Dale Steyn has taken five wickets for 69 runs in 26 overs since his comeback to Test cricket to take his career tally to 411 scalps, but said on Monday that he is still learning how to play the game again.
Steyn helped put South Africa in a commanding position in the second Test against New Zealand at Centurion on Monday, taking three for 66 in 20 overs as the Black Caps were dismissed for 214, a first-innings deficit of 267 which South Africa had extended to 372 by stumps on the third day.
And yet the 33-year-old felt he still had plenty of room for improvement.
“I’ve bowled 20-odd overs but Test match cricket is tough and I’m not yet in a position to say that I’m back. I need a couple more games, I’m learning how to play Test cricket again, but I’m getting there and the rewards will come.
“I’m nowhere near what I’m capable of and I’ll be bowling quicker the more I bowl. I didn’t have any cramp or pain today, although my shoulder is a little tired. But the last time I bowled an eight-over spell was probably 10 years ago. The ball seems to be coming out well and I can’t complain about wickets being in that end column,” Steyn said about his first full outing in Test cricket since last December.
Steyn is thrilled to be able to make his return bowling in partnership with Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada, a pace trio that proved too difficult for New Zealand to handle, save for captain Kane Williamson, who was the last man out for 77.
“It’s nice to be back and bowling with someone like Vernon, who is just phenomenal. He keeps it so tight, he gives nothing away so the batsmen go nowhere, plus he can knock guys over because he’s so skilled.
“Maybe that’s what we were lacking against England, and with him around you feel free to just run in. Plus then you’ve got KG bowling at 150km/h, hitting the deck and getting wickets at an amazing strike-rate. It’s a great partnership,” Steyn said.
Although South Africa could have enforced the follow-on, it was never going to happen given the match situation and a clear weather forecast.
“We only have three seamers, who will probably do the bulk of the bowling, so I guess Faf du Plessis [SA captain] felt it was a good idea just to give our legs a bit of a rest. So we spent the last three hours just chilling, with our legs up, and rehydrating.
“The pitch was pretty hectic to bat on this afternoon [South Africa had crashed to 105 for six in their second innings at stumps] and those cracks are only going to widen and make it pretty difficult to bat on. It’s a typical Centurion wicket and we just need enough time to bowl New Zealand out again. But the longer the sun bakes the pitch, the wider those cracks will be and the more difficult it will be to bat. There was no point giving them a sniff,” Steyn said.
“We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing, aiming for the top of off, with lots of bouncers, and hitting the deck because there’s always something in it.”
The only time the great fast bowler seemed to lose the plot was when the Pretoria-born Neil Wagner took 18 runs off him in the 56th over, and it seems the former team-mate at Centurion managed to get under the skin of Steyn.
“Neil came out and slogged and pulled, but if he had been more courageous he would have let his captain get to a hundred by scoring 30 off 90 balls rather than 31 off 30. He’s all heart though and he played well, but I would have tried to hang around out there and score 10 off 50 balls rather,” Steyn said.
He did, however, praise the bowling of the left-arm seamer, which saw him take five for 86 in the South African first innings of 481 for eight declared.
“He bowled a lot of short-pitched balls and at that pace you feel you have a chance to take him on. But he’s skiddy and he has good skill, it hits the head if you miss so he’s difficult to play. There’s also always the risk of hitting the ball in the air and getting caught if you take him on,” Steyn said.
The tourists were delighted with their work in the final session on Monday, claiming six wickets.
“We’re very pleased with the last session, we spoke about giving everything in it and bang-bang, we got six wickets,” New Zealand paceman Doug Bracewell said.
“It’s quite a tough surface to bat on, it’s up-and-down which is always a challenge. But we hope to bowl South Africa out in the morning.”