SA v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, 1st day November 9, 2011

Steyn says he's got his intensity back

42

A foreigner would be forgiven for thinking that every South African summer starts the same way: on the first day of the first Test, it rains. For the past five seasons, whether in Port Elizabeth against West Indies, Bloemfontein against Bangladesh, Centurion against India and England or Cape Town against Australia, rain has interrupted play.

After 105 minutes of persistent drizzle and with plenty of overhead cloud, it was a no-brainer what the captain who won the toss should do and Graeme Smith promptly did it. Green patches short of a length on the pitch, moisture glistening like diamonds in the dawn and a new opening pair that consisted of a fired-up Dale Steyn and debutant Vernon Philander, all told South Africa that they were doing the right thing.

In the fifth over of the day, when Steyn removed Shane Watson with one of his classical away swingers, South Africa's decision was rubber stamped. Michael Clarke quipped that he would have batted, but when Australia teetered at 13 for 2, he may have been silently pleased that he was not the one who made the choice to put them in.

Clarke maintained that he would have opted for his men to take first guard, saying it would have sent a message of intent on a difficult pitch, but South Africa had no such noble aims. In helpful conditions, with more spice sprinkled on the pitch than in your average local curry, South Africa always wanted to bowl.

Steyn and Philander's new-ball spell of swing and seam complimented by Morne Morkel's use of bounce posed questions to which Australia sometimes had no answer. They weren't always disciplined though, bowling a fair share of mediocre and even poor deliveries. At times, Philander overpitched, Steyn went short and wide, Morkel was too full, but the conditions were good enough to allow them to back Australia into a corner, despite the many mistakes.

Inconsistency was not too much of a concern because of the rewards, but Steyn agreed that South Africa conceded needlessly at time. "We went at a little more than we wanted to with the run-rate but if you asked us at the start of the day if we wanted eight wickets, we would have taken it," he said.

Steyn's four-wicket haul was his most impressive showing of the season and indicated that he had finally found the rhythm he appeared to lack during the one-day series. "I didn't have the intensity during the one-dayers as much as I had it now," he said. "When you come off a big break, the only way to get bowling fit is by bowling lots of overs and I didn't have that opportunity."

His post-lunch spell, in which he removed Ricky Ponting lbw on review with a ball that Steyn was initially "really bummed about because I thought he hit it," and a particularly engaging duel with Australia captain Michael Clarke, confirmed his status as the world's top-ranked Test bowler. It is not something he thinks about too often though. "Those rankings are a bit funny, to be honest," Steyn said. "It does nothing for you when you walk out onto the field. You've still got to bowl the ball. I don't have a halo over my head saying I am No.1 and the batters respect that, they don't really care."

Whether it provides additional motivation for Steyn or not, he was more focused than he had been in a long time, and it served him well as he spearheaded the attack. Steyn also had kind words for his new-ball partner, Philander. "He is a home-town boy here and he opens the bowling for the Cobras, so he knows what it's like to bowl in these conditions. He stepped up to the challenge on his debut and got a few sticks, which is good for him."

Legspinner Imran Tahir had a less successful debut and only bowled six, unconvincing overs. It was not the start he was looking for but Steyn said he expects Tahir to play a key role later in the match. "The last couple of Tests we played here boiled down to the last day and to us needing a genuine spinner to do the job for us," he said. "I'm not saying Harro [Paul Harris] wasn't the genuine spinner, just that I think Imran's time will come."

While the day belonged to South Africa's bowlers, wicketkeeper Mark Boucher enjoyed his own moment in the sun, albeit one as brief as the moment when the sun peeped out through the clouds. Philander's first Test wicket was also Boucher's 500th Test catch (of which two have been taken when he represented the World XI).

After serving South African cricket for an almost a decade, Boucher is now thought to be under pressure for his place, but Steyn said the achievement confirmed that any such speculation is unfounded.

"If anybody ever rated him down, he is coming out again and showing what he is worth on the field and how valuable he is," Steyn said. "He is just streetwise and street smart and when you need somebody, he is the kind of guy that you can turn around and look to. There might be other talented players out there, but there is never going to be another Mark Boucher."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • MaruthuDelft on November 10, 2011, 9:44 GMT

    @satish619chandar...yes yes..you used the right term..intensity..Our cricketers are not intense..especially on the first day..you know what? We play just to win or draw..but players like Steyn and Warne play to win AND excite..that is the difference..they are physical..we rely on tricks..but being physical is always exciting..it is a Primitive Preference.

  • CAJOSEPH on November 10, 2011, 8:48 GMT

    Steyn is a class act. He is the best among the current lot, his pace and accuracy has troubled the best across the world. It's a pleasure watching him bowl even against my home team. I have one complain thought it's not against Steyn. Had India ended up with a score like this on a similar track, they would have been called flat track bullies and their problems against pace bowling would have been discussed rather than the genius of this man. It's time we stood up and put our hands together for this man who is currently the best in business.

  • Romenevans on November 10, 2011, 8:39 GMT

    Indian here....No doubt i'd pay anything to watch Dale Steyn bowling. He is the best fast bowler in world and his Strike Rate suggest that, what a classy he is. I'd love to see Steyn knowing over each and every enhlish player...Go Steyn, you rock!

  • Trickstar on November 10, 2011, 8:12 GMT

    @mahjut There's nothing like a bit of stats picking , is there mate, what you've done there is basically take away all his poorest performances and leave his best. Not that I disagree with your main point that Steyn is a awsome bowler.

  • Mandavya on November 10, 2011, 7:49 GMT

    Steyn Gun is really fired up for the contest...He has been a consistent performer and always has that edge, that ability to get the batsmen deceived at any point of time in a test match , doesn't realy matter watever the conditions are?

  • on November 10, 2011, 7:47 GMT

    Anyone else on here pick up on the fact that Dale Steyn could possibly equal D. Lillee as the fastest bowler to 250 Test wickets if he picks up 8 more wickets in the next 3 innings? He needs to reach 250 wickets in 48 Tests to equal the record, currently he stands on 242 from 47 Tests, with another innings still to go in the 47th Test.

  • johnathonjosephs on November 10, 2011, 7:12 GMT

    Steyn is always great in Tests...... in ODI's he has had less succesful (but still overall successful) bouts. It baffles me to see Morne as the Number 1 ODI bowler. He is in great form, but I feel that his bowling style is suited more for the Test format

  • Mary_786 on November 10, 2011, 6:47 GMT

    Hughes is letting Australia down, 90% of the time he gets out early especially on tough pitches like yesterday when the team needs him to stay in to protect our number 3 and 4. Hughes will not get lucky this time around in SA as they raalise his weakness's against the short ball and swinging ball outside the off stump. Most of Australia is realising the NSW bias that is keeping Hughes in the team and the favoritism clarke shows to his good mate. This is the only reason Katich was dropped as he was our best scoring batsman. Time to drop hughes and bring in either Khawaja or Warner. Please drop Hughes.

  • BillyCC on November 10, 2011, 5:40 GMT

    Great bowling from Steyn last night. I don't care about the wickets so much as the fact that everyone else went for over three an over and some went for many more. And yet Steyn only went for two an over. His economy rate is what stops him from being great, so if he continues these sorts of figures, then he will soon be. @NeutralFan, yes possibly a little hasty in your judgment but definitely not far off. Would like to see him take his country to Number One first for a sustained period of time, they have the batting and they have the backup bowlers as well.

  • DaisonGarvasis on November 10, 2011, 5:40 GMT

    Even in placid subcontinent conditions steyne is a handful. Give him his favored conditions and he will rip you. Many have fallen to his outswinger that start at the middle and leg - Ponting is the latest in the list

  • MaruthuDelft on November 10, 2011, 9:44 GMT

    @satish619chandar...yes yes..you used the right term..intensity..Our cricketers are not intense..especially on the first day..you know what? We play just to win or draw..but players like Steyn and Warne play to win AND excite..that is the difference..they are physical..we rely on tricks..but being physical is always exciting..it is a Primitive Preference.

  • CAJOSEPH on November 10, 2011, 8:48 GMT

    Steyn is a class act. He is the best among the current lot, his pace and accuracy has troubled the best across the world. It's a pleasure watching him bowl even against my home team. I have one complain thought it's not against Steyn. Had India ended up with a score like this on a similar track, they would have been called flat track bullies and their problems against pace bowling would have been discussed rather than the genius of this man. It's time we stood up and put our hands together for this man who is currently the best in business.

  • Romenevans on November 10, 2011, 8:39 GMT

    Indian here....No doubt i'd pay anything to watch Dale Steyn bowling. He is the best fast bowler in world and his Strike Rate suggest that, what a classy he is. I'd love to see Steyn knowing over each and every enhlish player...Go Steyn, you rock!

  • Trickstar on November 10, 2011, 8:12 GMT

    @mahjut There's nothing like a bit of stats picking , is there mate, what you've done there is basically take away all his poorest performances and leave his best. Not that I disagree with your main point that Steyn is a awsome bowler.

  • Mandavya on November 10, 2011, 7:49 GMT

    Steyn Gun is really fired up for the contest...He has been a consistent performer and always has that edge, that ability to get the batsmen deceived at any point of time in a test match , doesn't realy matter watever the conditions are?

  • on November 10, 2011, 7:47 GMT

    Anyone else on here pick up on the fact that Dale Steyn could possibly equal D. Lillee as the fastest bowler to 250 Test wickets if he picks up 8 more wickets in the next 3 innings? He needs to reach 250 wickets in 48 Tests to equal the record, currently he stands on 242 from 47 Tests, with another innings still to go in the 47th Test.

  • johnathonjosephs on November 10, 2011, 7:12 GMT

    Steyn is always great in Tests...... in ODI's he has had less succesful (but still overall successful) bouts. It baffles me to see Morne as the Number 1 ODI bowler. He is in great form, but I feel that his bowling style is suited more for the Test format

  • Mary_786 on November 10, 2011, 6:47 GMT

    Hughes is letting Australia down, 90% of the time he gets out early especially on tough pitches like yesterday when the team needs him to stay in to protect our number 3 and 4. Hughes will not get lucky this time around in SA as they raalise his weakness's against the short ball and swinging ball outside the off stump. Most of Australia is realising the NSW bias that is keeping Hughes in the team and the favoritism clarke shows to his good mate. This is the only reason Katich was dropped as he was our best scoring batsman. Time to drop hughes and bring in either Khawaja or Warner. Please drop Hughes.

  • BillyCC on November 10, 2011, 5:40 GMT

    Great bowling from Steyn last night. I don't care about the wickets so much as the fact that everyone else went for over three an over and some went for many more. And yet Steyn only went for two an over. His economy rate is what stops him from being great, so if he continues these sorts of figures, then he will soon be. @NeutralFan, yes possibly a little hasty in your judgment but definitely not far off. Would like to see him take his country to Number One first for a sustained period of time, they have the batting and they have the backup bowlers as well.

  • DaisonGarvasis on November 10, 2011, 5:40 GMT

    Even in placid subcontinent conditions steyne is a handful. Give him his favored conditions and he will rip you. Many have fallen to his outswinger that start at the middle and leg - Ponting is the latest in the list

  • thebarmyarmy on November 10, 2011, 5:33 GMT

    Now Saffers need to go and finish it off, post a big score and only bat once. Go Saffers !! :)

  • Meety on November 10, 2011, 4:58 GMT

    @ _NEUTRAL_Fan_ - I won't be calling you hasty on this topic that's for sure! I've been expecting that S/R to rise for about 3 years, its pretty well stayed where it is. The 2nd best S/R of all time from anybody with over a 100 wickets is out of this world. More clarity will come after he retires, but for now, yep - he is destined to be considered an all-time great. Certainly the best pace bowler this century!

  • Vindaliew on November 10, 2011, 4:47 GMT

    Asking the captain who lost the toss what he would have done is usually pointless. More often than not they will say that they would have done what the opposing captain wanted them to in order to lessen the psychological impact of being forced into a disadvantageous position. Whether their performance can convince people or not is another matter, of course, but occasionally they pull it off and make themselves look wise.

  • WhenDWestwas1 on November 10, 2011, 4:41 GMT

    It is inaccurate to call England the best test side. It is correct in saying South Africa B side with some english men is currently the best test side. But Steyn is currently the best test bowler right now. No one is close to his level.

  • satish619chandar on November 10, 2011, 4:24 GMT

    @MaruthuDelft - Do u say Ashwin was lazy while bowling? Warne was the laziest(In terms of runup) spinner ever!! Intensity was always good for Warne.. Comparing anyone with Warne or Murali or Kumble is unfair.. Particularly a debutant!! The whole world ll agree to the fast bowlers though.. Even then. Indian fast bowlers performed to potential in SA in last 2-3 tours.. Almost all the matches were close enough..

  • Marcio on November 10, 2011, 4:12 GMT

    No doubt Steyn is a great bowler. However this is hardly the place to say he's back to his best. Bowling on a minefield in drizzling, overcast conditions are every bowler's dream.

  • on November 10, 2011, 2:51 GMT

    Steyn is pure class bowler. even i am a sri lankan but i love watching him bowling. realy an aggressive bowler. records awaits and alerts.

  • psyclops222 on November 10, 2011, 2:26 GMT

    aight as a neutral here (indian living in the USA, so completely neutral? maybe.. ), i have to say Dale steyn - phew! what a bowler! he is absolutely amazing..

    and about England being the best test side, I am not going to say they are not.. because they have proved themselves in Aus and in Eng (surprise!).. and they deserved to win those series.. But to be a top team you need to have the skill to perform EVERYWHERE and beat ALL other teams in their backyards.. England is far from doing that.. they can NOT beat india in india, SL in SL.. or for that matter SA in England.. I want tp see good cricket..i will happily eat my words if england test team can prove me wrong.. I miss seeing that all dominating team - WI of the 70s/80s.. ps: Australia was very good but kinda left a few boxes unchecked (India, SL)

  • on November 10, 2011, 1:52 GMT

    I'm pretty bored of this thing where people keep talking about England being this great team. They're a good side playing a very good brand of cricket, but 'great' is a term reserved for teams that can sustain their dominance.

    Remember, people were claiming the same nonsense about India a year ago.

    Meanwhile, Steyn has a good record against England, if you ignore his disappointing early run for South Africa.

  • Q72941 on November 10, 2011, 1:04 GMT

    Whatever people say, Steyn is a Class of his own in his generation of bowlers. Nothing come close to the sight of a Class bowler in full flight in Test matches as the ODI & T20 are over-tuned for batsmen.

    Hope to see more of Steyn with aggression as no other bowler are apparent yet on the radar.

  • _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on November 10, 2011, 0:58 GMT

    Call me hasty but Steyn is an all time great already and that may only be reviewed if something goes horribly wrong, very soon and for the rest of his career. There is statsguru on Cricinfo and I suggest critics use it.

  • Robster1 on November 9, 2011, 23:46 GMT

    It's a test match; it counts. Steyn is without doubt the finest quick bowler in the world now.

  • MaruthuDelft on November 9, 2011, 23:19 GMT

    @bigwonder Hey that is unfair! Can't you see how hard Steyn and co try? That is why they make exciting cricket. By contrast you see how our Ashwin bowls? Lazy Lazy Lazy....Warne was not lazy... OK see how our fast bowlers ball....Could Zaheer ever excite? Don't call South Africans and Australians bullies...they play cricket honest and hard...Steyn is the epitome.

  • teo. on November 9, 2011, 23:16 GMT

    @OZrocks_forca_barca.... haha.. yes, agreed... but I am hoping it will be sunny for day 2... :P LOL. I just think Steyn as he was on day 1 is awesome to watch, not many people like him. Mitch can be fearsome, especially when he has his away swinger going.. its been a while for him.. lets see... I'm an SA fan so will be positive for my team.

  • shovwar on November 9, 2011, 22:32 GMT

    Ha Ha Ha Ha...OhhhhhMattyMatty...o matty matty...England the best of his era....This is the Joke of this Era.....They just became no1 test side IN THE RANKING like 2 months ago but that does not mean they are better than SA....The ranking changes in a blink...Steyn is the guy who is a nemesis for the No.1 ranked team n he pulls them down the rankings...n he will do it again as he did in England few years where the English lost a series at home......Ha ha ha ...Owwwww Matty Matty Matty

  • OZrocks_forca_barca on November 9, 2011, 22:20 GMT

    @teo i reckon mitchy is also playing this game...dont u think so mate? :)

  • Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on November 9, 2011, 22:12 GMT

    Wow ohmattymatty! England is the best side of Steyn's era? You must be kidding! England are playing good cricket over the past year or year and a half and during that time India was number one for close to two years. As we speak now, England is the best. Nothing more.

  • brittop on November 9, 2011, 22:08 GMT

    Didn't watch the one-dayers (cos who cares). If Steyn was saving himself for the tests, then good on him. He bowled excellently today (really enjoyed watching it). We'll find out soon whether Morkel & Kallis being and bit off key is important or whether the damage is done (excellent innings fron Clarke, though, after shaky start). Maybe it will depend on which Mitchell Johnson turns up!

  • RandyOZ on November 9, 2011, 22:00 GMT

    This guy is serious class, better than all of the tripe England serve up. Surprised they haven't poached him.

  • hhillbumper on November 9, 2011, 21:39 GMT

    steyn=class.The best fast bowler doing the rounds at the moment

  • on November 9, 2011, 21:12 GMT

    I wish we see more bowlers like steyn....who dont complain too much about the pitch....but get on with their job....n get wkts

  • mahjut on November 9, 2011, 20:47 GMT

    OhhhhMattyMatty, you've looked at the stats without analysing them. Steyn has played 8 tests vs England: 3 in 2004/5 - he was blooded far too young; performed badly, and a bit of time was invested in him for the next 15 or so months sorting him out ... the point is, that was NOT against the best England side - but a passable side at best. .....So, he's played 5 against a good England side - the current one - since 'growing up. The first one - his 'comeaback' game against england was at Lords (3.5 years after that awful debut tour) and England racked up over 500 in the first innings - England then bowled SA out fairly cheaply in their first innings... but in their follow on SA hit over 380/3 and the game was drawn. No bowler- English or Saffer- was showered in glory that test. However, the 4 since then he has more than covered himself in glory vs England ... he's taken English wickets as easily as he does everybody else (ave of 24, SR 45 ... 22wkts in 4 tests). The devil's in the detail

  • on November 9, 2011, 20:40 GMT

    Dale Steyn - like Malcolm Marshall in a generation bygone ( I know that's a big comparison!) - has command over every tenet of fast bowling. He'd 'bully' the best of the lot on any track. My nationality doesn't cloud my vision while accepting - he's perhaps the only present fast bowler who has given genuine strife to each of Ponting, Tendulkar, Chanderpaul and some of the contemporary batting greats playing the game. And btw, ENG was hardly the best side of his era - when he started - AUS were and he was one of the weapons of Smith who made them beatable. Thereafter it was IND for a brief while, who again were demolished at home by Steyn on consecutive series. ENG only became the top dog like 2 months ago ..

  • Highflyer_GP on November 9, 2011, 20:35 GMT

    Wow some people can be so bitter. Go look at his averages in India and Pakistan, and the best side since 2004 has not been England.

  • Beertjie on November 9, 2011, 20:28 GMT

    @OhhhhMattyMatty, I suggest you ask Michael Vaughan if he shares your opinion of Steyn being less than "convincing".

  • mahjut on November 9, 2011, 20:12 GMT

    @bigwonder ;) guess where his best average and SR is? IN, yes IN, India and Bangladesh and although one of his worst is IN SL he still got 8 wickets in 3 innings at a SR of 46. but i understand your frustration ...'reason is a slave to passion' and clearly you are passionate in your dislike of Steyn and reason has surendered...good on ya - you're normal!!

  • OhhhhMattyMatty on November 9, 2011, 19:50 GMT

    Steyn has never convinced against the best side of his era. England.

  • on November 9, 2011, 19:44 GMT

    bigwonder... I doubt you can call Nagpur a green track, Steyn's averages and SR in India is better than his career, which is better than most legends of the sport... and in a time when all bowling averages and strike-rates are poor, Steyn outclasses not only this generation but those of the 90s, 80s and even 70s...

  • on November 9, 2011, 19:41 GMT

    @bigwonder , is that the same as the flat track bullies of India ?

  • teo. on November 9, 2011, 19:21 GMT

    hahaha... Steyn is BACK!!!!!!!! :D!!!!!!!!!!! game over Aussies.

  • on November 9, 2011, 19:08 GMT

    What "almost a decade"? Boucher made his debut in 1997. That's 14 years.

  • bigwonder on November 9, 2011, 18:56 GMT

    GREEN TRACK BULLIES ARE BACK

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • bigwonder on November 9, 2011, 18:56 GMT

    GREEN TRACK BULLIES ARE BACK

  • on November 9, 2011, 19:08 GMT

    What "almost a decade"? Boucher made his debut in 1997. That's 14 years.

  • teo. on November 9, 2011, 19:21 GMT

    hahaha... Steyn is BACK!!!!!!!! :D!!!!!!!!!!! game over Aussies.

  • on November 9, 2011, 19:41 GMT

    @bigwonder , is that the same as the flat track bullies of India ?

  • on November 9, 2011, 19:44 GMT

    bigwonder... I doubt you can call Nagpur a green track, Steyn's averages and SR in India is better than his career, which is better than most legends of the sport... and in a time when all bowling averages and strike-rates are poor, Steyn outclasses not only this generation but those of the 90s, 80s and even 70s...

  • OhhhhMattyMatty on November 9, 2011, 19:50 GMT

    Steyn has never convinced against the best side of his era. England.

  • mahjut on November 9, 2011, 20:12 GMT

    @bigwonder ;) guess where his best average and SR is? IN, yes IN, India and Bangladesh and although one of his worst is IN SL he still got 8 wickets in 3 innings at a SR of 46. but i understand your frustration ...'reason is a slave to passion' and clearly you are passionate in your dislike of Steyn and reason has surendered...good on ya - you're normal!!

  • Beertjie on November 9, 2011, 20:28 GMT

    @OhhhhMattyMatty, I suggest you ask Michael Vaughan if he shares your opinion of Steyn being less than "convincing".

  • Highflyer_GP on November 9, 2011, 20:35 GMT

    Wow some people can be so bitter. Go look at his averages in India and Pakistan, and the best side since 2004 has not been England.

  • on November 9, 2011, 20:40 GMT

    Dale Steyn - like Malcolm Marshall in a generation bygone ( I know that's a big comparison!) - has command over every tenet of fast bowling. He'd 'bully' the best of the lot on any track. My nationality doesn't cloud my vision while accepting - he's perhaps the only present fast bowler who has given genuine strife to each of Ponting, Tendulkar, Chanderpaul and some of the contemporary batting greats playing the game. And btw, ENG was hardly the best side of his era - when he started - AUS were and he was one of the weapons of Smith who made them beatable. Thereafter it was IND for a brief while, who again were demolished at home by Steyn on consecutive series. ENG only became the top dog like 2 months ago ..