Steyn, Benn keep it civil

2014-12-22 15:35
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – There seemed much more peace-pipe smoke in the air than there was prickliness to the first encounter in four years at Test level between Dale Steyn, South Africa’s champion fast bowler, and belligerent West Indies spinner Sulieman Benn at Centurion a few days ago.

In the aftermath, the sometimes stormy-petrel Benn has even been praised by a renowned Caribbean commentator for having “mellowed”.

The first Test at SuperSport Park broadly appeared to be played in good spirit, which made a pleasant change from the last series between the two teams in the Caribbean in 2010, when a much-publicised feud between the two individuals was the biggest of several flashpoints.

Was it simply because the West Indies were so significantly outclassed after a promising start to the contest?

Perhaps if the visitors are more competitive in the second Test at St George’s Park from Boxing Day, more of the former needle will resurface, but the Highveld Test was surprisingly low on “verbals” or nose-to-nose encounters.

Back at Kensington Oval in Barbados on the Proteas’ 2010 tour, Benn was guilty of much baiting of Steyn and others in the South African ranks, and Steyn lost his cool in one instance to spit at the feet of the big left-arm spinner – he was subsequently fined all of his match fee.

But if any onlookers were secretly hoping for a “round two” to that particular contretemps, they would have left the Centurion Test notably disappointed.

Instead of resorting to any overt provocation, Benn was one of very few West Indies players to come out of the defeat, by an innings and 220 runs, with honour intact from a purely performance-related point of view.

Writing on Cricinfo veteran critic Tony Cozier said Benn had “wheeled away steadily for 46 overs” with his left-arm spin, despite receiving occasional ice-pack treatment for a sore shoulder.

“His statistics are modest: 81 wickets at 36.55 each. He is better judged by the work demanded of him and his miserly rate of 2.72 runs an over in moderate bowling teams on modern Test cricket’s unhelpful pitches.”

Cozier also lauded Benn for not reacting angrily to Kraigg Brathwaite dropping Stiaan van Zyl off his bowling very early in a maiden Test innings that was to net him a century.

“In earlier times, Benn might have flailed his arms around in annoyance and perhaps let out an expletive or two. He possibly harboured similar unpleasant thoughts ... but at 33 he has mellowed since the time he was regarded as an uncontrollable bad boy.”

Benn might come more strongly into his own in the wickets column at St George’s Park, traditionally a venue kind to the spinner’s trade, and at the very least keep things tight at one end even if the West Indies’ faster men are labouring against the Proteas’ formidable stroke-players all over again.

As for Steyn, the top-ranked Test bowler on the planet proved in the first Test that he doesn’t always need to be surrounded by a diversionary red mist to cause mayhem: after a slightly mundane (and wicketless) first innings by his standards, he roared back into the frame in the second West Indian knock for figures of six for 34 in the space of a mere five or so personal overs.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  dale steyn  |  cricket

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