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Dale's bowling force reduced batsmen to guesswork

cricket Updated: Jan 06, 2011 01:35 IST
Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra
Hindustan Times
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Dale Steyn is akin to a scarecrow. Just one of those Dale dummies on the pitch would be enough to paralyse the best batsmen in the world if his spell on the third day of the Cape Town Test is anything to go by.

One has seen Steyn bowling in the mid 140s before, and effectively at that. One has also seen him swing the ball prodigiously. But what the world witnessed on Tuesday was a rare spell of fast bowling the likes of which I'd never seen or faced hitherto. At one point when the broadcaster showed the replays of all the deliveries together, it appeared more out of a video game.

Playing the swinging ball is a lot about guesswork. There's no way to ascertain it would swing X inches in the air and X inches after pitching. So playing efficiently involves an educated guess that's based a lot on experience. You can wait for the ball and play close to the body or try and play the second line, which effectively means relying on your judgment with regards to where the ball would finish when it reaches you.

Batsmen are always better off if they know where their off-stump is. Leaving the ball is as important out there as breathing is to staying alive. But when someone is in the middle of a spell like Steyn was, you can only hope and pray. Take for instance the ball that dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara. It started from or even slightly outside the leg stump. Now you're taught all your life that if out-swingers go too inside, the ball would just follow its path instead of bending towards off. Just like you can easily leave the balls pitching way outside off-stump, even if they come in a long way.

By the book, Pujara could have easily turned his bat hoping the ball to follow its usual path. But this spell was unusual, and hence required an extraordinary tactic; the ball was following the orders of its operator. Pujara should've rendered null and void what he had learnt all these years and kept the bat straight while saying a little prayer to ensure the ball hits the bat and not the pads and stumps. This one spell by Steyn has got to go down in history books for his preternatural control over the ball and its sheer shock value. Such was Steyn's clout that God himself had to hold the fort. And so Sachin Tendulkar, with his steely resolve and technical prowess, kept him at bay.