Downtime Diary

'If you take sport away, then I don't know really what we have'

Dale Steyn talks about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa

Dale Steyn takes a selfie with two school girls during a ceremony to mark Nelson Mandela's 100th birth anniversary, Colombo, July 18, 2018

No more of this sort of thing for a while, then  •  AFP/Getty Images

In the first article in a new series called Downtime Diaries, where we talk to cricketers about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected their lives, Dale Steyn speaks about coming back home to South Africa from the PSL to find only one topic of conversation everywhere.
How crazy is this?
I don't know how to describe it. Doesn't matter where you go, everyone is talking about it - whether it is on an airplane or you are just popping into a grocery store.
It just seems like it is the only topic of conversation. Any WhatsApp groups that I'm part of, it's really tough to escape.
Yeah, it's so strange. Normally if I am on holiday I'll be planning a fishing trip or a surfing trip. At the moment I am just chilling at home.
Can you describe your last week?
It happened really quickly. I was in Pakistan but it was raining [Steyn played for Islamabad United]. We were under that kind of hotel arrest - advised not to go out and wander the streets, which is totally fine; I don't want to break protocol and [have] something happen and be blamed for cricket never being played in Pakistan again because I did something stupid!
As the week went on, everything just seemed to escalate. In the space of 24-48 hours, we went from nobody talking about coronavirus to, suddenly, everyone had a hand sanitiser and it was the biggest thing.
Then the overseas players were starting to chat about potentially getting home because their countries were not allowing them back in. And before we even knew it, there were nine players from another team that had decided that they were going. We had a meeting. And then I went to the spa for a swim and a jacuzzi and when I came back from that, there was another meeting and it was decided there and then that some of us were going to go home. And I was like, okay, cool I'm not going to take a chance, I'm also going to go home. And that night I was on a plane. I didn't have enough time to contact my family or my girlfriend to tell them. It was only once I was on my way to the airport, that I was able to say: "Listen, guys, I'm heading home right now. I'll see you tomorrow."
Do you have enough hand sanitiser and loo rolls?
My girlfriend and myself, we are actually staying with my mom right now because my house is being renovated. We've got a nice beach house, a bit far away from the city, in a little town called Kommetjie, close to Cape Point. It's my favourite place to be. And now we are stuck for the next few weeks, which I can't complain about.
We just decided that stockpiling is definitely not the way to go. It is not fair on everybody who needs that stuff. I went to the grocery store the other day and everyone had bought all the toilet paper. We have what we need, and when that runs out, that runs out, and we need to go and get some more. We didn't feel it was necessary to go and absolutely just, like, zombie our lives up. There's other people that live on a day-to-day basis. They are not going to get all of that stuff, so we thought it was best not to do that.
Do you think your family might be fed up of you by the end of this?
My mom, she is still busy. She does a lot of au pair work and stuff like that in this little town - looking after kids of parents that are working. All the schools are now shut, so the parents are looking for someone to keep the kids busy and stuff like that. So my mom is doing that. And other than that, we're kind of just chilling. I've probably surfed more than I've surfed all year in the last three days… I am not going to be spreading anything in the water! It is a good place to self-isolate.
How has your cricket training being affected?
Well, you know, luckily for me, I tend to not do a lot of cricket practice. I'm at a point where I feel like if I wanted a bowl a bouncer or a length ball or a yorker, I can do it. Muscle memory is enough for me to be able to do that. So I just rock up on the day of a game and do my warm-ups and go through my basic routine and then just try and kick my mind into play.
The one thing that I need to continuously do is, I got to look after my body. I've got to do the rehab and a little bit of strength work, and I've got to keep my fitness up. So here at the house, we've got a couple bit of weights lying around, and we've got some bands that I use for my shoulder workouts and stuff like that, and I'm surfing a lot and we can go for a run. So fitness is not an issue.
I'm just kind of waiting for the next thing to find out what it is and how long it is before they require us to be there. If I've got to go to the IPL in a week from now, then tomorrow I'll just jump into it. I will head down to the indoor nets and I'll get going, but if I don't know what's happening right now, I'm just trying to keep myself fit and keep myself fresh and healthy really.
When I get injured, I get injured through playing cricket, so right now if I don't have to go and bowl, I'm not going to go and bowl. That's one way of preventing myself from getting injured.
If you were to watch a match or two from the past on video while you're stuck at home, which would those be?
I would probably say that they should put every World Cup up until '99 on. So 1992, '96, '99 - I love those World Cups. And even the one in South Africa [2003] because that's when I really started to get into guys like Brett Lee, because I knew the possibility of me playing against them or meeting them was so much closer than what it was in, say, '92, when I first got introduced to the game. I was watching Jonty [Rhodes] dive and do those amazing run-outs and Wasim [Akram] reversing the ball all over the place. It would be quite nostalgic to sit down and watch.
Bring that back. With respect to all the teams that are playing right now, I genuinely don't want to watch guys going and thumping 400. I want to go back to a time when the ball was reversing and the game looked a lot more interesting. Yeah, that's just my opinion.
Are you fishing? I know that's another of your favourite pastimes.
The kind of fishing that I do is pretty much bass, trout or freshwater fishing. If I wanted to, I guess I could just throw the rods in the car and drive up somewhere and do that. But because we're so far away, I'm quite happy just to relax, take my dogs out to the beach.
I very rarely get to enjoy doing nothing. And being 20 metres away from something that I really love doing, surfing - so I'm just soaking it up right now.
Talking about isolation, which team-mates would you like or hate to be isolated with?
I would love to be in quarantine with someone like Quinny de Kock. He is one of my favourite people in the world. If you walk into his [hotel] room, he's either making flies for fishing or he is watching a fishing video or he is watching a cooking video. And when you are at his house, he's doing the same stuff. I hate cooking, so it would be great if he was. Because then I could watch all the fishing videos that he's watching, I could help him do all the tying, and he could cook all the food. He's a proper cook. He loves being around a braai.
As for who I wouldn't enjoy being around right now… no one in particular. But I guess just from a music point of view, maybe somebody like Andy Phehlukwayo. If I had to listen to the music that he listens to all day long, I might just go and say, I am coronavirus positive, lock me in some other quarantine.
Does sport matter in these times?
It does. It is actually such a pity that everything is being blocked off, because in a country like South Africa, where we have all of our problems from the past - culture, religion, ethnic backgrounds - the one thing that brings everybody together is sport. It doesn't matter what religion you are or what colour your skin is, you can go to a game on a Saturday and you can all be supporting the same cricket team or rugby team and you all get along really well. But now at the moment, you don't have that.
In South Africa we kind of like looking for things that unite people in big, big groups. When you don't have sport, it's like, oh, what do we fall back onto? And I think Nelson Mandela was the first person to really say that: sport unites people in a way that nothing else does. And if you take sport away, then I don't know really what we have. We're gonna have to work it all out.
What's your message to the fans?
Stay healthy, wash your hands, look after yourself, don't be greedy. Right now they are saying old people are really struggling, so if in a position to help, rather help them than help yourself. Pretty simple, really.
For more such Downtime Diaries with players from across the world, click here.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo