South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day January 4, 2011

An artist with the ball

Watching Dale Steyn with the new ball today was like watching the fireworks display at the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve
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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • harshthakor on January 7, 2011, 4:26 GMT

    A pace bowler in the Dennis Lillee and Michael Holding class.His brilliant stats and particularly his phenomenal strike rate prove it.(better than Marshall,Mcgrath or Lillee)In the modern era the pitches are hardly conducive to pace bowling which makes Steyn's performances all the more remarkable.May well end up amongst the top 5 quick bowlers of all,as he is so complete.In additionn to his graet pace he posesses great skills of swing,cut and seam combined with superb control.

  • dummy4fb on January 5, 2011, 14:40 GMT

    I am still under the intoxication of watching bowling of this Great bowler. I remember I did have the same feeling only when Shane Warne was bowling. So-called Master required to face 72 dot balls in 83 balls. So what need to call him? Master of the Masters???

  • Mark00 on January 5, 2011, 14:26 GMT

    While McGrath, just an unusually tall fast-medium bowler who lacked the ability to force wickets but found a line/length that provided containment and stuck to it, was terribly over-rated, Steyn doesn't get nearly as much respect as he should. He's one of the most naturally gifted fast bowlers I've ever seen. His extraordinary wrist action has to be seen in slow motion to be truly appreciated. It's the secret to how much work he puts on the ball. He's got all the tricks of the wiliest pakistani fast-medium bowlers but with the ability to crank up the pace at will.

  • dummy4fb on January 5, 2011, 13:18 GMT

    Dhoni's defensive captaincy has again ruined it for India. He has set fields that has allowed the batsmen to take easy singles and twos. Where was the control that India had in Durban ? Unless India strike soon, SA will reach 250 which will be a winning total.And Ishant bowled atleast one boundary ball every over. He is not able to generate swing and has lost his pace. India can think of Munaf Patel or Abhimanyu Mithun to replace him for the future Tests.

  • dummy4fb on January 5, 2011, 12:38 GMT

    styen was unlucky that he had got only 5 wickets in this innings, not get tendulkar out in his first morning spell. tendulkar and india was lucky that they survived the thundershowers of the new ball spell. i was amazed to see the ball of fast bowler moving like a spinner. he is true number one fast bowler or number one bowler

  • NRI- on January 5, 2011, 12:11 GMT

    Dear Raju

    In 2009, Aus was strong with Mitch J & others bowling great, their batting was good whilst Steyn had not realised his potential. Morkel was a rookie then. Now let's see Aus bat against Steyn in 2011.

  • Johnny_129 on January 5, 2011, 11:36 GMT

    Great, great bowler Steyn. BUT HOW CAN INDIA handle him a bit better - can't stop him taking wickets BUT maybe we can reduce the amount of wickets he takes and increase the number of runs we score of him - Australia has done fairly well against him. I think SRT had the right idea of standing further up to negate the swing and try and leave deliveries outside the off-stump as much as possible. After-all, Steyn can not bowl all day - he generally bowls 7 overs on the trot with the new ball - see that off without too much damage and India will be in a healthy shape. Also, Steyn only balls outswingers with the new ball, no inswingers. However, he bowls the outswinger in a corridor where he forces the batsmen to play. India's batsman will do well not to reach out (eg like Dhoni's first innings dismissal) - I know..easier said than done BUT India need a good plan against him.

  • anver777 on January 5, 2011, 11:15 GMT

    Superb display of bowling from Steyn.......even Sachin had some difficulties in facing him. Very correctly Steyn is "NO:1" bowler in the world right now !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • TheBigFatFlapjack on January 5, 2011, 10:51 GMT

    i'm really pleased (and surprised!!) that the Indian fans are giving credit where credit is due. Steyn is the bestest bowler on the planet today and I think when he calls it quits his legacy would be even greater than Glen mcgrath, wasim akram, imran khan and maybe even malcom marshall - for you have to remember he's playing in a batsman-dominated era and without truly consistent fast-bowling partners. steyn, keep it up son.

  • Pathiyal on January 5, 2011, 10:40 GMT

    dale steyn has always been a fantastic bowler to watch - any pitch in the world. even in the dead pitches in india, he could swing the ball both ways...something for which wasim akram is considered as a legend. this unit of SA is the best i could watch ever.

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