Dale Steyn is arguably South Africa’s greatest fast bowler ever, according to Allan Donald, the man who carried the Proteas’ cricketing hopes against Australia for much of the final decade of the 20th century.
And if you use the statistical yardstick to greatness, the strike-rate of fast bowlers, Donald might just be right. The Phalaborwa Express has taken 406 wickets in 82 tests at an average of 22.53 and a strike-rate of 41.7.
Only SF Barnes amongst fast bowlers who had played in more than 20 tests, possesses a superior strike-rate (41.6).
Steyn, who made his first-class debut for the Titans and is one of their legends, also formed a formidable partnership with Morné Morkel and Vernon Philander, a partnership that is set to continue (pending form and fitness).
After the final test against the West Indies in 2015 at PPC Newlands in January 2015, the trio had taken 344 wickets between them in 28 tests at an average of 23.70, which compared favourably with Donald, Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini, who had captured 107 wickets at an average of 23.63 as a unit.
Steyn’s greatest asset as a fast bowler is his ability to swing the ball both ways through the air at extreme pace and also move it late off the seam.
His superb control, athletic action and his passion and venom enabled him to rip a middle- and lower order apart.
When he had opened up one end, he moved into a different gear, becoming almost impossible to contain and he usually celebrated his success with a chain-saw action at the delight of the crowd and his pumped up teammates.
On the subcontinent, he has arguably been the best of the modern-day fast bowlers and took a career-best 7-51 in an innings in Nagpur against India. His ability to produce reverse swing at pace and to bamboozle batsmen with this excellent delivery, was also on display in Port Elizabeth against Australia in 2014 when he rescued South Africa and sent the visitors packing.
Steyn suffered a deadly setback when Grant Elliott deposited the penultimate ball of the Cricket World Cup semi-final against New Zealand for a six to send the Kiwi’s into the final and South Africa into despair in 2015.
The fast bowler suffered some injury-setbacks and a crisis of confidence after that blow.
He bowled with purpose in the first innings of the first test against England at Kingsmead, taking 4-70, but could not finish the match due to a shoulder injury.
Recalled for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, Steyn played in only two matches, and conceded 35 runs in two overs in the defeat to England.
When Steyn was at the peak of his considerable powers, he had scribes in awe of his prowess, and opposition in disarray.
He is not noted for his bouncers, but had most top-batsmen in danger when he did produce it because the delivery is so skiddy as Steyn is not unusually tall.
He was not at his best when he made his test debut against England in the same test as AB de Villiers in 2004/2005, although he produced a pearl of a delivery to remove Michael Vaughan.
The Phalaborwa-born Steyn was excellent in the 2007/2008-season, nipping out 10 New Zealand batsmen in the first test at the Wanderers.
In the second test in Centurion, he delivered a snorter to Craig Cumming which crashed into his face, and the batsman was hospitalized.
In 2008, Steyn was named ICC test player of the year by taking 86 wickets in 14 matches.
Arguably the greatest moment of his test career came in December 2008 in the Boxing Day-game against Australia when he scored 76 and finished with 5-87 and 5-67 as South Africa beat Australia by nine wickets to complete their first-ever test series win against the Baggy Greens Down Under.
His partnership of 180 for the ninth wicket with JP Duminy turned the match in South Africa’s favour, while his superb swing bowling had the hosts in tatters.
Steyn was part of the South African attack that won the Test championship with the team in England in 2012.
The South African pace merchant battled with injury in later years. It included a rib fracture in 2014 and three hamstring strains in the same year.
Steyn became only the second South African bowler to capture 400 test wickets when he had the Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal caught at slip by captain Hashim Amla on the first day of the second test in Mirpur in 2015.
He was the fastest player to capture 400 test wickets in terms of balls bowled, and is also the joint second quickest to 400 in terms of tests, along with Sir Richard Hadlee (in his 80th test).
Steyn’s fluent run-up, athletic action and superb wrist position made him a match-winner, while his temperament aided to his success, especially when he got the sniff and one end opened up.
He is able to add another gear to his game and possesses white-line fever, which makes him even more of a threat.