“Before passing on the baton to the younger generation, Steyn will be out to prove that he still belongs in the South Africa team. If he keeps fit, he can even think of going above Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev or even Courtney Walsh in the leading wicket-takers list”
It was in Galle where Dale Steyn’s 9-wicket haul in the match helped South Africa go 1-0 up in the series, which they eventually won. And it’s in Galle that Steyn returns to the Test fold once again. It has been a rough couple of years for Steyn, who has been in and out of the South African side due to a niggling shoulder injury. Steyn is just 3 wickets away from becoming the leading wicket-taker for South Africa in Tests. With fond memories of Galle, it will not be surprising to see Steyn break the record in this Test. At 35, despite playing nearly 14 years of international cricket, Steyn is now perhaps hungrier than ever to prove that he still belongs at this level. A fully fit Steyn, along with Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada could be a handful for the Sri Lankans.
It has always been a notion that it is the spinners who shine in the subcontinent. There is no better bowler than Steyn, who can tell you that it’s not true. Steyn has performed consistently in the dust bowls of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In South Africa’s 2010 tour of India, Steyn stunned the hosts with 7-51 at Nagpur, which is still considered to be one of his best spells. In Sri Lanka, Steyn has played just 4 matches, but has had an impact in each and every game.
His first tour was back in 2006, when Steyn was still relatively new to international cricket. The world was aware of this talent, but not too sure how he would perform in testing conditions. Steyn finished with 8 wickets in two Tests, including a 5-wicket haul in Colombo, which almost took South Africa to a series-levelling victory.
When Steyn returned in 2014, he was considered to be at the peak of his career. Everyone expected a good performance from him and he delivered yet again. He picked up 15 wickets in two Tests and helped South Africa win their first ever series in Sri Lanka in Hashim Amla’s first assignment as captain. He raw pace, swing and the bounce he could generate set him apart from the rest. When you have such lethal combination, you are going to be a threat in any part of the world – be it in swinging conditions like England, bouncy tracks in Australia or even in the subcontinent, where hitting the right channels will give you the result.
Most recently when Australia toured Sri Lanka in 2016, it was Mitchell Starc who led the attack for the visitors. He bowled his heart out on tracks that were conducive to fast bowlers. Sratc finished as Australia’s leading wicket-taker with 24 wickets from three Tests, only behind Rangana Herath, who had 28 wickets. What’s more staggering is that the next highest wicket-taking fast bowler was Josh Hazlewood with just 7 scalps. Australia suffered a whitewash, but Starc shined bright.
Steyn returned to cricket 5 months after playing a competitive game turning up for County side Hampshire. He played three List A and two First-Class matches. In his last First-Class match against Yorkshire, Steyn finished with 5-66 in the first innings, which surely would have given him and his South Africa team a huge boost. He went wicketless in the 2-day warm-up match against Sri Lanka Board Presidents XI, but he got through his overs without any discomfort and also got a taste of what it is like to bowl in such conditions. In modern day cricket, a team has to acclimatise to the conditions very quickly. Gone are the days when the touring teams played a month or two of First-Class matches before playing an international game. Nowadays, the visiting teams are given a match or two to work out their strategies.
With Morne Morkel having retired recently, Steyn is the most senior bowler in the squad. He has a great opportunity to pass on his wisdom to the likes of Lungi Ngidi and also Rabada. Steyn in the last leg of his career, would definitely like once the last hurrah, playing for the Proteas before looking back at what has been a wonderful career. Before passing on the baton to the younger generation, Steyn will be out to prove that he still belongs in the South Africa team. If he keeps fit, he can even think of going above Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev or even Courtney Walsh in the leading wicket-takers list.