Dale Steyn Head and Shoulders Above International Fast Bowlers Still Playing

Antoinette Muller@mspr1ntFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2014

South African bowler Dale Steyn hugs captain Hashim Amla, left, and AB de Villiers as he celebrates the dismissal of Sri Lankan batsman Dinesh Chandimal during the third day of the first test cricket match between Sri Lanka and South Africa  in Galle, Sri Lanka, Friday, July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press

Dale Steyn eats bowling records for brunch. No matter where he goes or who he bowls against, Steyn seemingly can’t be stopped. On Friday in Galle, he made history once again. He became the first South African fast bowler to take a five-for at Galle.

On a wicket not really suitable for fast bowlers, Steyn steamed in over and over again. One of his spells finished with figures of 5-3-8-3. It was his fifth five-for in Asia and his 23rd overall, putting him on par with Kapil Dev, Dennis Lillee and Imran Khan.

Most Five Wicket Hauls in an Innings
M Muralitharan1332308009/5122.722.47556722
S Warne1452737088/7125.412.6557.43710
Sir RJ Hadlee861504319/5222.292.6350.8369
A Kumble13223661910/7429.652.6965.9358
GD McGrath12424356324-Aug21.642.4951.9293
IT Botham1021683838/3428.42.9956.9274
Wasim Akram1041814147/11923.622.5954.6255
Harbhajan Singh1011864138/8432.372.8368.5255
SF Barnes27501899/10316.432.3641.6247
DW Steyn73*1373677/5122.843.2641.9235
DK Lillee701323557/8323.922.7552237
Imran Khan881423628/5822.812.5453.7236
N Kapil Dev1312274349/8329.642.7863.9232
ESPN StatsGuru

Those figures are pretty good for a player playing in an era where batsmen are dominating. And, along with Glenn McGrath, Steyn is the only fast bowler who has played in the 2000s to reach this milestone. But these figures should not come as a surprise. He has been one of the most consistent bowlers in Test cricket in the last five years, and there can be no doubt that he is the best fast bowler currently still playing. 

Out of all the fast bowlers still playing who hail from outside the subcontinent (defined as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the UAE), Steyn has the most wickets there—76 in 28 innings. And, overall, only Courtney Walsh has more wickets than him with 77 in 31 innings. 

Steyn got his first breakthrough against Sri Lanka in his seventh over, returning for just his second spell. Kaushal Silva was the first to be caught in the web. Through a hostile spell of short balls and bouncers, Silva hooked a bouncer to long leg where Vernon Philander took a spectacular catch. Steyn was now breathing fire with figures of 7-2-8-1.

Taken out of the attack in the 19th over and brought back in the 36th, Steyn struck again almost immediately. This time it was Mahela Jayawardene caught right in front of his stumps. That spell didn't bring any more rewards for the quick, and it was only later in the day in the searing heat and with the old ball that Steyn ripped the heart out of the Sri Lankan middle order. His aggression and forcing the batsmen to play helped push South Africa into a strong position. 

At the close-of-play press conference, he said he finds he enjoys the challenge of playing in the subcontinent, somewhere he says is "the hardest place to bowl." But he has had success in Sri Lanka before. Back in 2006, he took five wickets in Colombo in a tense Test South Africa lost by one wicket. He admits that back then he was "probably just running in and trying to bowl as fast as he could." Steyn reckons that he thinks about the game and getting his opponents out much more these days, even if he is still bowling super fast.

Although he might be heading into his twilight years, Steyn's star is showing no signs of letting up just yet. It looks like he might be a supernova first, outshining the entire galaxy with as much energy as the sun is expected to emit over its entire life span before he even begins to fade.

There's still a lot of time left in the Test, and South Africa's new era under Hashim Amla is off to a steady start. It's been a team effort underscored by Steyn's individual brilliance, and they might be asking themselves just what all the fuss was about flat tracks.


Quotes obtained firsthand.