Steyn winds up to deliver reminder of his danger
South Africa's world No 1 bowler wants to go faster in his pursuit of perfection – and English wickets
Dale Steyn is the best bowler in the world. He is on top of the International Cricket Council rankings, as he has been for three years. He is quick, determined, single-minded and utterly ruthless. He is back to terrorise England.
The most striking aspect of Steyn is that he is as a fast bowler should be. The batsmen are the enemy. In 20 completely engaging and hugely entertaining minutes last week, he espoused his philosophy.
He pondered for a second or two whether he was also the fastest bowler in the world.
"Ah shit, I don't know," he said. "Look, I'm like anybody else. When I wake up tomorrow morning I'm gonna be hurting from today's practice. I don't really think about it. I'm trying to be the fastest bowler that South Africa has when we walk out on to the field, that's my job. I think there's times when I can bowl as quick as anybody in the world, but there's other guys who can bowl quickly too. I just wanna take wickets and I wanna scare the shit out of people."
There you had it. In truth, some may be quicker but there is none more lethal. Of those who have taken 100 or more wickets in Test cricket only one has taken them at a quicker rate than Steyn and that was George Lohmann, who started operating for England in 1886 when the pitches were different load of marl.
Steyn takes a wicket every 40 balls. That puts him ahead of Waqar Younis, Fred Trueman, Richard Hadlee and Malcolm Marshall. He made a profound impression on English eyes in his first Test match, at Port Elizabeth in 2004.
A genuinely unknown quantity from the Limpopo province, way up north near the Zimbabwean border, he had played his first first-class match barely a year previously. Steyn steamed into England's captain, Michael Vaughan, and produced a searing leg-cutter which swung late as the batsman groped forward and exploded into his off stump. It was one of those moments when you know someone has arrived.
"I don't think I try and say too much," he said, in the extremely English environs of the pavilion at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury. "I try and let the ball do most of the talking. However, I am a fast bowler, and with being a fast bowler comes a responsibility of saying a word or two and sometimes getting in a guy's face.
"It can not only send shivers down the opposition's spine but it also gets your team up and bouncing around, when a captain sees a bowler really getting at a batter it forces the team to go along with him in the battle. Fast bowlers also make things happen when the game has gone quiet. Those are the sort of responsibilities that fall on my shoulder."
If Steyn leads South Africa's attack, he has some outstanding practitioners behind him. Like England, they have three men in the top 10 of the rankings but Steyn heads the pack, 54 points ahead of the Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal in second and more than 100 ahead of Jimmy Anderson of England in third.
No one doubts Anderson but in both the rate at which he takes his wickets (every 57 balls) and the average number of runs he concedes for each of them (23.19 against 30.06) he is inferior to Steyn. The pair have had their moments – Steyn once hit Anderson with the ball – but for the South African it's a thing of the past. He does, though, relish being No 1.
"Absolutely," he said. "Who doesn't? When I was 13 I always wanted to be part of a cricket team that was 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. But in a small way it's that motivation that I need, to know when my team-mates 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, so it's great to have achieved that."
Steyn thinks South Africa are the No 1 team in the world already, despite the rankings having them at No 2. It is his intention to make it official with victory in this series, and he thinks he can get quicker.
"I'm not talking about 5kph quicker, I'm talking about consistently bowling maybe at 150kph rather than bowling 145 some of the time."
The question was begged. How can this thoroughly engrossing bloke be that package of undiluted ferocity? That is the point.
"It's what's in you," he said. "Once I step over that white line I become the bowler. When I'm sitting down here I'm obviously another guy. It'd be interesting… 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 in it. I think that's what happens when guys walk across the line – they become cricketers, warriors, fighters, whatever it is you want to call them, and then when they're sitting around the table they have to say the nicer things."
Dale Steyn is the best bowler in the world. England may not be allowed to forget it.
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