The word greatness is often far too loosely used in sport. It’s thrown around loosely, like a half volley from an Indian fast bowler. It’s often disputed, debated and shrugged off, but if there is one cricketer who unanimously unites opinions of greatness, it’s Dale Steyn.
South Africa’s snarling quick has had yet another extraordinary year both in Test match whites and in coloured clothing. It’s a shame that Steyn will get to play just nine Test matches in total this year. To date, he has played seven and raced to 41 wickets at an average of 14.36. Comparatively, the year’s leading Test match wicket taker, England’s Stuart Broad has taken 59 wickets in 13 games at an average of 25.37.
It’s not bad going from Broad, but when it comes to fast bowling, the raw and aggressive kind, few have been quite so fascinating and intriguing as Dale Steyn this year. When AB de Villiers asked recently whether he thinks the pace ace is at his peak, he responded by saying: “Well, he’s been at his peak for the last six years.”
In Tests, that’s very much true. Steyn continues to impress with the red ball again and again. Although this year has brought a few more injury niggles for Steyn than what he is used to, that hasn’t set him back. He did not go wicketless in one innings this entire year and his economy rate only broke the 3.00 mark thrice. His control and accuracy has been breathless and intriguing and although there has been little argument for Steyn’s prowess in Test cricket, what made him stand out above other cricketers in 2013 is how he has performed in one-day cricket. While he has played a handful of ODIs for South Africa, he’s always been somewhat underused and some critics have rated him to be “not quite a one-day bowler”. That perception has very much been challenged, chewed up and spat out.
He played 13 ODIs throughout the year and took 27 wickets, beating his previous best in a calendar year of 26. His average cost per wicket, though, is what has been most astounding. It totalled just 15.85, the lowest he has ever had. He’s also gone from having just one five-for in his entire career to bagging two this year. He has showed that he has the ability to adapt across formats and at 30-years old, he will almost certainly form part of South Africa’s World Cup squad in 2015, should he remain injury free. Steyn’s adaptability has finally come of age and although South Africa will always exercise caution in how he is used, Steyn’s jack-in-the-box energy will almost certainly ensure that he plays as many games as his body will possibly allow.
The Steyn that lives on field is a very different player to the Steyn that lives off the field, but part of what makes him one of the world’s greatest sporting entertainers is his charisma on the park. Whether that’s a stare down of the opponent, a foolish gesture signalling a player off the field or simply his passionate “crazy-eyes” celebrations, Steyn almost always delivers. In an era where batsmen are increasingly lauded for their innovation, despite often being assisted by pitches, bowlers aren’t celebrated for their contribution to the game often enough. Long gone are the glory days of the West Indies quicks who would leave batsmen shaking at the knees and a number of ladies weak at the knees. Bowlers, especially the real fast bowlers, are an integral part of any team’s fabric. If wicketkeepers are the heart of the team and batsmen are the engine room, then bowlers are the tough exterior that protects it all from damage and take the heavy blows to ensure the machinery runs smoothly.
South Africa are blessed with the best in the world. Steyn’s year in numbers is impressive and his transition from Test-match preferred to can’t imagine the ODI team without him bowler has been truly incredible. It’s a great shame that he will end the year with just nine Tests to his name, but that’s hardly his fault.
Honourable mention: AB de Villiers is one of the best batsmen in world cricket at the moment, mostly because he is so fascinatingly adaptable. No matter which format De Villiers plays in, he adjusts to the situation, the format and the bowler he is playing, almost always looking completely untroubled and unfazed.
His shot-selection, his timing, his placement and his patience has been captivating. Add to that the fact that he is now more than apt with the gloves in hand at Test level and South Africa have a rather extraordinary cricketer in their midst. His stats only tell half the story, but what a story that is.
In seven Tests and 1 innings, he has aggregated 743 runs this year at an average of 82.55, including four fifties and three hundreds. In ODIs, he had his lowest average in five years. But that averages still 50.26 and he totalled 1163 runs in total with seven fifties and three hundreds with a strike-rate of 97.07. His captaincy in the one-day format is also steadily improving. De Villiers is, like so many other members of the South African cricket team, a freak in the best way possible. DM
Photo: Dale Steyn walks back after after taking three wickets during their first Twenty20 international cricket match against Pakistan in Dubai November 13, 2013. (REUTERS/Nikhil Monteiro)
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