An artist with the ball
Dale Steyn's usual wicket-taking celebration involves air punching, foot stamping, vein popping, voice-box exploding, manic joy. When he dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara, it was all of that and more. This time the air was reeling from the blow it got, the ground was bruised by the kick and the joy looked more like overflowing rage that somehow blended with immense satisfaction. It may have been because Steyn knew he had bowled a delivery that was pretty close to being the perfect ball.
It moved more deliciously than a belly dancer, curving into leg stump, then pitching and straightening. The thud it made on Pujara's back pad was a death knell. If anybody ever needs to understand the lbw law, they should watch a replay of that ball. It was hitting the middle of middle stump. It had so much artistry and skill that Steyn could well be nicknamed Claude Monet in the future. The delivery had all the finesse of the famous Water Lilies paintings and the same hard edge as the Rouen Cathedrals works. Pujara should count himself unlucky that he was the recipient of such craftsmanship.
The conjurer of the ball himself didn't seem to appreciate his own masterpiece as much as others did. "I would have loved to have seen the stumps flying," Steyn said, although he did feel it formed part of his collection of good balls. "I've bowled other very good balls and I'm fortunate enough to have bowled another one today. I'm lucky."
The full range of missiles were on display in his opening spell with the second new ball, a seven-over burst in which he took two wickets for just three runs. Steyn with the new ball is as awesome to watch as a fireworks display on New Year's Eve, but Steyn with this new ball was like being at the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the stroke of midnight. The explosions of colour arrived at exactly the right moments. The movement he got off the seam and the shape of his outswingers were mesmerising. They puzzled the eye as much as they puzzled the batsmen, and it was clear just how good Steyn has become when he was bowling to Sachin Tendulkar.
The little master played and missed enough times for Steyn's class to be evident. That he scored 146 is a testament to Tendulkar's own brilliance but there's no doubting that Steyn was delivering his best to the world's best batsman. Suddenly Steyn v Sehwag and Zaheer v Smith seemed like sideshows. The intrigue was now captured by two of the best in their discipline grinding it out. Steyn said he wasn't putting any special effort in, despite what it may have looked like. "Sachin is such a good player that is there is not point wasting your energy on him. You tend to save your energy and bowl at the other guys."
Steyn was asked to call a winner in the contest he had with Tendulkar but he wouldn't do it. Instead, he asked the questioner himself to decide who was victorious. "You were," said the journalist. Steyn smirked, knowing that it's rare to find someone who will utter a word against the man who has scored 51 Test centuries. "Well, that's refreshing," he said.
That was a rare moment of self-contentedness for Steyn, who quickly went back to being a boy from a farm who doesn't want to be lauded as exceptional and played down his ranking as the world's best bowler. "I don't really think about it and it doesn't mean that much. We saw today that even Zaheer Khan can hit me for six. It all boils down to putting the ball in the right areas."
It may sound banal, but it is also an insight into how he has taken 20 wickets in the series at an average of 16.20. Behind every fairytale spell is a plan, and therein lies Steyn's true genius. The scary thing for the batsmen is that he thinks he can get even better. "I hope I can [bowl better]. I feel like there's something extra in me."
So far, we've seen plenty extra from Steyn. He dazzled with the new ball in both Centurion and Durban. His opening spells in both saw him claim the wicket of Virender Sehwag and the swing he got at Kingsmead earned him the additional wicket of M Vijay, who grew tired of leaving. He hasn't been as successful in the second innings of either match, but that may all change, given how he managed to get so much movement on the Newlands pitch. It was the one surface that was touted as batsmen friendly and today, a scorcher, was the day when conditions would have best suited the batsmen.
There were times when it looked as though Steyn was lacking in support, when Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morne Morkel were not making an impact and Jacques Kallis' absence could be felt. None of that bothers Steyn, whose core personality is still rooted in simplicity. His bowling may be intricate but there is nothing of the sort present when he beams and says, "I'm just happy to be getting wickets."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent