South Africa v New Zealand, 1st Test, Cape Town, 1st day January 2, 2013

Wicked outswinger a fitting 300th

Dale Steyn has been among the world's leading fast bowlers, if not the best, since 2008 and his career reached another landmark at Newlands

The wickets of Shayne O'Connor, Mohammed Sami and Doug Bracewell are not among the most prized but for three South Africa bowlers they are some of the most memorable. For Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn those men became their 300th Test victim. Shaun Pollock, the other South African to reach the milestone, bucked the trend with the more sought-after Michael Vaughan.

The 300-club does not quite have the same level of exclusivity as it once did - that is more the domain of the 400 and 500 milestones - but 300 scalps is still a mighty achievement. Its 24 members include the West Indian greats, the two Ws of Pakistan, Australia's danger men both new and old and the two best spinners to have graced the world's cricket pitches. Apart from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh the major Test nations are all represented and the bowlers are all fabled.

Now, Steyn is also part of it and deservedly so. He was first ranking at No. 1 by the ICC in April 2008 and has not been out of the top three from then onwards. Since August 2009 he has had the top spot. He can make ball dance uninhibited to his tune where others are not able to coax a finger-tap out of it. From Port Elizabeth, where he made his debut, to Perth, where he last played a Test before the summer began, Steyn has made an impact. Against New Zealand, he has made some of his deepest ones.

New Zealand have been at the receiving end of the full spectrum of Steyn - from rookie to the most respected bowler in the world. Here is a look at how he got to 300, using New Zealand's batsmen as stepping stones to greatness.

Series 1: April-May 2006. 16 wickets in two matches@ 26.00

Steyn had only played three Test before this series, having had international honours bestowed on him when his career was only 14 first-class matches old. He was reported to be able to swing the ball at pace but few had seen him do it and his returns against England were modest, not spectacular.

That changed against New Zealand. Steyn was given the new ball ahead of Shaun Pollock and tasked with operating alongside Makhaya Ntini. A line-up that included Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle and Jacob Oram had to contend with pace at one end and persistence from the other. Steyn and Ntini ripped them apart and wore them down respectively. Between them, they took 36 of the 60 wickets available in the series victory. Steyn had arrived. Even then, his mean streak was obvious. He was able to charge himself up alone and feed off the energy of Ntini. There was still some fear in him though, mostly of his own ability.

Series 2: November 2007. 20 wickets in three matches @ 18.40

After being dropped earlier in the year, Steyn forced his way back into the team following a county stint at Warwickshire and strong performances for the Titans franchise. He remembered the lead up to the New Zealand series feeling like a "purple patch," although there isn't anything in the numbers to suggest that it was.

Against Pakistan before this series he had some success but there was nothing which hinted at the devastation that would come. It was hostile, very hostile. Steyn took 10 wickets in each of the two matches and genuinely scared the New Zealand batsmen with his speed and aggression.

At his home ground in Centurion, Steyn plucked them out by rushing them into playing shots. Some of their batsmen said Steyn was also difficult to pick up which made him doubly dangerous. At the Wanderers, he caused even greater damage when he felled Craig Cumming. The New Zealand opener required surgery and intensive care after a fractured jaw and cheekbone. Steyn could draw blood and he showed it.

After that series Steyn had arrived again and this time showed he could stay.

Series 3: March 2012. nine wickets @ 26.56

South Africa did not play New Zealand for five years and in that time Steyn rose to the top of the rankings. Amongst his accolades were wickets in India including eight in Ahmedabad and 10 in Nagpur, where his 7 for 61 was the stuff of genius. He had also picked up 10 in Melbourne during South Africa's historic 2008-09 tour where they became the first team to beat Australia at home in 15 years.

His role in the attack had also changed. He had become its spearhead after both Pollock and Ntini retired and was required to lead the likes of Morne Morkel. Graeme Smith repeatedly called him his "go-to," man and would bring him back for spells when he "wanted him to make something happen."

There were times when Morkel's inconsistency and the lack of a third seamer meant Steyn was frustrated by having to carry the responsibility alone. That changed in November 2011 when Vernon Philander was chosen to debut against Australia. Philander partnered Steyn with the new ball which proved a good decision.

Philander relied on accuracy and subtlety, Steyn on drama. They swept Australia and Sri Lanka aside but the spotlight moved off Steyn. Philander hogged headlines and although Steyn said he did not mind, his obvious irritation at being asked what it felt like to watch someone else take all the wickets indicated differently.

It came out in New Zealand, where Steyn was the least successful of South Africa's pacemen. Philander's dream run continued, Morkel found maturity in Wellington which has continued since and Steyn was left with the rest. He grew tetchy but he also grew up.

Series 4: ongoing. Steyn brings up his 300th wicket with a career average of 23.69

Steyn has become used to operating in an attack where the glory is shared, because he knows he is still its front man. South Africa's two series wins in England and Australia are proof of that. At The Oval, he was called on to produce the spell of fire on the second morning and he delivered. In Perth, he burst through Australia to set up defence of the Test mace.

He had to wait until six wickets had tumbled - five of them in the space of 25 balls to Philander - before he took a wicket in this match. There was a point in the morning session where it seemed Steyn could do everything except take a wicket. He had the ball moving, he exploited the moisture in the surface, he had the batsmen worried but he did not have anything to show for it.

Then it came and it was perfect. Pitching on middle and off, moving into Bracewell then away before flattening the stumps. The celebrations were less wild than expected. Steyn did not do the Brett Lee, he just high-fived his team-mates and stood with them in a huddle, wearing the fierce expression that can only be saying, "I can do it and I will." Don't New Zealand know.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments