Do you know what fans in the cricket roster dotingly calls you as? There are basically two names. The first being ‘Steyn Gun’ while the second being a long one that would be ‘the fast bowler who never believed in bowling fast’.
It is extremely fascinating that how you became one of the most fearsome bowlers despite not coming so close to 150 clicks frequently. There were two captivating aspects of yours that rocked and socked the batters who were up against you.
Many may not be aware of this story but when you joined the South African squad, it was also supposed to be the twilight of one of the greatest pace duos of all time comprising Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini.
There were surprising bursts of brilliance from Andre Nel and Nicky Boje but Pollock and Ntini took it upon themselves to torment the batters. It was quite skeptical on everyone’s part to believe in a youngster who had to borrow shoes from Shaun Pollock for his opening matches.
You started your Test career with spasmodic stints of brilliance against England and then rocked the Black Caps with two thunderous showdowns in a span of three matches. The part of you that really started grabbing the eyeballs wasn’t your consistent attempt at bowling pace but conjuring swing at a decent speed of 140 clicks.
It seemed that you had a particular proclivity for the Black Caps as whenever you were up against them, you used to return magical figures.
Then you turned your focus of destruction towards India and being an Indian fan, I always wished that I never saw your name in the South African line-up whenever India was up against you. The reason being downright simple and that is your presence itself turned the Indian outfit into living wreckage.
If you would ask me to be honest, I was downright furious with you when you caused that humiliating collapse for India in the 2011 World Cup. I cursed you too. What else was I supposed to do? My favourite batters fell like a house of cards in front of you.
Then came the destructive seven-wicket haul in the Test match that once again left India contorting in agony in its wake. The admiration remained ingrained at the back of my mind but the destruction that India suffered at your hands was simply overwhelming.
With all said and done, with the hatred and anger spewed out, there was a very special thing about you. A thing that probably happened very rarely when I watched other cricketers play. I am a big fan of the art of fast bowling and I never had the opportunity of watching Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee, Alec Bedser, Jim Laker, Richard Hadlee and other virtuosos of this rare art live.
When I started watching cricket, there were a few who inflicted monumental onslaught upon the batters like Allan Donald (the last days), Shane Bond, Daryl Tuffy, Mervyn Dillon, Cameron Cuffy, Makhaya Ntini, Javagal Srinath, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Shoab Akhtar, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Chaminda Vaas. These were an exotic brand of fast bowlers who simply had carnage on their minds.
That is when two new bowlers made their debut. One of them still continues to be India’s tormentor-in-chief, James Anderson and the other one was you.
The menacing gait with which you hared in, that emphatically perfect hop, the clinical stride and then the release of the bullet, barreling through the defences of the best to kiss timber, that entire process reminded me of just one famous quote. “Veni, Vidi, Vici!” A Latin quote delivered by Caesar, referring to his victory over Pharnaces.
This quote, when translated to English stands as “I came, I saw, I conquered.” That is what your motto was, every single time you rammed in for those menacing bullets to be released. The bowling stride reminded me of a lion leaping forward to pounce upon his target and hence you came. That death glare before the ball came out of your arms was your sight upon your victim, gauging how afraid the batsman was, like a hunter sniffs his prey. The perfect release that razed through the defences of the batsman, rattling the timber and the melodious sound was your conquest. You came, you saw and you conquered.
Sadly for me and other cricket lovers, there were too many injuries that made your career towards the end into a start-stop fiasco and you weren’t the same death threat that frightened the Picassos and Alexanders of batting anymore. You were more of a medium-fast bowler barely surviving through the teeth of your skin.
People may have hated you for the last swing of your career but this is where my devotion for you goes up by leaps and bounds. I am a massive fan of slam poetry and two of my favourite artists of the same art are Jared Singer and AR. They once pulled off a poem called “Potential”. It was about the stars who simply refused to give up in their prime.
You knew that this sport was taking out everything from you and you remained. Exactly like the way Singer and AR said in ‘Potential’, “It was only because of Icarus that we know how far we could fly close to the sun.” Similarly, it was because of you, new generation fast bowlers would know where to stop and until where they can drag themselves to roar.
In another line of the poetry, they say, “F*ck the mere glory of excellence.” This is a very deep line. This comes with the charisma of going on and on. That is what you were an emblem of. You never gave up. Despite middling efforts towards the end, you carried on. You never knew any end. You fought. You never craved excellence. You craved making your presence felt and you made that happen.
When my phone buzzed with a notification of you dropping off the radar once and for all, I couldn’t believe it. I checked and rechecked with multiples sources and when the same news kept on hitting me, I was rattled, I was shattered and I was broken.
An era of 17 long years finally came to an end. There won’t be any more long runs, any more death stares and definitely no more tracer bullets. It felt heavy and I could barely breathe initially. But then every good thing must come to an end.
After all Tony Stark quoted, “part of the journey is the end”. Maybe we will not see you in the cricket field again but I will still not refrain from pulling off a mimic of your bowling action when no one is watching in the empty streets. Until we meet again, Dale Steyn, on the lush green fields where you roar and roar unless the batters tremble.
A crazy cricket fan of yours