DALE STEYN [RSA] – IF ever a hungry lion with a headache spots you holding a zebra sirloin and a pack of paracetamol, you may well feel slightly terrified, but at least you’ll soon be getting an idea of what it’s like to face Dale Steyn.
The South African spearhead might not be as smooth to the crease as the panther-like Michael Holding, but Steyn’s combination of feline economy of movement topped off with an explosion of pace at release make him one of the most feared quicks since the great West Indian was in his Boycott-mangling pomp.
He currently stands alone as the number one ranked bowler in Test cricket, and he wants to harm you, your stumps, your team and your ego and often manages to decimate all four.
Ballistic and animalistic, the ‘Steyn Remover’ grew up in Phalaborwa on the outskirts of the Kruger National Park. Like another West Indies wonder, Malcolm Marshall, Steyn’s lack of stature allowed him to develop a skiddy, wince-inducing bouncer that rears up into the batsman’s chest like a crazed dwarf wielding a bayonet. His lack of height is only a disadvantage to the extent it is for a crocodile or Lionel Messi, neither of who have Dale’s deceptive slower ball.
In November 2011, in a passage of Test cricket so gladiatorial even Russell Crowe’s sandals felt emasculated, Steyn subjected Michael Clarke to a verbal and physical battering of such ferocity that one almost, but not quite, felt sorry for the new Australian captain. Clarke survived in Cape Town that day and went on to make a stunning 151, but this is very much not the norm once Steyn has you in his unforgiving sights.
Go into your shell and face a short-pitched barrage – six in one over if you’re Mike Hussey in Durban in 2009. Look to attack or just prod forward and Steyn’s consistent ability to swing the ball in the air, particularly away from the right hander, is likely to leave you trudging back to the pavilion as he offers a few choice words of commiseration. Virender Sehwag has endured such a fate seven times in his Test career, although Steyn is still astute enough to still label the Indian opener his most difficult opponent.
Completing the armoury is his mastery of reverse swing which notably saw him scythe through India in Nagpur in 2008. That he has been known to summon this gift as early as the 30th over of an innings at times – as he did in Hamilton against New Zealand earlier this year – is not something most batsmen will want to dwell on for long.
Off the pitch, although equally forthright in interviews, Steyn is also erudite and charming even, engaging with fans on Twitter and setting up a regular treasure hunt for followers during the last IPL whereby he would hide a pair of match tickets somewhere in the vicinity of his hotel, finders keepers.
During the same tournament he also managed the near impossible by getting people to stop sniggering at the Deccan Chargers for short periods of time, not least when rope-a-doping fellow Protea Richard Levi with his full range of nasty stuff and sublime stuff before cleaning him up with the last ball of a wicket maiden.
Dale Steyn is not perfect. His occasional semi-moustache looks as if it fell off Jack Kallis’s head onto his top lip and those slightly manic celebrations could still do with a bit of tightening up.
Who wants perfect, though, when you can instead have the lion king of Phalaborwa?