Dale Sten proved, form is temporary, but class is permanent……..
There is something about the fast bowlers that makes us sit up and notice them unravelling their venomous setup on the batsmen ball-after-ball. Here, by fast bowlers, I refer to that breed of bowlers who can touch the speedometer limits of 145 km on a consistent basis. But despite all the intrigue and awe that these fast bowlers generate, there is always another facet attached to their game and that facet is injuries. Many a time we have seen quality pacemen being affected by regular injuries leading to shortening of their careers with achievements so less than what were they destined to achieve.
A similar kind of scare was given by Dale Steyn when he was regularly struggling with serious injuries which were threatening to cut short his illustrious career. In the period between the end of 2016 to the middle of 2018, Steyn could only feature in just a solitary Test. Those 18-months were simply the darkest he had ever gone through. The return journey was also not smooth. It was nothing like he made his return into the Test arena and batsmen were willingly giving him their wickets, terrified by his pace. He had a really tough grind in Sri Lanka where he could manage just two wickets from as many Tests. Then Pakistan came touring to the South African shores and in that series, you could have said that the Steyn we knew for so long is slowly and steadily gaining back his groove.
“After not playing for two years, I feel like it’s a blessing to just be playing again. I’ve almost had to start over. I’m not on 430-odd wickets, I’m on 20 since breaking Shaun Pollock’s record. It’s nice to finish a three-Test series against Pakistan and not have someone write: ‘He’s an injury away from retiring’. It’s nice to contribute again. Hopefully, I can continue this for longer,” said an emotional Steyn after his record-breaking performance of 4 wickets for 48 runs in the Sri Lankan innings in the Durban Test which took him past the legendary Kapil Dev’s tally of 434 wickets.
Truly, when Steyn recorded an average of more than 89 from two Tests in Sri Lanka, it was easy to brush him aside and think that he is not going to survive much longer and a career-ending injury might be around the corner but Steyn’s perseverance and determination to regain his glory kept the fire in him burning and the results are there to see. In his own admission, he is bowling as fast as ever and is, actually, enjoying his bowling at the moment. Further, the proof of his fitness can be gauged by his marathon 10-over spell in Durban.
“When I’m bowling 10-over spells, it shows I’m enjoying what I do. I could take the easy option, take 4 for 30 and go and stand at fine leg and tell someone else to do it. But it’s fun. It’s fun taking wickets. It’s fun hitting the guys on the head. As long as nothing serious happens.”
Steyn, from the start, has been the bowler whose primary strength had been his ability to move the ball at speeds going beyond 145 km in the speedometer and if that pace gets compromised, he will become a pale shadow of the bowler who boasts of the best bowling strike-rate in the world (his strike-rate is just above 42- the best in the world). One can see him clocking those menacing speeds once again in the ongoing Test series against the Lankans and it’s a sign that he, at his age of 35, is still a valuable bowling asset for any captain and has still got the ability to take wickets at will.
“The moment I can’t bowl 140-145 kph, and on a good day touch 150 kph like in fast Australian wickets, then you’ve got to ask yourself the question: How good am I? I’ve got to be honest – I don’t have all the skill in the world. I’ve got to bowl at a high pace consistently, over a long period of time. With a little bit of skill – I can shape it away, and I can bring it back in. You’ve got to be smart about when to bowl a bouncer, when to bowl a Yorker, and when to bowl a slower ball, and that’s what experience is. After 15 years, I’ve got some of that”.
Those are priceless words for the young generation of fast bowlers from the legend himself, emphasizing the importance of how to maintain the strength of your skill-set and succeeding with what you have got instead of emulating some person or another and getting lost in the process.
Unfortunately, Steyn couldn’t get the five-wicket haul he was searching for – with Dean Elgar putting down a regulation catch in the slip cordon to deny him his first five-wicket haul since August 2016. But with the form as good as he has shown to be in, it’s just a matter of time when he breaks the drought and giving us, and the South African fans, the sight that we are waiting for- the red cherry aloft in his hand with smile and content writ large on his face.
His fighting spirit has brought him back to the place where he belongs i.e. the cricket pitch and as long as it is there, he will strive hard to deliver to us what we have got used to seeing from him over the years – him taking wickets and quite a lot of them. With his attitude of ‘I’m going to carry on bowling here until the captain says he’s had enough,’ we should brace ourselves for watching his tricks of bowling until he says he’s had enough.