Dale Steyn does not look scary. Not off the field. Not if you're not the guy staring back at him from 22 yards, wielding what is probably suddenly a frail-seeming willow. He reportedly gets quite into the spirit of the game when he's on the field, lithely menacing as all top-notch fast bowlers can be. But off it, he seems a peach.
Yet, no one hearing him talk 48 hours ahead of the first Test between India and South Africa, doubted that Steyn, currently the world's No. 1 Test bowler by a mile, was dangerous.
Sample this. “The truth is that we are not going to get the movement and the bounce that we get at the Wanderers,” he said on Thursday, talking about the adjustment required to India's flatter, slower wickets. “That is the dead honest truth.”
“However, the aggression and the way we bowl doesn't change. The bowler himself, his attitude towards the game, towards each and every delivery he bowls, doesn't change, regardless of the pitch. A 150 or 145 kms/hr yorker is absolutely no different whether you bowl it here in Nagpur, Chennai, Johannesburg or Perth. It's the skill behind the delivery, the planning behind the delivery that counts.”
For many, this series was to be a showdown between India's famed batting line-up and South Africa's young and impressive pacemen. Steyn himself, at 26, the senior-most, Morne Morkel, 25 and Wayne Parnell, 20, the last a familiar name to Indians because the Delhi Daredevils believed he was worth dishing out $650,000 for at last month's IPL-III auction.
However, India are probably three big names down — in addition to Dravid and Yuvraj being out, Rohit Sharma is standing by for VVS Laxman, reportedly not fit enough to take the field on Saturday.
But Steyn said that while South Africa would be looking at two possible debutants (Sharma and Badrinath) as a slight edge, at the top level, it didn't matter. “At Test level, you never replace experienced player with someone who is average or borderline average. You always replace him with somebody that has got equal quality. Certainly that's what we try and do in South Africa.
“I think from Number one to 11 is important. If you find someone like Sehwag or someone in the middle-order like Sachin Tendulkar batting with a No. 11 player and they are rotating the strike and Tendulkar is facing five of the six deliveries, you will find it pretty difficult to get the tailender out. Every single wicket to us is a major target.”
He also threw down the gauntlet. “When you walk on to the field, holding the number one status or whatever it is, it doesn't mean anything at the end of the day. Being the number one Test side in the world, being number two that we are, means nothing come the challenge when the bowler has to release the ball and the batter has to face it.”
And really, it's as simple as that.
Rain threatens Test
(PTI adds): The first India-South Africa Test faces rain threats after sporadic drizzle brought down the mercury and the local met office predicted light drizzle at isolated places in Vidarbha on Friday.
The city experienced drizzle in the early hours and good amount of rainfall later in the day in some places. Though the Vidarbha Cricket Association has taken all precautionary measures to cover the pitch and outfield ahead of the match, rains remain a possibility.