Momin Mehmood Butt looks back at a day that will be forever cherished as the time when Dale Steyn and Sachin Tendulkar faced off in a duel for the ages.
Dale Steyn – one of the most premier quicks of all time – pulled off a spectacle of fast-bowling, a spell poised far above most of his other bowling marvels. This was because it came against, arguably, the greatest batsman the game has ever seen – Sachin Tendulkar. The ‘Little Master’ himself remembers it as a session of play he ‘will never forget’.
The game may never again witness 11 overs of such outstanding quality from a single bowler for only two scalps. Remarkably, eight of these overs were faced and negotiated by Tendulkar, who remained steadfast at the crease, persevered, copped some blows, and had his fair share of luck. No one could have withstood that sort of onslaught without some good fate. In this searing spell, where every ball seemed to be delivered straight from hell, Steyn went for only 13 runs. But it was the regularity and predictability with which he beat the willow that pulled the focus.
Rewind to day three of the third and final Test match in an enthralling Test series, all squared at 1-1. South Africa had been put in to bat first by MS Dhoni two days earlier, and the initial day’s play was embellished with a sparkling Jacques Kallis ton – the home side managing to post 362 runs.
In response, India were forced on to the backfoot with two early breakthroughs, but Tendulkar and Gambhir stabilised the ship and took the visitors to 142-2 at the end of second day’s play. Day three greeted the two teams with clear skies and picture-perfect conditions –very importantly, too, in the context of both the match and the series.
Steyn, crazy-eyed, nostrils flared, chest pumped, rushes in to bowl. He pitches the very first delivery right in the corridor of uncertainty. It takes shape through the moist air and nips away. Tendulkar chases loosely and is lucky that he doesn’t edge it through to the keeper as he is comprehensively beaten. The tone for the rest of the day had been pretty much set right from the get-go.
What followed was a procession of plays and misses as Steyn tied up the master at one end and ruffled up his footwork with some sheer pace and raging outswingers. The red cherry whizzed past the edge of Tendulkar’s blade frequently, exposing him in a flurry of indecisions. The odd jabs outside off that hissed past his bat by mere whiskers and the loose extensions of the arms which resulted in unintentional runs through the slips cordon were unlike Tendulkar and uncharacteristic of his usually fluent batsmanship. Pitched on leg, evading off was the trend of the spell.
The battle of nerves extended beyond just a couple of overs as the number of jaffas bowled by the South African speedster also incremented briskly. Tendulkar was far from cozy at the crease and had to deal with various verbal spats and body blows than just the threat of a spitting ball disturbing the timber work or brushing his bat’s edgier parts.
Tendulkar played and missed, drove and jabbed and somehow managed to find the brevity to survive the five back-to-back Steyn overs of Steyn, keeping a potentially dominant session for the hosts at bay.
Although he was adamantly watchful against Steyn, Tendulkar ensured that he kept the runs flowing from the other end. When Steyn was taken out of the attack, Tendulkar capitalised. Out came the delicate steers, the sumptuous nudges off the hips, and the extravagant square drives as Tendulkar raced towards his 51 and last-ever century in Test Cricket.
A fiery Steyn returned to spearhead Proteas’ assault and instil some sort of terror in the Indian batting lineup. He removed Cheteshwar Pujara with an absolute peach in his very first over and scalped the big wicket of MS Dhoni in the next to dent India’s progress.
The battle between the titans resumed as Steyn got another chance to have a go at the centurion. Tendulkar, who had been bashing the other bowlers with utmost ease, shifted gears on Steyn’s arrival like an experienced matador reading the perils ahead. Steyn bowled another 14 deliveries to the India great but couldn’t get past his defence or induce a mistake from him.
Tendulkar finished with a scintillating 146 off 314 balls while Steyn managed to bag a sizzling five-wicket haul – a befitting outcome to a fascinating duel. Despite their captivating performances, neither of these two players could see their teams to victory as the match concluded in a draw.
Nearly eight years later, when Steyn decided to hang up his Test boots, Tendulkar took to Twitter to laud the speedster and wish him the very best of luck:
‘Wishing you all the very best for the future @DaleSteyn62. You always challenged batsmen to bring their A-game to the ground. It’s been a joy to watch you bowl and play against you,’ Tendulkar tweeted.
In another interview with Star Sports, Tendulkar dubbed that very day three as ‘one of the best sessions’ of his entire career. Recalling the engrossing day’s play, Tendulkar talked about the discipline shown by the South African bowlers:
‘Their field was attacking. There wasn’t a single delivery where we could play towards the fine leg for a single. They kept bowling in the right channels,’ said Tendulkar. ‘There were occasions where we were beaten, and there were occasions we punched. We played the crucial hour and built a decent partnership after that. But I can never forget that Test because it was, without a doubt, one of the best sessions I’ve ever played in my entire career.’