It’s Nagpur 2010, February 8. The grin on the faces of the South African players can hardly be missed. They have scored a mammoth 558 runs in their first innings of the first Test against India with Hashim Amla contributing an unbeaten 253.
Veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis too has smashed his way to 173. Now, it’s time for the famed Indian batting line up to show their mettle.
Opposition captain Graeme Smith goes up to his premier bowler Dale Steyn and exchange a few words just at the beginning of the first session of Day 3 and Steyn nods to it.
Next, like a person possessed, Steyn creates havoc. On a pitch, where South Africa got over 500 on the scoreboard Steyn almost singlehandedly runs through the Indian batting order bundling them for 233.
He first picks up Murali Vijay with a delightful inswinger and then sends back the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Subramaniam Badrinath, and debutant Wriddhiman Saha. He also gleefully polishes off the tail.
Steyn finishes with figures of 7/51 with India in complete disarray. The hosts lose the match by an innings and six runs and though not as lethal in the first innings Steyn picks up three more wickets in the second innings with his pace and swing.
Jump cut to November 2016, South Africa are playing Australia at Perth, and Dale Steyn is the leader of the bowling pack again. After bowling brilliantly through the morning, Steyn finally gets his reward as he sends back David Warner on 97. His smiles, however, doesn’t last long.
After bowling the 4th delivery of the 12th over, Steyn clutches his right shoulder and grimaces with pain. The physios rush to attend him, and after a while, he walks off the field, still holding the shoulder.
X-Rays later reveal he has had a fracture on his shoulder and will be out for at least six months. On Thursday, November 11 he underwent a successful surgery in Cape Town.
"Dale had successful surgery on Thursday where the fracture in the right shoulder blade was fixated with the placement of a screw," Mohammed Moosajee, South African team-manger was quoted as saying in a press release. "We expect a minimum six-month rehabilitation period before he can start any form of bowling. It is crucial to give the injury enough time to heal and to make sure that he is completely pain-free before he starts bowling again.
Now, what were the difference between the Dale Steyn at Nagpur and the one at Perth a few days back? Well, it’s age. He is now 33 and six months (scheduling a comeback) down the line he won’t be any younger.
In fact, he knows that too. Last year before touring Bangladesh Steyn had said,” At this stage of my career, I’d rather be saving myself to go and participate in the major tournaments, rather than wasting the few balls I have left in my career in a Bangladesh match. I’d rather go to Bangladesh to help and support future South African bowlers, and use what is left of the 10,000 or 20,000 deliveries that I have left in my body for the big tournament.”
The comment had infuriated Bangladesh fans, but then again Steyn knew what he was saying. In the recent past, he has been plagued by injuries. Hips, shoulders, hamstring, you name it, and he has had it.
He had suffered a similar injury to the one now last year against England in the Boxing day Test match; that too had sidelined him for a few weeks.
Even if we consider a comeback six months later, will he be at his best. The Steyn that can send shivers down the spine of a batting line-up? It is highly unlikely that he will be.Yes, he clocks the occasional 150 kph nowadays, but he isn’t even the shadow of the tearaway quick who made his Test debut in 2004 against England.
Well, South Africa have gone in with Kyle Abbott as Steyn’s replacement in the second Test against Australia which is presently underway in Hobart. And the trio of Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander, and Abbott have been brilliant too.
It is unlikely that the Proteas are missing Steyn presently, but he would have been handy in their series against New Zealand. Now that he isn’t available, South Africa would have to think about a playing XI without him. A team for the future.
He is just four wickets away from being the leading wicket-taker in South African Test history, a record he would want to go past whenever he takes the field next. He is quite optimistic that he will be back to full fitness by May when they play England.
But irrespective of the four wickets and as Shaun Pollock says, Steyn will be remembered as the best Test bowler South Africa has produced. And maybe it’s just the time to call it a day.