SK Play of the day: Dale Steyn fires on all cylinders against New Zealand in Centurion

Steyn vs NZ
Dale Steyn’s five-wicket-haul in the 2nd innings of the 2nd Test vs NZ would have settled down a lot of nerves
Kislaya Srivastava

The past 18 months or so have been diabolical for the one-time world-beaters in world cricket. But more than anyone else, one man who has borne the brunt of the beatings that the team took without even being a part of it, for a larger part of the past year, has been Dale Steyn. The clandestine relationship that fast-bowlers share with injuries often doesn’t end well. Folks like Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff and Ryan Harris would know it better than anyone else. Steyn knew that too.

“If I must be realistic about it, running in and bowling 145kph all day when you haven't done it for a long time is going to be really tough. Objective number one is to get through 18 overs a day, maybe dropping in pace, but being as effective as possible. 140 is going to be enough,” the now 33-year-old South African speedster had said before the first Test in Durban.

That was, if I try to be absolutely lenient, a very un-Steyn-like demeanour shown by the gun that knew to how fire non-stop without recoiling. However, as it is widely spoken around, cricket is a great leveller. Steyn was paying a price, perhaps.

Dale Steyn 2.0

For all those steamy eyes that stared down the at the batsmen, sending shivers down their spines, for all those verbals being hurled at the openers and tailenders alike, the abuse had to be taken. Karma had to strike back. And it did in a manner Steyn would have dreaded the most. However, the quality of a canny old man is to persevere with whatever is served to him.

When he took the new ball in Durban, he showed just why it's not a good idea to rub him off. With that Test being washed out, for reasons disliked by some, Centurion was his opportunity. When New Zealand were set 400 runs to win in the fourth innings on Day 4, Steyn knew that the game was being served to him on a platter. All he had to do was gulp it down with the silence of an old man but the ferocity of the fast-bowler that lied within.

And he didn’t wait for long to get his arsenal firing. The first ball of the fourth innings was a regulation angled-across delivery from over the wicket to the left-handed Tom Latham, who did his very best to keep the ball undisturbed on its path, except for not withdrawing his protruded bat dangling in uncertainty outside the off stump. The ball took the gloves and rattled onto the stumps.

Steyn vs NZ 2016
Guptill was dismissed by Steyn two times out the three innings that the Kiwi played in the series

Carnage for New Zealand

Steyn was jubilant, but only half. The characteristic raise of the arm was there with the index finger out pointing towards the sky, but the thump of the fists, the glare of the eyes was missing. Perhaps even Steyn didn’t expect it to come so soon, or maybe, the Kiwis were in a mood to relent. Martin Guptill, who’d enjoyed sunny days in Zimbabwe, had walked up to Steyn after the latter had dismissed him in a Caribbean Premier League (CPL) game and said, “I can’t wait to come to South Africa”

“Neither can I,” was the quick retort. Two times out of three has Steyn dismissed Guptill in the series. A beautifully seaming delivery, cannoning away from the right-hander took the edge and landed in the hands of Amla, who best resembled a monk throughout the Test, with his black glasses perfectly complementing his black beard.

New Zealand were 3/2, and if there was one man who was destined to come in to bat, and who had no clue about what it felt three years back after getting just 42 more runs, it was Ross Taylor. However, like it was the case all those years back, luck wasn’t on his side this time around either. The ball swung in towards Taylor, pitched just on the middle stump, and then stayed diabolically low. Before Taylor could bring his frame down, the ball had clipped his back leg, that was right in front of his off stump.

At 7/4 and with Taylor nowhere to be seen now, it could not have been any closer to the New Year's Test in 2013. However, Henry Nicholls and BJ Watling at other plans. Before Watling was trapped leg-before by Dane Piedt, NZ had 75 runs on the board, 30 more runs for sure, but a long way from being enough.

Mitchell Santner and added 43 more runs thereafter, before Steyn, who had just seen an outside edge off Santner’s bat being dropped by Amla in the slips, got one to penetrate the slippery hole between the bat and the pad and take just the middle stump off the ground, ravaging the stump mic with it. With that wicket taken and NZ at 118/6, one would have expected Steyn to run through the lower-order.

Dale Steyn vs NZ tests
Match figures of 8/99 in his first completed Test since comeback hold Steyn in good stead

Steyn finishes it off

But it wasn’t to be. Karma, you see. He had his canines intact, but his muscles were tired now. The onus had to be shifted towards Kagiso Rabada, who’s both raw and fresh, and the 20-year-old took out Tim Southee and Neil Wagner in successive overs. The Kiwis were nine down, and the game was a mere formality. Faf du Plessis brought back Steyn.

The third session was into its dying moments. The sunlight was descending and black stripes could be seen on the outfield which were a result of the shadows caused by the stands. While the same could not be said about Steyn’s career, he had to re-emphasize that. The short ball, that hurried the settled Nicholls, who was batting on 76, who top-edged the ball towards Rabada towards square leg.

The youngster took the catch with the minimum amount of fuss and Steyn smiled. He had been smiling during the day as well, but this one was different. He had made a promise to himself. He had reined in the instinct that had owned him and made him who he is. He had softened his canines and loosened his frame. But, he was back. Steyn was back, or maybe we can believe so for now.

Match figures of 8/99 aren’t that bad, are they? Wasim Akram’s record of 414 was surpassed, but that would not have been on his mind, I think. “There's going to be a day when I can rev it up to 145 and maybe even 150 but we've got somebody like KG (Kagiso Rabada) who can do that now,” he’d said before the series.

“You can hit that hard length all day until they make a mistake and that's what I love. I love testing guys' patience and it's a waiting game. I am a fisherman, I will wait there all day and hopefully find the edge or knock his poles over.”

The fisherman, the softer soul of Steyn, came to the fore in this game, although Neil Wagner would like to believe otherwise. Age does that to you more often than not. I hope that Steyn only matures from here, just as the man matures off the field.

Edited by Staff Editor
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