 best bats mans technically qualified in this pitch are sachin & jaques kallis.

  • on January 5, 2011, 19:58 GMT

    I dont know how old is this author, but he should go back and watch Imran vs India in 1982-83 series, when the ball was going bananas, so much so that Gandapa Vishwanath was bowled while leaving the ball, Vishwanath was a star unlike Pujara. Then he should also watch the two Ws over the years and will not say that he never saw it before. He just is creaating sensation and that's all, by saying he never saw this spell before. I think he did not even saw the two Balls Shoaib bowled to Stars like Dravid and Tendulkar back to back and got them castled. The difference is those spells would kill the batsmen instantly unlike this spell, and thats why it was a prolonged spell. But, as a Pakistani I grew up watching our bolwers doing this day in day out, so no surprise for us. Maybe for an Indian it is,

  • sskris1 on January 5, 2011, 19:36 GMT

    Take a bow Steyn. Great piece of fast bowling. Steyn is #1 fast in the world w/o a shadow of doubt. I hope Zaheer and Sreesanth can take a tip from the master. I have no question that Steyn will rip through the Indian order tomorrow to win the series for RSA. I am happy to see that our guys fought hard after the debacle in centurion. It never looked like India would take 20 wickets in a match, but they have done it twice. Great Test match and good luck to both the teams. I hope it doesn;t rain. go India

  • on January 5, 2011, 18:51 GMT

    Danis Lillie,Garner,Holding,Wasim,Waqer,Walse,Mcgrath,Donald,steyn?? Steyn rocks. He may well go beyond everyone as murali and warne did in spin bowling.

  • Saurav47 on January 5, 2011, 18:38 GMT

    I love to see the bowling spell of Steyn and his art of taking wickets , even if its my home tean India is on the recieving end.......... Really Best fast bowler of last decade............................

  • on January 5, 2011, 18:02 GMT

    This has been an awesome, simply awesome test !!

    Essentially only 2 sessions out of 12 so far have gone for one team - one for India (SRT/Harbhajan partnership) and one for SA (Kallis/Boucher partnership)

    All other sessions have been tightly contested - it has been tremendous to watch.

    Cricket at its best

  • Wall_Master_Specialist on January 5, 2011, 17:58 GMT

    Donald, Akram, McGrath, ........ I would see Steyn in the list...

  • ElPhenomeno on January 5, 2011, 17:44 GMT

    If one hasn't seen a spell like that in last 10 years its only because there aren't many great fast bowlers left. Wasim, Waqar, Ambrose used to do it on like a regular basis.

    Not that I blame Aakash, he barely played at the highest level and you rarely see spells like that at the local state level.

  • Bradman12345sachin6 on January 5, 2011, 17:40 GMT

    Gr8 peice of writing Aakash. Just like Dale's bowling and Sachin's batting :).

  • ks24funda on January 5, 2011, 17:39 GMT

    Man !What are you doing here..Please focus on RAJ Vs TN ranji semi final .It was disappointing show from your side today.

  • on January 5, 2011, 17:39 GMT

    steyn remover is by far the cleverest fast bowler south africa has ever had-swing-pace-movement: any captain's dream and batsman's worst nightmare. alan donald had more pace-sean pollock was more consistant but steyn has a bit of everything that matters

  • VickGower on January 5, 2011, 17:17 GMT

    On the other hand, I think we saw the beginning of the end of Zaheer. No amount of swing or seam is dangerous at 120s kmph. And, hasn't Ishant been the worst fast bowler of the series? No pace, no control. I mean, if he is bowling in the low 130s at his age, what can we look forward to in 5 years time? In hindsight(!) Ojha would have been the better choice on this pitch. I suppose this lot of fast bowlers is the best we have though...

  • drash1978 on January 5, 2011, 17:17 GMT

    well, just as i predicted earlier(But my comments werent published),3 ways this test could unfold.1) SA on top and for that they would declare by 1st hour of tomorrow morning with lead around 380. 2) India on top with SA being bowled out for 200 and last which was most dangerous for India was SA being bowled out today for around 300 and India batting fiery Steyn last 15 overs.

  • rohan101 on January 5, 2011, 17:15 GMT

    i agree all the comments, but one thing if steyn in Indian team all the matches South Africal will out less than 100 that is the difference between the both teams

  • on January 5, 2011, 17:15 GMT

    Who says test cricket will not survive? What is happening in Cape Town is just fascinating. Great bowling - Steyn, H. Singh; great batting - Kallis, Tendulkar. It might end in a draw, but it has been great for the game because it will be an honourable one. Having said that, I think there will be a positive result.

  • boombasticl101 on January 5, 2011, 16:58 GMT

    Let's be honest here, this is what any and every cricket lover dreams about. Watching two brilliant architects of the game. The true battle of bat and ball, by two of the current best in the world. Fair play to Sachin for weathering the storm, although if the refferal system was in place, Steyn would've had his man early on.

  • on January 5, 2011, 16:49 GMT

    Well, it was a great spell .. but not as great as the world wide terror of chasing targets instilled by Wasim and Waqar :) I remember that when those two were bowling ... we'd feel safe if we were defending something as less as 150. Today, even with Steyn on board, SA themselves were worried until they crossed a lead of 300.

    Yesterday, with the likes of Marshal, Ambrose, Lillee, Imran, Botham, Kapil, Wasim, Waqar, McGrath - a lead of 150 would be considered defend-able. That was a different era altogether.

    Steyn is great .. the best of this generation. But this generation doesn't have many fast bowlers left. So if someone throws down only 1 session of fear, he gets more press than those guys ever did in the past.

  • shaunakdu on January 5, 2011, 16:30 GMT

    Today, Dhoni had another option of continuing with the old ball since Boucher got out in the previous over. Bhajji could have cleaned the tail quicker with the old ball which he eventually did with the new ball after 15-16 overs delay. Our seamers were slightly tired.

  • cooljack_143 on January 5, 2011, 16:26 GMT

    Poor captaincy from MS again,what the hell was he thinking when he constantly set medium pacers to bowl when they werent at their best.Why not use Sachin along with harbhajan.Mr.Captain is been overly and overly defensive here.No way can one save this test now from SA taking the series unless again, Laxman bats well with the tail enders this has been becoming a regular trend these days.Remember no Gambhir,to build a solid platform ahead.Sehwag is proved to be non-productive. Obviously SRT will not play tomorrow since that he is not known to be palying under situations when we need to win.Good luck let the best team win.I dont see any draw in this test match unless poor weather comes in.Even then its difficult.

  • titansnights on January 5, 2011, 16:13 GMT

    I watched that spell mate and its one of the best, I ever seen..I am gifted enough to see Wasim, Donald, Pollock,Ambrose and Mcgrath bowling legendary spells.....and this one ranks a bit above everything....and it was true, Sachin was protecting Gambhir at the other end, which shows how skilful he is and how much skill one needs to avoid a collapse....true battle

  • on January 5, 2011, 16:06 GMT

    Thanks, Aakash! Wonderful piece. Really enjoyed reading it.

  • Johnny_129 on January 5, 2011, 16:02 GMT

    Well, Steyn certainly is great BUT what about this Indian bowling. This game was nicely set up but the weakness in the Indian 'attack' showed up again. Once again SRT will be blamed for scoring a century in a non-winning cause! Indian bowling is far toooooo weak - the recent success has been based on batting. Pls ignore second test of current series as that pitch was favouring the bowlers. India needs to find four new bowlers as the current lot are useless!!!

  • on January 5, 2011, 15:56 GMT

    Well Steyn is a great bowler and is the best in the world and u hav to give credit for making the bowler dance on his fingers

  • razorhedge on January 5, 2011, 15:56 GMT

    Wasim akram has produced some fiery spells of swing/pace in his time but definitely not in 1 for 11 straight overs...

  • on January 5, 2011, 15:56 GMT

    This truly was an exceptional spell. Perhaps one of top 3 spells of last 10 years. Reminded me of Two W's at their devastating best.

  • on January 5, 2011, 15:36 GMT

    steyn is one of d greatest fast bowler forever.

  • Er-.S.R.shankar on January 5, 2011, 15:13 GMT

    Dear Akash--Great piece of writing on great spell of bowling. Within our cricket loving family we discussed the dream spell marked by consistent off stump line and prodigious outswing of Dale steyn--We were reminded of the days of Roberts and Lillee--We are delighted to see your writing the next day--that too when you are in the midst of a Ranji semi final on balance[probably you are relaxed after a remarkable century contribution]--As an opener of sound technique your comments bear lot of insight on pace bowling--particularly we all appreciated the comment that no batsmen could perfectly judge the quality of swing playing more by guess or anticipation--Though Sachin combated valiantly Steyn left him guessing many times We also enjoyed your writing on TN-Rajasthan match--What a level headed and balanced analysis despite scoring a century--As natives though we have to root for your opponents we were touched by your composure and correct evaluation Long live cricketers of your tribe

  • on January 5, 2011, 15:09 GMT

    "What a repeat show it promises to be on Day 5 between the best batsman and the best bowler." Best bowler -- okay, but best batsman?

  • Poliwag060 on January 5, 2011, 14:58 GMT

    It's not a spell from hell. Surely that implies he bowled atrociously. What you have seen is a true masterclass of high pace swing bowling. This is bowling at its best.

  • on January 5, 2011, 14:55 GMT

    Hope not. It would be unimaginable that Sachin's resoluteness will work in the 4th inning . Maybe it is VVS's turn this time. Gentlemen, there are only 4 players in this series. Steyn & Kallis for SA and Sachin & Laxman for India. All others are bit actors.

  • RealPablo on January 5, 2011, 14:44 GMT

    The fast bowling spell of the decade, surely? It has been a privilege to watch Steyn V Tendulkar. Nothing compares to Test Match Cricket!

  • on January 5, 2011, 14:41 GMT

    As you pointed out, it was an exhilarating spell from Dale, perhaps that's the very same reason he couldn't get any wicket in that spell. He was just too good for the batsman to nick or should I say the ball wanted to swing all along without kissing the wood.

    I'm waiting eagerly for tomorrow's showdown, what could well turn out to be a perfect end to the test match and series. May the best team win ( read as let India win )

  • Zahidsaltin on January 5, 2011, 14:29 GMT

    Its like calling a cricket ball for football. It was surely a very good spell of fast bowling but to say that you haven't seen another like that tells that you didnt see the last England vs Pakistan series.

  • _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on January 5, 2011, 14:28 GMT

    Can't praise Steyn enough. He really is a breath of fresh air in this batsman skewed era. The amazing thing is that he seems to be getting even better.

  • on January 5, 2011, 14:27 GMT

    Great Article. Dale steyn is a legend in the making one would feel.

  • on January 5, 2011, 14:13 GMT

    Steyn is just rocking...................

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  • on January 5, 2011, 14:13 GMT

    Steyn is just rocking...................

  • on January 5, 2011, 14:27 GMT

    Great Article. Dale steyn is a legend in the making one would feel.

  • _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on January 5, 2011, 14:28 GMT

    Can't praise Steyn enough. He really is a breath of fresh air in this batsman skewed era. The amazing thing is that he seems to be getting even better.

  • Zahidsaltin on January 5, 2011, 14:29 GMT

    Its like calling a cricket ball for football. It was surely a very good spell of fast bowling but to say that you haven't seen another like that tells that you didnt see the last England vs Pakistan series.

  • on January 5, 2011, 14:41 GMT

    As you pointed out, it was an exhilarating spell from Dale, perhaps that's the very same reason he couldn't get any wicket in that spell. He was just too good for the batsman to nick or should I say the ball wanted to swing all along without kissing the wood.

    I'm waiting eagerly for tomorrow's showdown, what could well turn out to be a perfect end to the test match and series. May the best team win ( read as let India win )

  • RealPablo on January 5, 2011, 14:44 GMT

    The fast bowling spell of the decade, surely? It has been a privilege to watch Steyn V Tendulkar. Nothing compares to Test Match Cricket!

  • on January 5, 2011, 14:55 GMT

    Hope not. It would be unimaginable that Sachin's resoluteness will work in the 4th inning . Maybe it is VVS's turn this time. Gentlemen, there are only 4 players in this series. Steyn & Kallis for SA and Sachin & Laxman for India. All others are bit actors.

  • Poliwag060 on January 5, 2011, 14:58 GMT

    It's not a spell from hell. Surely that implies he bowled atrociously. What you have seen is a true masterclass of high pace swing bowling. This is bowling at its best.

  • on January 5, 2011, 15:09 GMT

    "What a repeat show it promises to be on Day 5 between the best batsman and the best bowler." Best bowler -- okay, but best batsman?

  • Er-.S.R.shankar on January 5, 2011, 15:13 GMT

    Dear Akash--Great piece of writing on great spell of bowling. Within our cricket loving family we discussed the dream spell marked by consistent off stump line and prodigious outswing of Dale steyn--We were reminded of the days of Roberts and Lillee--We are delighted to see your writing the next day--that too when you are in the midst of a Ranji semi final on balance[probably you are relaxed after a remarkable century contribution]--As an opener of sound technique your comments bear lot of insight on pace bowling--particularly we all appreciated the comment that no batsmen could perfectly judge the quality of swing playing more by guess or anticipation--Though Sachin combated valiantly Steyn left him guessing many times We also enjoyed your writing on TN-Rajasthan match--What a level headed and balanced analysis despite scoring a century--As natives though we have to root for your opponents we were touched by your composure and correct evaluation Long live cricketers of your tribe