Steaming in all the time

When Steyn lets them rip, the batsmen have nowhere to hide.-AP

That Dale Steyn is menacing is well known. Sometimes he is clouted too, but then the ferocity with which he hits back can make him a ‘man machine’ best avoided, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Scorching pace, disconcerting bounce, a frightening glare, Dale Steyn is a complete package as a fast bowler. Add to these attributes his clean action and you have a perfect match-winner. This South African speedster has come to signify the essence of fast bowling and he loves it when he has the ball in his hand.

Cricket history has a rich collection of fast bowlers who made batsmen hop and duck. Some of these batsmen were in fear and some were keen on only taking evasive action.

True, there were also batsmen who stood up and slammed the quick bowlers with disdain and guts. But the battle was often won by the bowler. If the pitch was conducive, it was hell.

But Steyn needs no assistance. He is quick in the air and quicker off the pitch. His blistering pace makes the batsmen, though well-protected, dread the path of the ball. Shot-making becomes hazardous because Steyn has a great variety of ammunition to outslug his opponent.

In Tests, Steyn is a sight to watch, uncompromising in speed and approach. He is quite the same in limited overs cricket and stubbornly unrelenting in T20. He bowls to take wickets and does not believe in the restricting policy that the other bowlers on the circuit adopt. As far as Steyn is concerned, a batsman is an object to be removed from the pitch and not an opponent to be contained.

Three slips and two gullys is the field that Steyn commands with his ability to unnerve the batsman. Stumps cart-wheeling, bails flying was a much loved sight in the days of the golden era of fast bowling. The West Indians had come to demonstrate their awesome range under Clive Lloyd’s captaincy. Steyn relives that era with amazing consistency, turning contests on their head with his strikes.

That Steyn is menacing is well known. Sometimes he is clouted too, but then the ferocity with which he hits back can make him a ‘man machine’ best avoided. Many batsmen have conceded that Steyn can rattle the best in business with his speed and bounce.

His debut against England at Port Elizabeth was uneventful. He was hammered for over 100 runs in a match that South Africa lost. It was no different in the second Test and the next. But he justified the faith his selectors had in him with a five-wicket haul against New Zealand at Centurion and has grown in stature since to become one of the most feared bowlers in international cricket.

“I've got a lot more to offer,” he said after crossing the 300 Test wickets mark. “I've got a few more years in these legs.” It was a typical reaction from a fierce competitor who has served his team with distinction. Only Australian great Dennis Lillee (56) and Sri Lankan spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan (58) have achieved the 300-mark in fewer Tests than Steyn's 61. He is the fourth best South African in the all-time list after former captain Shaun Pollock (421), Makhaya Ntini (390) and the magnificent Allan Donald (330).

“It’s an unbelievable achievement,” praised South Africa skipper Graeme Smith. “Steyn’s our go-to guy. He’s got there really quickly and always seems to make an impact for us. For a captain he’s an asset to have. You can throw him the ball and you know he’ll make a play for you somewhere during the Test match. When he gets that bit between his teeth you really start to see things happening.”

In times when fast bowlers develop niggles early in their career and often end up on the physiotherapist’s table for treatment, Steyn has remarkably been a supremely fit athlete. Determination is writ large on his face as he runs in and hurls his thunderbolts. He is quite the Donald type, looking for wickets and bowling with fire, even in the last over of a day. What makes Steyn a lovable competitor is his magnanimity in praising the opponent.

It was reported that Steyn had admitted that he no longer bowled at flat-out pace every time he operated. “I pick and choose the times when I need to force the pace,” he had responded even as his mates celebrated his 300-wicket feat said. Steyn is also currently ranked the world’s number one Test bowler and deserves the honour of being rated the best for his sheer ability to rock the opponent. This 29-year-old South African achiever towers over the batsmen in all forms of the game. To make runs against him is a confirmation of your ability at the highest level. Steyn knows it too, for he reserves his best for the top guns. His celebration of a wicket affirms his catch, well-planned and well-executed. For a bowler to excel on placid pitches is tough. But not if he happens to be Steyn.