South Africa v England, 4th Test, Johannesburg, 1st day January 14, 2010

Steyn cashes in on timely change of luck

Steyn's performance summed up the nature of fast bowling. Enjoy the luck when it is with you

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • AndyMick on January 15, 2010, 12:41 GMT

    Steyn is the best, better than Lee and Johnson, but to show this look at it from a diifferent view point. Lee only averages circa 4 wickets per game, with an average of 30ish, Johnson is a little better with just over 4.5 per game and an average of just shy of 28, Steyn averages over 5 per game and averages less that 24 (not including the current game) so just on average wickets per match he wins. When I forst seen him against England on debut I said to my son that this guy could be good but I now think that if he stays fit he will easily become SA highest ever wicket taker. hes 26, been playing for 5 years and now has 183 victims, give him maybe another 6 at the top and hes alrady at 400+ and not behind Pollock

  • Deepakrio278 on January 15, 2010, 10:49 GMT

    Sudhan is sayin that Lee n Johnson r the best,then why must the icc name Steyn as world no.1?..Coz he is world no.1..Noone has beaten Australia on home soil..But South africa did,n it was mainly because of him..

  • sudhanshu0510 on January 15, 2010, 10:07 GMT

    @ All

    Guys...Steyn has an average of 28 vs Australia, 34 vs England and 37 vs Sri Lanka...but yes he has fared well against india and I give him the benefit of doubt for that(by the way I don't think except Dravid and Sachin, anyone in the Indian side has a great technique). New Zealand, Pakistan and the West Indies have just not batted well against anyone. But by no means I undermine Steyn's achievements, he is the third best fast bowler in the world today after Lee and Johnson...

  • BellCurve on January 15, 2010, 8:38 GMT

    @ sudhanshu - What you are saying is that, despite this being "The Age of the Bat", Steyn has somehow countered the effect of flat pitches by being lucky 180 times against batsmen with poor technique? Basically that boils down to everyone is either useless or lucky and all achievements therefore meaningless. May I ask who do you think is good and has great technique? Don't bother; I think I know the answer.

  • StaalBurgher on January 15, 2010, 7:01 GMT

    Indian batsmen must have the most terrible techniques then as he averages 19.85 with a strike rate of 36.9 against them. Steyn has not been at his best since the English tour in '08 due to various injuries. He only started to show his best at Cape Town. No technique in the world can do much about when the ball pitches on leg and clips your off stump at 145 kph. There wasn't that much swing on offer in Oz and coupled with his long lay off contributed to his middle performance then.

  • teo. on January 15, 2010, 6:30 GMT

    >> Steyn is the world's PREMIER fast bowler! well done to him. It has been a long time since a fast bowler has been trully effective and respected. I sincerely hope that Steyn and Morkel can become the new ''best opening bowler partnership'' in the world since thae days of Donald and Pollock, because thats the foundation that allowde SA to become the force that they are.

  • Roshini on January 15, 2010, 5:41 GMT

    I think test cricket is all about having equal opportunities for bowlers and batters and that spell from Dale Steyn at Newlands on last day of the test is what makes test cricket brilliant to watch. Now then curators all over the world should take a leaf out of Wanderers. Hats off for making the game more exciting.Great track with 50-50. I also believe SA in Steyn will have their own Mcgrath soon and with Morkel performing with distinction, it should not take long for South Africa to showcase a potent new ball pair reminiscent to the days of Donald n Pollock.

  • sudhanshu0510 on January 15, 2010, 5:19 GMT

    I have always considered Steyn as a goodish bowler, I think most sides today have poor techniques and he exploits that. But he gets the results, and that is what that matters. I thought Ponting won the battle with Steyn in test matches and I don't think he has really troubled really good batsmen. He has struggled against the likes of Clarke as well. He has bowled well to Pietersen but Pietersen doesnt have a good technique.

  • Shafaet on January 15, 2010, 2:42 GMT

    //Steyn is an irresistible bowler to watch when he is on song.// Thumbs Up. Steyn is going to be a legend

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