Proteas

Dale Steyn: The free spirit who became a Proteas great

2018-12-26 13:22
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The story goes that Dale Willem Steyn had no business being an international cricketer.

The issue was never the talent, potential or ability - anyone who has ever seen him bowl knows that he boasts one of the most naturally smooth, gliding actions going - but rather that his mind was elsewhere. 

Those who know him will tell you that Steyn was, and is, a free spirit. 

A child of the 80s, he grew up in the small Limpopo town of Phalaborwa on the border of the Kruger National Park, so a fondness of the outdoors came with the territory. 

At high school, though, the man who would become known as the 'Phalaborwa Express' fell in love with an alternative world of skateboarding and rock music: a combination that often doesn't make room for mainstream sports. 

To add to that, Steyn was never surrounded by the most competitive players in South African schoolboy cricket, given the fact that he attended Merensky High School in Tzaneen. A school with a proud rugby history, Merensky was not known for its cricketing prowess and, as a result, Steyn never felt that he was being tested and it wasn't until he made his provincial debut in 2003 that he began to hit his stride. 

Even now, after all these years of cricket, Steyn is equally happy when out in the ocean on a surfboard with the waves around him or with a fishing rod in his hands. 

He appreciates nature and has a perspective that there is something more; a meaning to life greater than taking wickets for South Africa. 

A free spirit.

Injuries have tried, particularly over the last two or so years, to deny Steyn the honour of becoming the greatest fast bowler this country has ever seen. 

Having spent a year out with a broken shoulder after an Australian tour in November, 2016, it looked then that he may have reached the end of the road. 

After intense rehabilitation, Steyn was back on the Test stage for the Indian tour to South Africa at the beginning of 2018. 

Then, as fate would have it, a freakish heel injury saw him limp off the Newlands turf on the second day of the first Test and Steyn was subsequently ruled out of the series. 

If the shoulder injury hadn't done it, the heel injury looked almost certain to end Steyn's career.

He would not lie down, though, and remained adamant that he had more to offer when others were less convinced. 

Proteas coach Ottis Gibson, skipper Faf du Plessis and pretty much everyone who had ever played with Steyn, however, always backed him to come back. 

He is that good. 

Now, looking as fit as ever and saying on the eve of the Boxing Day Test that he feels 23-years-old again, Steyn looks like he can continue for a couple of years yet. 

The South African Test record is now his, but there is also the small matter of the 2019 World Cup in England to look forward to. 

If ever there was any doubt that Steyn was being selected on reputation alone, he has obliterated that over the past few months. 

On the domestic scene, in the ODI side and in the recently-completed Mzansi Super League, Steyn has found the speeds that he delivered in years past while his control of movement and action are as impressive as ever. 

Shaun Pollock, as good as he was, finished his Test career with 421 scalps in 108 Tests. 

It took Steyn 20 Tests less to get to that same milestone, and on Wednesday morning in front of friends and family at Centurion he got to 422 in just his 89th Test

It is a quite remarkable achievement and the tributes that flooded in after the record was broken confirm as much. 

How fitting it was that the man who launched Steyn up on his shoulders to celebrate was Kagiso Rabada. 

In just 32 Tests heading into Boxing Day, Rabada had already notched up 151 scalps. At 23, he is well on course to go one better than his hero Steyn in the years to come. 

If, and when that does happen, nobody will be happier than Steyn himself. 

In the months leading up to Boxing Day, Steyn had been asked about the record countless times at press conferences around the world. 

He used to laugh it off, saying it was not important to him. 

On Wednesday, however, Steyn acknowledged a lump in his throat when his team-mates, those at Centurion and the whole of South Africa appreciated one man's contribution to Test cricket. 

"I cannot believe that the wild kid from Phalaborwa with the long hair is now the leading wicket-taker for South Africa," former skipper Graeme Smith said in a classy SuperSport segment of tributes from all corners of the country. 

When he has bowled his last ball, Steyn will no doubt go back to the things that kept him ticking before his life blew up into superstardom. 

He will be on a surfboard, he will have a guitar in his hands and he will fish ... a lot. 

Before then, though, here's to hoping that there are many, many wickets and matches to come. 

It's not time to say goodbye yet.

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ...

Read more on:    proteas  |  dale steyn  |  pretoria  |  cricket

 

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