Pakistan in SA

Steyn to beat McGrath’s mark?

2013-02-05 22:15
Dale Steyn (AP)
Cape Town - Whilst looking too far up the road can be a precarious exercise, the riotously in-form Dale Steyn is looking increasingly more likely to be a serious challenger to Glenn McGrath’s record for most Test wickets by a fast bowler.

Fresh from posting career-best match figures of 11 for 60 against pockmarked Pakistan in the first Test at the Wanderers - and 19 in two Tests if you throw in his role in the earlier Port Elizabeth drubbing of New Zealand - Steyn only ventures onward and upward for scalps in the game’s most prestigious format.

The popular, now Cape Town-based “Phalaborwa Express” is just eight victims away now from breaking into the top 20 club for wicket-takers in Test history.

VIDEO: South Africa v Pakistan, first Test highlights

If he were to claim that tally or more in the second Test against the Pakistanis at the Proteas’ happy hunting ground of Newlands next week, he would shift into that elite group from his current slot of 22nd, where he is on 323 wickets - just behind England’s Bob Willis (325) and compatriot and national team bowling coach Allan Donald (330).

Such an achievement is also likely to happen with Steyn significantly still several months shy, in June, of reaching his 30th birthday.

The top three Test wicket-takers of all time - not too surprisingly when you consider how many more overs they are capable of bowling - are spinners, with Muttiah Muralitharan comfortably at the helm on his near-fairytale 800 scalps in an 18-year Test career for Sri Lanka.

Next comes Australia’s Shane Warne (708) and then Anil Kumble of India (619).

The beanpole McGrath may be just off the “podium” in fourth but, with his 563 wickets from 124 Tests at an average of 21.64, can at least proudly claim that he is the most productive pace or seam bowler, followed by that Trojan West Indian Courtney Walsh (519, and the only other speedster to have gone beyond the 500-mark).

As things stand, the legendarily accurate, always-at-‘em McGrath has one obvious advantage over a budding rival like Steyn: he did manage to stretch out his career to a point where he could bring down the curtain just a few weeks short of his 37th birthday in early 2007 and after a personal Test chapter spanning some 14 years.

What wouldn’t promising, but worryingly injury-prone young Aussie tearaways like Patrick Cummins and James Pattinson give for such longevity? Their careers already look just a little tenuous.

But that is where Steyn, considerably more experienced anyway, has a strong advantage: so far, touch wood, his roughly eight-year Test tenure has been marked by notably little time spent either in operating theatres or slightly less seriously sidelined.

He is blessed with a reliable “engine”, skill levels that happily marry subtlety with occasional red-mist aggression and, as he simply but accurately put it after his Wanderers triumph of the last few days: “I’m pretty fit.”

He was referring particularly to another influential, new-ball spell during the Pakistani second innings at the Bullring, where he stretched his uninterrupted duty from one end to an unusual two deliveries short of 11 overs.

In two or three years’ time, Steyn may just begin to discover that eternal youth is an elusive beast ... but I do emphasise “begin”, because there is just as much reason to start believing he is capable of stretching out his Test involvement to about the same figure, age-wise, as McGrath.

And if that does turn out to be the case, just where might that leave him in the wickets column?

He is blessed with a lean and strong body - Steyn’s frame should not succumb unduly to the dreaded “fuller” trend as he edges toward the mid-30s - and although he will always be as vulnerable as other seamers to niggles and inevitable wear-and-tear issues, he seems to keep them at bay for the most part and knows when to crank up or ease down.

It helps that his action is appealingly smooth and he doesn’t land heavily, either (a ruinous thing for shock bowlers that sadly curtailed someone like the hefty Brett Schultz).

Wisdom is also an attribute that only swells the more you play, and Steyn demonstrates that in parallel amounts as he adds relentlessly to his collection of caps.

He is bang on course statistically, if he is going to get near or even beyond McGrath wicket-grabbing territory: Steyn is now all of 23 further strikes past 300 wickets after 63 Tests, whereas the great Australian only got to the “triple ton-up” figure in his 64th, against West Indies in Perth in December 2000, when he was also well into his 31st year.

Counting against Steyn a little, maybe, is the ever-swelling general cricket calendar: for instance, is the South African going to continue to be seduced by the razzmatazz of the Indian Premier League, even as he seeks to prolong his zest and sound health for Tests?

And what about the slightly disturbing penchant for the South African authorities to deviously marginalise the Test portions of supposedly major tours? (It is going to be increasingly fashionable, for example, for series between the Proteas and India to be
marked by just three Tests and as many as seven one-day internationals.)

For all that - and call it premature, if you insist - I feel the time has come to start debating with some justification and excitement whether Dale Willem Steyn is eventually going to dethrone a certain Glenn Donald McGrath ...

HAVE YOUR SAY: Once Dale Steyn's Test career finishes, how high do you think he will rate among the world's greatest ever fast bowlers? Could he become the best ever? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  dale steyn  |  glenn mcgrath  |  cricket
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