It’s not often you get the opportunity to speak with arguably the best fast bowler of recent generations. So, when that opportunity does come up, you must park international rivalries, apologise for any micky taking in past series, beg forgiveness and sit back and enjoy the stories from some great battles! So, this month it was a real honour to speak with Dale Steyn, South Africa’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker and do you know what he might have might been Mr Competitive and had England’s batsmen on toast, but I confess, he’s a damn good guy!
Now, let’s put into context, just why this interview is such an honour. 439 Test wickets – a South African record, close to 200 ODI wickets, someone who was named in the ICC Test Team of the Year eight times and the ICC Test team of the decade (2011-2020). 50 of those Test wickets sadly came against us.
Not bad, right?
Let’s start with probably the only ‘scoop’ you’re going to get out of this interview. Did you know Dale, as well as opening the bowling in junior cricket was also a talented top order batter?! There you go, you have it straight away.
“Ha ha! It’s true. One year I was even named batsman of the year! It came about on my first day of school when I joined the Limpopo Academy. I had a bad hamstring/groin injury. For the first half of the season I couldn’t bowl, so I decided okay, well I’ll just bat! The coaches said, ‘well we already have two opening batsmen’ so they batted me at three and at the end of the year I got batsmen of the year. I scored two hundreds and when I went to the Titans I went there as an all-rounder. A fast bowler who could bat. Unfortunately, they quickly said because I had pace I had to concentrate on bowling. I think I show some signs of batting throughout my career, but I just didn’t pay enough attention to it, sadly.”
439 Test wickets at an average of 22.95 probably suggests the coaches made the right call.
But before we get into those international highlights, rivalries and stories against England, let’s rewind back to those early days and why battered and bruised batsmen around the world should hold a personal grudge against Jonty Rhodes…
“Yes, Jonty Rhodes was the man. I didn’t watch any of the 1992 World Cup live, but after the tournament I remember going to visit family in Zimbabwe. My cousins introduced the game of cricket to me, and I remember watching this video cassette of the highlights of that World Cup. Watching those games and Jonty’s famous run out was the thing that stood out for me and that was it. He was the young guy with lots of energy and I just wanted to be Jonty Rhodes. I remember going back home to South Africa getting my first cricket set and pretty much ripping to shreds every t-shirt I ever had after that diving over and over again in the garden, trying to be Jonty! After that everything kind of blended together. I hadn’t realised it at the time, but cricket was all around me. When I went back to school, I realised cricket was an option, I just hadn’t been paying attention to it. So, I needed something to be a catalyst and Jonty’s run out was probably it.”
As someone who has loved exploring South Africa away from cricket, on various tours I was intrigued to discover more about Dale’s roots. Was it in a big city or a life in the true ‘wildness’ of South Africa?
“I grew up in the sticks in a town called Phalaborwa. It’s a town famous for mines, and on the border of the Kruger National Park. It’s the kind of place everyone thinks South Africa is. You go to school and elephants are in the road or you get told you can’t ride in this road because there are lions in it and it’s genuinely still like that! So, if I wanted to play cricket, I had to travel very long distances to go and play. I absolutely loved having to drive to neighbouring towns to play. But it did mean I had to go out of my way to find cricket games to play. When I knew I wanted to make a career of it I knew I needed to move to Pretoria and try and make it with the Titans, which was my nearest provincial team.”
Dale did make it with the Titans and within a year of his debut he was playing Test cricket against England, but that early period with the Titans wasn’t plain sailing.
“I joined their academy and at the end of that I played a couple of games for the Titans. I got contracted but then I actually lost my contract.”
The professional structure in South African cricket changed. From having 12 provincial sides the structure was changed to six franchises. The maths meant there were too many players.
“The Titans didn’t have enough space for me, and I was out of a job essentially. Darryl Cullinan was the captain of the Titans who absolutely loved me and thankfully he offered me a pay as you play deal. So, although I wasn’t contracted, I did get paid every time I played. After a couple of matches I got called up to play for South Africa. And then the Titans came running trying to get me to sign a contract!”
I asked Dale if not being offered that contract provided him with extra motivation, motivation which helped get that international call-up perhaps earlier that he would have expected?
“I could lie to you and just say I was a young man who was pi$$ed off and yes I probably did have a bit of a bee in my bonnet but in truth I was just lucky I had a guy like Darryl. He really took me under his wing and just said, ‘I want you to do this, and this is how I want you to do it. And if you, do it, you’ll play every week’.”
Now Dale made his Test debut for South Africa on England’s 2004 tour. This was a special tour for the Addis as it was the tour that we were formed. I did apologise for any ribbing he might have received in those early Tests and particularly that Test in Durban when we all had those dodgy Mexican moustaches painted on our faces and a fair few beers inside of us. It was a tough introduction to Test cricket, which Dale openly admits.
“I hated my first series against England. I was very young and didn’t do very well. I remember receiving a call when I was at the movies with my girlfriend. This unexpected call came through and I couldn’t watch the movie after that! It all happened so fast.”
And as Dale admits the pace at which it did happen was ultimately one of the issues.
“A lot of people work really hard for the things they want to achieve in life, and they eventually get there. For me getting called up for South Africa happened really quickly. So, I never had the sense of ‘wow all of my hard work has paid off’. It felt like I was doing the hard work when that call came. I was so excited that I was representing my country. My grandfather was excited telling me that I was now a Springbok. I was happy making them happy, but I realised to continue playing for South Africa it wasn’t just about ‘making it’ but you had to perform. I didn’t in that series.”
But it was a series that Dale always used as motivation in subsequent series against England.
“I was never a stats man, but I became a bit of a stats person. I realised throughout my career you do get defined by people’s views about your averages and averages against certain teams. If you look at my worst average by far, it’s against England. And that was because I started five steps back as a result of that first series. From then on in my career I knew I needed to literally perform my socks off to get to a point where my stats against England would be genuinely acceptable or good enough. So, looking back that series was the thing that I hated – I wished I’d started better.”
Dale lost his spot in the South Africa team for a couple of years after that first series and in order to develop his game he came over to England to play his first stint of county cricket at Essex. I was keen to hear from him how county cricket over here helped his development into a world-class bowler.
“Massively. Just to share a dressing room with the players I did. I was in the same dressing room back then as Sir Alastair Cook as I like to call him right now, before he had even played for England. There was Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate. James Foster was our wicket keeper; Alex Tudor was trying to come back from a knee injury, and we had Ronnie Irani who was just fantastic. Andy and Grant Flower were also there. It was just a great team to be part of. I didn’t do anything fantastic there but the feeling of playing outside of your comfort zone was huge for me. Suddenly I was travelling to England, being given a car and a house and a responsibility to take care of myself and then go and practice and perform. It was a lot different to what I was experiencing back in South Africa. And those experiences, becoming more professional massively helped me. And then every county I went to afterwards the playing experience just got better and better and better to the point that whenever it was time for me to leave, the captains were asking me if I really had to leave! I’d love to have stayed of course, but it was a good sign that I was getting better.”
The experiences of county cricket did help get Dale back into international cricket, but I was interested to hear when he felt it all ‘clicked’ on the international stage.
“You always need one or two performances to make you feel like you have arrived and you’re in control of what you’re doing and for me it was after I took 20 wickets in two Tests against New Zealand. I took 10 in the 1st Test at SuperSport Park and then another 10 at the Wanderers. After that 2nd Test I remember I had to play a game for the Titans down in Bloemfontein. I really didn’t want to play it and they said no you must play. I went there and took 14 wickets in that match including a hattrick. To be fair, I think the only reason I took 14 wickets was because I told my room-mate Paul Harris how much I don’t like the place, and we needed to get this game over and done with quickly and get out of there! And it was those matches where I just felt that I had a lot more power and a lot more control over the things I was trying to do with a cricket ball and my confidence grew. I was ready to take the next step, the next step and the next step. The other thing I’d say is once you put in a big performance in a place like India, on a really flat surface it gives you all the confidence, that you feel like you can perform anywhere in the world.”
The comment about flat surfaces in India was an interesting one. A lot of people regard India as a graveyard for fast bowlers, so I asked Dale how he prepared for series in the sub-continent?
“To be honest, I always felt my style of bowling better suited Indian conditions that those I faced in places like England and Australia. I think my action, the way my trajectory is, my height and my pace through the air really suited India. Sri Lanka is a little slower although when we found a good wicket in Sri Lanka, I was able to do well there and Bangladesh is kind of the same, so in those Asian countries I found that with my action I was able to get away with a lot more. Whereas in other countries like England, South Africa, and Australia it was a little bit harder to find the things you need to get wickers. Also, growing up in Phalaborwa helped. I was acclimatised to 50-degree heat so when we used to go to India and I heard the guys complaining, people like Boucher and Kallis who’d been there about 10 times and would complain about the heat and the flat conditions, I was like ‘listen guys if you want to feel heat go to Phalaborwa, that’s hot! You want to feel discomfort I’ll take you to the mine where my dad works that’s hard work, this is easy!”
From here our conversation moved into trying to hear first-hand what life as a fast bowler was like. I began by asking Dale about lengths. So often you hear commentators or journalists – ok and us supporters – say ‘just bowl a bit fuller,’ or a ‘bit shorter’. Let’s be honest we all have an opinion on lengths, so I wanted to know, in the heat of the battle, just how easy/difficult is it to adjust lengths?
“It’s really difficult! It’s not just something you can do. If you’re too full, you get driven, if you’re too short it’s a nothing kind of ball. I was very lucky that I shared a dressing room with probably one of the best length bowlers in the world in Shaun Pollock. A bit later, I shared a dressing room with probably the best length bowler of recent times, Vernon Philander. So, I was always able to listen to them and pick up things up from them add it to my game. I was also quite lucky that my action allowed me to be a bit more consistent with the length so once I found the right length and I knew when to let go of the ball, it was easy for me to kick into that because my action was so smooth and rhythmical. But you look at someone like Morne Morkel, he found it harder work, technically because of his action. But in the heat of the action, it’s not as easy as commentators would make you believe!”
This led me to my next question which was around the importance of warm-up games on tour. All too often now touring sides have next to no warm-up games before a major series, so I was keen to hear how important he felt warm-up games were.
“I was very much the kind of bowler who the more I bowled the better I became. So, I needed to bowl. Warm up games were incredibly important to me. I needed to play and bowl a lot of overs. I might never have bowled at full tilt, but I’d never not wanted to play in a warm-up game. I felt I needed to just bowl, and bowl, and bowl, and bowl to get tons of overs into my legs and shoulder. Whenever we toured England, we pretty much always had a good couple of warm up games it was just our last tour when we actually went to Switzerland and opted out of two warm up games. We went there to climb some mountains and cycle through the alps, I think to make us more mentally tough. We only had one warm up game against Somerset, that was the game when Mark Boucher lost his eye, and that was the only warm up game we had for that tour. For me I’d rather have overs in my legs, but I just said look whatever the team is doing I’m just going to take it on. So, if the team thinks this is the best thing for us then we do it. I bowled a lot of overs against Somerset and bowled a lot of overs in the practice sessions that led into the 1st Test at The Oval and I ended up taking 5/56 in the second innings. And getting those good performances early in a series was always important for me. I like to get that good performance out of the way.”
Which brought me on to the subject of pressure. There have been a lot of fast bowlers over the years who have not fulfilled their potential, because of a pressure to continually bowl fast.
“You know what, the worst thing as fast bowler is seeing the speed up on the big screen. In my early years, every ball I used to turn my shoulder and look up at the big screen and see how fast I’d bowled and then after a couple of years I just thought I can’t maintain this, especially if I want to bowl long spells, which is what I enjoy doing. I always felt I’m more involved in the game, the more deliveries I bowled. I liked to set a batter up over 12 to 18 balls. That’s what I wanted to bowl to a batter before I get him out. Of course, one ball is perfect but if I wanted to work out a high-class batsman, I needed 12 to 18 balls. You don’t get the best batsmen in the world out in 3 balls at them. So, I looked hard at my bowling speed. You can’t bowl at 145kph for a six or seven over spell, three or four times a day. It’s impossible to maintain those speeds. So, I used to think of someone like Usain Bolt. He didn’t look to break the world record every single time he ran the hundred metres. He always wanted to run under 10 seconds, but he didn’t always look to break a world record, every race. So, I made a deal with myself that 140kph is my mark. On a good day I’ll bowl 145kph upwards, but I want to consistently be around that 139/140/141kph mark all the time. That was a speed I felt I could do it at for a six over spell, three or four times a day. And then when it came to the shorter format, I felt I could up that number because I wasn’t bowling 20 overs a day.”
I was then keen to hear as a fast bowler could Dale ever sense fear in the batsmen he was bowling to and if so, how he managed that to his advantage?
“As a fast bowler you can definitely see it in a guy’s body language if there is any fear. You can see it in his eyes. You can see when you have the wool over someone and that made my job so much easier because then I knew I could get a guy out with a half decent ball. I didn’t have to bowl my best ball to this guy every single time. I could afford to bowl a half volley and if his feet aren’t where they are supposed to be, his head is not moving or his weight is not being transferred well enough and he is a little bit scared, I’m going to get him out. I always felt it meant I could up my speed a little bit and afford to miss my mark just that little bit more. And you honestly can tell. Some batters are good at hiding it but over all you can see it. The TV doesn’t show it as much, but you can feel it when you’re out there in the middle. You can pick it up when the guy is at the non-strikers end in their mannerisms; what he’s doing in between balls, his breathing, he’s psyching himself up, he’s bouncing around. You can just tell.”
The conversation brings back memories of playing games at Windsor against the likes of Slough and Burnham in the Thames Valley League when they decided it would be ‘fun’ to play some of their 1st XI bowlers against us mere mortals in the lower rank sides. It wasn’t funny and to be fair with me, it wasn’t my mannerisms, but more the ‘f%ck me, slow it down, you doughnut…’ I would have been easy prey for Dale.
So, on to sledging. Speaking to Dale, I promise you he is the nicest guy. So, I had to ask, how easy was it to become crazed, aggressive tiger out in the middle?!
“Ha ha, on the field I just loved to be competitive. Bowling fast is hard work. Imagine being in a boxing ring. If you’re sparring with someone for long enough, you can be the nicest person in the world but if someone is hitting you long enough, eventually you’re going flip and you’re going hit them as hard as you can and that’s the same thing with fast bowling. That’s what I’m doing. I’m sparring the whole time with the batter. And at some point, he’s going to hit me to the boundary, or something is going to tweak me. I’m putting in a lot of energy into something that I think is really good and then he somehow nicks one for four and this is what happens!”
I was intrigued to know if that ‘competitiveness’ became harder the more franchise cricket he played – Dale has played IPL cricket in every year of the competition’s history – and shared dressing rooms with more and more of the players he played against for South Africa.
“So, typically before any series I will always pick out somebody in the opposition that I felt like okay cool he’s got my number, I’m going taking this guy down in every game. There would be no particular reason, but I would just choose one guy and I would be intent on making his life a living hell throughout that series. And then suddenly there were times when both of us would end up at the same IPL franchise and I’m suddenly sharing a dressing room with him. They’ll then come over to me and be like ‘why were you like that to me? I never knowingly did anything to you!’ and I’d be like I’m sorry, don’t take it personally, it’s just how it is!! But yes, these days I do think players struggle with that kind of stuff the more you’re sharing dressing rooms with your heroes and then a week later you’re playing against each other in international cricket. But you must try and put it aside. I’ve known Virat Kohli since he was 18, and I have to put that friendship aside. He’s definitely trying to hit me for four remember, every ball in T20 cricket. I probably won’t say anything to him but to be honest, I was never really a name caller. I wouldn’t abuse somebody and swear at them, but I would say things about their technique and if I get them out it’s going to be very embarrassing for them and things like that. I would never name call. Now I have become friends with these people I just try and let the ball do the talking and turn around and walk back to my mark.”
I think ‘try’ is the important word there!! That competitiveness is still there, mark my words!
Dale went on to take 439 wickets from his 93 Tests, and it was no surprise that a lot his highlights came in that period when South Africa were the dominant side in international cricket.
“Winning in England in 2008 and backing that up by winning in Australia was big. I don’t think South African teams had done that before. There were guys who had never beaten Australia in Australia before. I remember getting on the team bus after the 2nd Test in that series when we wrapped up the series win and seeing guys like Jacques Kallis who’d been there 5 times before and been drilled every single time. He was crying on that bus, and I thought this guy is a legend and you realise how much that series win meant. And then we did it again. And the aim then was to do it again, again and again. And I don’t think South Africa has lost a Test series to Australia since. And I was part of the Test team that went 10 years undefeated outside of South Africa. We never lost a series and that’s just crazy away from home.”
That’s a record I certainly never knew, and in an era now when so many sides struggle to win away, it puts into context how impressive that record is.
“It’s something not a lot of people talk about, but we took great pride in it. We were like okay guys we might not win this Test, but we are not losing it. And that was something that we identified in ourselves. And when we hit the 10-year mark, it was like this is amazing. And then I think the other big memory was the period under Gary Kirsten when we were the number one ODI, T20 and Test team in the world. We were in England playing a t20 or ODI against England at the Rose Bowl. We won and it made us the best team in the World in every format – the only team to ever have done that. Listen, I never won a World Cup, so I have to live on those things!!”
To be fair, it’s not a bad record to live off, which made me ask just how good was that South African side in that era?
“It really was amazing. You can go through all the names and the back-up guys were just as good. We had real legends of the game, all at the same time. We felt we were trying to be a modern-day great Australia or West Indies side of the 1980s. But then the shorter formats grew in popularity, and it ripped the legs off Test cricket. Our players were forced to go and play T20s around the world. And then you had to start picking and choosing. We had great players who could potentially have played a bit longer in Test cricket but who’d be like ‘I need to go for the dollar’, which is fair enough. But it was tough for us.”
It was tough, but three bowlers continued to prosper; Dale, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. It was a bowling unit as impressive as our own Flintoff, Harmison, Jones and Hoggard from back in the day. What made that unit click?
“All three of us were just so different. Morne had massive bounce, Vernon had great skill with length – he was relentless on length and then I could do a double job as I could be very good with my line and length, as well as bring the pace aspect and then a little bit of the fear factor. Of the three of us I probably had a little bit more of the verbal’s, I think Vernon also. But I was able to create that energy and they were able to capitalise off that. If batsmen took a break from me, then Vernon would get them, or if Vernon was on and I wasn’t particularly hitting my lines or length they would be like ‘okay I’ve got to take on Dale here’ and then I’d get a wicket. It was a great, great combo. The key thing was just keeping us all fit. Mornie and I played 50 Test matches together in a row, which was huge. I remember our fitness coach Rob Walter fist bumped me one day and I asked what that was for, and he said because I helped get you guys there. That was so important to him. It was a feather in his cap that he was so proud of.”
What also helped the trio was the fact they were all based in Cape Town.
“That was so important as we all became good friends and would always train together. Rob also lived in Cape Town at that time, and he would be like ‘Boys, Newlands, 9am tomorrow morning’ and that’s what we did. We trained so hard together, which helped us so much in terms of international cricket. When you go on tour you discuss the opposition as a team with the video analyst and the coaches but when you’re always training together, you’re always talking about things. You talk about left handers and let’s do this or that. That would have been so much harder if we were all based in different parts of the country.”
And what was the feeling like to finally become South Africa’s record wicket-taker?
“More relief if I’m honest! I’d broken my shoulder a year or two before that so I should have broken that record a couple of years before, so for two years our media officer would bring it up, she’d be like ‘today’s the day’ and then something would happen! I’d break my shoulder or do something silly and pick up an injury and not complete a tour. So, it took two years and when it did finally come, it was just relief, and can we move on now?!”
So, let’s talk England. What were the favourite battles?
“Oh Andrew Strauss. I could never get bloody guy out!! I really, really struggled against him. It was more of a mental thing if I’m honest. He was a really good opening batter, a gritty opener and when he was on, he was on. I just found him difficult to bowl to. I think it started back in that first series in 2004 against England. He was the guy that did so well against South Africa in that series. I was a very young and inexperienced bowler. But as our careers went on and I had to come up against him as I got better, unfortunately you don’t always get rid of those earlier headaches. You do kind of live in the past. It wasn’t just about bowling the ball in the right place; I was always playing this mental game with myself against Straussy. If he didn’t nick it, I’d think $hit there goes another opportunity to get this guy out. And then there was more and more pressure I was putting on myself. And yet someone like Morne would have the wool over him. Honestly, it felt like every time Morne warmed up, he’d get Strauss out. So, it was tough because I always wanted to get this guy out, but I knew Morne would probably get him out before me. I remember one of the times I did get his wicket it was first ball of a Test in Johannesburg. I bowled him a leg stump half volley and he flicked it off his legs and Hashim Amla dived one handed and caught him. So even when I did get him out, I couldn’t really take any credit for it being a bowled, lbw or caught behind, no he’s flicked it as hard as he could, and it was a diving one-handed catch! But you do take any wicket, right?!”
And were there any England players that the South African’s feared over others?
“I’ve always changed my views on this. Obviously, Cookie always scored runs and was very, very, good against us. I don’t think we ever wanted to bowl him a bouncer because every time we did, he hooked it for six and he wasn’t a big six hitter. For us, we had always said if we bowl him a bouncer get it high, but when we got it high, he’d top edge it over fine leg for six! Kevin Pietersen became a good friend of many South Africans, but he was always a thorn in our side. He scored a lot of runs against us and scored them very quickly. Whenever we did get him out, we always felt we were then one step ahead of England. If you got him out for nought, you had one foot in the door towards winning the Test match. Jimmy always bowled well against us in England and Broady bowled well especially in South Africa. And then there were players who had their moments. Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell had good series against us, Swanny bowled really well against us, but then the next series they didn’t do as well. So overall, it was the same guys, Jimmy, Broady, Pietersen and Cook.”
Now, one amusing aspect of playing South Africa, was for a period, every series at home usually marked the end of an England captaincy, with Nasser, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss all relinquishing the captaincy after series against South Africa, so did the South Africans always find this amusing?!
“Ha ha! I don’t think any of us intentionally went out thinking ‘cool we’re going to end this man’s career’ but it did just seem to kind of happen! Graeme was the captain I think for all of these, and I think it was Nasser, Strauss, Vaughan, and even to an extent KP – he wasn’t captain, but he didn’t play in the last Test at Lords in that 2012 series, despite getting a hundred in the previous Test. It was just weird how that kept happening, but yes it was amusing!”
With Dale being a competitive cricketer, I had to ask who South Africa viewed as their big rivals. England have Australia, India has Pakistan, who did the South African’s view as their big rivals?
“It was the big three. India, England, and Australia. If you can win in those countries away from home, that’s it. We don’t have the Ashes. We don’t have India v Pakistan. We do have Zimbabwe, who are great neighbours, but we don’t play much Test cricket against them. It has to be the big three, although New Zealand are starting to come into their own now after winning the World Test Championship.”
Dale retired from Test cricket in 2019 and I asked him if that was a difficult decision.
“It was an easy one. I still want to play Test cricket today if I could. I absolutely love that format. But I just knew they I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t do the amount of work I wanted to do and operate at the levels that I wanted to operate at. So, for me once I realised that I didn’t want to push myself into a point where I’m not good enough. So that was easy then for me to step away.”
Dale’s retirement was Test cricket’s loss, even if a number of batsmen did breathe a sigh of relief!
Away from Test cricket, I was keen to get an insight into IPL cricket. As I mentioned earlier, Dale has played in every season of the competition since its inception back in 2008.
“The beginning was crazy because no one really knew what it was about. Although T20 cricket had been around for a bit, no one really knew what this franchise cricket model was about. Overnight there was a rock star cricket life. Outrageous amounts of money were suddenly being paid to cricketers and that first IPL was all about glitz and glamour and to make the tournament as big and shiny as possible. I remember arriving and just being blown away. I was given a blackberry, we were staying at the very best hotels, everything was just crazy. There were parties after every single game. I don’t think I slept for a month and a half! Martin Crowe was our coach who was a legend. He was another of my heroes from that 1992 World Cup video and now he was my coach. We had a Rockstar of an owner in Vijay Mallya. He wanted us to become the first side to score 300 in a T20 game. He said teams would get 200 people, he wanted to go higher and us to be the first side to score 300. You’d arrive at grounds and there were 80,000 people there and you can’t hear what the guy at mid-off is saying, it was intense. I was sharing a dressing room with legends like Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid and just thought how is all this possible. But, the following year, it got a lot more professional. Suddenly, we received emails with schedules, training times and everything. And when I went last year to the IPL it got to a point where it’s now so professional. The game and everything around the IPL has gone to a whole new level. It’s been amazing to be part of from the beginning and see it evolve. At the beginning it was very raw and now everyone is on the ball. If you’re not fit, you don’t come. Coaches are very strategic about who they want. They will pay a million dollars for a player just because he will fulfil a certain role over a rounded player for hundred thousand dollars.”
And what is it like when the auctions take place and you’re at home or on tour with South Africa, waiting to hear who has picked you up and for how much?
“It is crazy. It’s a little different now to how it was because I think some of the team’s target players and then let them know a bit earlier of their interest. They tell them ‘We’re interested in you and we’re just letting you know we’re going to be looking at buying you, so keep yourself fit.’ I remember going for a crazy amount of money and I was asleep when the auction happened. I woke up the next morning and I had all these messages on my phone, and I was just like ‘what the hell has happened?’ and you realise you’ve become a millionaire overnight. But when you arrive over there a week or two before the tournament, you meet everybody and then it’s game time and you just want to do well. The money goes out the window. No one cares at the point you’re out there. I’ve got to bowl to Chris Gayle, and he doesn’t care how much money I went for. He’s just trying to hit me for six!”
Dale also spoke about the benefits of IPL cricket that people can tend to forget, learning from other international players, citing an example of when he and Kane Williamson of New Zealand went for a random net session.
“We had Kane Williamson at the Sunrisers and at the time he wasn’t playing much for us. I remember going to the nets with him and him saying to me, he had a winter Test series coming up against England and was going to come up against Jimmy Anderson so would I mind bowling to him with these dukes’ balls that he had, saying to me that I was probably the only bowler who could emulate someone like Jimmy. And I said sure no problem. And there I was in the nets in Hyderabad bowling with a red duke’s ball to Kane Williamson to help him prepare for a Test series against England. Where else are you going to get that? Not at my local club. And it was great for me as I was bowling to the best Test batter at that time.”
It was a great point.
Now in closing, I had to ask Dale, Andrew Strauss aside, who was the most difficult bowler he bowled to.
“If I’m honest, there wasn’t one player, but I hated bowling to some of the tail ender batters who were bowlers. Especially the guys that could swing the bat. Someone like Broady back in the day before he got pinned. Mitchell Johnson was another. You’d be on a 4-fer, or I’d have taken 5-20, they’d be 8 wickets down and you just want to wrap up the innings and you end up with 5 for 80 because these guys would just swing the bat. And you’re just like why can I not just get this guy out? He’s not batting the same ways as those top order batters, this is not fair, this is not how it’s supposed to be! So, there wasn’t one player, but just those damn tailenders!”
Have you ever heard of that off the record fast bowlers club? You know, the one where fast bowlers don’t bowl bouncers to each other? Well, it’s just a myth!
“It definitely doesn’t exist! I got hit more in the head by Mitchell Johnson than I think our top order batters did! He wanted to hurt me! I always remember just thinking, ‘when you come in, I’m going to do exactly the same to you, don’t you worry about that. It’s coming your way!’ But we did have the ‘club’ in the nets. Although there was a time once when Morne confused the signal for a bouncer and ducked into a yorker and ended up lying flat on his chest!”
In closing, I did want to pick Dale’s views on Test cricket and South African cricket today.
“In Test cricket, guys are scoring quickly now which is great. They take it on a bit more. We certainly see a lot more wins than draws. A draw is like a loss now, unless it’s a winning draw, which is great because it makes for more entertaining cricket. But I do think there’s a part of the game that doesn’t value gritty cricket. For example, if AB DeVilliers, one of the best strike batsmen out there, batted with one of the lowest strike rates to save a game, it’s not necessarily appreciated as much as it should be. In terms of South African cricket, there are a number of very promising youngsters coming through and it’s good that Dean Elgar has taken over the reins as captain. He’s just so, so good, especially with the team. I think the Test team will start to do good things. We’re definitely on the up. They may not have the star names of a Smith, Amla, De Villiers or Kallis, but the youngsters will come through and make names for themselves. They just have to play more cricket, which has been a struggle through cricket.”
And what next for Dale Steyn, who announced his retirement from the game earlier this month?
“A lot of fishing and walking the dogs!”
All I know is, there must be a place in cricket somewhere for Dale Steyn, post his playing days. What a player and what a lovely guy. I might just need to look through all those other bowling nemeses now to see if they are actually decent guys after all. Hmmm…
Dale Steyn – thank you!