On his Twitter bio, Dale Steyn simply calls himself ‘Terrible guitar player’. Three better words to describe him are: ‘Fast bowling legend’.
One of the many beauties about the 32-year-old South African is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. A mate once told me that while on his way to interview Steyn, he stopped at a garage and saw the player coming out of the Quick Stop shop with a pie and Coke in hand. ‘Breakfast,’ Steyn quipped.
Over a period of a decade of terrorising batsmen, Steyn has allowed himself to enjoy life outside of the boundary ropes. That in itself explains why the fire in his belly rages as much now that he’s taken his 400th Test wicket as it did when he claimed his first, at St George’s Park in December 2004, Marcus Trescothick, bowled for 47. Interestingly, Steyn then 21 years old, was first-change bowler behind Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini, but broke the England opening wicket partnership that had reached 152.
He enjoys a full life when not playing the game and apart from his music, loves animals and wildlife, fishing and surfing and dabbled in a bit of acting with funny man Adam Sandler back in 2013. ‘If I wasn’t a cricketer, I’d have become a fisherman,’ he once said.
However, it’s inside the boundary ropes that Steyn has made a name for himself as one of the great fast bowlers of all time. He certainly is – and has been for a long time – the best quick bowler in the world and is the finest bowler South Africa has ever produced, and while it’s often unfair and impossible to compare eras, I have no doubt that in this case, there is no disputing his status.
He reached 400 wickets in his 80th Test, joint second to the landmark with Richard Hadlee and Muttiah Muralitharan. Hadlee got a Knighthood, at the very least Steyn deserves the highest accolade from the South African government – The Order of Ikhamanga (gold). If the 2010 World Cup bid committee, Danny Jordaan and Molefi Olifant can all crack the nod, then Steyn should too.
To further underline Steyn’s consistency over the years can be seen in that he was second quickest to 250 Test wickets as well, playing one match more than Australian legend Dennis Lillee. The latter went on to pick up 355 wickets in his 70 Tests but Steyn has reached 400 in 10 more and it would surely have been from 79 games had the last Test against Bangladesh not been rained out.
One of the finest deliveries Steyn has ever bowled came on that Test debut in Port Elizabeth. With England chasing 145 for victory, Steyn produced a ripper that knocked over Michael Vaughan’s off stump. ‘That memory will never fade away even if I was called the one-ball hero because of it. Shane Warne kick-started his career with that delivery to Mike Gatting, and in some ways, that ball to Vaughan was a kick-start to mine,’ he said back in 2006.
It was in 2012 that Steyn was sitting in a room full of mainly English media, when the South African was asked about his fast-bowling philosophy. What you see with the man is what you get. ‘I just want to take wickets and I want to scare the shit out of people,’ he replied, dead-pan.
‘Once I step over that white line I become The Bowler. When I’m sitting here I’m obviously another guy. I probably wouldn’t be saying the same things if you did an interview with me out in the middle after I’d taken a wicket. There would be a couple more beeps on the tape.’
It is said that when he came up against India in the New Year’s Test at Newlands in 2011, the sight of a batsman standing firm while all around him fell, prompted Steyn to continue his follow through and tell the player. ‘I’m going to knock your f***ing head off, Sachin.’ As it turned out Sachin Tendulkar made 146 in that innings – Steyn took 5-75, but not the wicket of Tendulkar – and India drew the game.
‘Generally I don’t say too much on the field,’ he told the media. ‘However, I am a fast bowler and with that comes the responsibility of saying a word or two and getting in a guy’s face. It can not only send shivers down the opposition’s spine but it gets your team up and bouncing around. Fast bowlers also make things happen when the game has gone quiet. Those are the sort of responsibilities that fall on my shoulders.’
He first reached No 1 in the ICC Test rankings in July 2009, replacing Muralitharan and relished the view. ‘Do I like being No 1? Absolutely. Who doesn’t? When I was 13 I always wanted to be part of the No 1 cricket team in the world, I always wanted to be the No 1 bowler, I always wanted to be the fastest runner around my house with my mate and I always wanted to beat him. I wanted to embarrass him, in all honesty, that’s how much I wanted to beat him.
‘But when I walk on to the field, the ranking means nothing, it really doesn’t. I’ve still got to bowl the ball in the right place. In a small way it motivates me, especially if my teammates come up to me and say: “You’re not No 1 in the world for nothing.” That’s something that makes me bowl that extra over, maybe bowl a yard quicker.’
The historic 400th wicket was always on the cards and that it has come in this series against Bangladesh is no surprise. It was the 200th time in those 400 wickets that he has got a batsman out for nine runs or less, which shows how dangerous he is when bowling to someone new at the crease. It (50%) is a staggering percentage.
Now that he’s gatecrashed the 400 Club it allows us a moment to pause and reflect on not only a great cricketer but a great man.