'Freakish' Steyn's role has changed, but he remains key

2019-01-07 14:47
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Dale Steyn press conferences are almost always good for a few laughs. 

The 35-year-old, now the leading wicket-taker in South African Test cricket history, has seen enough to know not to take himself too seriously. 

He doesn't mind poking fun at journalists and hitting back with a few sarcastic chirps that form part of what is clearly a dry sense of humour. 

Steyn was in fine form in front of the press following day one of the second Test against Pakistan at Newlands on Thursday, but there was one particular answer that left a room full of cricket scribes momentarily uncertain as to whether he was joking or not. 

Steyn was asked what his response would have been if he was told, in what was a week of tough selection decisions, that he was being rested for the Test. 

"If I didn't play?" he asked.

"I'd probably retire."

Steyn would go on to say that he was "only joking", but there was a seriousness to his tone that made you believe he was telling the truth. 

He has, after all, only recently returned to full fitness following two straight years of battling injuries that threatened to bring his career to an end. 

Now that he is back to full tilt, it would take a brave man to take the ball out Steyn's hands right now and instruct him to put his feet up. 

Late on day three, when Pakistan were on the ropes, Steyn was absolutely firing and in that evening session he began to resemble the man who was once the most feared fast bowler in the world. 

What is undeniable, though, is that Steyn is playing a different role these days. 

With Duanne Olivier quick and aggressive and with Kagiso Rabada the No 1 ranked bowler in the world, Steyn is no longer considered the 'go-to' guy when the Proteas need a breakthrough. 

It is a sign of the strength and depth that this Proteas seam attack currently boasts, but to consider that Steyn might not be South Africa's most dangerous weapon anymore is unfamiliar territory. 

Make no mistake, he is still bowling more than well enough to command a place in the Test side as well as form part of the plans for the World Cup this year, but what does his role in the side look like moving forward?

"It's so difficult when it comes to Dale to make any predictions, because he has proven us all wrong," skipper Faf du Plessis said after the second Test at Newlands, which the Proteas won by 9 wickets.

"When he had those injuries not too long ago, in the back of mind I was thinking: 'Is Dale Steyn going to come back and be the Dale Steyn that we had not too long ago?'

"I think it’s so difficult to judge him on his age. He's a freak and a super athlete.

"His body is so fit and he was our quickest bowler on a slow pitch here (Newlands). 

"Dale is a smart cricketer now. He knows what to do and when to turn it on and off. I think as long as he wants to play, he can still play Test cricket."

Du Plessis has not spoken to Steyn about his future beyond the World Cup, but it is understood that he would retire from ODI cricket in the hope of prolonging his Test career for as long as possible.

For coach Ottis Gibson, Steyn has earned the right to leave the international stage on his own terms. 

"He is 35 and steaming in with a smile on his face and the Dale Steyn angry eyes are back again," the coach said.

"I like players to almost design their own exit in a way. Sit and think to yourself how you want to leave the game and then communicate that to me or CSA so that we can manage it properly.

"The one thing you don't want is for a player of his quality to go on too long or feel like he's left the game too early. You don't want to drop a player of that calibre.

"If he feels that he's got two more years in him and he looks after himself very well, then so be it.

"When he broke the record, I told him that his next 100 wickets would come a lot quicker than the last 100, as you can see from how he is performing on the field."

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ... 

Read more on:    proteas  |  dale steyn  |  cape town  |  cricket


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