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There was no chance Graeme Smith was going to get the ball out of Dale Steyn's hands as he raced towards a career-best performance
Firdose Moonda at the Wanderers
February 4, 2013
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Dale Steyn took the new ball. An hour and 40 minutes later, he was still bowling with it. In a spell that lasted 10 overs and four balls, Steyn grabbed four wickets to take his match tally to 11 and his status as the best bowler operating on the international stage at the moment to a new level.
Long spells and Steyn have not had to walk the same road for a while. Graeme Smith prefers to use his strike bowler in bursts to get optimum usage of his pace. Today was different.
South Africa earmarked the new ball as being the starting point to end the Test match. AB de Villiers hoped the final wicket would fall just after lunch. Steyn made sure the script was acted out to plan.
His away swingers were perfect, he drew the batsmen forward and then beat them and it took only ten balls for him to find the edge of Asad Shafiq. The first of the overnight batsmen had departed. The next over the same. Misbah-ul-Haq. The second peg plucked.
By the time Steyn had bowled five overs, Vernon Philander had already taken a third wicket in the morning session and there was a drinks break to catch his breath. So he bowled another one. Then Morne Morkel claimed the fourth. So Steyn bowled another. And another. And another. And another.
As the spell grew, so did the questions about when Steyn would be replaced. It was one Smith was not going to ask. "I sort of left it in his hands, it's a bit dangerous for me to make that move when he's in the middle of his spell," Smith said.
Steyn would not be moved. He wanted to finish the job both for the team and himself. "If they were still seven down, it would have been a different situation. It was just that we needed two more wickets," he said. "I wanted to push on. It was about trying to take the last wickets and get off the field. Graeme came and said to me do you want to stop some time, but I said I would just carry on bowling, it's no train wreck. I'm pretty fit."
The final two fell in the space of two overs and Steyn completed the job five minutes into what would have been lunch. The praise was all his but he only accepted fractions of it. "In this team we all want to share the rewards with a win like this. It's nice to have a standout performance but everyone in this team is capable of doing what I did today with the ball."
The South African team that hold the No.1 Test ranking has built its culture on togetherness so to hear Steyn sharing it is not a surprise. What has not been divided is the danger factor, which belongs mostly to Steyn. Although Misbah said Steyn is not the scariest bowler he has ever faced, he acknowledged that the "areas that he bowls makes him special."
It is with that knowledge that Smith hopes Pakistan have been mentally scarred. "I don't know how much getting bowled out for 49 will affect them, but hopefully our bowlers have affect them when they thinking about the type of people that they have to come up against," he said. "Some personal battles were won."
The most obvious of those is Steyn's against the top-order. Recently, he has ripped through tails and Vernon Philander has been largely responsible for dismantling at the outset. This time, Steyn did the damage upfront in the first innings.
His six-wicket haul in the first innings was split perfectly between frontline batsmen and tail-enders to show that his poison remains as powerful even though there are other bowlers to contribute. His standards have remained high and that is what Smith demands from the team as they look to widen the gap on the rankings.
Rather than play simply to beat a team, Smith wants South Africa to impose themselves on their opposition. Since becoming No.1 at Lord's last August, South Africa have not lost a match. The four they have won have all finished inside four days and have been achieved consecutively, something that evaded South Africa since 2010 which was the last time they won back-to-back Tests.
Against New Zealand, both victories were by an innings. Against Australia in Perth and Pakistan in Johannesburg, South Africa recognised the moment where they had to make their advantage count. On the second afternoon at the WACA, Smith and Hashim Amla scored at more than six runs to the over to bat Australia out of the game. On the third morning at the Wanderers, Amla and de Villiers put on 68 runs in nine overs to do the same and prompt the declaration.
Smith called them in because he "did not want to let the game drift," and "another good day would help us land the blow." The decisiveness of Smith's actions points to a new determination to finish teams off in as emphatic a way as possible so that their morale is as dented as their performance.
As Test cricket's most experienced captain, the only criticism of Smith was that he was sometimes too passive. That has changed too. His confidence now allows him to take the initiative, instead of allowing it to come to him and it is a good thing his premier bowler understands that too. "The key thing is that we don't get complacent if we want to keep dominating cricket," Steyn said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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