The battle for the best fast bowler’s tag in this generation had been, without doubt, limited to Dale Steyn and James Anderson. The latter, who had for long focussed on the intricacies on seam and swing, may find himself a bit lonely at the top as the South African formally announced his retirement from all forms of the game on Tuesday evening.
The Englishman, however, was gracious in his tribute to Steyn with just two words: ‘The best [emoticon: heart],’ on his Twitter handle below the South African’s announcement of retirement. With this, it was curtains on the career of a larger-than-life character in the sport who left a huge legacy in his country’s cricket after the great Allan Donald.
It was, of course, just a matter of time before Steyn - a contemporary of Anderson at 38 years - made the formal announcement on hanging up his boots. The advancing years and frequent injuries had taken a toll on the body which saw him retire from Test cricket as the country’s highest wicket-taker with 439 wickets in 2019. Unlike Anderson, who was handled with kid gloves by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) so that he could prolong his career in Tests, Steyn pedalled his stuff in white ball cricket and franchise leagues. However, it was quite painful to see him being wallopped all over the park in his four overs in the latter years.
Our abiding memories, however, will be of him steaming in like an express train with that angular run-up - generating searing pace and bounce and the ability of moving the ball in the air as well as off the seam. Add to this was the ability was to generate revese swing - a skill set which paid him rich dividends even on Indian wickets.
Having arrived at the scene when Donald, also known as the ‘White Lightning’ had just bowed out, Steyn was like a phoenix and played a vital cog in the wheel to make captain Graeme Smith’s team climb to No.1 position in Test rankings. To put it in Smith’s own words: ‘‘Nobody who saw it will ever forget that memorable delivery of Dale’s he bowled England’s Michael Vaughan in his debut Test series in 2004 that announced him on the world stage as a special talent. He was my go-to bowler when the Proteas needed a major breakthrough. What made him so special was that he always produced the goods when it really counted.”
The familiar glare at beating a batsman was part of his perona, but his opponents reveal that he was a different person when he stepped away from the field. Earlier this year, Steyn found himself in the middle of a controversy when he was critical of the environment in the Indian Premier League (IPL), saying that the soul of cricket somehow gets lost in the glitz and glamour here - despite having taken close to 100 wickets for different franchises. The star did a U-turn on his statement the next day, and it was perhaps his lone blip in an enduring relationship with the cricket-crazy country.
Thank you for the memories, Dale Steyn!