New Zealand in South Africa 2012-13 January 15, 2013

Steyn's 'angry eyes' South Africa's trump card

New Zealand did not put up much resistance against South Africa, but there was still a job to do and Dale Steyn performed it in some style

That Dale Steyn still deserves to be called the best bowler in the world was evident during New Zealand's first innings in the Port Elizabeth Test. That he is still Graeme Smith's go-to man was obvious as well.

Steyn has been a priceless performer for many years, but with Test matches and series often rolling into each other there has not always been time to reflect on his achievements. In this series, Steyn claimed his 300th wicket in his 61st Test. At his current rate of five wickets a Test, he could become the joint-fastest seamer to 400 and 500 scalps and second fastest on the overall list, behind Muttiah Muralitharan.

At St George's Park, the same place that he made his debut, Steyn his took his 19th Test five-for to put him second on the list of South African five-wicket haulers, one behind Allan Donald. It speaks of his consistency to make breakthroughs and increase his intent when it is needed but also of his individual quest for success.

Steyn clearly wants more, regarding this as just another milestone on the road of the "many more Tests," he hopes to play. Ask him what the 19th haul means and he has a prudent way of comparing himself to another player in the South Africa XI whose hunger for achievement appears to know no bounds. "It means I am on level terms with Hashim Amla's hundreds," Steyn said.

Amla and Steyn's 19th both came in the same match and while Steyn continues to sit atop the bowling charts, Amla is not far behind in batting stakes. The latest ICC rankings have him in second position and he has the opportunity overtake Michael Clarke in the upcoming series against Pakistan.

That would give South Africa the world's best batsman and bowler to add to their status as the No.1 ranked Test side and it is that sort of unit Steyn is savouring being part of. "Everybody just plays their part in this team," he said. Steyn's part contributes heavily to South African success and he was willing to indulge in a few moments of self-reflection as he looked back on his proudest moments so far.

Steyn could point out two five-fors which meant the most to him in his nine-year career. Interestingly, neither were at home or in helpful conditions.

"There was one in the West Indies in 2010 in the first Test," he remembered. "I was coming around the wicket and the ball was reversing. They had a couple of left handers and guys were leaving the ball and I got a few wickets. I thought to myself then I don't think I couldn't have bowled any better and everything just worked out perfectly."

Steyn's 5 for 29 included four left handers: Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Suliemen Benn and Ravi Rampaul. He made the crucial breakthrough when Chanderpaul was going about a repair job and then nipped out the tail with three wickets in two overs.

Sometimes you're up for it, sometimes the body doesn't quite agree. I've been fortunate that in this match the body has said yes. I was also able to make the ball swing and Vernon wasn't so there was more for the taking
Dale Steyn on knowing when to push himself

"And then there was Nagpur where I got seven. Just getting somebody like Sachin Tendulkar... but also I got the ball to swing both ways that day on a really flat deck," he said. That performance won Steyn ESPNcricinfo's award for the best Test bowling performance of 2010. Again, he was hostile to the lower order and plucked five wickets in four overs to finish with 7 for 61.

Even against New Zealand, Steyn went hard at their tail and seems to have made a habit of returning to sweep lower orders away quickly although he said it has not been intentional. "I try to run in and bowl quick every time and I don't really pick and choose who to run in and bowl quick to, it just sort of happens.

"Sometimes you're up for it, sometimes the body doesn't quite agree. I've been fortunate that in this match the body has said yes. I was also able to make the ball swing and Vernon wasn't so there was more for the taking," he joked. "But the back end batters; you're not expecting them to go out there and score heaps of runs so it's good to get over with fast."

Steyn also has the advantage of being able to bowl in short bursts with maximum effort while his team-mates do the donkey work. Over the years Graeme Smith has learnt how to read Steyn better and to bring him on when the angry eyes start flashing.

"It's about understanding him tactically," Smith said. "Once the batsman shows him something and gives him a little opening, he has a wonderful ability to drive it home. When he is steaming in at 145kph and swinging it, it's great to be in the slips and be a part of that. It's not so great when we have to face him in the nets."

His aggression is what Smith said "lifts the whole team," but what motivates Steyn himself? Knowing that he can meet the challenge of performing where it will be tough.

"Those two five-fors that stand out most for me even though there have been big games like against Australia in Melbourne in 2008 when I picked up ten because those two were completely different," he said. "Melbourne was always going to offer something like a little bit of bounce. But when you are playing in places like West Indies where there is not a lot of bounce and in India and subcontinent; it's more memorable."

Those who appreciate the combination of swing and pace will hope there are many more memories to be made.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Alex on January 18, 2013, 7:28 GMT

    I never liked mcgrath. May be he was canny to buy wicket. No one like to watch mcgrath bowling. May be he mastered a method of taking wicket. But no one really feared mcgrath. People fear steyn when ball swinging. if god create fast bowler it has to be steyn who can also get wicket in flat wickets. Hahaha. His run up and finish at wicket is full speed and never slow down. Mcgrath on the other hand kinda jerk his body to make bastman make first move. Mcgrath bowling is more trickery than bowling. Steyn rules!!!. No comparison. Akram may have many many skills in bowling. The one akram got dravid out was out of the world. Ball curved one way and came out other way. There is no one can beat Younis toe crushers not even malinga because toe crushers come from height is thunder bolts. Steyn bowling is like bmw machine in high speed acceleration without slowing.

  • Paul on January 18, 2013, 4:45 GMT

    @SurlyCynic: I worry about de Lange as stress fractures sometimes do end up badly, such as the sad case of Ngam. I am merely saying Morkel is a really useful 3rd bowler in a pace attack but could never lead one, i just don't see him capable of wiining a match on his own, he barely averages under thirty in tests, plus morkel needs to work on bowling less wide as half of what he bowls need not be played.

  • des on January 17, 2013, 14:35 GMT

    @ScumsieFraudneer: I think Morkel is the perfect complement to Steyn and Philander as he is effective in different conditions, with pace and steep bounce. It would be less effective to have three identical style of bowlers. I think most teams around the world would be happy to have Morkel, and De Lange could provide cover when he recovers.

  • Srinivas on January 17, 2013, 14:25 GMT

    @TATTUs, it's Steyn's wish when he wants to end his career. Meaning, taking the highest number of wickets or 400 or 500 is not at all a criterion to say a bowler is great or not. Tomorrow, he might find himself in a situation where he wants to or has to call it a day. So do those life events make him a less than a great bowler on the field? Where's the connection between ending a career and greatness on the field? Whispering Death ended his career even without taking 300 wickets. So, his overall numbers make him not a great bowler while facing him on the field? I just don't get your 'POINT' of 'WAITING' till the end! Even IF Steyn had to end his career tomorrow morning, he has already shown us what greatness means and why he has won a coveted place alongside Marshall, Waqar and Wasim.

  • Paul on January 17, 2013, 13:09 GMT

    Well one thing about having Steyn about and thankfully now Philander, it papers over how decidedly average Morne Morkel is. His record belies the claims made about his effectiveness really. Scarily for SA if Steyn and Philander both got injured now at the same time, we wouldn't be able to bowl out Zim. Bowling depth does not look grand if Kleinveldt is the next best thing.

  • ramachandra on January 17, 2013, 10:55 GMT


    At this rate I cannot disagree with you. As I said earlier lets wait for the career to end. And strike rate is not the LONE param to judge a bowler. Or else Shoaib Akthar is one of the all time greats. But what is the fact? He might have been and had the potential but he is not. In my first comment I said if Steyn maintains this he will be in the top 10 of all time great bowlers. So again, lets wait till the career ends.

  • greig on January 17, 2013, 10:05 GMT

    @tattu Yes McGrath was a strike bowler. I agree. But Steyn takes his wickets faster in less ball.. So therefore a better and more effective bowler. The only thing he needs to worry about is keeping fit. S.A. have about 10 test matches a year (oz and england play more), he takes 5 wickets a test match. He will will overtake McGrath in 2.5 years in wickets taken.

  • Yasir on January 17, 2013, 9:56 GMT

    @counterstrike1.6 ->Steyn played only 3 matches against Pakistan in South Africa.. Managed to take only 10 wickets in those 3 test matches..According to you Pakistan batting is so pathetic.But Steyn should have taken at least 25-30 wickets in those 3 matches.I wonder what wnt wrong with Steyn at that time or is it that Pak batsmen played well..Now if i may request you to let Steyn play against Pakistan :P

  • Yasir on January 17, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    @counterstrike1.6 ->Yes..The beating that Indian 'World's Best batsmen' team got recently by the hands of England & Australia in Test matches..Seems to me that Pak team comes no where near that batting line up.So yes..You are right..SA should try new bowlers against Pakistan :)

    PS->Dont forget that the Same England team came to India,gave another beating in Tests & took the series away.The same England team was like bunch of kids dancing here & there against the same Pakistani team.So yeah Pakistan still deserve to get @nd choice players for sure :)

  • Jabulani on January 17, 2013, 8:59 GMT

    @ObjectiveCricketism - you do know that the rankings are based on a relative moving average of the player ratings, that is to say based on recent performances with regards to previous and the quality of opposition. If you look up their highest player ratings you will find that Swann has a higher rating than Ajmal, 858 vs 836.

    Plus I only used Swann as an example as you brought him up, there are numerous others you could compare Ajmal to that would be equally as good if not better from the past 35 years. Herath has had a better best rating than ranted about stats yet did not check them completely yourself.

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