Nearing his 33rd birthday, the “Phalaborwa Express” bowled just eight overs against India in Mohali last November, returned in Durban six weeks later and had to leave the field again, and he hasn’t been back in the Proteas Test side until the first game against New Zealand last week.
He reduced the Black Caps to 15/2 before rain washed out most of the Kingsmead Test, but looked sharp in the six overs he delivered.
Steyn, though, could only dispel any doubts about his fitness and form by getting through a full day’s play, and bowling a few spells. He certainly did that in the first innings at Centurion, sending down 20 overs to claim 3/66.
There were no reports of any injury worries then, but Steyn felt that he didn’t quite have his best rhythm. But on Tuesday, the Proteas’ best bowler produced one of his famed spells of swing and genuine pace as he made the ball “talk” to reduce the Kiwis to 5/3 in 2.5 overs.
Left-hander Tom Latham tried to leave the ball, but it followed his bat and crashed into the stumps, Martin Guptill got a terrific delivery that pitched on off-stump, veered up and away and took the edge behind, and then trapped Ross Taylor lbw with one that hit a crack and virtually rolled into his pads.
It was vintage Steyn, and he later rattled Mitchell Santner’s stumps before sealing the Proteas’ 204-run victory with a bouncer that top-scorer Henry Nicholls (76) skied to Kagiso Rabada at fine leg.
That gave the Proteas spearhead his 26th five-wicket haul, and he couldn’t have been happier with his 5/33 in 16.2 overs.
“I struggled I guess in the first innings to get the ball up there. You know, when you don’t just have that kind of rhythm, you rely on something else. So I figured I’d use the pace and a little bit of bounce and go short with these guys,” Steyn told SuperSport in a post-match TV interview.
“In the second innings, it was just like magic – it just came out beautifully. I felt it swinging, I felt like I could bowl it exactly where I wanted it. So, you have those days, and today was one of those days where I just felt I had it the ball on a string… I could land it where I wanted to. It did come out sweetly.”
More importantly, there were no injury issues either. “A win in four days is a great thing – it feels like you jam-packed five days of cricket into four. So, legs are a little bit sore and everyone’s feeling it a little bit, but well done to the boys for winning this one,” Steyn said.
“I’m not that old! Everything’s fine, don’t worry. The thing is just getting used to bowling long spells and being in the field for a long period of time again. I haven’t done that for quite some time now.
“I’ve played a lot of 20/20 cricket over the last six or seven months, but no Test cricket. So, just spending time in the field, bowling long spells and coming back to bowl again – especially with three seamers – was a little bit tough.
“But the body held up nicely. I didn’t cramp, I didn’t break down, which is great. So ja, I’m feeling very excited about that.”
The next Test challenge for Steyn and the Proteas are Australia in November, with the first Test at the Waca in Perth on November 3. Steyn doesn’t want to look too far ahead, and may be involved in the upcoming ODIs against Ireland and the Aussies next month.
But everything is looking good again for arguably the best quick bowler in world cricket. “I’m just trying to get as many overs under the belt as I can. I just climbed into the nets, bowl and bowl and bowl. That’s why I went to Glamorgan after it was decided that I’m not going to the West Indies (in June),” he said.
“Confident with the red ball again. I feel I’ve kind of done the work now. I’m probably about five kilometres off (top pace), but that is the body getting into it.”
@ashfakmohamedDale Steyn felt that he "could bowl it exactly where I wanted it" in taking five wickets in the New Zealand innings to clinch a 204-run win for the Proteas on Tuesday.
Original source: Dale Steyn: It was just like magic