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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2014, 16:23 GMT

    This article proves that Steyn has lost the pace he once had and cannot bowl at 150kph . still he'll pickup lot of wickets

  • Dummy4 on March 1, 2014, 5:13 GMT

    @ Nikko...that's a well articulated response to Disco Bob. Glad it came from someone who us not a saffa. Thanks. I agree with your statements that SA will only be more motivated. There want be over confidence but certainly the belief that they can win.

    Disco bob thought that Steyn gave MJ a backhanded comment re purple patch wording. It wasn't at all, he was talking about how devastating Mitch was. He has shown nothing but respect for MJ. @ disco Bob....try chill out a bit, it's Saturday and hopefully we are going to see some great test cricket.

  • Dummy4 on February 28, 2014, 20:49 GMT

    @Disco-Bob - What!?? Wow!!! You, as an Australian, declare you are sick of all the SA talk!? And you think it shows their fragility and compensation for fear? I am not from either country but I can assure you and every other Australian who deludedly believes this to be the case, that the complete and utter opposite is true. Your comments would be the worst case of the pot calling the kettle black that I have ever seen and perhaps will ever see again on the cricinfo site. If you, Warner, Calrke and co. cannot achieve self-awareness, then at least achieve a bit of shut your mouth? Cheers. Learn to do your talking on the pitch Australia? Your 'mind games' are child's play 101. All you do, and have ever done (Warne included) is motivate the opposition and remove any semblance of complacency. Why do you think Steyn is "up for the fight." Need I say more? After all, satire is the glass in which we see all reflections except our own. Pity AUS are too stupid to work that one out.

  • Dummy4 on February 28, 2014, 17:43 GMT

    I think SA selectors got it spot-on in PE, I feel bad for Alviro and Robbie P, but that's the way it goes. I hope Elgar and De Kock get an extended run in the side to see if the confidence in their selection pays off. And whether Abbott plays or not, I'm glad that SA has such a great batch of young fast bowlers that can slot into the team when needed, and not leave a gaping hole.

    Regardless of what happens in Newlands, it should be a cracker!

  • Dummy4 on February 28, 2014, 11:56 GMT

    Watch the press conference with Dale Steyn on the other link. What a great guy. Well grounded, straight talking and gives honor where honor is due (Showed alot of respect for Johnson). You did us proud boytjie - well done.

  • David on February 28, 2014, 10:48 GMT

    @ Alexk400 tells us tha I think Morkel and philander not doing their role well at all. Philander may have to go. He is too slow for me."

    I hate to break the news to you, Alex400, but you would not last a ball against Philander. And, it is not your decision if he stays or goes. As he is still, by far, the #2 ranked bowler in the world, he is going nowhere but straight out onto the field at Newlands to play, while you will be siting at home with your keyboard and cuddly bear. Thankfully, your opinion counts for nothing. The Proteas selection will go on without inept input from you.

  • James on February 28, 2014, 10:34 GMT

    @German Player: Exactly. Steyn looks like a decent bloke off the field, but when you see him on it, you wouldn't believe it is him. Same as Johnson, i can't believe he is shy off the field when he is an absolute beast on it.

  • Piet on February 28, 2014, 9:31 GMT

    I have been at almost every Newlands test match since our readmission in 1992, and can honestly say that this one is probably the biggest of the lot! Two great teams and both captains with something to prove. Biff and Clarke like to bat at Newlands, but I think Rayno and Vern will play the big roles here. C'mon Proteas!

  • Duncan on February 28, 2014, 8:23 GMT

    I have to disagree with kensohatter and say that although Johnson has had a great ashes, you cant say the AUS attack is one of the two best in the world. Look at the stats, even though the ENG series buffed up his stats his bowling average is at 27.64 (sr 50.2). Both Philander and Steyn have much better track records, Morkel has stats slightly worse than Johnson, and Siddle's stats are much the same as Johnsons. Harris actually has the best bowling stats of the team!

  • Richard on February 28, 2014, 8:22 GMT

    Such a tragedy, to have retired and only now to have learned I shouldn't have been visualising cuddly bears as I ran in to bowl........plainly it should have been rabbits! We'll have to put a stop to MJ's panda visualisation sessions post haste! CA's child focus groups have a lot to answer for.....

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