24 March, 2015, Auckland. World Cup semi-final. New Zealand versus South Africa
Dale Steyn stands at the top of his run up, he is about to bowl the final over in a rain-shortened 43-over-a-side match. He hasn’t had the greatest night, 1/65 off his 8 overs up to that point. But here he is, South Africa’s go-to man, with all the experience and poise to finish it for his team.
Great players dream of moments like this, and with New Zealand needing 12 to win from the next 6 balls, Dale would have been confident that this was his moment to shine.
Dan Vettori and Grant Elliott were the batsmen standing in his way. Desperate to make this their special moment too, they frantically rushed through for some singles, even got a fortunate boundary.
5 now needed from 2 balls.
Dale Steyn, again, back at the top of his mark, Elliott, eyes like saucers waiting at the striker’s end. Full and straight needed, don’t give the batsman any room to swing the arms…
Dale has been dreaming of this moment since he was a kid. He runs in, leaps towards the crease, lets it go AND BOWLS A BLOODY LENGTH DELIVERY!
Elliott can’t believe his luck; he swings hard and the ball disappears over long on for 6! New Zealand win, South Africa again crumble at the gates of greatness.
New Zealand erupt, the fans, the players, everyone is on their feet and celebrating this tremendous occasion. The Proteas’ players don’t know where to look, their fans speechless and not knowing quite just what happened.
Sure, bowlers miss their lengths, bowlers get hit for 6 – that’s cricket. But when the occasion demanded something special, and a special bowler had the ball in his hands, what Steyn did there was nothing short of disappointing.
Other words could be used here; shortly ones certainly were by fans but it kind of sums up where Steyn’s career has gone with the white ball. ‘Rested’ more times than he has been selected in the limited overs during his career, you just sense it has never been his priority, yet the expectations of him have always been at a maximum.
Since that fateful night in Auckland, he has played just 8 ODIs out of a possible 16, taking 13 wickets at an average of 30.46. Decent but again, a little ‘disappointing’ for someone of his class.
He seems to have lost the fire, the fear factor, the ability to boss a game and always make the batsman do something special in order to get the upper hand.
In T20s, things look even more disappointing. Since that devastating loss to New Zealand in the ICC World Cup, he has played just 3 International T20s out of a possible 12 for the Proteas, taking 2 wickets at an average of 48.5 and an economy rate of 9.7 runs an over.
His efforts of 0/35 off 2 overs on Friday against England where South Africa failed to defend 230, is the most concerning. He started bowling cross seam with the new ball and went for runs. He came back and bowled with fingers down the seam and went for runs. He looked completely at odds with what he was trying to do.
Again, this is Dale Steyn we are talking about here. Looking completely at odds with what he was trying to do.
He was duly 'rested' again versus Afghanistan on Sunday.
Should he be playing white-ball cricket then? Well I’m disappointed to think that the answer there is ‘no’. He can’t be picked on form, and he can’t be picked on ability either as we just don’t have enough evidence of it of late.
Injuries have played a role, sure, but the decline even before that was noticeable.
I absolutely love Steyn. If there was one South African sportsman that I would like to have a one-on-one interview with, 10 times out of 10 it would be him. He is so natural, so human, so incredibly laid back and balanced as a person. He has been South Africa’s greatest modern day fast bowler, and brought something special to the game that nobody has matched.
But I can slowly come to terms with the fact that some real truths need to be considered about him right now though. And the most disappointing of that is that he simply has no place in South Africa’s limited-over setup.
Steyn may still reach past heights in the Test arena, but the ODI-T20 stuff has passed him by, and the selectors need to take this one the chin and move on now.
And so do I, sadly.
(Editor's note: This article was originally published prior to South Africa vs Afghanistan match on Sunday, for which Dale Steyn was incidentally not selected)