Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 27, 2014

I can't think of cuddly bears - Steyn

A combination of having seen Mitchell Johnson destroy South Africa in the first Test, then his team-mate Morne Morkel bowl the speed of light early in the Port Elizabeth Test was just the motivation Dale Steyn needed

For a game still often associated with the genteel, cricket can be quite the opposite. On one side of a white picket fence people can sit sipping tea, on the other a man can, as Dale Steyn has put it in the past, "basically kill someone legally." Not too many are interested in the first but in this series everyone is talking about the second.

The South African and Australian attacks and their two spearheads have been a microcosm for the series so far and the Mitchell Johnson-Dale Steyn contest is still wide open.

At Centurion Park, it was all Johnson. The flames from the Ashes had barely had time to cool down when he reignited them and sent the flares South Africa's way. An off-colour Steyn could only look on with self-confessed envy.

"I wasn't feeling very well but I got through that game and thought I did okay. I got the wickets that I wanted but I was nowhere near as effective as Mitchell was," Steyn admitted. "The guy just tore us up. He showed that when a bowler is in a purple patch how devastating he can really be. It was something to try and copy, I guess."

But when Steyn got to St George's Park, he was not greeted with a green-tinged pitch which offered variable bounce. Instead, what lay before him was a sluggish surface on which the ball could barely carry through to the wicketkeeper. On that dead pitch, he saw only one person draw life from it in the first innings. "Morne Morkel bowled extremely well. On a flat wicket, he was basically taking people's heads off. It's a different Morne to what we are used to," Steyn said.

The battle lines were being drafted along unexpected parameters. Instead of Johnson versus Steyn, it seemed it would be Johnson versus Morkel. Steyn could not help feeling a little left out. "It's great to watch fast bowling like that, but it's difficult. Sometimes you watch guys bowling at 150kph like Morne was, and it's something that you want to replicate," he said. "I want to do that myself. I want to lead the attack and I want to bowl 150kph but you just can't do it sometimes. Sometimes, you push your body and you can't, and often when you push too hard you bowl a lot slower than you want to bowl."

That may have been what fuelled Steyn's fire; the one Graeme Smith described as going from "very angry to extremely angry," but Steyn played down the rage factor. Overall, he said, he just tries to up his concentration, even if looks a little like a stage act from the outside. "I'm not really angry, it's more like focused aggression," he said.

With Steyn seething, even if he did not say so himself, and South Africa aging the ball quickly (and legally), his main weapon was being sharpened. Reverse swing plus a pumped-up Steyn and South Africa did not need much else. "I've got to be in that state of mind to be able to produce spells like that. If I was running in thinking of cuddly bears, I would be dishing out half volleys and hamburgers for guys to smash," he said. "I've got to get myself into a fight - not necessarily go down and abuse the batsmen on the other end but I've got to get my body ready for a fight."

I've got to be in that state of mind to be able to produce spells like that. If I was running in thinking of cuddly bears, I would be dishing out half volleys and hamburgers for guys to smash

He started winning the fight when he had Michael Clarke caught at second slip and brought out the chainsaw in celebration. It was vicious, it was violent and it looked a little manic, but that's Dale Steyn. "I feel like when I am doing that I have these expression on my face and my veins are popping out and my celebrations - that's when I am performing at my best," he said. "It's a little bit embarrassing when I am watching it on the news, but when I am doing it I am producing results."

With the next ball, Steven Smith was out lbw and the two overs later Brad Haddin was beaten by what may be remembered as the ball of the match. It dipped in and swung late to crack his middle stump in two. "When the ball is reversing like that, you can get anyone out," Steyn said. "If you're not moving your feet and you're not ready for what's coming, it's going to get you out."

Australia are trying to get ready for a repeat by preparing for reverse-swing in Cape Town. Their bowlers roughed up a practice ball on concrete during Thursday's practice session to try and generate as much reverse as possible and give the batsmen practice ahead of the series-decider. "They probably should have done that before the game in PE," Steyn joked.

"You have to prepare. I think that's what happened to us at SuperSport Park. We knew what was coming but once we faced it - the short balls and the aggression - once we knew what it was about, we could prepare better for it. They've had two Tests against us, they know what we are about so they'll be a lot more prepared for this Test."

With the dress rehearsals over and both sides equally well acquainted with each other's strengths, it is set for an almighty showdown from Saturday. Steyn expects the finale to live up to the hype. "It's crazy. There's a lot of things to take into consideration. We've got a World Twenty20 around the corner, we've got tours coming up, there's IPL, there's this, there's that and here in the middle of it, we've played two Tests and we are 1-1 and we are here to fight it all out," he said.

"It's pretty crazy and it's exciting all at the same time. And it goes too quickly. PE has come and gone. Those feelings are finished but they are great feelings. When you win, it's amazing. That inspires you to try and have that feeling again. Hopefully, in a couple of days time when the last ball is bowled here at Newlands we can have those feelings over again because that is what we live for and play cricket for." And what everyone wants to watch.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent