When you have joined the pantheon of greats such as Malcolm Marshall and Dennis Lillee and have comfortably been the world’s premier fast bowler for a number of years, you could be excused for having a touch of arrogance about you.
But not Dale Steyn, the spearhead of the Proteas attack who reached two prestigious milestones in South Africa’s crushing innings and 27-run victory over New Zealand in the first Test at Newlands this past week.
Despite becoming the joint third-fastest to 300 Test wickets and bagging 50 New Zealand wickets in just nine Tests at an average of 10.75, he remains the humble farm boy from the Limpopo province.
“You play a lot of games, bowl a lot of overs for South Africa, and I’m always under the impression that if you do that, you are going to get wickets. If I was a batter like Hashim (Amla), you’re going to score runs. In that respect, I’m quite happy to keep doing that. But I’m lucky that I’ve been able to pick up wickets quickly,” Steyn chirped.
That does not mean Steyn doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of claiming 300 wickets in 61 Tests.
“Chuffed to get 300: I’m stoked. I’ve still got a lot more to offer in the game. I’m very happy picking up 300 and all the records that come with it, but there’s another Test to play in PE, a lot more wickets to take and a few more years left in these legs and arms.”
Proteas captain Graeme Smith could not have paid Steyn a greater tribute on the eve of the Newlands Test when he said the 29-year-old was his “go-to-guy”. Steyn has been that for South Africa since his spirited second coming in 2006 after an inauspicious start to his Test career two years earlier against England.
New Zealand were the perfect side to launch a comeback against and Steyn snared 16 wickets at 26.00 in three Tests. The ‘Phalaborwa Express’ has not stopped since, firing out breathtaking spells all over the cricket world, from Cape Town via Melbourne to Nagpur.
In recent times, there has been concern Steyn might be losing some of his fire, especially with the emergence of Vernon Philander, who now sits just below him at No2 on the ICC Test bowlers rankings list.
But instead of viewing Philander as a threat – Steyn actually jokes that his Cape Cobras teammate is better than him – he loves the fact that while he remains the leader of the attack, he is privileged to be part of a bowling unit, which also includes Morné Morkel, that is regarded as numero uno in world cricket.
“It’s awesome (to be part of this trio). A couple of years ago I always wanted to take wickets because of a lot of things– strike rate, leading the attack and so on. But this attack is led by everyone,” Steyn said.
“Morné has opened the bowling on a few occasions. Now Vernon has stepped up to the plate as if he’s been doing this a long time. Jacques Kallis is a legend in his own right. We’ve got such a great seam attack. Apart from my own game, I’m just happy I am among some serious cricketers in the dressing room.”
This bowling unit have certainly shown their stripes over the past 14 months. They man-handled Australia at Newlands, routing Michael Clarke’s team for 47, before delivering a second dose at the same venue against the Kiwis this week when they cleaned up the Black Caps for 45. Collapses like these leave everlasting scars, which Steyn “bloody well” hopes they do with one Test match remaining at Port Elizabeth this week.
If there was no mental harm inflicted, Steyn certainly left the tourists with bodily damage. Incensed with his teammates’ uncharacteristically poor catching behind the wicket, he let rip a few snorters from the Wynberg End that were simply too much for the Kiwi batsmen to contend with.
“They didn’t play the short ball very well. They weren’t attacking and we thought we could get an edge. We’ve got the artillery to do that (short pitched bowling) so we may as well do it,” he explained.
There you have it, Kiwis: He may be modest, but you have been warned.