Steyn cashes in on timely change of luck
Dale Steyn bowled one of the finest spells of pace witnessed in recent years on the final day at Newlands. Armed with the second new ball he time and again left Paul Collingwood groping at thin air, but somehow went unrewarded. With his first ball of this match, a regulation loosener heading slightly down the leg side, he removed Andrew Strauss courtesy of a breathtaking catch by Hashim Amla at backward short leg. It summed up the nature of fast bowling. Enjoy the luck when it is with you.
Steyn's figures of 5 for 51, which enabled him to complete a full set of five-wicket hauls against active Test nations, were the least he deserved. It won't matter that the first owed everything to his fielder, and that the last two were cherry-picked from the tail - think of it as a delayed payment for last week's efforts. As he said afterwards, when there's a pitch offering help to the quick bowlers it's time to "cash in". There are plenty of featherbeds around the world.
"I wouldn't really say I bowled excellently; I probably bowled better in Cape Town," he said honestly. "I was chuffed things went my way, they didn't go my way in Cape Town, I thought I was luckless but that's the game, and I went out today and probably didn't bowl as well. We don't often get decks that nip around, so when they do come around you have to fill your boots."
Steyn is an irresistible bowler to watch when he is on song. He glides to the crease and then snaps through his action. His control of swing is one of the stand-out features and something he shares with another of the world's current top pacemen, Mohammad Asif. They both have the ability to make the ball talk.
The pick of Steyn's wickets was Ian Bell who was again showing his newly-acquired steel as he fought to give England some substance. Steyn's opening six overs, despite the wicket of Strauss, hadn't quite made the most of conditions, and he wasn't handed the ball straight after lunch. However, in the second over of his comeback burst he produced the perfect set-up.
The first three balls were on or outside off stump. Then came the killer blow. The fourth delivery again started on off stump, but instead of shaping away it started to swing back then jagged further off the seam. By the time Bell noticed the change in direction it was too late and the ball crashed between bat and pad.
"I've been working on getting the inswinger going, it's important a bowler can cover all the bases especially if he's a swing bowler," Steyn said. "We had a chat at lunch, Jeremy Snape [the team psychologist] actually came up and said I should take it away, away then hold one across the seam and see if it goes straight.
"He said 'you should never underestimate the straight ball'. So I said 'what about the inswinger' and he said 'if you can get it to go, fantastic'. When I got the wicket I celebrated towards the dressing room. We make these plans off the field and when they work that's the best feeling you can get."
However bowling, like batting, is about partnerships and Steyn dovetailed wonderfully with the increasingly impressive Morne Morkel, who earlier in the week Steyn told Cricinfo was ready to fill Makhaya Ntini's shoes. This was more evidence. "I actually think he set the tone," Steyn said. "I may have taken a wicket first ball, but I'll be the first to say it was a loosener, and Morkel got getting rid of some of their better batsmen."
Ten years ago, two handy bowlers by the names of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock produced a similar double-act as they shared all ten first-innings wickets (and 19 in the match) as England tumbled to 122 in 41.4 overs. Early on they were famously 2 for 4; at least this time they'd reached 39 when Alastair Cook was lbw to Morkel, whose foot was just behind the line when it landed.
In Steyn and Morkel, South Africa have an opening pair they can build an attack around for years to come. Now it's about finding the supporting cast. Wayne Parnell only sent down three overs during a slightly nervous debut spell, but Ryan McLaren offered Graeme Smith useful control and the important wicket of Paul Collingwood. Smith's only error in the field was when he bowled both debutants in tandem during the second hour of the morning which allowed England to recover from 39 for 4.
After lunch, however, he ensured either Morkel or Steyn was on at one end, while he rotated McLaren and Jacques Kallis to keep control at the other. Whether McLaren has a Test future at the top-side of medium pace is debatable - and South Africa will recall a spinner for India - but they are treating this as a one-off match. Win here, regain pride and then think about the challenges ahead. Thanks to their new-ball pair, they are well on the way to achieving that first aim.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo