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Steyn signals his intent

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REUTERS

South Africa's Dale Steyn after picking up his fifth wicket.

The picture says it all. It was the one published in most English papers this week.

There is Dale Steyn, his arm fully outstretched and his right hand with five fingers spread wide.

He’s also letting out a roar that may have scared the king of the jungle himself. “Five, five!” he screamed.

Steyn’s side of the story is that he went in to give a teammate a high five “but no one came and greeted me”.

It’s an unlikely story, but for now Steyn is sticking to it. Perhaps the truth will emerge when he writes his book one day.

Whatever the reason for his animated and aggressive celebration, the South African coaching team will want him to bottle it and take it with him to Leeds next week for the second Test.

Monday’s was another remarkable spell from the world’s best fast bowler that crushed all English hopes on the final afternoon.

Watchers of South African cricket may become blasé about it, because they’ve seen it so often, but when Steyn is in full swing as was the case with the second new ball when he picked up 3/8 in four overs, there are few more thrilling sights in sport.

It certainly wasn’t lost on his teammates what a remarkable effort taking 5/56 in England’s second innings was, coming just hours after Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla had ensured South Africa posted a total of 637/2 declared.

“We all work together well as a unit, we complement each other nicely,” a more relaxed Steyn explained.

“The bowlers are always trying to figure what are the difficult areas for batsmen and who better to speak to than someone like Hashim who faced (529) deliveries on it, he will tell you what lines and lengths were most difficult for him. Then we aim to hit those.”

The team ethos that lies at the core of Gary Kirsten work as coach, was outlined by South Africa’s decision to declare at tea.

It was noted by the many former players watching at The Oval that it was a brave decision by Smith, and a statement of intent. Steyn says the decision to declare was led by Kallis, then on the cusp of a third Test double century.

“I’ve been involved with a couple wins with this team (that were special) but to watch Hashim score 300 and Jacques then walk into the change-room knowing that he was just a few runs away from 200 and saying to the captain and coach that he’s happy that we declare because it’s in the best interests of the team to go and win, that means a lot.

“And then we did that. I’m super-proud of this cricket team.

“You have to ask him what his opinion is – he is Jacques Kallis, he’s played 150-plus Tests and he’s involved in our strategies and what we wanted to do.

“It just happened he was on 182, but he was all for the fact that the team comes first and the result was the main thing in his eyes and not another personal milestone.”

Among many sources of motivation in the build-up – from Mark Boucher, to Smith’s 100th Test and of course the desire to be No 1 – that Kallis gesture inspired Steyn even further.

On a pitch where England took just two wickets and created barely a handful of chances, Steyn and the rest of the South Africa exploded into life.

“Luckily we play a lot of cricket in the subcontinent so we are used to the fact that we are going to play on some slow wickets.

“We adapted well, I don’t know if it’s the fact the we play a lot of IPL cricket, but we managed to bowl straight at the stumps, when playing in the sub you’ve got to attack the stumps.

“There were a lot of extras, a lot of leg-byes, because we were going at the stumps, we hit the pads, we knew that’s how we’d get wickets with lbws.

“After the first innings we had six appeals that if given would have been ‘umpires call’ for lbw.

Kallis talked about having options “A, B and C for the England batters”, but critically they had to build pressure by not giving away runs. It’s one of the reasons the South African dressing-room wasn’t too upset about the first day.

Sure, some hard words were spoken after England ended on 267/3, and while they wanted to be more aggressive, there was a sense they prevented the hosts from taking control of the match.

“I don’t think the English went anywhere, they batted at a run rate of 2.6 an over, we always felt we were in the game,” said Steyn

“We knew that on day two if we could take some wickets we would be right in it. Luckily there were some overhead conditions that played into our hands.”

He finished the match with figures of 7/155, having registered his 18th Test “fiver” – his first in England – in the second innings. Steyn will take his foot off the pedal – and smile a bit more for the next few days ahead of the Headingley Test that starts on August 2.

He may bowl a spell or two just to keep his rhythm going during the two-day tour game at New Road against Worcester but there’ll not be a strenuous workout for him or the other frontline bowlers, Morné Morkel and Vernon Philander. – The Star


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