South Africa v Pakistan, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 2nd day February 2, 2013

Pakistan wither in Steyn's intensity

Dale Steyn at the top of a run up is like staring into the eyes of a man with a knife in his pocket and a snarl in his voice in a dark alley late at night; it's just not pleasant and Steyn knows it, and he knows when to use that attitude

Dale Steyn woke up far earlier than usual this morning. His girlfriend is pursuing her acting career in Los Angeles and he needed to Skype call her before she went to sleep.

After they chatted, he prepared for a day's Test cricket. When he got to the Wanderers, he "dominated" the warm-up football match, which left him feeling pretty good about the day ahead. Not 6 for 8 good, not 49 all out good, just good. But, that's how good it turned out to be.

With a high-quality, sustained assault of swing bowling, Steyn led the South Africa attack in one of their most skillful displays yet. His performance was that of an alpha-male, commanding a pack of hounds that came at the opposition like it had not eaten for months.

Dale Steyn's intent has been described in many ways in recent months. Most commonly it is said to be reflected in his "angry eyes" but in reality it is on show in everything from the spring in his stride to the vein-popping in his arms. Steyn at the top of a run up is like staring into the eyes of a man with a knife in his pocket and a snarl in his voice in a dark alley late at night. It's just not pleasant and Steyn knows it and he knows when to use that attitude.

Apart from having the ability to crank it up when the team needs him to, like he did at The Oval against England and in Perth against Australia, it seems Steyn can also sense weakness and it spurs him on. An example of that was seen as recently as last month. With New Zealand standing on one leg at 47 for 6 in Port Elizabeth, Steyn returned on the third morning to take three wickets in three overs and completely cripple them.

With Pakistan it was different. "It's not like they were jumping and darting around like lower-order New Zealand players," Steyn said. And it was not only their tail that Steyn trimmed. "It was the first time in a long time that I got wickets upfront. Getting the tail out is what is expected of the strike bowlers but I was pretty chuffed with being able to get wickets at the top as well."

Because conditions suited him from the get-go, Steyn could charge in at Pakistan right away. With humidity in the air, swing was going to be a factor and he found it easily. Swing at pace is difficult for the best batsmen and when dealing with it in foreign conditions, it is only more challenging.

Dav Whatmore acknowledged that his team was simply undone by bowlers with greater ability than their batsmen could match up to. "I have never seen two hours of relentless pace bowling like I did today," Whatmore said. "They just never took the pressure off. It was a combination of a difficult pitch and incredible bowling.

Faf du Plessis at the end of play one day one said the South Africa batsmen could not identify which of the Pakistan bowlers to target. The same can be said of opposition line-ups every time they come up against South Africa; Steyn does not go about his work alone. While he was impossible to take a run off today and bowled 46 dot balls out of 49, Philander was equally difficult to get away. Morne Morkel has been the same; his economy rate has shrunk from 3.66 runs per over in 2006 to 3.18 in 2012. That may sound marginal but it means that if he bowls 20 overs in an innings he would concede 64 runs instead of 73.

Then, when Jacques Kallis comes on, it's not to offer relief. He still bowls quickly, often touching 140, and finds swing. The same caution needs to be applied when facing him as compared to anyone else in the attack. Today, that was evident. That leaves the spinner as the one to score runs off and in this innings, Robin Peterson didn't even bowl.

The level of competition within is so high that it can sometimes seem as though they are not taking on the batsmen but each other and Steyn alluded to it. "King Kallis bowled very well; Morne, even though he did not take any wickets was hitting the gloves all the time," he said. "Everybody wants to do well.

"One minute you're out there and then you're back in the changeroom watching the batters bat again. The moment goes by pretty quickly and that's why we really want to enjoy our cricket now, enjoy the moments."

Maybe that sense has been developed because they know tough moments will also spring up, as they did yesterday. Apparently subsequently, this morning was the first time in the past few months that Graeme Smith addressed his team them before play.

"There is maturity in the group and we don't need to be told when someone has done the wrong thing, but today Graeme asked to talk to us for two minutes," Steyn said. "He told us that he wants a 100% day from all of us and that if we do that, we could dominate the day.

"We saw that if we give 100%, we can take the game away from the opposition. When this team puts its forces together, we are tough to beat." And today, Pakistan learnt that.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent