Dale Steyn would torment India in 2010. But it is forgotten that his opening act in 2008, which sits at No.4 in Wisden’s Test spells of the 2000s, was just as thrilling. Part of Wisden’s 2000s in Review series.
Dale Steyn 5-23
India v South Africa, 2nd Test
Sardar Patel Stadium, Ahmedabad
April 3-5, 2008
When you think of Dale Steyn in India, the immediate association is with South Africa’s 2010 tour, and that spell in Nagpur. But India were well warned of that when South Africa turned up in 2008 with a short-haired, exuberant upstart in tow, months short of turning 25.
The young Steyn picked up 15 wickets at 20.2 – eight of them in Ahmedabad – in the drawn series, coming away as its most successful pacer. He had pace, he had energy, but what troubled India most of all was the movement he generated, over and over.
In the first Test in Chennai, he dismantled the tail to claim four wickets, but was among the many subjected to Virender Sehwag’s assault as he scored that famous 319. It was in the second Test at a scorching Ahmedabad that Steyn truly underlined just how big a thorn he would be in India’s side, both in that series as well as in the next.
The pitch at the Motera, it is fair to say, was something that pleasantly surprised South Africa, but Steyn, along with Makhaya Ntini, ploughed away at an aggressive length over after over to ensure India never settled. They were skittled out for 76 – still their seventh-lowest total in Test history – with Steyn taking five of those wickets.
Ntini set things up, dismissing Wasim Jaffer, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, before Steyn took over. And the wickets – they were classic Steyn. He had, in the middle of Ntini’s run, dismissed Sehwag with a pitched-up delivery outside off that moved in sharply, cramping Sehwag for room and forcing the inside-edge onto the stumps.
But it was his next wicket that would be replayed over and over for years to come. It was a key wicket – India were 53-4 and Rahul Dravid was the one man who could revive them from such a state. Steyn sent one through on good length, and shaped it away just a smidge – and that was enough. Dravid was unable to read the movement, and his off-stump was knocked back. Steyn had grabbed the decisive wicket.
He would then follow it up with three quick dismissals, first of Harbhajan Singh, who was nailed plumb in front, and then of RP Singh and S Sreesanth. The dismissal of Singh, in particular, was with the sort of delivery that should be made illegal to tail-enders – he banged it in short with all his pace, and it was all RP could do to fend it to slip.
In the next innings, Steyn would add three more scalps to his tally, including the all-important one of Ganguly, who had scored a defiant 87 before Smith threw the ball to his go-to youngster. It was a controversial dismissal – the outside edge landed with Mark Boucher behind the stumps – with Ganguly staying put at the crease, given his belief he’d not nicked it.
India would go on to lose the match by an innings and 90 runs, and an almighty uproar would follow, with Sunil Gavaskar, among the prominent voices accusing the team of being distracted with the build-up surrounding the inaugural IPL that was to start in a few months.
But for all that, the fact remains that Steyn was unplayable. And it was just the opening act.