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The best of Dale Steyn


Dale_Steyn_Test_Cricket_South_AfricaTest cricket was left poorer on August 5, when the marvellous Dale Steyn announced his retirement from the five-day format. This signalled the end of the Test career of one of the greatest fast bowlers the game has seen, and arguably the most impactful match-winner produced by South Africa. The Phalaborwa-born speedster enriched Test cricket with many a breathtaking display since he first burst onto the scene, against England at Port Elizabeth in December 2004.  

Armed with hostile pace, nagging accuracy and the ability to swing the ball both ways, not to mention a rhythmic run-up that generated anticipation of the thrilling sight that would often follow and an exuberant celebration style, Steyn was passion personified with the ball in hand. He collected 439 wickets – a South African record – in 93 Tests (the last of which was against Sri Lanka in February, also at Port Elizabeth) at an average of 22.95 and a strike rate of just 42.3.

These remarkable numbers are a testimony to the 36-year-old’s reputation as the finest fast bowler of his time, and it is not surprising that his peak coincided with South Africa’s climb to the top of the Test table – the Proteas did not lose a single overseas series between 2007-08 and 2015-16. As we express our gratitude for being privileged enough to have lived in the era of Dale Steyn, here is a look back at his most memorable performances in whites, in chronological order.   

5/23 v India, Second Test, Ahmedabad, 2007-08

The first Test, a drawn affair at Chennai, had seen India pile up a humungous 627. However, things could not have been more different at Motera, where Steyn was instrumental in destroying the hosts’ batting with an incisive first-day spell. With Makhaya Ntini equally effective at the other end, Steyn castled Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid to help reduce India to 53/5, before polishing the tail off. India were shot out for 76 before lunch, and went on to lose by an innings.

5/87, 76 and 5/67 v Australia, Second Test, Melbourne, 2008-09

South Africa came into this Boxing Day Test after having achieved an astonishing chase of 414 at Perth. A century stand for the second wicket between Simon Katich and captain Ricky Ponting had carried Australia to 128/1, when Steyn bowled the former with one that angled into the left-hander. A few minutes later, Michael Hussey became Steyn’s second victim, caught behind for a duck. Steyn later dismissed Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Hauritz to finish with 5/87.

Replying to Australia’s 394, South Africa fell to 184/7 as the second day drew to a close. Steyn came in at 251/8, and went on to score a four-hour 76 – the first and highest of his two Test fifties – in a game-changing stand of 180 with JP Duminy (166) that gave South Africa a lead of 65. He took another 5/67 in the second dig to cap a fine all-round show, as Australia folded for 247. South Africa cruised to a nine-wicket win, thus sealing a maiden series victory in Australia.

7/51 v India, First Test, Nagpur, 2009-10

Steyn again showed his liking for the subcontinent, as he gave an outstanding exhibition of reverse swing on the way to a career-best 7/51 at the VCA Stadium. A third-wicket partnership of 340 between Hashim Amla (253*) and Jacques Kallis (173) propelled South Africa from 6/2 to 558/6, after which Steyn took centre stage. The ‘Steyn Remover’ first struck when Murali Vijay shouldered arms to an in-swinger, which left his woodwork shattered and the score at 40/2.

A few overs later, Steyn netted the big fish by having Sachin Tendulkar caught behind off a length delivery that moved away. Sehwag (109) and debutant Subramaniam Badrinath (56) rescued India from 56/3, but when the score was 221/5, Steyn roared back to dismantle the lower order by taking five wickets for just three runs in 22 balls. He completed a ten-wicket haul by taking 3/57 as India followed on 325 in arrears, and South Africa duly registered an innings win.

6/8 and 5/52 v Pakistan, First Test, Johannesburg, 2012-13

Pakistan began with promise at the Wanderers, what with South Africa getting bowled out for 253 on the first day. But their satisfaction was short-lived, as ‘Steyn Gun’ came out firing on all cylinders. In one of his most devastating spells, Steyn cut through the Pakistani top order on the second morning by accounting for Mohammad Hafeez (caught behind), Nasir Jamshed (LBW) and Younis Khan (caught at first slip off a brilliant curving delivery), reducing the score to 12/3.

It only became worse for Pakistan, as Vernon Philander and Kallis added to their misery with two wickets each. The irrepressible Steyn came back to grab the last three wickets to fall, which terminated the innings at 49 – Pakistan’s lowest Test total. The visitors fared better in the second innings with a total of 268 in an improbable chase of 480, but Steyn was in his element again, as he returned figures of 5/52 to finish with a match haul of 11/60 – his career-best figures in Tests.    

6/100 v India, Second Test, Durban, 2013-14

The two-Test series was locked at 0-0, and it was India who took early control by moving to 198/1, with Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara in the middle. But Steyn changed the game with a burst of three wickets – those of Vijay and Pujara as well as Rohit Sharma for a golden duck – in ten balls, en route to a bag of six. India had to settle with 334, to which South Africa replied with 500. Steyn also took 3/47 in India’s second innings of 223, before the hosts won by ten wickets.

5/54 and 4/45 v Sri Lanka, First Test, Galle, 2014

Searching for their first series win in Sri Lanka since 1993, South Africa were served by yet another Steyn masterclass in the opening Test of the two-match series at the picturesque Galle International Stadium. Centuries from Dean Elgar (103) and Duminy (100*) boosted South Africa to a formidable 455/9, setting the stage for Steyn. The pace ace had Kaushal Silva caught at long leg off a bouncer, and later scalped Mahela Jayawardene by trapping him plumb in front.

Sri Lanka were 190/4 and attempting a comeback when Steyn provided a timely strike by having Lahiru Thirimanne caught behind. In his next two overs, he added the wickets of Dinesh Chandimal, caught at short mid-wicket off a short one, and Dilruwan Perera, caught behind off one that reversed in, to complete his fifer. Sri Lanka were ultimately set a target of 370, and duly lost by 153 runs. Steyn continued from where he had left, giving himself match figures of 9/99.

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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