Given the way Dale Steyn went about things in Durban, there’s little doubt that he will knock off the remaining Test wickets to reach the milestone of 500.
At Kingsmead on Thursday, there was assurance that Dale Styen has not lost the art of intimidating batsmen or more importantly the ability to pick up wickets. He bowled with fire - constantly clocking in mid 140s and moving the ball away from the batsmen. There was good measure of bouncers and the Sri Lankans were found wanting, shot out for 191 to concede a 44-run lead to the hosts. Steyn finished with 4/48 and in the process went pass Kapil Dev’s tally of 434 Test wickets. He now has 437 victims; only six other bowlers have taken more wickets in Test cricket.
He has two more goals – ambitious ones against many odds – before he quits.
The pain of losing the semi-finals of the World Cup in Auckland to New Zealand is heavy. With 12 runs to defend in the last over, AB de Villiers entrusted Steyn to do the job and a World Cup final slipped away again as Grant Elliot smashed a six off the penultimate ball. Steyn will have one last go in a bid to become a World Champion in England in three months. But his biggest target is the 500-wicket mark in Test cricket.
Already the highest wicket taker among South Africans, the odds of him reaching 500 wickets are remarkably high. But given the way he went about things in Durban, there’s little doubt that he will knock off the remaining 63 before long.
Injuries have played havoc in the latter part of his career. Since the tour of Australia in 2016, where he returned home after just one Test match, Steyn managed only one Test in 18 months. He played only one Test against India and missed the home series against Australia last year and when he was finally declared fit for the tour of Sri Lanka in July, Steyn wasn’t at his usual best.
Having landed in Colombo requiring just three wickets to go past Pollock, he could only manage to equal Pollock as the third wicket remained elusive. He had to wait for another five months to claim the record which eventually came on the Boxing Day against Pakistan at Centurion.
He finished the three-match series with 13 wickets but that was only third best behind Duanne Olivier’s 24 scalps and Kagiso Rabada’s 17 wickets. But more importantly the pace was back although he didn’t bowl long spells.
Against Sri Lanka, he looked the Dale Steyn of old. He was fast and crucially bowled longer spells in search of a five wicket haul.
"When I'm bowling 10-over spells, it shows I'm enjoying what I do. I could take the easy option, take four for 30 and go and stand at fine leg and tell someone else to do it. But it's fun. It's fun taking wickets. It's fun hitting guys on the head. As long as nothing serious happens,” Steyn said at the press conference.
He should have claimed five wickets but Dean Elgar put down a straight forward chance at gully off Kasun Rajitha. It’s been more than three years since he took a five-for in Test cricket. Steyn could make further improvements though as we are yet to see him using the reverse swing to deadly effect as he has done time and again over the last 15 years.
"Today was a day where I felt there was a wicket there all the time. I just felt like it was there for me, so I just kept going. I thought: 'I'm going to carry on bowling here until the captain says he's had enough.' He had had enough after I had my sixth over, but I kept begging, and got what I wanted,” he explained.
Steyn had played a handful of First-Class matches when he made his Test debut in 2004. AB de Villiers also made his debut in the same game. It is unlikely to happen in modern South Africa – two whites making their debuts in the same game. The quota system is said to be killing South African sport. Rugby has suffered enough and so does cricket.
In cricket, South Africa have to field six non-whites on an average in the playing XI and among them has to be two native Africans.
Fast bowlers like Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott opted for early international retirement and picked up Kolpak deals playing County Cricket in England as it was evident that the opportunities they were going to get playing international cricket was limited. Talent alone won’t get you to play for Proteas and there are other criterion as well.
The premature retirements of Morkel and Abbott sent shockwaves in South African cricket and the negative publicity the sport received forced Cricket South Africa to address some of the issues.
CSA does not want to lose precious white talents to county cricket. Anrich Nortje is said to be the quickest someone will get to the speed of lightning. People will see him more during the IPL after he was bought by Kolkata Knight Riders.
Then there’s Afrikaans speaking Gerald Coetzee who like Allan Donald hails from Orange Free State. Unlike Nortje, who is 25, Coetzee is just 18 and if he moves to England, Australia or New Zealand now, like many other white South Africans, his chance of playing international cricket will arrive when he is still in his early 20s.
CSA CEO Haroon Lorgat is known for his no-nonsense approach and the growing tendency of white South Africans picking up Kolpak deals should be a cause for concern for him. He is no one for sentiment. If he can make an opening at the expense of South Africa’s most successful bowler, he will go for it. He must be thinking that the future of the sport is more vital than individual milestones.
South African selectors already had a few headaches as to which fast bowler to leave out for the first Test against Sri Lanka. Eventually, they opted to play all four sacrificing one batsman. It will be very interesting when Lungi Ngidi returns.
So Steyn can no way relax anymore. One bad game and people will start talking about his age. At 35, it was good a sign that he bowled ten overs on the trot. He will have to keep doing what he used to do ten years ago if he were to chase his dream of claiming 500 Test wickets.
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