ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2008 Test bowling winner: Dale Steyn takes five

Dale Steyn's fiery second-innings performance sent Australia to their first defeat in a home Test series in 16 years

Brydon Coverdale
Brydon Coverdale
Dale Steyn: living up to the strike bowler title  •  Tim Clayton/Getty Images

Dale Steyn: living up to the strike bowler title  •  Tim Clayton/Getty Images

Dale Steyn had a tear in his eye when he collected his tenth wicket in the Melbourne Test in December. It was in this same city nearly three years earlier that he had cried for a different reason, when he was mauled for 58 from five overs in his first ODI on Australian soil. None of the local fans who watched him back then could predict what he would one day do to Australian cricket. It was the ultimate redemption.
There was a lot for Steyn to like about 2008, a year that he finished as the leading Test wicket-taker with 74 victims at 20.01. But none of his efforts in the first 360 days of the year meant as much as his Man-of-the-Match performance at the MCG, where South Africa became the first team to beat Australia in a home Test series for 16 years.
There were a few choices for his greatest contribution in the game. He picked up five wickets in the first innings to keep Australia below 400 and then produced the batting display of his life with 76, which helped South Africa gain an unexpected lead. But it was his second-innings 5 for 67 that turned a good position into a commanding one. South Africa began with an advantage of 65 runs; Steyn's success ensured a target of 183 that his top-order colleagues reached with one wicket down.
A strike bowler's brief is to remove the openers and Steyn picked off Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich in his first spell. He bowled fast, he swung the ball prodigiously into the left-handers and away from the right-handers, and he maintained the pressure that had been building on Australia's batting line-up all summer.
Steyn could have had Hayden earlier when a terrific inswinger found the inside edge and fell just short of Mark Boucher. The bowler's head did not drop and success came when he bowled to his captain's plan, luring Hayden into a drive that went straight to the man who had just been shifted to short cover. The delivery that got Katich wasn't one of Steyn's best - it was full and wide and was edged behind - but often that's the way things go in a quality spell.
While Steyn was rewarded with a lengthy rest, Australia's position strengthened as Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke consolidated. What's a captain to do when the momentum is changing? If you have Steyn in your armoury the answer is simple. The seventh ball of his new spell did the trick: Clarke thumped it straight to short cover. Again it wasn't the greatest delivery of Steyn's day but you can't argue with results.
In any case, his next breakthrough came with a pearler later in the same over. Andrew Symonds, struggling with a knee injury and trying to justify his place at No. 6, would have loved a few loose ones to get his eye in. Instead he got a ripper that moved away and lured him to play, and it was edged to slip. It's one thing to swing the new ball, quite another to keep up the movement as the shine disappears.
Steyn's plan was all about increasing the pressure on the batsmen. "Even though you're going at four an over you always feel like there's a chance is going to come," Steyn said at the end of the day. "Build up enough pressure, even with an old ball, and a bad shot will come along the way."
He deserved the final wicket, that of Peter Siddle, which gave him 10 for the match. It completed a performance that Steyn described as "leaps and bounds" above anything he had achieved in cricket. It looks like Cricinfo's jury agreed.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo