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Dale Steyn: A blend of whispering death and white lightning

Modified 21 Dec 2019, 00:31 IST

South Africa v Sri Lanka- 1st Test
South Africa v Sri Lanka- 1st Test

Mike Marqusee once wrote, “Cricket offers all the pleasures of sport in general, plus a highly distinctive appeal of its own to which many elements contribute. One of the chief of these is the way it treats time and space.”

One could argue that Dale Steyn’s career is the living embodiment of this quote as no man had the knack of using time and space like he did.

Steyn-gun had the skill and craft of Whispering Death and the pace of White Lighting. However, what sets him apart is the ability to swing the ball at 145 kmph and make batsmen look like mere bowling pins.

If you survived his new ball onslaught, then may God save you from his lethal spell of reverse swing that would even leave the likes of Sarfraz Nawaz and Imran Khan in awe. Dennis Lillee in the art of fast bowling wrote, “Just Run,” and Steyn did just that.

He ran like a cheetah, glided like an eagle, while his golden arm was as accurate as an Indian-American kid in a spell-bee competition. This was only topped by his celebration like a chainsaw-wielding maniac that truly described the intensity and emotion that drove him to be the best.

Making his debut as a 21-year-old, Steyn made a mockery of Michael Vaughan’s defence by squaring him up with a good length delivery that landed on the middle and leg, only for it to swing away and knock off the then English skipper’s off-stump. The delivery stood as a medallion of excellence for what was to come over the next decade and a half. The South African speedster once said, "I want you to go to bed at night and know when you are playing South Africa tomorrow, you have to face me." Evidently so, every batsman who ever faced him would've had nightmares the previous night, only to relive it, in reality, the next day.

The hallmark of a Dale Steyn spell is that it always left the viewers glued to their seats because people always knew that a contest between the bat and ball was about to ensue, no matter what the conditions and the surface were.

A skilled batsman may tuck him away for boundaries, but deep down they were always aware that all it took him was just one delivery out of nowhere to send the batsmen packing. Steyn’s ability to produce that one good delivery even on his worst days and the consistency in which he did that was gobsmacking.


At a career strike rate of 42.3, Steyn gave you a wicket in every seven overs. This is the best strike-rate for any bowler who has over 300 Test wickets to his name. A stat so ridiculously good that it has not been matched by greats like Waqar Younis and Malcolm Marshall’s incredible statistics.

An all-weather man

Be it Newlands or Nagpur, Steyn left no stone unturned and took no prisoners in his march to illustriousness. He goes down as one of the only four bowlers to take five-wicket hauls against the nine major Test-playing nations.

With 92 wickets in 22 Tests, Steyn also goes down as the pacer with most wickets in Asia and his spells in Ahmedabad in 2007, Nagpur in 2010 and Galle in 2014 are a testament to his skills as an all-terrain bowler. However, one stat that puts the 36-year-old as Test cricket’s greatest is that Steyn managed to reach 400 wickets in 16,634 deliveries in an era dominated by batsmen in not so bowler-friendly pitches.

The stat is critically significant because no bowler across any era has ever managed to pick up the same number of wickets without bowling 20,000 deliveries or more. The Phalaborwa native went on to top the ICC Test bowler rankings for five straight years and with 439 wickets at an average of 22.95, Steyn is well and truly the undisputed king of fast-bowling in the 21st century. His legacy will forever be part of every discussion involving the greatest fast bowlers in the game’s history.

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Published 18 Sep 2019, 18:20 IST
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