IT'S NOT every day that a player has to deal with mind games and verbals from his own camp. But on the eve of the first Test, Dale Steyn found himself under some clever friendly fire from Graeme Smith, although it appeared on the surface as though it was the Indians who were being targeted.
"One or two Indian batsmen have made comments about him (Steyn) that have motivated him a bit more," said Smith, although which of the Indian batsmen made these supposed comments, or where, is unclear. Virender Sehwag said he wasn't thinking so much about the opposition batting but about bowling, and that's the closest anyone has come to making a statement about Steyn.
But for a while now, Steyn has had the tag of being a smiling assassin, one of those cricketers whose on-field behaviour closely matches his personality off the pitch.
Was Smith just trying to wind his fast bowler up ahead of what could be the biggest challenge he would have faced in his 20-Test career, where he bags a wicket every 45 balls?
Steyn, despite possessing more pace than any fast bowler in the world barring perhaps Brett Lee, has confounded captains and coaches in the past with his placid behaviour.
But even with Andre Nel and his bag of antics missing, it's tough to see Steyn mouthing off at India's batsmen, or even trying to intimidate them with short-pitched stuff, if such a thing was possible on this track. "He is reluctant to bowl flat out, and that can be frustrating for a captain and a coach," Richard Pybus, coach of the Nashua Titans, Steyn's domestic team, said of the bowler a year back. "He doesn't ever seem to want to just let it rip, and sometimes you want him to do that."
But confusing a lack of theatrics with being soft is a serious danger, and one that Anil Kumble will not make. Steyn's intimidation comes from sheer pace through the air, and has the temperament to bowl straight and full even if he takes a bit of stick. He knows his job is to fire in short bursts, picking up wickets, even if it costs some runs.
"If I wasn't a cricketer, I'd be a fisherman," Steyn said in an interview early on in his career.
Fast bowlers usually behave like bullies and think like hunters. This one is different, and what the captain can extract out of him could be the difference between a good start and a bad one, if India bat first. And that could be difference between victory and defeat.