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
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
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
“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
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.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing