First among equals

Though Deccan Chargers came a cropper in the league stage of IPL-5, Dale Steyn walked tall and maintained his reputation as the best fast bowler in the world. Over to G. Viswanath.

Dale Steyn, once again, captured the imagination of the Indian cricket aficionados. For almost seven weeks in the Indian Premier League (IPL), he thundered in from the top of his bowling mark, made batsmen shake in their boots and claimed 18 wickets. His team, Deccan Chargers, came a cropper in the league, but Steyn walked tall and maintained his reputation as the best fast bowler in the world. Unlike the first Test playing countries, England and Australia, that have produced innumerable fast bowlers, only a handful have emerged from South Africa such as Peter Heine, Neil Adcock and Peter Pollock before apartheid and Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Steyn after South Africa returned to mainstream cricket.

One may also add the remarkable and versatile Jacques Kallis and Morne Morkel to this small list. In the IPL this year, it was obvious that the exceptional Steyn had to shepherd a flock that did not possess the collective wherewithal to be competitive in the 16 league matches. Without doubt, the 28-year-old South African speed merchant's penetrating bowling — that had the elements of speed, swing, cut and lift — was one of the major highlights of the Twenty20 competition. The rest of the Deccan Chargers bowlers were ordinary. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra bowled well in patches while the rookie seamers, Ashish Reddy and Veer Pratap Singh, showed they are gifted, but have a long way to go. They would have learnt their lessons watching Steyn in action.

In short, Steyn was the only world-class bowler Deccan Chargers had in its ranks, and in the circumstances it was always going to be an uphill task for the team to knock down opponents with any degree of consistency. In Deccan Chargers' final match of the season against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Steyn consumed Chris Gayle, Tillekeratne Dilshan and Zaheer Khan as he celebrated a famous victory for his side, pumping his fist. His figures of 4-0-8-3 did the trick in eliminating Royal Challangers from the play-off.Fast bowlers are a rare breed. When in full cry and going for wickets, they are a treat to watch — whether operating with the new ball on the first day of a Test match, first over of a one-day international or at any level.

Till the nineties, the Indians had been lucky to see a number of great fast bowlers from the West Indies, Australia, England, Pakistan and New Zealand in action at many Test venues in the country, but not from South Africa.

Heine and Adcock hunted as a pair, just as England's Freddie Trueman and Brian Statham and Australia's Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller did. Peter Pollock, who initially bowled fast, developed skills to become more perceptive.

The present Indian generation is quite blessed. It has had the opportunity to see Donald, nicknamed ‘White Lightning', Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Steyn in action. Shaun Pollock leads the South African fast bowlers with 421 Test and 393 ODI wickets. He is followed by Ntini (390 Test and 266 ODI wickets), Donald (330 Test and 272 ODI wickets), Jacques Kallis (276 Test and 270 ODI wickets), Steyn (272 Test and 91 ODI wickets), Morne Morkel (139 Test and 94 ODI wickets), Andre Nel (123 Test and 106 ODI wickets), Peter Pollock (116 Test wickets) and Adcock (104 Test wickets).

All of them — including Kallis on occasions — have run in hard from a long run-up with the intent of being hostile. They have swung the ball and hit the deck to gain lift off a length. Donald, Pollock and Steyn have 50 plus wickets against India, but Steyn is well ahead of the other two having taken 26 wickets in five Tests in India. Ntini has taken 18 in five Tests and Donald 17 in four Tests. Pollock has 13 wickets from four Tests. All four had different actions though Donald was far more close to the conventional and classical style.

Steyn obviously has been more successful in Indian conditions because he has been playing in the IPL from the start. In both Tests and one-day internationals, he has left a lasting impression in India. He has also tormented India in South Africa. In all, Steyn has taken 53 wickets against India at 19.00. In the 2012 IPL, Steyn played in only 12 matches. His 18 wickets at 15.83 came at an RPO (run per over) of 6.11.

He is part of the group of 37 right-hand fast bowlers who had taken 279-odd wickets in 72 league matches. Steyn has taken 27 wickets in 28 matches for Royal Challengers Bangalore and 32 wickets in 24 matches for Deccan Chargers in the five years of IPL. More than the number of wickets he has taken, it is the manner in which he has bowled that has startled the batsmen and thrilled the spectators. Steyn has proved, as of now, that he is far ahead of his peers.