Cape Town - Dale Steyn may not have been at his devastating best during the recently completed one-day international (ODI) series against Australia but he roared back to form with a four-wicket haul as South Africa restricted the same opponents to 214 for eight on the first day of the first Test in Cape Town.
The 28-year-old Steyn captured four for 31 off 14 overs and produced a performance that gladdened the hearts of Proteas’ supporters and would have pleased his team-mates even more.
Steyn’s pace was noticeably down during the 2-1 ODI series loss to Australia but he found his groove in Cape Town as he regularly sent down deliveries over the 145km/h mark while he even touched the 150km/h mark on a few occasions.
The amiable paceman, off the field at least, said that his return to form was down to simple hard work.
“My intensity changed. If I'm brutally honest, my intensity wasn't there as much in the one-dayers – not that I wasn’t looking for it during the ODIs, I’m always looking for it,” he explained after the first day’s play on Wednesday.
“When you come off a long break the only way to get bowling fit is by bowling lots of overs and unfortunately I didn’t have that opportunity.
“Against Australia you have to hit your straps hard and in the ODIs I didn’t do that but I’ve done a lot of hard work in the last few days,” he explained.
Steyn, like most of the national squad players, enjoyed an extended break from the game after the World Cup campaign ended in March and his competitive warm-up for Australia’s visit consisted of the Champions League Twenty20 and a short burst in a washed-out domestic one-day game for the Cape Cobras against the Dolphins.
But he said that the benefits of the break would only be seen in over a year’s time after South Africa had concluded tours of New Zealand, England and the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka.
“I played a bit of cricket (in the lead up to the Australia tour) but a lot of people questioned whether I should have played a four-day game. But trust me, at the end of next year at the end of all the tours the break that I’ve had will make a lot more sense,” he added.
Steyn found considerable swing during the first day’s play in Cape Town while he was not averse to sending down a few well-directed short balls and his duel with Michael Clarke, at the start of Clarke’s innings, was one to savour as Steyn struck Clarke a few painful blows.
Steyn even found the breath to have a few words at Clarke but Australia’s captain showed wonderful fortitude to fight back to score a superb, unbeaten century.
The ‘Phalaborwa Express’ was full of praise for Clarke’s innings.
“He batted pretty well didn’t he,” Steyn chuckled.
“We wanted to come hard at him and show why we put them in to bat. He's a young skipper and if you cut the head off the leader, the rest might fall apart. In pretty tough conditions like today, it's what you do. We hit him hard, but congratulations to him, he batted bloody well."
Steyn may be the top-rated test match bowler on the official International Cricket Council rankings but he said his team-mates paid more attention to the rating than he did.
“Those rankings are a bit funny to be honest. It means nothing when you walk out on the field. You still have to go out there and bowl the ball. I don’t have this big halo over my head that says ‘number one’. The batsmen don’t really care but it is pretty cool when you team-mates remind you of it and pump you up,” he said.
Steyn will be chasing his 17th fifth-wicket haul in Test cricket when play resumes on Thursday and few would bet against him achieving the feat.