Dale Steyn- The Fittest, The Fiercest and The Greatest of his time

It is understandable that his end is near but for the player he has been, it would be perfect to see him play one last time.

Dale Steyn
Designed by Ajay Rawat.

We always refer to cricket as batsman’s game and why not, hitting big shots and making big runs earns you gigantic stature and it drives people crazy. If cricket was Academy Awards then the batsman is a hero and the bowler is a supporting cast. While growing up, almost every cricket enthusiast dream of representing their country, the dream of playing and scoring a century in front of 40,000 odd people, the dream of batting at legendary grounds like the Lord’s, MCG or Eden Gardens.

The dreams, the aspirations and the adrenaline rush! But quickly and unknowingly your fantasy can turn in to a terrifying reality where you see a not so friendly creature standing in front of you at about 50 yards. Scoring isn’t going to be easy, you know now. What next? Maybe you have to save your body from getting bruised from a red cherry coming at you at about 150 km/h.

The tall, thin and ferocious figure starts running towards you with the ball in the hand, fire in the eyes and ruthlessness in the heart. Still, want to be a batsman? This is the worst sensation and there is no denying that anyone who’s ever faced Dale Steyn would agree to have gone through all those emotions and feelings. A fit Test fast bowler who can swing the ball both ways is a rare breed and we are lucky to have witnessed the best of Steyn.

Debut and peak years:

Dale Steyn made his Test debut in 2004 against England and like most players, he didn’t make an impression instantaneously and was dropped after the 4th Test where his performance was below par. He made a comeback in the Test side against New Zealand and the rest is history. Steyn stayed on top of the ICC Test rankings for a record 263 weeks from 2008-2014.

That speaks the volume of his performances and the ability to win matches for the side. He is the fastest bowler in terms of balls bowled (16,634) to take 400 Test wickets and in terms of strike rate, he is the best ever! He has the best strike rate in Tests for anyone who bowled a minimum of 10,000 balls. The longevity of a fast bowler’s career has a lot to with the bowling action and Steyn has been blessed with a very stress-free, smooth and effective double arm action. Much like Shane Bond.

The number game:

Stats are a great way to analyse one’s impact and performance in different conditions, against different teams.

Overall Test record:

Dale Steyn overall Test record
Designed by Ajay Rawat.

Just 86 matches and already been talked about in the bracket of all-time greats and for some even GOAT. Adam Gilchrist and Waqar Younis are probably the only other players who have played less than 100 Tests and created that kind of impact. No other comes even closer. He is not just a home track bully. Steyn’s numbers in Asia are mind-boggling.

Dale Steyn's record in Asia
Designed by Ajay Rawat.

Just like all great players, he gave his best while playing against top Test playing nations.

Dale Steyn against top Test playing nations
Designed by Ajay Rawat.

He has taken 291 wickets at an average of 16.03 in the games won by South Africa while his average shoots up to 33.79 in losses where he has taken only 70 wickets.

Comparison with peers:

James Anderson is the only bowler who comes close to Dale Steyn in terms of stats and longevity. Mitchell Johnson was decent in patches only and when he came good, he just blew the opposition away!

A statistical comparison between Dale Steyn and James Anderson:

A statistical comparison between Dale Steyn and James Anderson
Designed by Ajay Rawat.

James Anderson was always next to Steyn in terms of wickets but Steyn’s injuries allowed Anderson to go past him and become the current leading wicket-taker. Since November 2015, Steyn has played only 5 Tests (including the 1st Test of current SA vs India series) and from there on, it is Anderson who is leading the charts. If Steyn’s career had taken a customary path then there is little disbelief that he would have crossed the 500-wicket mark before Anderson.

The English pacer has taken more wickets than the Protean but that shouldn’t be the only parameter to assess them. Steyn’s career average and strike rate are far better than Anderson’s. Even in home conditions, it is Steyn who has done a better job overall. Having played lesser no. of Tests, his record looks much better and indicates the impact he leaves and the ability to take wickets quickly. Their record in Asia broadens the difference between their class. Having played the same number of Tests, Steyn’s record is the stuff champions are made of.

There is absolutely no doubt that he is the best of his time.

The underrated tail ender:

Dale Steyn the bowler we know and admire. Dale Steyn the batsman we often forget. He is someone who can hit the big ball, occupy the crease and kill the hopes of the opposition even with the bat. Steyn’s best Test score came against Australia in 2009 when South Africa was struggling at 6/141. He made 76 and was involved in a mammoth 9th wicket partnership of 180 with JP Duminy. South Africa chased down the total and registered their first ever Test series win in Australia.

Decline in form and injuries:

After many years at the top, the inevitable happened and his injury-free career ended. 2013 was the beginning of the end, apparently. He was hit by a groin strain in the CT’13, which in 2015 haunted him again during the Indian tour and unfortunately, he missed the Test series.

A rib fracture in 2014, a shoulder injury in the 2015-16 season against Australia meant that Steyn gradually lost rhythm, pace, swing and was a meagre shadow of his self. Injuries also forced him to change his bowling action that didn’t do any good to his pace.

He came back to the international arena after 14 months to play a Test series against the no. 1 Test team in the world, India. And it just took him 3 days to again push his way outside the cricket field for another 4-6 weeks because of a heel injury. Maybe a career-ending one. Even then, he came out to bat with the person he made his debut with, ABD, with a broken heel, shows the character of the man.

He is very close to becoming South Africa’s greatest wicket-taker in Tests and the universe showed no forgiveness. It might just turn out to be one of the most unfortunate moments in Test cricket history.

Everyone in the cricketing world wants only one thing right now- his comeback. It is understandable that his end is near but for the player he has been, it would be perfect to see him play one last time. He is once in a lifetime player and you cannot say that about everyone.

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