Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, Galle, 5th day July 20, 2014

I owe it to Donald - Steyn


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Was always confident about winning - Amla

For inspiration for his paintings, Salvador Dali relied on his wife Gala. For motivation to write the upbeat tune Here Comes the Sun, The Beatles' George Harrison drew on the year he had quit the band temporarily and been arrested. For a reason to bowl faster and fiercer, Dale Steyn looks at the boundary rope because that's where Allan Donald is usually stationed.

South Africa's bowling coach is not an unusual choice for a hero. Everyone from children playing street cricket to members of the opposition, like Mark Gillespie of New Zealand, cite Donald as someone they look up to. But to Steyn, he is more than just a role-model. He is also a personal tutor, a cheerleader and a friend.

"Allan is an amazing bowler. I watched a couple of his Youtube videos before I bowled here and he was just incredible. And then every day he comes and tells you how good you are and what a legend you are. That must take a lot out of him because he is a legend himself," Steyn said. "That's why every time I take wickets, I try to signal to him; to try and say this is not just for the team and the fans. This is to say thank you. He keeps me going."

Since Donald took over as South Africa's bowling coach in June 2011, Steyn's success has soared. In the three years between then and now, Steyn has taken more than a third of his total career wickets at a lower average than his overall numbers. Not only is he more threatening than he was before, he is also more miserly. His 133 scalps have come at 21.84 with an economy rate of 2.91. Before Donald's tenure, Steyn had 232 wickets at 23.2 and conceded 3.48 runs to the over.

Those performances have included match-winning bursts against teams including Pakistan and Australia at home and now, Sri Lanka in Galle. Steyn picked up the best figures by a seamer at this venue - nine for 99 in the match - a feat made even better by the expectation conditions would conspire to work against him in this series. "Every time I go on tour I want to better my last performance. Every time I come to the subcontinent I want to do well," Steyn said. "If I run in and take a five-for on a green track, no-one cares but if you run in and take a five-for here, that really counts."

Steyn's performance was headlined as much by pace as it was by purpose. He knew bowling quickly would work no matter the type of surface but he also knew bowling with an attacking approach would allow no wriggle room against an opposition who thought there was a realistic chance to pull off a historic chase. "It's not the fastest wicket in the world but if you can get pace through the air and bowl with a bit of aggression you always stand a chance," he explained. "It's the kind of wicket where you have to bowl the ball in the right areas more often."

That adaption and attention to discipline is something Donald has enforced rigorously since he became part of the set-up. He wants South Africa's pack to operate under the principles of jungle law: hunt or be hunted. That approach seems to have been picked up by more than just the seamers.

Hashim Amla, in his first Test as captain, made a declaration that was considered too bold for a man taking baby steps in Test leadership but was rooted in realism. Amla and the management knew that no team had scored more than 300 runs in the final innings at Galle, they knew that no team had chased more than 96 to win successfully here and that no team has batted out more than 114 overs in the fourth innings.

So they made the decision to call time on their innings at a time when Sri Lanka would need 370 to win. They had 122 overs to do it, which made it a comfortable equation but you can see why South Africa did not think they would be bowling that many. Their safety net was secure as it could have been but still, there was a stage when it seemed to be hanging by a slender thread.

"I just wanted to have as many overs as possible to win the game. If we had lost the game, so be it but that would give us the best chance to win the game," Amla said. "At 110 for 1 the thought in my mind that maybe we could lose but batting last, chasing 370 is a tough ask for any team."

Other captains may have become nervous or defensive. But Amla did not because he enjoyed the shifting sands in the tussle. "I was confident and I was extremely excited because the uncertainty is quite exciting. The thought was there that we could lose this game but if we lost the game I wouldn't have had any regrets," he said.

"It helped that the bowlers were hungry. They asked for the ball regularly. Once we picked up one and I could see how the game is unfolding, I tried to use the spinners to hold the game more because the seamers were doing the job today."

Steyn struck the first blow, Morkel joined in and then when JP Duminy snared Kumar Sangakkara with a long-hop, Amla knew he had his victory even though it came from an unexpected source. "Some plans you don't tell the captain, you just give the bowlers the freedom to do what they want," he joked. "Those kind of things, I mean how often do you see a good ball not get a wicket and then a not so good ball get a wicket? It's just part of the game."

In celebration, South Africa may salute their muses. The team's is likely that they are a massive step closer to regaining the No.1 ranking. Steyn's is Donald and Amla's? "A nice cup of tea to enjoy the win." As long as it's Ceylon tea, even Sri Lankans will approve of that.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • c on July 22, 2014, 20:06 GMT

    Response to highveldhillbilly: Based on your view-point then perhaps it is right to say the comparison between Barnes and Murali is valid. Barnes didn't even have one like Vaas to assist him. Like Murali, Barnes was in a league of his own.

    I am not so sure if Murali bowled such "massive" number of overs as you say. He played in 133 Tests @ 55 overs a Test (800 wickets). Warne, by comparison, bowled 47 overs a Test (but played 12 more Tests/145 for 708 wickets). How is a 8 over advantage PER TEST explain a difference of 92 wickets between them when their strike rate is in mid 50's?

    It is said Murali took most wickets at home, as do almost all bowlers. But he did take wickets AWAY at rates other greats (like Steyn/Lille/Warne) has! Murali did a BARNES on conditions that suited him. : )

    Steyn bowls 35 in a Test - which is usual for most pace bowlers (35-45 overs per Test). I think he has a better record than all other pace bowlers. Ahead of Lillee.

  • greig on July 22, 2014, 19:22 GMT

    McGrath was a great bowler, but a medium paced trundler is a medium paced trundler. I would rather pay money to watch steyn than Mcgrath any day. Steyn is a match swinger- he can be devastating. He can turn it on and blow teams away on ANY surface. Besides Steyns Strike rate is the best of all great bowlers at the moment, which means he takes more wickets per balls bowled than anyone. Because mcgrath bowled medium pace, he had longevity and his control to put the ball on offstump was incredible. A better bowler than Steyn? No, not for me.

  • ESPN on July 22, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    @ legfinedee while I agree that Steyn is a better bowler than McGrath I have to laugh at your comparison of Tendulkar/Lara and Kalis. I have been watching cricket since the 80's and Kalis is without doubt the best most complete CRICKETER to play the game since then and perhaps ever. Kalis is at worst comparable to both Tendulkar and Lara when just comparing batting, but when you throw in the other two disciplines the contest is over. People struggle to give credit where credit is due. Both Steyn and Kalis are in the "best ever" conversation. Stats don't lie

  • Kieron on July 22, 2014, 7:10 GMT

    For me it is quite simple, and i am not saying this because i am a south-african, but steyn still has about 4/5 years left to play in his career, and people are already debating whether or not Dale Steyn can be called the greatest test bowler ever! This tells me that if steyn continues like this for the next 4/5 years, and he manages to break Glen Mcgrath's 563 test wickets, i am pretty certain the majority of cricket followers and lovers, will consider Dale Steyn to be the greatest fast bowler ever! Plus by then if one takes a look at Dale Steyn's statistics, this opinion will only be strenghtened even more!

  • VaRUN on July 22, 2014, 6:01 GMT

    @ Daniel Aebi - Steyn is a much better bowler than McGrath. McGrath was never as successful as Steyn is in the subcontinent. McGrath took half of his wickets against poms.

  • Cliffontong on July 22, 2014, 5:56 GMT

    Steyn is my hero - ok now on to @SLSup - couple of things - Marshal probably averaged less than 5 wickets per test because he was part of a very strong bowling line up, this may have helped his average but it certainly reduced the number if wickets available to him. On the flip side, Murali was by far and away Sri Lanka's biggest strike force (Vaas was far behind him) he bowled a massive number of overs and the other bowlers, to be fair, weren't that great so he had the opportunity to take massive amounts of wickets. This isn't an attempt to take away from Murali's record but rather to highlight that the depth of quality impacted on Murali's and Marshal's career.

  • c on July 22, 2014, 4:58 GMT

    Lillee was the greatest pacie before Steyn. Marshall's record is quite incredible although, on further investigation, he does average less than 5 wickets per game over 81 Tests.

    Spare a thought to perhaps the best bowler of all time: Muralitharan. He may not belong in a "pace pantheon" or its "antechamber" but averaging 5 wickets per game outside of the Subcontinent (the average number of wickets that Lillee/Steyn has against all comers) and 6 wickets per Test in Subcontinent conditions, Murali is simply incomparable as a bowler.

    Then there is Sydney Barnes at 7 wickets per Test. A close comparison between Barne's Test and First Class careers with Murali's certainly tells a tale. What a pity this has to be said by a Sri Lankan.

  • srikanthan on July 22, 2014, 4:16 GMT

    While Steyn without doubt is an all time great, let us not forget the Pak great Wasim and Waqar whose record in most unhelpful conditions in Pak and India stand out. The greatest exponent of swing and seam bowling was Wasim Akram ,an almost incomparable magician who used to make the ball literally talk.

  • srikanthan on July 22, 2014, 4:11 GMT

    Steyn is as good as any of the best of yesteryears,comparable to a Lillee , a Marhshall or an Ambrose.

    You look at his record, he has performed across , including the sub continent. Even the great Lillee struggled in the only series he played in the sub continent against Pakistan, if I recall correctly.

    Steyn bowls fast,seams it beautifully,reverse swings ,accurate . May be he does not get the disconcerting bounce of some of the greats like Lillee but he more than makes up with his phenomenal variations, accuracy , pace and movement.

    Fantastic bowler, who people acknowledge as very good but somehow never get down to acknowledging as an equal to yesteryears greats.He is an all time great without doubt.Recall how his slighlty below par performances in a OZ test against India and possibly against earlier raised eyebrows. That is the difference between a great and ordinary ones. In a great we question the rare below par performance and in an average cricketer we praise good performance

  • varsha on July 22, 2014, 2:17 GMT

    @daniel aebi: saying Mcgrath was a better bowler than Steyn is like saying Kallis is a better batsman than Sachin because he had a higher average than him, was more consistent, and did all that while bowling and catching like a freak as well. Yet most people don't place Kallis ahead of Lara because he lacked that flair and presence that Lara had. Ask any batsman who would make them quake harder in their boots if they saw either Steyn or McGrath hurtling toward them - most batsman would answer Steyn. Like others have mentioned, what elevated Steyn to greatness is not just his raw stats, but his aggression and his ability to come on and swing the game anytime - and not just on greem mamba but he is proven himself on any type of wicket, in any conditions.