“I’m just looking forward to having that red ball in my hand again,” says Dale Steyn about playing in the Boxing Day Test. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

CENTURION – “I think I’ve answered that question enough about that one wicket for about two years now. I’m past that – let’s just get going,” Dale Steyn said on Christmas Eve.

You can’t blame Steyn one little bit. Getting past Shaun Pollock’s South African record has been a diary item for a good few years.

It was two years ago that he suffered that horrible shoulder injury in Perth – “it was like a having a broken arm,” he said on Monday.

He’s played just three Tests since. That intervening period was extremely frustrating. The shoulder rehabilitation was painful both physically and mentally, but Steyn learned to cope.

In fact, he did better than cope – he grew as a person, built stronger bonds with those close to him and expanded his horizons through travel.

There was enormous hype around his comeback from the shoulder injury against India at Newlands last January, as part of a four-pronged pace attack.

Then he landed awkwardly in a foothole, busted his ankle and was out for the remainder of the series against India and the subsequent dust-up with Australia.

He looked flat in Sri Lanka, as did the rest of the team, but was close to his best in the One-Day series against the Australians last month, proving once and for all that he was essential to the Proteas’ challenge at next year’s World Cup.

But Test cricket is where Steyn wants to be. “I’m just looking forward to having that red ball in my hand again.”

It’s taken him two years to move from wicket No 417 – David Warner at the WACA in November 2016 – to No 421, Kusal Mendis, in Colombo in July 2018.

“I’ve got a lot more wickets in me, than just one more. I haven’t saved myself to take one more than Polly. There’s a big life plan.

“It will be a beautiful thing to happen if it happens. It’s taken a long time. These records, I have to be honest, are great things to achieve.

“I’ll be highly honoured, but my game plan is to get back to the top of my mark and try and take the next one.

“When I came back, I was really excited not just to play again, but to play at the highest level. What more can you ask for. I feel like I’m 23.”

It’s a grand quirk of fate that Steyn will get the chance to overtake Pollock at his home ground, SuperSport Park, which is hosting the first Boxing Day Test not to take place at a coastal venue.

“When you walk you through these hallways and see the pictures of players who’ve played for South Africa from the Titans, it’s phenomenal. It brings back a lot of memories,” said Steyn, who came through the academy structures with Northerns cricket.

“I was talking with the net bowlers, asking them how it was to bowl to Pakistan and they asked if I’d done something similar.

“And I said in 2003 for the World Cup, I was a change-room attendant here, and I bowled to the Australians, the Indians and to New Zealand.

“It’s a very similar pattern as it is for these guys, and they were blown away. It really is a great place to play cricket.”

Strangely for Steyn, most of his family won’t be in attendance. “My whole bloody family is sitting in Cape Town right now. I buy a holiday house, the fly down to come see me and then I fly up here.

“SuperSport Park is a great place to play and I often have my grandparents or my dad here to watch... but my sister and everyone has trekked down to Cape Town. They don’t get to see the ocean much, so they’ll be spending Christmas by the sea.

“But I’ve got a lot of friends up here, from playing here with the Titans, and it will be nice to see some familiar faces.

“And just to play at a park where I’ve performed well at in the past, where I enjoy playing.

“It’s exciting. I’m just looking forward to having that red ball in my hand again.”

Steyn has used the white-ball formats – particularly that One-Day series in Australia – to prove that he is indeed ready for the international arena once more.

Pakistan is also one of his favourite opponents – he’s taken 47 wickets in 10 Tests against them, 20 of those coming in the three-match series held here five years ago.

“Anytime a subcontinent team comes to South Africa, they look at the pitch, see some grass and it’s as if they are two down already.

“It’s definitely not Dubai. It’s advantage fast bowler. I’ve got fond memories from the Wanderers, where I got 6/8, so I go through that stuff in my mind to boost myself up.”

The first Test starts on Wednesday at 10am.


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