Dale Steyn © Getty Images (File photo)
Dale Steyn has been a symbol of excellence for South Africa © Getty Images (File photo)

 

Dale Steyn’s rise and rise has arguably been the most important element of South Africa climbing up the ladder in rankings. R Vishal visits his journey. 

 

Sri Lanka — the land of South Africa’s nightmares. The island nation’s sweltering heat, indefatigable run-gluttons; Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara along with Muttiah Muralitharan’s wizardry had previously brought the team to their knees and a few feet below the ground as well. The sullen, forlorn look on his teammates’ faces did not deter Dale Steyn.

 

His teammates trembled and shook with bemusement. Some may have silently vowed never to set foot on Sri Lankan airlines, leave alone returning to these parts. The beefy, wide-eyed man of few words from the quaint town of Phalaborwa was made up of stuff only a few of his predecessors had displayed in the game’s history. A large portion of Dennis Lillee’s wickets came at home. His predecessor Allan Donald’s volatility at times took precedence over the job at hand.

 

Steyn towers above the smattering of former greats  mentioned above and his peers in terms of the sheer size of his task. The full bloom of Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander came many years after Steyn’s career took off. He had to contend with a less than adequate Andre Nel and a waning Makhaya Ntini during his initial years. Wickets though, rained like in the outdoors of Manchester. Like Muralitharan in his pomp, South Africa’s roadmap to the top, too depended on how the pacer blossomed.

 

Where other pacers resigned to a hammering before a ball was bowled in the run carpets of India, Steyn was up for another one of his ‘you vs you’ battle. Even with the Men in Blue’s constellation of batting superpowers operating at their peak of their powers, the Protea was skittling out his opponents. 26 wickets in five Tests with two five and one ten-wicket haul is an incredible return by a non subcontinent pacer in recent memory.

 

After the scars of 2006, Steyn stepped into Sri Lanka again fully knowing the magnitude of his task. Steyn had to tick the ‘conquered’ box in the Sri Lanka section. In the ongoing Test match at Galle, he commemorated his 23rd five-wicket haul and his first after turning 31 recently.

 

While Galle is traditionally a spin friendly wicket, a wily cricketing brain can outsmart the hosts too. James Anderson did it in the recent past and now, Steyn has a five-for in good ol’ Ceylon too. The right-arm pacer is far from finished and well on his way to the 500-mark. The beating he received from AB de Villiers, MS Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan in the Indian Premier League (IPL) rudely woke him up from his slumber. With his piercing glare and late swing at pace, he is again sending shivers down the spine of batsmen.

 

Having cemented his stature as a legend, one wonders what individual feats lie ahead for Steyn. As for the moment, he has firmly planted the pole and hoisted the flag across the globe.

 

(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)