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Firdose Moonda in Port Elizabeth
February 23, 2014
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 correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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