If there were one criticism of Dale Steyn, it would be that he’s not as dominating or as successful in one-day internationals as he is in other formats. That would be nit-picking, though, because with 100 wickets in 72 matches, Steyn has had a pretty successful one-day international career. When the Champions Trophy begins next week, he’ll have another chance to prove why he is the best in the world, even if his ODI figures aren’t all that flattering.
If his form in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League is anything to go by, Steyn should be in fine fettle when South Africa starts its campaign against India in Cardiff on 6 June.
A hallmark of Steyn’s time at the IPL has been his ability to keep things incredibly tight up front. He’s got some good game time under his belt, which will stand him in good stead compared to those players who have just returned from some time off.
Steyn doesn’t think the off-time has deterred preparations too much, though. The squad assembled in Amsterdam for a warm-up game against the Netherlands on Friday before they head to England for a warm-up against Pakistan on Monday. The side has been putting in the hard yards to make sure they are ready for the challenge.
“The players who haven’t had match time because of the winter off-season have a few days to catch up with their skills and their strength,” said Steyn. “For the players that have been at the IPL (Indian Premier League), it will be about finding the best way to maintain your rhythm and fitness. We are all professionals and everybody in the side knows what to do before our first game in the UK.”
The side is throwing the kitchen sink at preparation and spent Monday with explorer Mike Horn. While he didn’t have as intensive a session with the squad as he did prior to their Test series against England last year, he still put them through their paces. The squad was made to do a challenging bicycle ride around Amsterdam, canoeing down the world-famous canals and journeying up the tallest building in the capital city. When these kinds of eccentric activities came to light last year, the side copped a fair amount of flak for it, but it clearly worked for them mentally – and Steyn believes it’s crucial for team work.
“The challenges that Mike puts us through helps us to cope better with some of the small things you might face when you are on a cricket field; that is what might give us the edge in the long run. He has been great – he put us through physical activities which tested our bodies and made us work as a team so that you rely on your teammate to get you over the line. These activities were great for us last year before we went to England and Australia, and hopefully they will help us again.”
Conditions in England are primed to suit Steyn better than the conditions in India. Heavy humidity, high temperatures and batsmen-friendly wickets will all make way for cloud cover and juicy wickets along with two new balls up front and bowlers being allowed two bouncers in an over instead of just one. Steyn believes the adjustment for those coming from the IPL will be far more challenging for batsmen.
“Any conditions outside of India will be nice to play in. The pitches are generally roads there, so I think it’s more difficult for batsmen to adjust from conditions where everything is just gun-barrell straight to where there might be a little bit of swing around and two new balls which last a little bit longer,” Steyn said.
From a mental and a strategic point of view, everything changes too. There’s more time for batsmen to find their groove and, similarly, more time for bowlers to think batsmen out instead of needing to fire from the get-go. This kind of shift in approach is something Steyn believes is crucial in tweaking before the tournament kicks off.
“The whole format changes, even your mental approach changes,” he said. “How aggressive you are, the fields that your set as a bowler, it’s sometimes easy to fall into defensive mode because of the format that allows you extra time. As a batter you don’t have to be too aggressive upfront because you have a lot of time, so the players have to find their game as quickly as possible before the competition.”
India’s captain MS Dhoni has also commented on the rule changes and believes that adjusting to those will be crucial. The new ODI rules, which were implemented in January, do not allow any more than four fielders outside the 30-yard circle at any stage of the innings. Bowlers can bowl two bouncers an over and the Powerplays will have to be completed by the 40th over.
“There are a few challenges, like the new ODI rules, and we will be playing outside the subcontinent for the first time under the new rules,” Dhoni said in Mumbai, ahead of the team’s departure for England. “We will have to adjust to the new rule of five fielders being inside (the circle), the length they need to bowl, how quickly they adapt to the wicket, which areas to bowl.
“The good thing is we have two practice matches leading up to the tournament. We also have enough time before the first game, so there is enough time to adjust.”
Conditions are the big talking point of the tournament, and acclimatising quickly will be crucial. The format of the competition allows no time to slip up, and all teams are fairly equal, barring the hosts and perhaps New Zealand. The Black Caps would have been one of the few teams to have played one-day cricket away from home under the new laws, and also have the added bonus of having adjusted to the laws in English conditions as they take on the tournament-hosts in a three-match ODI series prior to the competition.
On paper, it might not mean much, especially if The Black Caps carry their mental fragility from the longest format of the game to the ODI format. But, as South Africa knows, there’s nothing feistier than a Kiwi in a knockout tournament, and if adjustment is the key to success, then two sides already have one hand on the door knob. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Richard Levi and Dale Steyn celebrate the wicket of New Zealand’s Peter Fulton (not in picture) during their T20 international cricket match in Durban, December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
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