He may have started ageing but that hasn’t resulted in him losing his trademark beam on his face. He may have come off a major injury layoff, but Dale Steyn assures he hasn’t lost his pace at all.
As South Africa continued its preparation to win an ICC major trophy for the first time in 18 years – they won the maiden mini-World Cup in 1998 – Steyn revealed the secret of his success in Indian conditions, the change in South African dressing room during his injury layoff and quashed the notion of him having slowed down with age after slogging it out in the sweltering heat at the Braboune Stadium on Wednesday.
Question: The last few months saw you suffer major injuries. How fit are you now heading into the World T20?
Answer: I’m fit and fine. It’s not that I have suffered injuries, I have had just two of them. The first one, unfortunately, was a groin. I should have been out for a week to 10 days but I made it worse by trying to rush myself for the Bengaluru Test (against India). That put me out for four weeks and the series. Then I broke my right shoulder and unfortunately I couldn’t come back quickly enough from that. You are out for 8-10 weeks when you break your shoulder. I’m feeling strong and fine and it’s nice to be playing again. I played against Australia, played two warm-up games, so it’s been good.
Considering you play all three formats, don’t you think it’s easier to play the T20s?
It all depends on what you are thinking about — physically, mentally or emotionally. The T20 game could be mentally hard on a bowler. You have only four overs. If you get an edge it could go to the boundary which is not your fault. In Test matches, you have five days to make up for it. It’s slightly easier on the body but much harder on the mind.
When Grant Elliott walks out to bat, people talk about that ball which he hit for a six during the 2015 World Cup semifinal. Do you think about that?
No. It’s a pity that everyone thinks about that ball. I like to think about what happened after that ball where he came and picked me up, that was a better moment. Prior to that match-winning shot — a six — he never hit one out of the ground. We had many opportunities to win that game, unfortunately that was the moment they won that game. It all doesn’t boil down to that moment, there are a lot chances we missed leading up to it.
South Africa has never won a major ICC tournament. Does that put any extra pressure?
We haven’t won one, so that doesn’t give us any pressure at all (laughs). We have been a powerhouse team and it’s disappointing for fans that we haven’t won one. We would like to win one. Every tournament we go to, we go there as well-prepared as we possibly can be. We have got some of the best players in the world. T20 is a strange game. I think anybody in the top-seven teams can win it. We have seen Netherlands beat England in the past, they almost beat us in the last World T20. This is a format where anybody can win. But I think the teams that generally have done it in the past go on to win the tougher stages, especially knock-out rounds.
When you watch a game like India vs New Zealand where the ball is turning so much and the Kiwis dropping Tim Southee and Trent Boult, how much confidence does it give to fast bowlers like you?
I have always said I can bowl on any surface. I prefer wickets that are slow and turning, where the ball stops. It makes it tougher for batsmen to hit you out of the ground. I think New Zealand’s thinking was correct. It paid off for them playing with three spinners. We know what our strengths are. As a seamer, I back myself to bowl the fast-cutters. It’s really difficult to hit the ball out of the ground when it comes over 140 kmph. It’s gripping and stopping. You don’t have to worry about running in and bowling a yorker, you could bowl a back of a length ball. One might bounce and skid, one might stay low. It’s hard to bat on such tracks sometimes.
You’ve said sometimes good balls can get hit for six and you have to learn to cope with it. Is it that easy?
You have no choice. We have talked about it in our team meetings. It all boils down to the next ball. You can go for 80 runs in 3.5 overs but when a team needs four runs to win off the last ball and you have got the ball in your hand, it’s all that matters. It’s kind of contradictory to what I said earlier about being hit out of the ground but what matters is the next ball.
How has it been sharing the workload with a youngster like Kagiso Rabada?
He is fantastic. I don’t think there is much workload in Twenty20 because there are only four overs. He is really quick, he is unpredictable. I don’t think many teams have played against him yet. There is not much they can plan. They kind of perceive what he can do. He is surprising to us too. I will be there standing at fine leg thinking he is going to bowl a bouncer and he comes up with a beautiful yorker. He has got a gut feeling for himself and that is his biggest strength. People don’t know what he is going to deliver. He is quick, he executes his skills but they don’t quite know what he is going to do yet which is his strength.
How have you managed to last long without injuries except for the last year-end?
Yeah, I have been able to play without any injuries. Unfortunately I had these two injuries now, takes weeks, that’s just the body. Anybody gets injured, Grade 1 strain or whatever it is, they need three-four weeks. I am no different. I am not superman. I have just been very lucky that I have not had those kinds of injuries. And our management has been really good to me. I have not been really pushed to do anything more than my body requires me to do. I have played only a handful of ODIs. When I say a handful of ODIs, just over 110 or something like that. Someone like Brett Lee played over 300, I think, at this stage of his career. I have been really handled very well, managed by my managers, and myself too, making good decisions. Sometimes, it plays against me, pulling out of series. I am still here, I am still playing, I am still bowling at the same speed I have bowled throughout my career. I am still landing the ball in the same place. I guess it is working.
At 32, do you feel you are slowing down?
No, I don’t think I am slowing down. I spoke to Pravin Tambe yesterday and he is 45 years old. Come on, age is just a number. It doesn’t really matter. I have watched Brett Lee bowl 145 kmph-150 kmph at 38. Age is a number. You need to forget about that crap. I can do whatever I want to do as long as I am fit and strong.
South Africa is entering the World T20 on the back of the ODI series win against England followed by a win in the T20 series against Australia …
It is fantastic because I was not playing in that (ODIs) and when I walked into the side (for T20s), when we were playing against Australia, I could see the guys were glowing with confidence. I was watching guys normally sitting in the sidelines like Kyle Abbott coming in, landing his yorkers, landing his slower balls and just oozing in confidence. It was great to be out of the side because when I walked back in the side, I just realised how much I missed it. And realised how much these guys have grown as a team even in the two months that I was away. Momentum is most definitely on our side as you can see in the two warm-up matches, we beat India. I know it is not a real game. Guys retire, Dhoni comes in, we are playing more bowlers. But we just managed to win. And the other day, yesterday, watching guys bat and chase down 230, I know the score was 180 but we changed it, that does put a lot of confidence in the side.
With the game getting more lop-sided in favour of batsmen over the last decade, especially in the shorter formats, what advice would you give budding fast bowlers?
I tell him to do it. I made a career out of it. And you are a rockstar at the end of the day. Anyone can bat. I can bat, I can slog 30, I promise you that. But nobody can run in, not everybody can run in and bowl 145-150kmph. If he can do it, he must do it.
Considering that you missed the England ODI series, do you think you owe your team one on Friday night?
I just need to do what I need to do to win a game of cricket. I won’t say we have the upper hand but we have beaten them in the shorter format. They know it. But again, this is T20. I hate to count the chickens before they hatch. I just want to tell you what I can do. And what I can do is I am fit and strong to play.
What is the key to succeed in India as a pace bowler?
I have enjoyed bowling more in Indian conditions than anywhere else. The ball doesn't bounce much, keeps low at times, so it brings all dismissals into play.
For instance, in Perth, if a batsman misses the ball and is hit on the pads in front of the wickets, the umpire more or less says not out, going above stumps. Similarly in South Africa, I am only looking at getting edges or a batsman dragging on but the lbw is taken out of equation. Whereas in India, I can get a nick off, also try and get a batsman leg before knowing that the decision will go my way. I can also try out all the variations, a short ball may keep low, another may rise above the shoulder, bringing the top-edge into play. That's why as a fast bowler, I have enjoyed bowling in India. And like I have always said, if you as a fast bowler can bowl a yorker at 145kph, it will fetch you a wicket anyway, whether you are playing in India or elsewhere. A fast ball is a fast ball, the wicket doesn't come into play.
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