South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 1st day December 26, 2013

Steyn's drought hurts South Africa

On an unusually dry Kingsmead surface, South Africa's attack struggle to cope with their talisman's longest-ever wicketless streak
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Match Point: 'Disappointed to see Steyn bowl slower'

Dale Steyn began his fifth over the way he may have wanted to start his first. He delivered a snarling bouncer that soared towards M Vijay at almost 146 kph. Having already faced 17 balls and made some assessment of conditions, Vijay ducked under it.

It was as though Steyn had remembered who he was, with that ball. He followed up with another quicker one, pitched up, then one back of a length that jagged back in and hit Vijay on the arm, and then one he could leave alone on bounce. The fifth ball of Steyn's over preyed on the uncertainty caused by the previous four: with Vijay unsure whether to go forward or back, he was struck on the front pad. Steyn aborted his appeal when he realised it was likely going down leg, but he'd made his threat clear.

Why Steyn didn't start like that is anyone's guess. His first four overs were ordinary. His pace was down, he overpitched and he conceded 21 runs. Perhaps, like the rest of the South African attack, he was taken aback by the surface he was given. "It's very dry and a touch on the slow side," Morne Morkel said. "What surprised me is that after the 13th over, the ball already looked like it was 60 overs old. It's the type of wicket that's going to be tough to strike on."

South Africa would have known that much two days ago, when they first laid eyes on the Kingsmead pitch. Once the green mamba of the South African circuit, it has taken on subcontinent characteristics over the last few years. South Africa would not have forgotten this, even though they didn't play a Test here in 2012. Even so, they might have been stunned by just how different this looked from what they consider home conditions.

Steyn should have been the least startled because he has succeeded on decks like this before, Nagpur 2010 a case in point. Then, Steyn's aggression coupled with the reverse swing he got buoyed South Africa and led them to an innings win. Morkel admitted South Africa had been angling for something similar today. "We were hoping the ball would reverse a little more," he said. "We need to find a way to get reverse going."

There was some reverse swing but the Steyn factor was nowhere near what it was in Nagpur and it reflected on South Africa as a whole. Like him, they tried hard. Smith had a fine leg and a deep backward square leg waiting for the pull but it never came.

Morkel was the most threatening. He set the tone with a maiden when he was brought into the attack in the seventh over. He used the short ball well and found extra lift. After Morkel's opening, Steyn hit his rhythm.

Usually, it's the other way round and Steyn is the bowler who dictates the mood. Vernon Philander bristled when that suggestion was put to him at the Wanderers - when Steyn went wicketless in the second innings - and said it was up to every member of the attack to play their part, but you need only to think back to The Oval last year to remember the impact a firing Steyn can have.

In that match, Steyn made it obvious he was irritated. He hung onto the boundary boards in what seemed like discomfort and was spotted engaged in animated conversation with bowling coach Allan Donald. This time too, Donald was on the sidelines offering advice but Steyn was not as heated up as he can be. He jokingly signed a blow-up doll, did his fielding duties, and slowly cranked it up.

After Morkel's first over, Steyn operated in the right channel for the rest of the day. He delivered 12 more overs at speed, with better lengths, and gave away just 28 runs. An unhelpful surface, confident driving from the Indian batsmen and the impenetrable new wall that is Cheteshwar Pujara meant that the intent did not bring success this time. Not for Steyn and not for anyone else.

"We were guilty of maybe attacking a little bit too much. We didn't get balls in the right areas, we were a touch too straight as we searched for wickets," Morkel said. It did not help South Africa that, again, their spinner failed to play his part. Robin Peterson offered a first ball that looked like it could have come from Imran Tahir. It was a full toss.

He didn't get much better as the day wore on, leaving South Africa with what may become a more pressing problem in the future. If their spinner cannot take wickets, he should at least be able to dry up an end. Neither Tahir nor Peterson has looked like doing that in this series but Morkel stressed the attack as whole needed to be econimical. "If we are not getting wickets, we have to make sure they are not scoring," he said.

Frustration, South Africa hope, will bring some reward and there will be some crossed fingers hoping the fortunes swing Steyn's way. He last took a wicket 67 overs ago, in the first innings of the Wanderers Test. It is the longest Steyn has gone without a scalp.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on December 27, 2013, 10:30 GMT

    South Africans are too focused on ODIs these days. Ever since Dale Steyn has started playing more ODIs, his Test form has gone down. The same goes for Kallis, he's retiring from Tests simply to extend his ODI career; when it should have been the other way round. (Seems like the coach, Russel Dammingo, has manipulated him.) Look how well Tendulkar managed his workload: he played just two ODIs in 2010, yet he comfortably fit into India's world cup winning team of 2011. Kallis could have done the same.

  • DMK12155 on December 27, 2013, 10:12 GMT

    @ Vishwas HS : Styne is yet to prove himself in Sri Lanka mate! In SL conditions he has gone for plenty of runs. SL batters anyway struggle agains "Fast" bowling. but Styne has gone for plenty. I agree with you for one thing. Styne is a way better bowler than Johnson by all means.

  • humdrum on December 27, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    It appears that the crybaby Philander is yet to realise that life is not exactly about playing on green,seaming wickets and rake 'em in but also bowling on 'dry dust bowls(and batting on them for that matter) and prove yourself every bit as manly as you do on green tops and bouncy wickets.It is not quite a waste of time as the late,lamented Hansie Cronje used to say. Cricket is an examination of your skill sets in different conditions and on different types of wkts,and test cricket more so.Funny how some people never grow up at all.

  • GRVJPR on December 27, 2013, 9:40 GMT

    Its just the ordinary batting line ups around the world that make ordinary bowlers like STEYN looks GREAT. He is just an ordinary outswing bowler who is too dependent on conditionjs.

  • dummy4fb on December 27, 2013, 9:34 GMT

    That's the power of indian batting....they only destroy the world best bowlers like Breet lee,Ajmal,Mendis,broad, now Steyn etc....But they r easily fall in the new comers........no one Underestimate INDIANS .....We r Rocking in ODI only Every one saying now wat u talk abt this Series Who's Playing better than others tell Me guys......Hereafter We r Also Rocking in TEST Format not only in INDIA all over the world ......Most Runs By A Team In ODI Cricket : India (1,83,000+)

    Most 300+ Totals By A Team In ODI Cricket : India (77 times)

    Most Sixes By A Team In ODI Cricket:India (2000+)

    Most Fours By A Team In ODI Cricket: India (15008)

    PROUD TO BE INDIAN FAN !

  • dummy4fb on December 27, 2013, 8:25 GMT

    I wonder who chose these venues for India series, where SA is finding alien conditions in their own country. Is it why Lorgat was sidelined before the series?

  • dummy4fb on December 27, 2013, 8:01 GMT

    Steyn must add the inswinger into his armoury. The Indians are all to ready to leave balls outside off stump. He must really start bowling them and use his lethal outswinger as surprise. The Durban curator is not a Protea fan though

  • ambrosefan on December 27, 2013, 7:35 GMT

    Steyn needs to work on getting more of cutters, in swing, leg cutters. He needs variety in his attack else good batsmen will read him well and play accordingly.

  • yoohoo on December 27, 2013, 7:20 GMT

    @Sir_Ivor - No disrespect, but pakistan batting is not international standard. A batsman makes his name by playing well against Aussie, English, SA and Pak bowling (and Ind and SL for spin). A bowler makes his name by performing well against SA, Ind, Eng and Aussie batting.

  • android_user on December 27, 2013, 6:49 GMT

    now styne must come with New statements.... lol.. India learnt that you don't underestimate your opponent in England series, now it's saffas time....