A friend of ours once played the finest bum note we’ve ever heard while performing Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight at a wedding. It was the very last note and it only sounded so marvellously hideous because he’d played everything flawlessly up until that point. That’s how to get something wrong. Really build up to it. Lay the groundwork first.
South Africa have been in India, England have been in the UAE. Both sides will now do a light spot of shape-shifting ahead of what will almost certainly be a more seam-dominated series in Southafricaland.
If cricket is music – which it isn’t – this will be rather more than a key change. It’ll be more like the end of one track and the start of the next. The majority of the instruments will remain the same, but the tempo will change; there’ll be a bit more lead guitar and a little less emphasis on rhythm.
Dale Steyn has emerged from extensive groin-testing. Rumour has it he did upwards of nine star jumps. He will almost certainly be brilliant should he play and Steven Finn could also return for England. Finn being Finn that poses the perennial question as to whether he’ll do the thing that makes everyone fawn over him or simply lollop in and flop down 83mph disappointment.
The rumour is that England want to rescind first-class status for this week’s second warm-up match and make it another 13-a-side sham. What’s the first rule of training? Specificity. Try and ensure your preparation is as similar as possible to your target event. As close as you can get to a Test would be first-class cricket. The rules are one thing, but the threat to players’ batting and bowling averages also brings just the faintest whiff of the pressures they will subjected to during the grown-up stuff.
It’s easy to shrug off the odd bum note in rehearsals, but the stakes are higher when things are being recorded. It’s worth noting that we only know about the Not Quite So Wonderful Tonight aberration because it was caught on film.
Same as 2010. In fact, it’s probably worth reading that article again because much of it still applies. We don’t try and overthink the Lord Megachief of Gold award. We don’t get too fancy with it. It was business as usual for Dale Steyn in 2013 and business brought him 51 Test wickets at 17.66.
When you’ve racked up 525-8, as South Africa did against New Zealand back in January of last year, you brace yourself for a long, tough stint in the field. Only in your wildest dreams do you imagine that your opening bowler will take 5-17 in that sort of scenario.
For most bowlers, that would be the standout performance of the year – perhaps even in their entire career. However, as we know, Dale Steyn ain’t most bowlers. He’s a vicious threshing machine into which helpless Test batsmen are fed. He spits out husks. Against Pakistan in February, he conceded eight runs and spat out six husks.
It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, or where: 6-8 is just stupid.
What really swayed it for us, however, was Steyn’s performance against India towards the end of the year. That highlighted the quality that separates him from those who are merely pretenders. Dale Steyn is simply unremitting. It’s tempting to list synonyms to drive this point home, but you’re smart people – you can read that one word and appreciate how much we mean it.
Even good bowlers can find themselves cowed from time to time. It might not be the opposition that cause this to happen – it might just be conditions – but at some point or other, pretty much every bowler finds themself ever so slightly disheartened. It’s entirely natural. It’s entirely logical. It would be freakish and delusional to feel any different.
In the first Test between South Africa and India, Dale Steyn took 1-61 and 0-104. In the second Test, India reached 198-1 and Steyn had conceded 62 runs without taking a wicket.
Did he relent? Did he bollocks.
His next 10 deliveries saw the departure of Cheteshwar Pujara for 70, Murali Vijay for 97 and Rohit Sharma first ball. Match and series suddenly veered down an unmarked side road. Then, at 316-5, he was at it again, dismissing MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma within the space of eight deliveries.
Steyn finished that innings with 6-100 and this is why he’ll finish his career with a better average than Vernon Philander. Even when going for runs and with nothing to show for it, he was still hell-bent on dismissing batsmen. That, after all, is what Test cricket is all about.
Congratulations, Dale Steyn. You are 2013’s Lord Megachief of Gold.
We’ve just got back and we’re trying to catch up. It strikes us that Dale Steyn taking six wickets for eight runs was probably the most significant event. When you need to clarify which are runs and which are wickets in someone’s bowling figures, you know they’ve done something special. What happened? It was swing at pace, wasn’t it?
South Africa like to ration Dale Steyn’s deliveries. He’s bowled almost four times as many in Tests as he has in one-day internationals. That is the correct distribution and it is one major reason why South Africa are currently a much better side than anyone else.
We thought Pakistan might give them a game. Pakistan have not given them a game.
If they do want to give them a game, we can recommend His and Hers, the sexist board game that everyone can enjoy. We particularly enjoy the questions which include the word ‘probably’. More quizzes should inhabit the realm of cold, hard conjecture.
Is there a real lack of perspective these days, or is it just that the internet has provided an outlet for people who never had it? Before the first Test, some people were talking up Vernon Philander as being the main threat to England’s batsmen and after the first day, others felt Dale Steyn had become mediocre.
Philander’s a fine bowler, but to get all het up about his bowling average was to ignore the fact that he had only bowled in South Africa and New Zealand – two of the more seam-friendly nations. His Test achievements are striking, but they don’t begin to make a case for superiority over Steyn. Steyn is the best fast bowler around because he is the best fast bowler overall.
Philander is probably more accurate, but Steyn is still pretty tidy. Shaun Tait is faster, but Steyn is fast enough and he’s a damn sight quicker than Tait after eight overs, never mind after 20. James Anderson is probably more skilful, but Steyn still swings the ball. Basically, he is up there with the best no matter what fast bowling quality you look at.
He’s athletic. He has great cardiovascular fitness. He’s aggressive. He bowls swing and seam and a mean bouncer. He has a fair idea how to size up a pitch and he can identify batsmen’s weaknesses. His bad days aren’t too bad and his good days are exceptional.
We know all of this, because we’ve seen him take hundreds of Test wickets. To suggest that Philander’s somehow more of a threat because he’s dobbled the shit out of the opposition in two home series and one in New Zealand is demented. What’s his average in India? We don’t know. Steyn’s is 20.
Dale Steyn doesn’t want to be the guy who gets a standing ovation for three wickets in a Twenty20 match. He’s prepared to put in the hard yards. This is what he said before this Test series:
”There’s a lot of guys who can bowl 150km/h when you give them the ball when they’re fresh in the morning, but can they do it late in the afternoon when it’s boiling hot and they’re bowling their 20th over for the day? I want to be able to do that and I want to be the only guy who is able to do that. I want to be in your face all day, not for little periods of time, that is pretty much my inspiration. I want the opposition to walk off and say: ‘Shit, that was tough’.”
He then spent a bit of time whinging about the fact that South Africa are only playing two Tests against Australia and only three against England next summer.
It’s impossible not to warm to the man. This is how he came to be named Lord Megachief of Gold 2010.
“Please don’t let it be the kid,” said Nasser Hussain at the start of all of this. He spoke for most of us.
We wanted Mohammad Amir to be innocent, but it turns out that he wasn’t and believing that he might have become a future great makes no sense now that the facts are in.
He won’t be a future great and there is a very good reason for that.
Cricket, and Test cricket in particular, is a test of character. In fact, over the course of a career, it’s a test of everything. The great players weren’t necessarily the only ones with extraordinary skill at their disposal. They were also the ones who gave themselves the best chance of proving how good they were.
He is currently considered the best bowler in the world. Is that simply because he’s the most skilful? No, it’s not.
Some bowlers have had better opening spells, but Steyn stays strong all day. Other bowlers have taken more wickets in an innings, but Steyn bowls well almost every innings. Some bowlers have had fewer setbacks, but Steyn has responded better to the ones he’s had.
He’s had bad days and injuries and he’s wealthy enough that he doesn’t need to play. Yet he does. He hasn’t got lazy; he hasn’t got fat; he hasn’t grown dispirited or disillusioned; and as far as any of us know, he hasn’t accepted money to bowl any no-balls.
Being persuaded to fix elements of cricket matches is a failing. It knackers your career even more comprehensively than other failings, like lack of skill, lack of fitness or wealth-induced complacency, which is what keeps so many promising cricketers from achieving their potential.
We are not going to mourn the loss of Mohammad Amir, because even if he was pressured into doing what he did, he doesn’t seem to have resisted strongly enough. He was found wanting.
It’s yet another amazing thing about Dale Steyn that he’s pretty damn likely to slice in and arc the first ball of the day past the batsman’s outside edge. He doesn’t really do looseners.
Our own approach to starting work is more like that of Peter Gibbons, who explains how he likes to just ‘space out’ for about an hour at the start of his working day.
“I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.”
Dale’s the keen guy at work. The guy who’s really eager and ‘tries’.
But it’s okay to be that guy in his line of work, because his line of work is massively cool.
Dale’s a fast bowler.
There’s a great Test series taking place in South Africa at the moment and we’re gutted that we’re missing so much of it because of the Ashes.
It’s like when you get carried away ordering takeaway. The leftovers won’t keep for a week, so you’ve got to make some tough decisions about what gets eaten and what doesn’t. However, while we’ve had a hell of a lot of Ashes, we’ve always got room for Dale Steyn and Sachin Tendulkar.
While Morne Morkel’s a 5-90 then 0-90 kind of a bowler. Dale Steyn’s more 3-50, 4-80, 5-90. Off-days are very rare and he’s been slashing at India almost constantly for three Tests now.
In many ways, Tendulkar is similar. Test hundreds 50 and 51 against this bowling attack in its home conditions tells you pretty much all you need to know about the man.
If we have one minor gripe, it’s that it’s only a three-Test series. Wait. Did we say ‘minor gripe’? We meant ‘colossal ball-aching issue that just about makes us want to cry’.
It was MS Dhoni in 2009. It’s Dale Steyn in 2010.
Sachin Tendulkar ran him close, hitting seven Test hundreds, but it can’t be a batsman every year. Graeme Swann took more Test wickets, but 44 of them were against Bangladesh and a spattered Pakistan side that barely ever looked like limping to 200.
Dale Steyn, however. Dale Steyn has been an unqualified success. The Test figures (and who cares about any others?) are 60 wickets at 21.41 in 11 matches. Those are statistics from a long gone era, but that’s barely half the story.
So far, in his Test career, Dale Steyn has taken a wicket every 39.7 balls. Shane Bond and Steve Finn are in the same ballpark, but they can only boast of 133 wickets between them. Steyn has taken 232.
He is, quite simply, the most destructive bowler of modern times. In the all-time list, only George Lohmann has taken 100 or more wickets at a faster rate and he played in the 1890s.
Lohmann played on a grand total of nine grounds over the course of his Test career. Dale Steyn played on 11 in 2010.
He went through England at Johannesburg; India at Nagpur; West Indies at Port of Spain; Pakistan at Abu Dhabi; and through India again at Durban. If Dale Steyn played a World XI on the moon, you’d bet on him getting a five-for. Even if there weren’t any fielders.
The Nagpur demolition was the most memorable. We’re brought up to believe that you need great spinners to succeed in India, but after South Africa had made 558-6, Steyn went and took 7-51, unzipping his flies and urinating in the face of conventional wisdom.
No, not really. Dale Steyn is Lord Megachief of Gold 2010 because he makes every Test match he plays in exciting.
When wickets aren’t falling in a Test, the match isn’t progressing. You can score as many runs as you like, but TEST CRICKET IS ABOUT TAKING WICKETS. Steyn drives Test matches. Without him, they’re far less likely to go somewhere.
Plus, he means it. He bloody means it. During the Cape Town Test against England in January, we wrote:
“If you saw Dale Steyn’s celebration when he dismissed Kevin Pietersen on day four, that was quite something; that was a fast bowler on the verge of combustion, so full of adrenaline-fuelled power that he could have towed the continents back into place to reform Pangaea.”
He is hell-bent on taking wickets and it shows. That is watchable in itself. In the same match, he bowled the most spectacular spell to Paul Collingwood with a new ball. It was mystifyingly unsuccessful, but as a passage of play, it was as memorable as anything that’s happened all year.
No-one is doing more for Test cricket than Dale Steyn right now.