Proteas One Win Away From Number One Spot
By Richard Browne
Dale Steyn showed last weekend in England why he is the world’s number one rated bowler. On a slow and docile wicket that neutered England’s fabled attack, Steyn managed to conjure as much through his personality as anything else, two match winning bursts, that sees South Africa one Test victory from becoming the world number one.
On the first day it seemed that the hype hade got to everybody, the crowds flocked to see fireworks and instead witnessed a grinding day of accumulation from Cook and Trott. Steyn seemed subdued and irritable, making a song dance on the boundary edge over some ankle strapping and seemingly at odds with the South African management, to the point where a seething Alan Donald felt obliged to go on record at the press conference after the first day and quell rumours about Steyn’s fitness.
Come the second morning and Steyn was a changed man. Surprisingly he did not take the new ball for a combination of reasons. Morkel has a natural action for bowling round the wicket to England’s’ two left handed openers, Philander lacking a bit of pace needs the new ball to make the most of his movement and Steyn claims he finds it hard to control the brand new ball. On the Friday though he led the charge and bowled superbly.
Both his wickets were sucker balls. His immaculately tight and probing line to Cook resulted in an inside edge and Bopara clearly ill at ease was left in two minds about a short quick ball and neither went for a stroke or left it, instead limply hanging the bat out for an edge to the keeper. This is what great bowlers do of course, challenge the batsmen mentally as well as physically. It looked like Steyn had got inside the head of the nervous Bopara, creating doubt when normally there would be none.
Steyn, although small for a fast bowler, has an air of menace about him on the field. His blood curling scream after taking a wicket is the cricketing equivalent of the All Blacks Hakka, a primeval challenge to the next batsmen to come that Steyn is ready for more of the same. Steyn in full flow in an age of bouncer restrictions and protective equipment, is a reminder that cricket at is rawest is a very dangerous business indeed.
Steyn steaming in makes the bowlers around him better. Philander becomes Pollock to Steyn’s Donald, his probing accuracy giving the English batsmen no respite in a torrid opening hour. Both bowlers found the length needed on the slow wicket and took advantage of muggy conditions to skittle out England when they looked like building a match winning total.
South Africa batted superbly. The first hour and a half of their innings was tough work as Anderson probed and Swann found early spin. The Swann v Smith battle was fascinating. Smith deprived of anything of his legs could not score, he tried sweeping and coming down the wicket, but could middle nothing. He didn’t lose patience though and ground his way to a hundred in his one hundredth Test.
Kallis and Amla made batting look too easy and that will be the real worry for the England think tank. The extra pace and bounce of Finn will be needed, to ask South Africa some different questions as all the England seamers looked down on pace and a bit medium. Bresnan has lost his nip since having an elbow operation and looks the likeliest to step down, but Broad looked off the pace too, ever through orders to be steady rather than explosive or because of injury. Swann’s elbow that now requires cortisone is turning from a headache to a potential migraine for the English selectors.
Steyn was superb to in England’s second innings, his menace and aggression never slipping for a moment and when combined with the judicious use of the inswinger as a shock ball on a slow wicket a fearsome combination.
The bowling of Imran Tahir will have pleased the South African’s just as much though on the barmy Monday. In the first innings he looked nervous, but on the fourth day evening, he had England captain totally befuddled, clueless as where the next run was coming from and desperate to get of strike, which resulted in a misjudged attempt to sweep and a looping catch. Classic modern leg spin bowling of pressure creating a tortured mind within the batsmen.
He kept it tight on the final day and with two different googlies, had Bell grasping during his vigilant last day 55. All Tahir lacks is the fiercely spun leg break and at 34 it is unlikely to appear, but with bite and three stock deliveries Graeme Smith has never had anything so remotely attacking in his spin bowling arsenal in the ten years he has been at the helm.