Steyn-less Dale keeps firing on all cylinders
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Dale Steyn is South Africa’s greatest fast bowler, one of the best to ever play the game internationally in all three formats and the fast bowler with the most potent strike rate in Test cricket’s history.
He is also not intent on a slow walk into retirement. Steyn wants that one last Indian Summer - and he wants it to be in the colours of the Proteas, with a white ball in his hand and playing T20 cricket.
Many of Test cricket’s legends have been content to let their five-day record speak for itself and even mock T20 as a sport that mirrors Test cricket only in team numbers, a bat and a ball, but in nothing else.
Steyn is of that rare breed of perfectionist that has conquered all in Test cricket, excelled in the 50 overs ODI version and has embraced all the nuances of T20.
To give context to Steyn’s cricket career, one has to continue to repeat his bowling statistics: 439 Test wickets, at an average of 22.95 and with a strike rate of 42.3 in 93 Tests. 125 ODIs: 196 wickets, at an average of 25.95, an economy rate of 4.87 and a strike rate of 31.9. And finally, 47 T20 internationals: 64 wickets, at an average of 15.8, an economy rate of 6.94 and a strike rate of 18.35.
Steyn will be 37 in June, but when the occasion demands it, he can still crank the pace beyond 145km and close to the fast bowlers’ holy grail of 150km.
It’s not all about pace, he has often said in media interviews, but there are times when it has to be about speed, even if only for one or two deliveries.
Steyn, in his international career, has sent down 25 879 balls. In his first-class career this is an incredible 40 910 balls.
His all-round record defies the time his body has done over the years.
But he continues to go, mentally at his peak and emotionally content.
Steyn has 3.2 million followers on Twitter and 1.4 million on Instagram.
I am among his Twitter followers and he is one of those charismatic sports people, who posts meaningful articles, poses significant social questions, is clearly in touch with the world, comfortably celebrates his love for the outdoors, laughs at himself with the ease at which he could knock over a top order or sweep aside a tail, and mostly humble in the way in which he interacts with his followers.
On April 12, Steyn tweeted: ‘Lockdown boredom Q & A anyone?’
An hour and a half later he had answered all questions, from his best spell to his toughest opponent, to his favourite band, sport outside of cricket and book. His favourite ground, opponent, player and cheat food, which by the way is Butler’s pizza.
His answers got 30 000 likes and retweets.
On April 9, Steyn posted an article, in which the question was asked ‘who is the most impactful bowler in T20?' The article made use of Smart Stats and focused around several factors, outside of wicket-tacking numbers.
‘Interesting read,’ tweeted Steyn, as it showed he was currently the most effective T20 bowler in the world.
He added: ‘Strange that roughly a year ago I changed my mindset on how to go about bowling in 20/20, a more wicket-taking approach with one or two new deliveries. Obviously, having the backing of my coaches and captains has shown to reap rewards.’
The rewards include Steyn fighting back from a serious shoulder injury to commit to T20, with his performances in South Africa and abroad earning him a recall to the national T20 side.
Steyn, not surprisingly, reacted to his national T20 call-up with the enthusiasm of a player who had yet to experience international cricket. It is this attitude and approach that makes him so unique, so likeable to his teammates and supporters and just so bloody good with the ball in hand.
Steyn, in between his Test retirement and T20 recall, had not played international cricket for a year, but his initial omission from the T20 squad in that time never diminished his hunger to make one more telling statement about his class on the international stage.
Steyn has targeted the T20 World Cup, despite uncertainty as to when it will take place. He wants to make his eighth white-ball World Cup the one that finally results in a trophy.
Individually, he may have done everything with the ball and even struck the occasional decisive blow with the bat, but Steyn, above all else, is a team player and he prizes Proteas success over anything in the singular.
Steyn’s international recall was not because of sentiment but because of performance.
"I love playing cricket," Steyn told Cricinfo’s Ferdose Moonda. "As long as that drive is there to still play at the highest level, and get batters out and fox them and outsmart them and all that kind of stuff, if I can do that, I am going to continue to do that," said Steyn.
His 15 wickets in the most recent Mzansi Super League, the third most, and his impactful cameo in Australia’s Big Bash League, typified the fight left in Steyn, but also showcased his mindset to T20 bowling, where slower balls and a variety of off-cutters were as effective as his quickest delivery.
"I decided to play a braver brand of cricket," said Steyn. "I tried one or two different things that I wouldn’t necessarily do and I thought I would use that as a nice time to experiment and it worked out quite nicely. With Test cricket, it is very important that you are bowling at high speed but T20 cricket is a great way to be versatile."
Steyn’s international career demands a standing ovation, even if it is not yet over.
I absolutely loved CricInfo’s Sidharth Monga’s tribute to the virtues of Dale Steyn’s bowling.
"When you can’t catch a break in life, find footage of Steyn’s wicketless spells. They’ll inspire you and they tell you there is a wicket not far away, and that once you get one, you need to have a red-hot go at getting more," wrote Monga, referencing Steyn’s spirit in going wicketless for 69 overs against India in the 2013/14 series, but refusing to concede defeat.
Steyn, in a media interview, once said that when he visualised bowling as an 18 year old he wanted to run in like Brett Lee, leap like Allan Donald, bowl as quick as Shoaib Akhtar and be as accurate as Shaun Pollock.
Pakistan’s Shoaib is famous for saying that to be a fast bowler a player had to be crazy, and while Steyn certainly had those crazy eyes whenever given the ball, his career has been so much more than just that of a crazed fast bowler.
Steyn, to quote Monga, was pace. He was swing. He was spirit. He was possibility. He was bluff. He was trance. He was - and is - life.