South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 4th day February 23, 2014

Steyn epitomises South Africa's resolve

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Dale Steyn was not any angrier than usual during his match-winning spell of 3 for 10 in four overs. But all the elements were in place - reverse-swing, a big occasion and a reputation to live up to - to provide just the tonic he needed to reignite the battle of the bowlers, which appeared won by Mitchell Johnson after Centurion but now has Steyn at the top of the leaderboard.

"Dale sort of goes from very angry to extremely angry," Graeme Smith said, indicating there is no real scale for Steyn when his blood his boiling. "But he is always one spell away from being able to create something for us. There are high expectations on him. If he is not getting five-fors or knocking people over, or knocking their heads off, then people start to ask questions."

After the first Test, in which Steyn's return in the wickets column was only half that of Johnson's, the inquisition was beginning. Had Steyn not properly recovered from injuries or illness or both to perform as South Africa's spearhead? Did he not have the back-up Johnson had because South Africa's Test team had not settled on a fourth seamer and was yo-yoing between a specialist spinner and part-time ones? Were Australia negating him in the same way they did James Anderson?

Smith believes it was none of those, it was just the natural comeback time required by a man who had a rib niggle and a month out of the game to recover. "He carried an injury for a while before this series, but I thought he was a spell away from his best," Smith said. "Hopefully that spell sparked him for the next Test. He is going to get better and better the more he bowls and the more he plays."

South Africa's problem is that they do not play regularly enough for any of them to constantly be at their best. There is nothing they can do about that. All they can do is make sure when they do get the chance to play in marquee series like this one, they stand up. At Centurion Park, they did not. At St George's, they did.

They did because they were sparked by Steyn, a cricketer who, if he was a lawyer, would know exactly how to grandstand for the jury. JP Duminy was in the field when Steyn was creating his buzz and admitted it provided the lift for the whole team.

"It's great to be on his side. It's great to be a part of," Duminy said. "That's why many people feel Test cricket is the best format around. He is just exceptional. There is no doubt that spell fired everybody up and the collective effort of Vernon, Morne and Dale really got us going."

Even Duminy had his bit to do and showed why he has put himself firmly in contention to be South Africa's sole spinner in future. His was the first breakthrough for South Africa after Chris Rogers and David Warner hard sparked Australia's chase with a stand of 126.

"There is a little bit more pressure on you when you are the only spinner but if you have a bowling line up that we have, you just hold up an end and I got the wicket," he said. "A lot of us were worried about coming back tomorrow. It was just meant to be."

Smith was similarly laidback about South Africa's win, likening it to the ups and downs of daily life. "That's sport, isn't it? That's why people watch it and are fans for a very long time because it gets the true reality of life," he said. "Test cricket showed it's drama. The week building up was a tough week for us. I don't think many teams would have been able to respond from where we were."

With the central contract list announced mid-series, an injury to Ryan McLaren and having just encountered one of their most humiliating losses, South Africa were dealing with stress and embarrassment. They were also dealing with the pressure to take a level series to a favourite hunting ground in Cape Town. They gave done that and their next mission is to turn their attention to making history by becoming the first South African team since readmission to beat Australia at home, something a renewed sense of self-belief will be needed for.

"For the series, it's terrific. Newlands is a fantastic ground, one of the most picturesque in the world and we are excited to be going there with the series as it sits now. I think a lot of people wanted that," Smith said. "From the start, we have not shouted about anything. We were blown away in Pretoria, we showed we are worth more here."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • punisher601 on February 26, 2014, 0:31 GMT

    Dale Steyn We love you forever!!!!!

  • kcr_ on February 25, 2014, 4:58 GMT

    "..for Steyn when his blood his boiling.." - redneck writing hey. "..after Chris Rogers and David Warner hard sparked.." - what? ".. They gave done that .." - again, what?

  • philvic on February 24, 2014, 22:56 GMT

    Is amazing that SA wrapped up a test in 4 days at PE without a first rate spinner. The track played as it usually does -dead - when I saw Amla and co making Harris look like a carthorse in the morning and Warner slogging Morkel in the afternoon, not to mention Warner's incredible luck, I thought it was going to be a long 2 days. What an amazing turnaround. Newland usually provides the best wicket and the best atmosphere and is a fitting place for the finale. Wish it was a 5 test series though.

  • bowledout67 on February 24, 2014, 19:30 GMT

    @Big_Brother_of_Cricket. A few years ago Ind bowled SA out for 84. An amazing spell of swing bowling by Sreesant @ the Wanderers in the first innings... and won that game even more convincingly than Aus did last week. but what transpired after that is what we should take heed to..... If you hurt this protea side... they tend to return the favour with interest....

  • AllanGavaskar on February 24, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    Ahh... reverse swing - Steyn's and Philander's execution of this was sublime. The only Australia batsman to negotiate it successfully was Rogers, so it seems despite many opinions to the contrary, he should not be consigned to the scrapheap, especially when Australia is and has been very brittle against reverse swing (e.g. vs James Anderson and Simon Jones some years ago). It is a bit like their kryptonite. Roger's innings of 107 was very gutsy and confirms his place as opener. Rogers might need to talk to the other Australia batsmen about how he plays it. In terms of Australia being able to bowl reverse swing, perhaps Harris was too tired to do so. Johnson was not firing and Watson was missed due to injury. Mitch Starc, a prodigious reverse swing bowler, was not even in the squad.

  • rocknrola on February 24, 2014, 14:11 GMT

    @Tamaldatt: I agree that Overall SRT is good against SA than other batsmen. Against Steyn KP is more aggressive and comfortable than SRT. According to stats both played 11 innings against Steyn. KP made 155 at scoring rate of 82.9 and SRT made 149 at scoring rate of 48.1 against Steyn alone.

  • ahmed018 on February 24, 2014, 11:26 GMT

    just remember we cleaned out aussie with a bowler less...

  • creebo777 on February 24, 2014, 10:01 GMT

    Even though dale steyn is an all time great ,with that reverse swing it showed how dangerous he would be if he had an inswinger

  • dummy4fb on February 24, 2014, 9:40 GMT

    @Neeraj_Sunariya a. Australia are definitely not an "ordinary side". I think they proved that in the Ashes Series and also on this tour in SA.

    b. Yes, I do remember Sehwag's two triple centuries against South Africa which didn't win India the series. Reminds me a little bit of Michaels Clarke's two double centuries in 2012 that also didn't win them the series against SA.

    c. Your argument that a side can't be great if they've been challenged by other teams is ridiculous. SA's unbeaten series record over the last few years speaks for itself. They came back from sure defeat to draw in the first test against India, then hammer them in the second. I'm not saying this team is of the same quality of Australia in 2000s or West Indies in 70s, but they're pretty damn good. What you might find is that those other sides also had challenges along the way at the top of the rankings