Dale Steyn. What comes to your mind when you hear this name? The World Cup spell, where he reduced India from 267-1 to 296 all-out, or the Ahmedabad Test match, where his 5 wicket hall knocked India all out on 76? If you are a Sachin fan, you cannot forgive Steyn for the way he outfoxed the experienced genius at Nagpur in 2010, and some may remember him for making grown men like Jacques Kallis joyfully cry as he led the pace attack beating Australia in Australia for the first time in more than a decade, while Rohit Sharma and Mohammad Hafeez fans remember him for paralyzing their favourites. Well, let us keep it short by saying that ‘The list is long’.
The Steyn Gun is not going to fire any thunderous bullets now. He has decided to hang his boots. In a simple retirement tweet on his Twitter handle. Referring to a song from his favourite band, the Counting crows, Steyn wrote – “Today I officially retire from the game I love the most. Bittersweet but grateful. Thank you, everyone, from family to teammates, journalists to fans, it’s been an incredible journey together, ” He further added – “It’s been 20 years since training, matches, travel, wins, losses, strapped feet, jetlag, joy, and brotherhood. There are too many memories to tell. Too many faces to thank. So I left it to the experts, to sum up, my favourite band, the Counting Crows.”
Born in Phalaborwa to a migrant Zimbabwean family, growing up as a white guy in Muslim dominated area, he was timid and scared of everything in his childhood. His decision to face his timidness saw him castling a technically sound Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughn in his first test match in 2004.
For the first three years, Steyn performed just enough to maintain his place in the side. 2007 was the year, where he upped his game by several notches. The series-winning performance against Pakistan on an unfavourable Asian surface made him an established player. His Man-of-the-series performances against New Zealand were signs of an emerging leader of the peace battery. Subsequently, he went on to thrash Australia in Australia in 2008 series, which is said to be the end of the Glorious Australian era.
During Steyn’s reign, South Africa did not lose a single series outside their home during 2006-2015. But the real test of a pace bowler is his/her performance in dry, flat pitches of the sub-continent. During the next decade, Steyn emerged as the leading bowler in sub-continent conditions. On dust-laden dry wickets, he went on to pick 92 wickets from 22 matches averaging just over 24 with a strike rate of 42.9. His mastery over in-swing, out-swing, Reverse- swing and wrist movements were key components in his Asian success. Overall he ended up with 439 wickets from 93 test matches with an average of 22.95 and strike rate of 42.39.
With remarkable achievements, injuries followed him. His body took a toll and he ended up getting constantly injured after 2015. He could never fully recover from his shoulder injury. The last ball six by Grant Elliot in the semi-final of the 2015 world cup also affected his motivation. His effort to stay fit for the 2019 world cup ended in another injury ousting him from the tournament. He announced retirement from Test cricket in August 2019 in order to focus on the T-20 world cup, but the postponement of the tournament due to COVID-19 drew curtains on his illustrious career.
The Phalaborwa express is often compared to James Anderson and Mitchell Jhonson, the two other fast bowlers of their era. While Mitchell Jhonson was known for his fearsome thunderbolts, Anderson is known for his mastery of swing bowling. Steyn posed the ability to rattle the batsmen with bouncers like Jhonson’s, but then he mostly trapped batsmen with Anderson-like skills while bowling at least 10km/hr faster than Jimmy. With both these bowlers playing side-by-side, Steyn spent a record 263 weeks at the top of ICC bowler’s test rankings. The fear created by Steyn at one end helped his fellows like Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and later Kagiso Rabada be their true selves. Though his Test workload did not allow him to achieve his potential in limited-overs, he was once a number 2 ODI bowler in ICC rankings. He finished with 196 wickets in 125 ODIs. His economy rate of 6.9 in T20 cricket was among the best in the world. The man was so much passionate for the game that he did not quit learning days before his retirement. He developed an in-dipper bowl to outfox batsmen in T20s.
An out and out pace bowler who is the highest wicket-taker of his country, someone who has the best strike rate among anyone above 300 wickets, someone who has the best average among his generation deserved much more, if not for injuries. He played in mostly batsmen friendly conditions, a closer analysis of his stats may lead you to conclude that he was the best bowler of the century. With James Anderson finally calling him ‘’The Best’‘, it would be fitting, if his career had ended with a world cup trophy in his kitty along with a farewell match.
Soon after Steyn’s announcement, reactions poured in from the cricket fraternity as well as common public. Indian legend Virendra Sehwag tweeted, “Go well, great man. You were fire, one of the best the game has seen.” Former England batsman Kevin Pietersen also tweeted, “Legend! No greater fast bowler in all conditions!”
Probably the best tribute came from the world number 1 fast bowler and his successor in the list of great quicks, Pat Cummins. He tweeted, “Congrats on a remarkable career. Set the standard for fast bowlers world round to follow for 20 years. No better competitor to watch in full flight, enjoy retirement mate! All-time great.”
Go well, great man. You were fire, one of the best the game has seen.