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The Lowdown

Raw and rapid, and only 22

The Lowdown on Dale Steyn, South Africa's latest pace prospect

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In this weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of Dale Steyn, South Africa's latest pace prospect.

Dale Steyn: the natural heir to Allan Donald? © AFP
A measured sprint to the crease, an athletic leap in delivery stride, and a natural length that's full, fast and swinging. These were the attributes that made Allan Donald a hero for South Africa's post-Apartheid generation, and though many have sought to emulate him since, few have been worthy of filling his boots.
It's a tough act to follow, but in Dale Steyn, a raw and rapid 22-year-old whose maiden Test five-for helped defeat New Zealand at Centurion on Wednesday, South Africa may finally have hit upon Donald's natural heir. Comparisons are odious and invariably unfair, but in partnership with the tireless Makhaya Ntini, Steyn provided South Africa with a cutting edge that any side in the world would envy.
Not that this is news to South African supporters, of course. Steyn has been waiting in the wings for 18 months now, ever since he was plucked from obscurity by South Africa's up-and-at-'em coach, Ray Jennings, in December 2004, before being dropped gently back where he'd come from after two defeats and a draw in his first three Test outings.
By all accounts, he made a favourable impression in his brief foray, with pace that consistently pushed 145kph and a penchant for glowering that Donald himself made a trademark. But he leaked runs as well, not least through a nervy tally of 16 no-balls in his debut innings. The general consensus was that he needed more meat on his slender frame if he was to make it at the very highest level.
So when, in April 2005, news reached Steyn that Essex were on the lookout for a temporary replacement for Danish Kaneria, he was onto his agent like a shot. Not for the first time, the speed at which events unfurled left him in a daze: he had already arrived at Chelmsford before he realised that Darren Gough was to be a team-mate - and neither did he know that Gough was the man who had recommended him to the club.
One year on, however, and now it's his own speed that's causing the daze. New Zealand didn't like what they came up against one little bit, as they crashed to 28 for 6 in their second innings at Centurion, before recovering somewhat to 120 all out. And it was Steyn who sealed the victory, with figures of 5 for 47 including the last man, Chris Martin, who lost his middle stump in emphatic fashion.
2003-04 Joins the Centurion-based Northerns as a 20-year-old rookie
October 2004 Nine-wicket haul at East London propels him into spotlight ahead of England visit
December 2004 Named in squad for first Test against England at Port Elizabeth, after just seven first-class outings
December 2004 Takes three wickets on debut, including Marcus Trescothick in the first innings and Michael Vaughan to a sublime legcutter in the second
January 2005 Dropped for New Year Test, and again after defeat in a decisive match at Johannesburg
April 2005 Signs for Essex as stand-in for Danish Kaneria. Arrives in country just two days after end of South African season
May 2005 Essex debut against Leicestershire at Chelmsford. "Initially had more fire than direction" wrote Wisden, but three wickets in 20 balls set up a six-wicket victory
August 2005 One-day "international" debut, for Africa XI in Afro-Asia Cup at Centurion
April 2006 Recalled to Test team against New Zealand, and takes seven wickets in a 128-run victory, including career-best 5 for 47 in second innings.
What he says
"Everything happened so quickly. Before I opened my eyes I was in the South African side and when I opened my eyes again I was out of the side!" Steyn on his rapid progression from outsider to Test cricketer and back again.
What they said - No. 1
"I want to fight fire with fire ... If England fire a rifle, I want to fire a cannon. If they fire a pea-shooter, I want us to be firing a bazooka." South Africa's former coach, Ray Jennings, explains the thinking behind Steyn's selection for the first Test at Port Elizabeth in December 2004.
What they said - No. 2
"He's a high-risk bowler. There are going to be days when he goes for runs but he does create opportunities and that's what we are looking for. His role is to run in and be quick. I wouldn't like to see him out of the team." Graeme Smith sings Steyn's praises after the Centurion victory.
What you may not know
Steyn originates from Limpopo Province, on the Zimbabwean border in the far north of the country. There haven't been too many cricketers from that region, let alone Test cricketers, but two of them played and starred in Wednesday's win over New Zealand. Steyn was one, and AB de Villiers, who made a match-turning 97, was the other. Coincidentally, they both made their debut in that same match at Port Elizabeth.
What you may also not know
Though his surname would suggest otherwise, Steyn is not a native Afrikaans speaker, and consequently had no idea what was being said to him when Nantie Hayward, one of his many predecessors in the Test team, starting sledging him in a domestic match.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo