Steyn still a Test weapon to fear

13 October 2016
Our voices

Far from a dominant force in the ODI series, Dale Steyn remains a very real red-ball threat in the eyes of Aussie vice-captain David Warner

About the Writer:

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

He might have recently returned the worst set of ODI figures of an international career that has yielded more than 650 wickets at a rate unheard of among most of his peers.

He may have been out-bowled over the past two weeks by much younger, lesser known pace bowlers in South Africa’s successful ODI outfit – and by a leg spinner aged closer to 40 than his own 33 years.

And there are some suggesting that he is now so clearly in the autumn of his senior playing days for his country he should withdraw gracefully from the limited-overs format in order to prolong his days as a Test cricketer.

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But Dale Steyn is the bowler who will carry the Proteas hopes into the upcoming three-Test series against Australia that begins next month according to a couple of guys well placed to make that assessment.

South Africa’s stand-in skipper Faf du Plessis, basking in the warm glow of an unprecedented 5-0 series success against the world’s top-ranked ODI outfit.

What the Aussies think of Dale Steyn

And Australia’s vice-captain and opener David Warner who, as his team’s longest-serving Test batsman, has fought many a battle against the South African spearhead and refuses to entertain suggestions that Steyn might just have tipped past his prime.

"You’ve always got to respect Dale," Warner said in Cape Town yesterday after he had helped himself to a masterful 173 – which included a trio of boundaries from the first four deliveries Steyn sent down – in Australia’s fifth consecutive ODI loss.

"World-class bowler, great athlete, always charges in and you just never want to upset him.

"That’s something I learned fast when I first made my international debut.

"He’s a guy that can really get on top, and we’ve seen it before here in the Test series (in 2014) when the ball was reversing in PE (the second Test of that series where Steyn scythed through Australia’s second innings).

"He has this spark in him and this spell in him, and you’ve got to get through that.

"And you’ve got to really work hard to try and negate what he throws at you."

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Steyn was certainly far from a dominant force during the five-match ODI series that was ruled by the bat and, on the one occasion when that did not prove the rule, conditions better suited spin than seam. 

He has also been plagued by the sort of wear and tear injuries that afflict ageing quick bowlers – in Steyn’s case a damaged right shoulder – and was left out of the Proteas’ ODI squad for the tri-series against Australia and the West Indies in the Caribbean last June. 

A decision that rankled the notoriously feisty fast bowler to such an extent that he promptly signed a deal to play T20 cricket in the UK domestic competition rather than rest and recuperate at home.

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But the reality is that South Africa, as ever, will rely on their quicks to underpin their hopes of repeating the successes of their two previous Test visits in 2008-09 and 2012-13 which made them the first team to win consecutive Test series in Australia since the mighty West Indians of the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

And that pace attack is built around some work-weary seam veterans.

Steyn is 33, Vernon Phlander (aged 31 and who has carried a string of soft tissue injuries throughout his career), 29-year-old Kyle Abbott and Morne Morkel, who turned 32 last week.

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And is no certainty to even make the plane given the troubles he has experienced with his back on recent weeks, and who is currently involved in a comeback match for this first-class franchise the Titans to gauge his fitness for the Test campaign. 

However du Plessis was unequivocal that Steyn, who has played just two Tests this year (one of those a washed-out match against New Zealand at Durban), will not only lead his bowling group in the Tests in Perth, Hobart and Adelaide.

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The latter being a day-night match using a pink ball, which Steyn was seen bowling with at centre wicket training on the day of the fourth ODI against Australia at Port Elizabeth from which the veteran quick was rested.

But that Steyn will present a far more potent threat than he did during the past fortnight’s ODIs, where he leaked a career worst 96 runs from his 10-over spell at Kingsmead in game three.

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"Dale in Test cricket is just a different breed," du Plessis said at his post-series media conference before he leads South Africa to Australia in the absence of injured Test captain AB de Villiers.

"In one-day cricket it’s going to happen as you saw tonight … he would be the first to say he didn’t bowl at his best.

"But in Test cricket, it’s about consistency and making sure you can bowl an area for a long period of time.

"So when Dale gets that red ball in his hand he’s just a different bowler.

"He’s still our number one bowler in Test cricket and for us to have a successful tour of Australia Dale Steyn will be the guy to make or break that for us.

"Because he’s a huge player in that Test team.

"I’m confident that he’ll have a really good series.

"His shoulder looks okay, that’s obviously the challenge to make sure that stays fit and that he can bowl for long periods of time because Test cricket’s not just 10 overs.

"So he needs to bowl 18, 20 overs a day for the next month.

"We need a fit Dale Steyn.

"Our bowling attack needs to be fit for us to win a series in Australia."

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