Dale Steyn South African Fast Bowler

Dale Steyn

Dale Steyn is the finest fast bowler in the world today. Mitchell Johnson has
been as destructive in recent times but Johnson’s revival is relatively short-lived
and before the winter of 2013–14 his was a mercurial talent. Steyn has been
consistently excellent for many years now: fast, accurate and capable of
swinging the ball, and utterly focused on his job of spearheading the South
Africa attack. Few genuinely fast bowlers seem able to survive the modern
merry-go-round of tours and tournaments; he is one who has, even if he has been
spared the occasional one-day commitment. He is a precious commodity and one
of the main reasons why South Africa have been so strong.

Short in stature, he is perhaps more like Malcolm Marshall in method than
any other fast bowler in our list. At 5ft 10in, he actually stands an inch shorter
than Marshall, but the problems he poses are essentially the same. They both
moved the ball at high pace, and that is a devilishly hard challenge for any
batsman to solve. If there was one secret to their magnificent knack of taking
wickets, that was it.
They took their wickets in similar ways, with the stumps and pads threatened
on a regular basis but the outside edge also vulnerable to the ball that nipped
away late. Perhaps Marshall was slightly more adept at darting the ball back in
to the right-hander’s pads. Both had exceptionally good records in Asia where
fast bowlers generally find the going hard, a reflection that with their lower
trajectories they needed less bounce than many of their type to cause problems.
As Steyn will not turn 32 until June 2015, he could yet push Glenn
McGrath’s record of 563 wickets, the most by any fast bowler in Tests. He is
truly a man for all seasons and all conditions. He has won Test matches in every
Test-playing country in the world, taking ten wickets in Nagpur, ten in
Melbourne, nine in Galle, eight in Trinidad and seven in Karachi. England is the
only place where his wickets have cost more than 30 but even there he has
helped South Africa win two series and bowled superbly at The Oval in 2012 to
take five for 56 in the second innings on a pitch on which South Africa had
earlier made 637 for two. He has also been involved in two winning tours of
Australia – no easy place to come away with a result – in 2008–09 and 2012–13.
He was only 24 years old when he had what must rank as one of the greatest
seasons any bowler has ever experienced. In fact, statistically, his haul of 78
wickets during the 2007–08 season has never been bettered. What was so
impressive about it was that it involved tours of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India,
as well as home series against New Zealand and West Indies, and he proved
himself to be a threat whatever the opposition, whatever the surface. He had
previously played 11 Tests in three years, starting at home against England in
2004–05, and shown promise of great things to come, but this was his big
breakthrough.
Like Marshall, Steyn formed a very successful partnership with a beanpole
partner who gave the batsmen something very different to think about from the
other end – different height, different bounce, different threats to their welfare.
Whereas Marshall had Joel Garner for company as his new-ball partner in the
mid-1980s, Steyn has worked in tandem with Morne Morkel for the greater part
of his international career. Morkel has been less consistent than Garner, who was
almost as dangerous as Marshall himself, but when he got things right he and
Steyn could be almost unmanageable, as England discovered at the Wanderers in
2010 when they were bowled out twice in less than 50 overs on a pitch with pace
and bounce. It is to Steyn’s credit that he has carried the attack so well on the
occasions when Morkel failed to fire.
Manicured pitches and a general shortage of out-and-out fast bowlers has left
the modern batsman quite pampered, but then along came the likes of Steyn and
Johnson to shake them out of their complacency. Steyn has done that to even the
best players: just as he discomfited England in Johannesburg, so he has caused
others unease. On the same ground in 2013, he returned match figures of 11 for
60 against a Pakistan side whose first-innings capitulation for 49 said more about
the quality of the bowling from Steyn (who took six for eight), Morkel and
Vernon Philander than their lack of appetite for the fight. Steyn’s own insatiable
hunger for bowling was illustrated by him ending the match with a spell of 11
overs, even though he had already claimed his tenth wicket of the game. The
previous month Steyn had played a less prominent part in New Zealand being
dismissed for 42 in Cape Town.
Just as batsmen were uneasy at the pace Steyn generated, so he relished the
anxiety he caused. He could frighten top-order batsmen as well as tail-enders
such as James Anderson, whom he peppered at Headingley in 2008 when
Anderson acted as nightwatchman. Asked to describe his role in the lead-up to
the 2012 Test series in England, he said, ‘I’m just trying to be the fastest bowler
South Africa has when we walk out on to the field. That’s my job. There’s times
I can bowl as quickly as anybody in the world … Frankly, I just want to take
wickets and scare the s**t out of people.’ Jeff Thomson could not have put it
more succinctly.
Of the bowlers with more than 350 Test wickets to their name, no one – not
even Marshall – has a strike rate to compare with Steyn’s figure in the low 40s.

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