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The Steyn Gun from South Africa – Do we still have a final cartridge left?

Dale Steyn

Father Time from 2015 to 2019 has gone like a whiff where the world has made a multitude of strides in their political and cricketing scenarios.

Britain has been evaluating Brexit, Trump is triumphing in the US while India undergoes the TsuNAMO wave. In the cricketing sphere Virat Kohli has emerged as the gold standard of modern batsman ship, England have rebranded themselves as the benchmark in ODI cricket while Afghanistan have emerged as the newest member of the Cricketing fraternity

However, amongst all the paraphernalia, the sands of time have probably not flowed for everyone at the same pace. Pakistan remains as unpredictable as they were a decade ago, Australia still seem to get their A game out in ICC events while South Africa carry the tag of perennial chokers . The lasting image of the 2015 world cup is perhaps not Michael Clarke picking up the coveted trophy in what was his last appearance in Australian Coloured Jersey. The image that is probably sketched in every cricket lovers memory is the image of a broken Dale Steyn being given a hand by his opponent Grant Elliot of New Zealand (Who by the way is of South African descent) who has just dealt Steyn the most painful blow of his cricketing career

The scene moves on to 2019 in England, where many participants of that fateful world cup semi-final game between New Zealand and South Africa have called it a day. Brendon Mccullum retired on a high in 2016, Daniel Vettori retired immediately after the 2015 world cup, AB De Villiers who was the South African captain quit the game on account of the physical and mental rigours of the game. Grant Elliot the South African origin New Zealand star who shone brightly on the day that it mattered retired quietly into the sunset in 2016 as well with the likes of his mentor Brendon Mccullum. Morne Morkel who had brought South Africa inches away from a potential world cup final berth has accepted a Kolpak deal hereby leaving South African pace bowling in the young hands of Kagsio Rabada and Lungi Ngidi.

However there is one survivor from that heart stopping semi-final who continues his quest for that elusive world cup medal. He has survived not only career threatening physical hurdles like broken shoulders, groin strains and dodgy heels, but has also had to deal with the mental and emotional trauma of all these injuries. But none of the mental scars or barriers caused by these injuries could be as excruciating as the scar that he received from that one blow from Grant Elliot that sealed yet another heart break for the rainbow nation in a world cup event. Dale Steyn has survived it all against the odds and has registered his attendance as a part of the coveted 15 South African men, who has set out once more in search of the El Dorado of the Cricket Arena. Yes, the same Dale Steyn whose nerve popping celebration at the dismissal of a wicket sent shivers down the spines of the opposing batsmen. The same Dale Steyn who has probably been the only pacer to have rocked the famous Fab Four Quatret of Indian Batting between 2000 – 2010 and caused them to sweat at their own home turf. Being a Dale Steyn during the period 2008 – 15 has probably been every budding bowlers dream. However, Dale Steyn can certify that it has not been easy to be Dale Steyn from 2015 onwards

Like any sportsman, his journey has been up and down studded with achievements that swells his fans and followers with pride. Being bracketed along with the likes of legends such as Alland Donald and Shaun Pollock has certainly not been a cake walk. Along with the artistry of his wrists with the ball, it has probably been his mind that has fought against his body to get him a ticket to England in 2019

The Initial Years (2004 – 2006)

Steyn made his debut in Dec 2004 alongside AB Devilliers against an England Test side comprising of Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss who were probably at the zenith of their career. His test debut was a baptism by fire in which his match tally totalled at 3 wickets for 146 runs

His break through moment came in April 2006 in the series against New Zealand where he collected 16 wickets in a three test series, thus drawing inevitable comparisons with Allan Donald. Having honed his skills with Essex in Division 2 of the county championship he emerged as a more complete package that not only had pace, but there was also a certain artistry to the newly reinvented pace machine

Ready – Load – Fire (2007 – 09)

While Dale Steyn was making rapid strides in a career that had set off to carve a trajectory of its own, what probably shot him into fame was when he rocked India’s famed batting line up comprising of Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag in a test match at Ahmedabad where he claimed 5/23, thus being the destroyer in chief to shoot out the famed Indian batting line up for 76 runs in the space of 20 overs. The Steyn Gun had arrived on the international circuit and his love affair with India had just begun.

As 2008 spanned out, the world realised while the Indian batting line up had just been a starter for the speedster, it was the Australian line up comprising of Mathew Hayden Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey that served to be the main course on an epic Boxing day encounter in 2008 at the MCG. Not only did he manage to take 10 wickets in that test, he also managed to seal off South Africa’s first test series victory on Australian Soil. As the world would witness in the forthcoming years breaking records and achieving the impossible would be a way of Mr. Steyn’s Cricketing Odyssey. South Africa at last had managed to stop the herd of Kangaroos in their own Soil. Dale Steyn once again was the primary architect

Firing all Cylinders (2009 – 15)

Not only was this time period the most fruitful in Steyn’s career, but it was also an injury free journey where Dale Steyn Managed to play every one of South Africa’s 48 tests  from Dec 2009 to November 2015 claiming 232 wickets at an average of 21.72 comprising 14 five wicket halls including an unforgettable 7/51 against Indian in Nagpur in 2010. During this period South Africa won 24, drew 15 and lost 9 out of those 48 tests

The White Ball Format

Steyn has also had his moments with white ball cricket, the stand out moment being in a world cup game against India in 2011 in Nagpur where he claimed 5 wickets for 50 runs, thus being instrumental in India’s only defeat in a campaign where they became the world champions. Steyn is also remembered for his last over heroics in a World T20 game against New Zealand where he had to defend 7 runs of 6 balls against the likes of a seasoned campaigner such as Ross Taylor. Steyn’s artistry and mastery with the ball was probably at it’s Zenith as he managed to seal the game by giving only 5 runs in the last over, thus booking South Africa a semi final berth in that tournament

World Cup Semi Final 2015 – The Moment of Truth

There probably comes a moment in every individual’s personal or professional life where circumstances and events make you realise you are just a mere ancillary in the functioning of a machinery that is controlled by a supreme power whose sense of justice no one understands. This was evident in that fateful semi-final game between South Africa and New Zealand at Auckland in 2015 where Dale Steyn was taken to the cleaners by the New Zealand captain Brendon Mccullum who batted like a man possessed. In his inning of 59 of 26 balls, Steyn was taken to the cleaners. However, with 14 to defend of the last over, South Africa entrusted it to the man who was at the prime of his powers despite having been taken to task in the given game. With New Zealand needing 5 runs of 2 balls, the death bell was rung by Elliot who haved a length delivery to mid-wicket for a six. A champion was born, a champion had been destroyed – both belonging to South Africa. The image of AB Devilliers & Morne Morkel breaking into tears was one of raw emotion which reignited the ghost of the ‘C’ word in South African circles.

The Injured Soldier

Something had changed in the gun machine after that match. The strain of being the leader of the attack had started taking toll on Steyns body as he suffered a groin strain during the test series vs India during November 2015. Having made his comeback against England in a home series, he got an attack of shoulder spasms that compelled him to miss out on the home series as well. However, the most telling blow of Steyn’s career was to come in November 2016 in a series against Australia where he fractured his shoulder during the 2nd day of the first test at Perth. Surely, life had come to a full circle for the mean machine who had made his mark as a premium speedster in that very soil.

Steyn missed South Africa’s next 15 tests between November 2016 to December 2017 missing games against Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh & Zimbabwe. During his comeback against India in the Capetown Test in January in 2018, he injured his heel. By the end of the test series vs India in 2018, Steyn had featured in just 6 of South Africa’s last 29 tests. A bowler who had prided himself on his fitness having been a part of 48 consecutive tests had been reduced to a man straddled by the agony of whether he would be able to complete a game or not.

The Comeback Man

 Steyn had managed to go from 402 wickets in Novemeber 2015 to 419 wickets in February 2018, two wickets short of the South African record held by Shaun Pollock. He finally managed to cross the barrier in December 2018 when he claimed Pakistan batsman Fakar Zaman’s wicket at Supersports Park Centurion and had finally gone one step ahead of his hero Shaun Pollock

The Final Barrier

As mentioned before many characters of that fateful 2015 world cup semi-final game have fallen by the way. However, Dale Steyn has emerged as one of the key individuals to have survived the ruins of that game to make one more attempt to stake claim in a trophy and an emotion which he feels responsible for having let his team mates and country down four years back. Yes, Dale Steyn has braved these four turbulent years and has come back once more to achieve what appears impossible i.e. South Africa winning the world cup

History has witnessed many champions getting the coveted trophy in the last leg of their careers. Sachin Tendulkar won it in his 6th attempt; Imran Kahn won it in his fifth and final attempt, while Champions such Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting won it 2-3 times in their career. There have been less fortunate players such as Daniel Vettori , Javagal Srinath, Saurav Ganguly and Brendon Mccullum, who have fallen one game short of the cricketing Nadir. The world cup has also proven to be the graveyard of many champion cricketers who announced their arrival into international cricket with stellar world cup performances, but have also made unceremonious exits with world cup heart breaks – Allan Donald, Brian Lara, Lance Kluesner, Martin Crowe and many more who never went beyond the top four.

The 2019 edition is probably the last shot for Dale Steyn to achieve his world cup dreams. The next 6 weeks will witness whether it will yet be another heart break for the Steyn Gun as he has experienced in his two attempts before (2011 & 2015). Father time will probably decide whether the Steyn story falls under the Tendulkar category, or the Mccullum category or the Allan Donald way. But knowing Dale Steyn, like time immemorial he believes, he has the power to write his own story. The Indian in me wants Virat Kohli to lift the trophy on 14th July 2019, the optimist in me perhaps wants Dale Steyn to do the same.

 ©Cricket World 2019