India in South Africa 2013-14 December 9, 2013

Aggression working wonders for Steyn

Dale Steyn doesn't aim to just hit the "right areas" in one-day cricket, he goes out there to attack the batsmen, and the results are there for all to see

A day before the start of this ODI series, South Africa had a long training session. Towards the end of it, Dale Steyn went in to bat, and struggled. The metal stumps were rattled at least once, the attempted big hits didn't go far, and the timing just wasn't there. Steyn's cursing of himself reverberated through the empty practice facility at the Wanderers. As he was leaving, clearly frustrated with his batting, he absolutely demolished a set of stumps in one of the nets with his bat. His coach and other support staff were there, and his captain was there. Nobody spoke a word. They all just quickly stepped aside.

Steyn was angry, no one wanted to bother him, but they must have known it was a good space for Steyn to be in before a big series. It works with Steyn. He once said, jokingly, if somebody ever manages to make his friend and team-mate Morne Morkel angry, he will become the best bowler in the world.

Steyn has let out all that anger on the white Kookaburra in this series, which has conveyed the message to the India batsman. In 15 high-quality overs, he has conceded just 42 runs, and taken six wickets. More importantly, by the time he finished his first spells, the matches were over as a contest. For a young batting unit with little experience of these conditions - an A tour on flat pitches cannot count - it is quite possible Steyn has left a few intimidated. And Steyn says that he has seen that in the batsmen's eyes.

Alternatively, in Steyn's eyes you can see that he knows he has the batsmen at his mercy. That he can continue to play with them. Wickets are important, but he is not desperate to get them immediately. Going past the bat, or bowling bouncers that the batsman can do nothing to, is giving him as much joy. "I've got you now. You're mine," Steyn once said of the helplessness he sometimes spots in the batsmen's eyes. Sometimes torturing the batsman for a period in the public eye can leave a deeper scar than actually getting him out first ball.

Steyn did that to Rohit Sharma in the first match with his searing quick outswingers. For 15 deliveries Rohit couldn't touch the ball. He knew he couldn't chase them. When he tried, he was beaten. The pace had been set. India were now chasing the game. For a shorter period in the second game, Steyn did the same to Ajinkya Rahane. This time with bouncers. They were quick, they were high, but not higher than the shoulder. Steyn was telling him, "Go ahead, try to hook them. If you don't, I will keep bouncing you, and you won't even get a no-ball." What do you do to such bowling if you haven't been facing such pace and skill all your life?

Hard as it is to believe, this is a new start for Steyn. He has played just 79 ODIs. In the past, Steyn has been used sparingly in ODI cricket by South Africa. They usually keep him for big events such as the World Cup. Which is why this year, with 27 wickets at 15.85 and an economy rate of 3.65, has been his most successful in 50-overs cricket. There is a clear shift in the philosophy. South Africa want Steyn in ODIs, even bilateral series. They might rest him in dead rubbers, but they want him to be part of the core group as they approach the World Cup.

It is going to be a refreshing change in the world of right areas that ODI cricket is. Steyn doesn't just run up and put the ball in the "right areas", he goes out there to attack the batsmen. There can be days when he gets too full or too straight. There can be days when the pitch might be a little flat and slow, which makes his natural, aggressive length hittable. Like it happened in Gwalior when Sachin Tendulkar hit the first ODI double-hundred. Steyn went for 89 in his 10 overs that day. The theory that Steyn might not make that good a limited-overs bowler was perpetuated by his first two or three years in the IPL.

However, when South Africa's ODI ranking began to fall - even as they became the best Test side in the world - they began to preserve their best bowler a little less. Not that they might need to: Steyn is one of the fittest athletes in cricket today, and his action is so pure and smooth he is the least likeliest of the fast bowlers around to get injured. His inclusion back into the ODI side has given South Africa something other teams lack: a genuine strike bowler you absolutely need to play out for little returns if you want to keep wickets in hand.

The results are there for all to see. South Africa can now afford to rest him for the inconsequential third ODI, but Steyn's importance to the ODI side, and ODI cricket in general, has been established. It might help South Africa further if every now and then their bowlers in the nets keep pinging Steyn's stumps.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • varsha on December 11, 2013, 11:05 GMT

    karthikrby dude and all others who keep bemoaning Indian team as young as inexperienced, SA are "young and inexperienced" by Indian standards. SA has not won tournaments because they have are still practising. After all when India won 3 decades ago SA was not even playing cricket, and it still took India another 30 years to win again, so please give SA 30 years to win at least. Actually, let's adjust for population and other factors and give SA another 50 years to gain "experience". After all SA only have less than 1/20th Indian population, not much talent pool to choose from, and even from that narrow pool, it is diluted by guys choosing soccer, rugby, golf, swimming, athletics etc for their sports. People are not just fixated only on cricket, and that too only on batting.

  • varsha on December 11, 2013, 10:59 GMT

    SA is an "inexperienced" side compared to India. After all, SA have only being playing ODIs since early 90s. India has been playing much longer (after all if we can stretch the argument that Indian side is inexperienced, then we can stretch the same for SA side too:)) Therefore wait and see, after some experience they will become good since they are so ordinary now. Experience by India standards means also means each player must be 40 years old at least. Dekock having 2 hundreds in his home matches means nothing because Sharma and Dhawan also score hundred at home. But wait, there home is a flat road, and even SA batsman have higher averages on Indian tracks, therefore if we must adjust scores for Indian tracks then we have RAISE Dekock's scores. Hmmm. Anyway SA side is just ordinary and inexperienced, so just imagine how pathetic a side has to be to get walloped twice by an ordinary side.

  • sriram on December 11, 2013, 10:49 GMT

    @karthikrby: you must be said there is nothing to highlight when you win in favourable conditions? so don't call yourself the world champs, u r just the champions of india..If you are world champs then you must win in any country & on any pitch.. and before you talk about steyn's class, are you saying that your classy sachin won you the world cup.. he was back in the pavilion in a hurry in 2003 & 2011 learn about history and about players before commenting on this site & please do accept the fact that you are the one choking on hard truth...

  • Wesley on December 11, 2013, 10:36 GMT

    Karthinbry@ I don't know whether to laugh at you or pitty you. If people exist for a plan I cease to understand your purpose unless the power to be wanted an incessant troll.

  • Jose on December 11, 2013, 9:51 GMT

    @Greatest_Game: South Africans also struggled a lot in India. No need to highlight victories in familiar conditions. South Africa repeatedly fails in multinational tournaments like World cups. But India has already proved it.

  • karthik on December 11, 2013, 8:58 GMT

    Same steyn/morkel combo let indians to score 400 runs in an ODI means they are ordinary bowlers.

    Also they never took SA through finals of any tournament. To me match winners are always great players. I have seen McGrath/Murali/Wasim doing that. Any one remember steyn winning match in any important final? SA is an unprectitable team. They can win any team, but they will choke in important matches. Even their kids can't win U19 world cup. Its an inherited DNA to choke.

  • Corne on December 11, 2013, 7:58 GMT

    Arvind Matkar

    Hmmm, with an average of under 22 in India for Steyn I get what you are saying.

  • Dummy4 on December 11, 2013, 7:30 GMT

    People thinks Indian Batsman flat track bully same goes to Steyn & co they are fast & bouncey track bully if they comes to India then same Indian batsman will take them to the cleaners,Let this Indian young batsman chance to settle & climatize then we will see real Indian batsman people shouldn't judge with just two one day international what South Africa won so far,INDIA Won 60 overs world cup,50 overs world cup, T20 world cup & they were not long ago test word champion & currently rank no1 in world in one dayers

  • Joseph on December 11, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    im an indian......what makes steyn so great is how well he bowls on wickets that are flat and do not offer any assistance to the fast bowlers.....

    his bowling records in india is outstanding....that 7 wkt haul in nagpur reverse swinging the ball like a boomerang was a treat to watch....

    that 5 wkt haul in the morning of the 1st test in ahmedabad getting india all out for 85 something....a true match winner

    yes he doesnt have inswing....but pace,outswing, reverse swing, accuracy....he has got everything else......and he still picks truckloads of wickets

  • Corne on December 11, 2013, 6:54 GMT


    Do yourself a favour and type "Dale steyn inswing" into youtube, you'll find all the proof you need about his inswingers.