Cricket fans around the world came to a standstill when Dale Steyn dived on his right shoulder in an attempt to take an improbable catch during Cape Town Blitz’s encounter against Jozi Stars on November 14th, 2019. Within a few minutes, there were questions raised by Twitteratis asking Steyn ‘why dive’ given his injury prone history over the last few years. Responding to the fans’ question two days later, Steyn admitted that he “really need to stop diving in the field”.
Steyn’s shoulder has been a talking point in world cricket for quite a few years now. It was a shoulder spasm in November 2015 that put an end to Steyn’s tally of 48 consecutive Tests for South Africa. It later aggravated a coracoid fracture next November putting him out of international cricket for more than a year. “It was one injury, a broken right shoulder, my bowling arm that I use to make a living”, said Dale Steyn in conversation with Cricket.com.
The fast bowler was down on one knee holding his shoulder after sending down a delivery in Perth, November 2016. At that time, even Steyn did not know the extent of the injury. It is an unusual injury in sporting circles that is generally associated with a car crash or falling from a great height.
During the course of that Test match in Perth, the paceman passed by West Indian fast-bowling great, Michael Holding who advised Steyn to be careful from his experience of going through a similar kind of injury. He replied by lifting his arm saying he will be back on the field soon.
The last thing one can doubt about the Phalaborwa-born is his passion. It took him 14 months but Steyn did it. “Anyone who has ever broken a leg or arm and it’s very difficult to get back to those levels of an international cricketer. But I’m here and I’m good to go”, he explained.
After the culmination of South Africa’s World Cup campaign in 2015 which ended with Steyn lying flat on the pitch with his hands covering his face, the pacer hinted that he may well have played his last World Cup game in the 50-over format. It was a big call at that moment but he is a realist. Unlike most cricketers nowadays, Steyn wanted to extend his Test career instead of a potentially affluent white-ball career. For him, it was passion over money.
But another unfortunate injury that followed after his comeback against India in January 2018 forced him to take another route. This time it was his heel which put him out of action. After leading the Protea pace attack for 48 Tests in a row, Steyn went on to miss 23 of South Africa’s next 29 Tests. Out of the six he played, he broke down in four. Ultimately, he had to quit the longest format in 2019 to ensure longevity of his career as a professional cricketer but not before surpassing Shaun Pollock’s record haul of 421 wickets for his country.
“My stats in white-ball cricket are not too bad however I think the difference is that I’ve loved Test cricket so much that I was willing to give up more white ball cricket to play more Test cricket”, said Steyn on being asked if he finds it ironic to give up Test cricket to ensure longevity of his career as a professional cricketer.
In 2018, he featured in South Africa’s victorious 3-match ODI series Down Under against Australia in which he picked seven wickets at a miserly rate of 3.48 runs per over. It was evident that the skills are still there to play another World Cup. In 2019, he set the Chinnaswamy Stadium on fire during his brief stint for RCB. He dismissed Shane Watson and Suresh Raina off successive deliveries creating a Test match like atmosphere in a T20 game. However, it also marked the end of his World Cup dreams in hindsight.
Steyn’s bowling shoulder flared up again after that game. He was first ruled out of Proteas’ first two games in the World Cup and less than 24 hours ago before their third game, against the tournament favorites, India, he was replaced by Beuran Hendricks in the squad. The semifinal in the 2015 World Cup irrefutably became his last game in the tournament’s history, just as Steyn had suggested four years ago.
South Africa clearly struggled in Steyn’s absence. Their pacers were in the lower half of the table with an average of 29.9 runs per wicket to go along with a strike-rate of 33.8. They had not arrived at the World Cup with the favorites tag this time but neither did anyone expect them to fade away so soon by losing their first three games.
Anrich Nortje was injured, Kyle Abbott had already signed a Kolpak deal and Morne Morkel had followed the same path to ensure a more secure future for himself. In February 2019, South Africa also lost Duanne Olivier to the same route, only a month after he had delivered a man-of-the-series award winning performance in a 3-match Test series against Pakistan.
Steyn, however, still feels South African cricket has enough young fast bowlers to fill the void. “I think regardless of the Kolpak deals, we have a lot of good players. It’s only highlighted because the international guys are going Kolpak. There are still a lot of domestic cricketers in South Africa coming through who will play for the Proteas’’, claimed the 35-year old.
With the ODI World Cup out of sight, Steyn is now striving to represent South Africa in the T20 World Cup next year. The Proteas have not lost any of their last five T20I series. Before getting carried away by the stat, one cannot overlook that South Africa went into the ODI World Cup with an identical streak of victories in the format and had their most forgetful campaign till date. But Steyn is optimistic.
“I think things can turn around very quickly and we still have the players to play well, get them into a good positive headspace”, feels Steyn claiming the 50-over World Cup an event of the past. Currently, South Africa has six T20Is before the T20 World Cup in October in 2020, against strong opponents and tournament favorites like England and South Africa. The number of games might not seem to be enough but it’s the T20 leagues like the ongoing second season of the Mzansi Super League and the forthcoming edition of Indian Premier League where therein lies hope for their cricketers to gain enough exposure to the ever-changing dynamics of the format.
“MSL is obviously a great platform for young guys to stake a claim for the T20 World Cup next year”, reckons Steyn. A part of the bandwagon himself, Steyn played a pivotal part in Cape Town Blitz’s run to the final last year. He was the highest wicket-taker for his side, scalping 12 wickets in nine matches at an economy of 6.5, which is no less than gold dust in T20 cricket.
This year, he is leading the pack again. With 12 wickets in seven games, he is the highest wicket-taker in the tournament at present. “Hoping we can go one better from last year and win it” said Steyn. The target seems a bit far-fetched with Blitz managing only three wins in seven games. But the overall goal for Steyn carries broader significance. “Overall, [I want] to form a good bond with a bunch of guys and hope that some of those guys go up to higher levels”, concluded Steyn highlighting the importance of MSL in South Africa’s domestic circuit.
Post MSL, Steyn’s next assignment will be his maiden stint in the Big Bash League where he is supposed to feature in six games for the Melbourne Stars. The fast bowler has invested his undivided attention to white-ball cricket. However, he will always be missed at the Test level. That is where the essence of the Steyngun has always been. The unplayable outswingers. Those ‘crazy-eyes’ celebrations complemented with pumping fists and veins popping out of his neck.
Will we see similar intensity in his upcoming white-ball cricket career or will he be overcautious in his roistering? “Depending on who I get out, it will come out” says Dale Steyn recalling “his first Test wicket” as his favorite one where he pulled out the chainsaw for the first time.