Dale Steyn, The Embodiment of Simplicity and Intensity, Retires — The Greatest Fast Bowler of Them All
Everyone loves Dale Steyn — Simply the Greatest.
Famous French fashion designer Coco Chanel professed that “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
Simplicity and Intensity were the hallmarks of Dale Steyn’s illustrious career — ever smiling character with a popping veins-chainsaw celebration, a smooth, silky action that delivered lethal bouncers, a humble down-to-earth character who assumed the mantle of being the greatest fast bowler of his generation.
Hence, it was true to his character that he hung up his boots via an understated tweet. He signed off with a snippet from the Counting Crows rock band and summed up the end as “bittersweet, but grateful…It’s been 20 years of training, matches, travel, wins, losses, strapped feet, jet lag, joy, and brotherhood.”
— Dale Steyn (@DaleSteyn62) August 31, 2021
Steyn was thrusted in the international arena after just seven first class games. He began his Test career on December 17, 2004 against England, debuting in the same match as the another-to-be legend, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers.
Both teams had great bowlers. On the opposite end — Steve Harmison, Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard, and Andrew Flintoff (formed the core of the great 2005 Ashes series), while South Africa had the dependable duo of Shaun Pollock & Makhaya Ntini.
Then arrived a 21-year old boy in iconic fashion, going through the gates of Marcus Trescothick and breaking a 152-run opening partnership. In the 43rd over. Full and straight. Slight movement. He screamed. Crowd erupted.
Usually, one brilliant delivery in a match is good enough. However, the ball from Steyn’s debut that is remembered is that Michael Vaughan ball in the second innings. Good length, outswing, beats the bat, off stump rooted. Perfection.
Although South Africa eventually lost that match, they found someone would would win them the decade.
Dale Steyn Stats — Strike Rate Like No Other
Before we jump into his best hits, let us look over some numbers really quick.
We tend to focus on batting strike rate much more due to T20 cricket and increasing run-rates, but to understand what set Steyn apart, we need to understand bowling strike rate. Bowling strike rate is the number of balls taken per dismissal on average. The lower, the better.
Matches Wickets Best Strike Rate Average 5-fers 10-fers Test (Overall)934397/51 (Innings)
11/60 (Match)42.3022.95265Test (Asia)22927/51 (Innings)
10/108 (Match)42.924.1151Steyn in Tests
MatchesWicketsBestStrike RateAverage5-fersEconomy ODI1251966/3931.9025.9534.87T20I47644/915.8018.352 (4-fers)6.94T202282634/919.2022.004 (4-fers)6.85Steyn in ODIs and T20Is
To put this into perspective, for those with at least 100 Test wickets, Waqar Younis (43.4), Shoaib Akhtar, (45.7), and Allan Donald (47) are the only other contemporary fast bowlers who were close to Steyn’s SR. From an earlier era, Malcolm Marshall (46.7) was the best, while Kagiso Rabada (41.2), Anrich Nortje, and Pat Cummins (47.1) are in the race right now.
- (42.30) 6th Best Strike Rate of All-Time, 3rd Best post-World War I. Only Shane Bond (38.7) & fellow countrymen Kagiso Rabada (41.2) higher
- 3rd Fastest to 400 wickets, and the joint-fastest fast bowler to this mark alongside Sir Richard Hadlee (80 matches)
- Most Test Wickets for South Africa, surpassing Shaun Pollock’s 421 wickets.
- 8th Highest Wicket-Taker of All-Time (Only Muralitharan, Warne, Anderson*, Kumble, McGrath, Broad, Walsh ahead. None had a strike rate below 51.9)
- ICC Test Cricketer of the Year (2008)
- ICC Test Team of the Decade (2020)
- #1 Ranked ICC Test Bowler (2008–2014) — 78 wickets at 16.24 in the 2007/08 season.
International: South Africa, Africa XI
Domestic: Eersterust Cricket Club, Titans, Northerns, Cape Cobras
IPL: Royal Challengers Bangalore, Deccan Chargers, Sunrisers Hyderabad
Other T20 Leagues: Cape Town Blitz (Mzansi Super League), Melbourne Stars, Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators, Kandy Tuskers
My Favorite Steyn Memory
My favorite aspect about Steyn was his action. Just a joy to watch. Anytime any format if Steyn is bowling, I would turn my TV on.
You see, the Shoaib Akthars and Lasith Malingas are legends in their own rights, but emulating their actions is a convoluted task. The two pace bowlers with almost perfect actions that I tried to imitate in gully cricket were Brett Lee and Dale Steyn. Uncomplicated yet effective.
To be perfectly honest, I do not remember his specific bowling figures from the top of my head. He has bowled so consistently over the decades that you only remember his iconic wickets or spells. More often than not he probably took a 4-fer or a 5-fer. Most times, I was scared for my favorite batter in the opposite camp, and that is the beauty of Dale Steyn — the ability to send shivers in the opposite camp but in an awe-inspiring, charming kind of manner.
The Rise of Dale Steyn, Conqueror of All Conditions
It would be difficult to go through all of his 29 5-fers, so let us talk about the greatest hits from Steyn’s career. Dropped after his early debut, he made a comeback. Against New Zealand, he would get his first five-fer in 2006.
He had memorable spells against England, Australia, and New Zealand. He took 5 wicket hauls in every condition and situation. Either with helpful seaming conditions or reverse swing.
He has literally taken a 5-fer against every country he played against.
Best Figures (Overall) Against This TeamBest Figures In This CountryAustralia5/675/67Bangladesh5/634/48England5/515/56India7/517/51New Zealand6/493/49Pakistan6/85/56South Africa-6/8Sri Lanka5/545/54U.A.E.-4/98West indies6/345/29Zimbabwe5/465/46
The King of Asia
Steyn’s best figure was 7/51 at Nagpur in 2010, but it was his 5/23 in Ahmedabad (2008) that landed him in the lengdary fast bowling pantheon, when India were skittled out for 76 at home soil. His brilliant consistency in the 2008 series against India continued- 4/103 (Chennai), 5/23 & 3/91 (Ahmedabad), 3/71 (Kanpur).
In Sri Lanka, he lifted his game even more. 5/82 (2006), and beast mode in 2014 (5/54, 4/45, 2/69, 2/59). He even landed a 5/56 in Karachi (2007) and had a best innings of 4/48 in Bangladesh.
His best figures in South Africa was a miserly 6/8 when Pakistan were skittled for 49/10.
In limited overs, his record is decent as well although he did not play as many matches. 5 wickets in Nagpur against India in the 2011 World Cup, 4–0–17–4 figures while defending a thriller in the 2014 T20I World Cup, and a T20I economy of under-7 suggests he was a much better bowler than his T20 leagues returns suggest.
It would be grave injustice if I did not mention his batting. He was more than a useful down-the order player. Two Test fifties including a crucial 76 and a best of 60 in ODIs meant he was a better than a tailender, but not quite an all-rounder. Kemar Roach-esque batting abilities.
Steyn Vs AB De Villiers IPL
Another riveting memory is the 2012 IPL game between Deccan Chargers and Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinawamy. 24 runs in one over. The inside out shot was the best of them all and even got a wry smile from Steyn in appreciationg of ABD’s class.
The brilliance of that passage of play was two players at the top of their games in a pressure situation and for once, Steyn had lost to his fellow countrymen.
Which phase of Dale Steyn was the most memorable or heartbreaking for you?
Another miraculous part of Steyn’s journey was his career of two halves — with respect to injuries.
Usually a fast bowler succumbs to an injury early in their career and comes back stronger, more well built (like Pat Cummins). An injury in the middle of the career means lowering the pace and focusing on line & length (like Munaf Patel). Another extreme is Brett Lee or Shane Bond (always injured, played cricket in between without compromising speed).
Steyn completely escaped this phase and never lost control, momentum, or pace. However, the law of averages came back to bite him at the end of his career.
Injury. Rehabilitation. Few games. Repeat.
- 2013 (Groin Strain, Side Strain)
- 2014 (Rib Fracture, 3 Hamstring Strains)
- 2015 (Groin Strain)
- 2015–16 (Shoulder Injury)
- 2017 (Freak heel injury)
- 2019 (Shoulder Injury) after being selected into the ODI World Cup squad
Climbing the Peak
Although his goal was to lift a trophy with South Africa, there was always a personal goal — to go one past Shaun Pollock. After numerous injuries, he got back up on his feet and on Boxing Day 2018, he took his 422nd wicket to become the leading wicket-taker for South Africa.
It was probably fate that Shaun Pollock would be commentating on that exact moment. Watch the video below to relieve that moment and all of his major milestone wickets till then.
After his shoulder injury again just before South Africa’s 2019 campaign started (and derailed), he announced on 5 August 2019 he would retire from Tests to focus on limited overs cricket. He ended at 439 after going past 400 in 2014.
Loss of form, pandemic, and postponement of the T20 World Cups meant it was time to retire in the other formats as well.
Steyn goes past Shaun Pollock, thereby becoming the highest wicket-taker for South Africa in Test cricket.
Who Is Dale Steyn, The Person?
Now that we know how good Steyn is as a bowler, let us get an insight on who the person he truly is — what really makes Dale Steyn kick. He has a life outside cricket, ya know? Thankfully, his interviews, especially this ESPNCricinfo’s Cricket Monthly interview with Nagraj Gollapudi, provides us a glimpse into his life.
Dale Steyn was born in the small town of Phalaborwa in the Limpopo Province (borders Kruger National Park in South Africa). Maybe the natural environment around him had an effect of him since he became an out-doorsy kind of person. Skateboarding, surfing, and fishing are some of his favorite hobbies. He even flexed his acting muscles for a cameo role in a Drew Barrymore-Adam Sandler movie Blended.
He is a natural athlete who competed at various sports from an early level. 100 meter sprints, long jump, triple jump, high jumps all prepared him for long spells of bowling in Test match arena. He wanted to be like “Allan Donald through the air, but I wanted to land the ball the way Polly landed.. I wanted to be a faster version of Shaun Pollock.”
The best of both worlds.
Steyn said that the “difference between a good fast bowler and a brilliant fast bowler is the wickets column.” He always backed himself to take wickets regardless of the condition and taking 5-fers in every Test playing nation was one of his goals. Here is his collection of souvenir cricket balls.
Dale Steyn shows his collection of souvenir fifer balls 🔥
(via dalesteyn/Instagram) pic.twitter.com/E119HduZE0
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) November 25, 2020
In order to rise to this level, he has had a lot of support from his coaches, Chris van Noordwyk, Vinnie Barnes, Geoff Clarke, and captains, Graeme Smith, AB De Villiers, and Hashim Amla.
Other Interesting Steyn Facts
There were couple of other cool snippets in there as well. Keeping his cool against dropped catches, facing the Kohlis and de Villiers, altercation with Michael Clarke, Tests vs ODIs, Tendulkar Vs Donald, and video analysis & field settings.
A fun fact is that his full run up is 19 meters, 21 steps, which helps him avoid bowling no-balls. Why is this important? Well because he once took a wicket on a no-ball early in the innings, and it cost his team dearly. The batter was Kumar Sangakkara and the innings became famous for the record 624 partnership with Mahela Jayawardene.
(If you want to learn how Steyn learned about cricket in the first place, hear it from the man himself. Interesting story).
The Match That Broke Dale Steyn
It is time to talk about that World Cup semi-final. In Faf Du Plessis & AB De Villiers’ Friendship article, we spoke about the 2015 World Cup match.
Ian Smith on commentary. Grant Elliot. Superman. It hurt AB De Villers & Faf du Plessis. Definitely hurt Morne Morkel. Probably ended Vernon Philander’s career. We never saw Miller 1.0 again. The entire team. Devastated.
Now for a moment, let us put ourselves into Dale Steyn’s shoe. He dominated the world between 2008 and 2015. Responsibility for the last over of a World Cup semi-final rested on his shoulders (which would literally break a year later). South Africa’s history of collapses and chokes running in the background.
How must have it felt. Carrying the burden of the nation, the tag of the best fast bowler of the generation. One good ball, and you are in the legendary books. One bad ball, and you are scarred for life. Vettori squeezing a wide yorker, chaos in the field, overthrow chances. Steyn calm under pressure. Yet a half-volley in the small grounds of Auckland and Elliot did not miss his chance to glory.
Six. South Africa out. Steyn changed forever.
He reveals how he knew he was going to bowl the final over irrespective of Brendon McCullum’s expensive assault earlier in the innings. After all, he defended 7 runs in the 2014 T20 World Cup match against the same opposition. (He ended with 4–0–17–4 in Bangladesh. Wow). “This year was the hardest in dealing with that pain after the World Cup…We had our chances to win the game…Knowing that you have put four years’ hard work in, especially the last two years before the tournament, all you see is yourself holding the trophy. And then you don’t.”
The Downfall of the Great Era
With Steyn’s retirement, this is the close of one of the better chapters in South African cricket (Technically Faf and Tahir are still available for T20 World Cup selection, but have not been selected recently). All of them deserve a separate article.
Herschelle Gibbs was the architect of that 438 chase. Graeme Smith was the young leader who could bat with a broken hand. The pure class of Hashim Amla & AB De Villiers was unmatched. Faf’s leadership & resilience and once-in-a-generation-allrounder, Jacques Kallis, are often underrated. JP Duminy & Mark Boucher were the utility players every team needs for balance.
Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Rabada
Donald, Ntini, and Pollock passed on the baton to Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, and Kagiso Rabada — possibly the greatest line up (if only for just a few Tests). Philander’s swing made him the second fastest to 50 wickets, while Morne’s height and action bamboozled one and all. Rabada will soon form his leagacy of his own, and Imran Tahir was the energy boost South Africa required.
Together, they conquered teams overseas and became the №1 Test Team of the decade, the only ones to really challenge the great 2000s Australia team consistently and win away from home in the 2010s.
The future of South Africa lies with Quinton de Kock, Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Janneman Malan (100+ average in 9 ODIs by the way), Keshav Maharaj, and Tabraiz Shamsi. This is a pretty solid core, but it will take quite a few generations to reach the heights of Steyn’s South African team.
The Legacy of Dale Steyn
To answer this question, we must first ask ourselves what is great fast bowling?
Is it swinging it like Jimmy Anderson? Putting fear in the opposition’s heart like a Mitchell Johnson or Shoaib Akhtar? Delivering consistent line and lengths like Glenn McGrath & Shaun Pollock?