Dale Steyn’s early spell to Rohit Sharma set up the game for South Africa as they walloped India by 141 runs in the first One-Day International (ODI) at Johannesburg. Rohit, one of the most successful ODI batsmen of 2013, was made to look miserable and it was all due to Steyn’s mastery. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at the interesting but wicket-less spell for Steyn and describes it importance in context of the game.
Dale Steyn is a class act — a complete fast-bowler who combines all the lethal elements — seam, swing, pace and bounce. There is nothing a batsman can do when he is at the top of his mark and in his zone to deliver those thunderbolts. When in form, his run-up is reminiscent of a lion on the prowl for its prey, for the batsmen can only hope for survival. In the first One-Day International (ODI) at Johannesburg, the Indian batsmen were hopelessly prodding and hopping at a barrage of jaffas. Not only were they swinging prodigiously, but also kicked off a length. That he didn’t any wicket at the top was surprising, but it was his initial spell that helped South Africa push for the huge victory.
Let us revisit his first spell, which had the in-form Rohit Sharma in all sorts of trouble. Rohit has been one of the best one-day batsmen this year and has consistently scored with conviction. There has been authority and assurance in his strokeplay throughout the year and he has looked in control of things during most of his innings. However, Steyn made him look like a man woefully out of form. Rohit couldn’t get bat to the ball for the first 15 deliveries as he was puzzled by a display of complete fast-bowling. Rooted to the crease, he was squared up a few times and tentatively wafted his bat at deliveries that shaped away from him.
In many ways, it was similar to the spell Steyn bowled to Rohit during an Indian Premier League (IPL) game in 2012. Mumbai Indians were chasing a very low total then and Steyn castled Richard Levi with a scorching yorker. And, when Rohit walked in, he was made to play at peaches. In fact, in hindsight, one felt Rohit had done well not to edge any. The wicket was a bit lively at the Wankhede Stadium that day, but for Steyn it doesn’t matter. Even on the flattest surfaces, he can produce a spell of brilliance.
That begs the question: Was it just brilliant bowling at Johannesburg or were the Indian batsmen inept for those conditions? When South Africa batted, it looked a belter of a wicket. Quinton de Kock and company had no trouble in playing through the line of the ball, although the Indian bowling wasn’t any good, one felt that the pitch was made for batsmen. However, it looked a different surface once Steyn bowled the first over.
Most of the deliveries pitched in the corridor of uncertainty and went past Rohit with decent pace. Some of them bounced and Rohit shouldered arms to those. By pitching in that very corridor, Steyn had Rohit in two minds, whether to play or leave. There was no room to guide it through the off-side, nor could one work it towards the leg. All he could do was attempt those ‘defensive pokes’. There were a few he left and others he flirted with. The slip cordon sighed! It was almost as if two replays were played in succession — one after the other for about 16 times.
This very battle continued into Steyn’s third over as Rohit kept fighting all the factors. The ball got perilously close to the bat on more than an occasion, beating it by a whisker. It took Rohit 16 balls to connect one and after setting him up with those away going deliveries, he bowled one that came into him. Now, Rohit expected that same barrage a little outside the off-stump, so when this odd delivery came about, he could only edge it towards the covers to open his account. On a normal day, he would have flicked it through the leg-side with disdain.
Chasing 359, that spell had a great psychological impact on the confident Indian batting. In recent times, this line-up showed its bravado by chasing two 350-plus scores. But, this was a different ball game. During both those run-chases, the openers did take a bit of time, but to play out maidens early on was a huge setback. As a result, the batsmen had to take the attack to the other end, which is why the other bowlers had more success early on.
Although the battle against Rohit was the major talking point, there was one delivery to Virat Kohli that stood out. Kohli too has been in great touch and has scored runs in almost every country. You give him half a chance and he would capitalise on it big time. As he saw one delivery heading towards the stumps, his eyes lit up and thought, “Here’s my chance to flick it through mid-wicket.” It pitched on a full length and Kohli backed himself, but it then left him and squared him up. When it all finished, it looked as if he was trying to flick a delivery that pitched around off through the leg-side. Kohli could only smile!
Such exhibitions are rare in the modern game though. With those big bats, fielding restrictions etc. the batsmen have become adventurous and back themselves in any situation. The whole passage of play made a fascinating advertisement for one-day cricket. Off late, there has been a lot of debate about the new rules and the game being more batsmen friendly. But, if you run into a red-hot Steyn, he can smother that bravado in a matter of minutes. The most confident batsman on the planet would be made to look ordinary!
India have perhaps been given a precursor of things to come. They’d need a lot more that skill and application to overcome the Steyn challenge. What would it be? That is something the batsmen would ponder.
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