“Can you blame Head or Short for their poor technique? Probably yes. But they were up against a fast bowler who is arguably the best fast bowler of his generation”
The last time Dale Steyn was at Perth, he was in whites. David Warner was Australia’s opener. The Steyn Gun, still finding his feet after a long hiatus owing to injury, cranked up the pace and sent down 150kmph bullets as Australia built on a good start. He picked up the first Aussie wicket to fall – with the score at 158 – and Australia lost their remaining nine for 86 runs. Steyn, though, wasn’t party to the celebrations as he had walked off soon after he created the initial breakthrough clutching his shoulders.
Two years hence, Steyn was back at Perth on Sunday. This time in coloured clothing with South Africa months away from another World Cup journey. Admittedly, he felt weird about returning to the scene. “It is weird to be back here,” he admitted. “The last time I walked off here I didn’t realise how bad my shoulder was. When I went in to see the doctor for the MRI he asked if I fell off a ladder or motorbike, I didn’t realise it was actually that bad. Eight months of physiotherapy and non-stop rehab got me back, I’m excited to be back here.”
He had cranked up the pace in the Zimbabwe series before this, hitting speeds of 140-150kmph. But here at Perth, with the track offering lots of movement and the ball zipping through, Steyn went back to his tried and tested mantra – the outswingers with the odd one nipping in or holding its line. The pace was in the late 130s but Steyn was in exceptional control, not even remotely giving the Aussies a chance.
One glance at the glued feet of the Aussie batsmen and you knew Steyn was immensely close to finding the edge. The spring in his steps was evidently back on and Steyn steamed in with the childish fervour that engulfed him to take up the sport. Travis Head appeared clueless as Steyn forced an outside edge off a length ball from the left-hander. The setup was perfect but it was perhaps Steyn’s aura that gave him the wicket. D’Arcy Short followed Head’s heedlessness with a careless cover drive that he kicked through to the slips.
The Steyn that walked off at the venue two years back was missing. The one on the show was a determined, experienced fast bowler who knew exactly what he was about to deliver. More hours at rehab that at grounds, countless retirement rumours and the frustration of sitting out and watching. Steyn’s life had been a mess but he wasn’t one to give up.
Retirement was perhaps the last thing on his mind and he kept reminding his fans that a comeback was coming up. It was hard to believe after two years where he was injured more often than he played. He hadn’t completed an entire Test match in a long, long time.
“The last time I walked off here I didn’t realise how bad my shoulder was. When I went in to see the doctor for the MRI he asked if I fell off a ladder or motorbike, I didn’t realise it was actually that bad. Eight months of physiotherapy and non-stop rehab got me back, I’m excited to be back here,” Steyn had said before the match.
Excited he was. He set the new Perth stadium alight with a fiery display of fast bowling. South Africa aren’t short of firepower in the bowling department even with Morne Morkel’s impromptu Kolpak deal. They have Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and a plethora of others in the wings. But none of them can dream of replacing Dale Steyn. The vein-popping, nerve-wracking Steyn has an aura of his own that the Proteas so sorely missed.
The fervour, the passion, the enigma that he is. Several World Cup heartbreaks or multiple ill-timed injuries do not shut down the fire in his heart. With the others, you see the fire in their body language. With Steyn, you see it his eyes. You’d be blind if you couldn’t see it.
Can you blame Head or Short for their poor technique? Probably yes. But they were up against a fast bowler who is arguably the best fast bowler of his generation. He wasn’t just any bowler who had the knack of picking up wickets. One Day Cricket isn’t even his best format. But with Steyn, you know formats or ball colour barely counts when he is in the mood and rampaging in like a lion with vengeance. He was that at Perth and more. He has conquered the demons that kept him down for a couple of years. Now it’s about kicking on and making it worth the wait.