Warrior and loyal servant
BACK In December, 2015, I had a brief chat with Dale Steyn before the start of a four-match Test series against England. He had just returned from a seven-week lay-off after picking up a groin injury against India in Mohali. At 32, Steyn had been playing international cricket for more than a decade, having made his debut for the Proteas in 2004. Naturally I asked if he thought his career was winding down and could he be labelled as a “veteran” fast bowler. “Not at all,” he responded. “I still feel like I can add value to the team, I still feel strong and the hunger is there for more wickets,” he said. As fate would have it, Steyn broke down in that Boxing Day Test, and a shoulder strain ruled him out of the remainder of the series. When the “Phalaborwa Express” dismissed Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman in the Boxing Day Test at Centurion last year, he became South Africa’s outright leading bowler in Test cricket with 422 scalps, surpassing Shaun Pollock. At the end of 2016, Steyn suffered what he describes as the worst lay-off in his career after he sustained a serious shoulder injury in the first Test against Australia in Perth. I’m not sure if his wild, chainsaw celebrations over the years had somehow contributed to that. Last week Steyn took his 431st wicket to equal the tally of New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee, taking him to tenth on Test cricket’s all-time leading wicket-taker charts. He will go down as a modern-day great, revered around the world for his unbelievable skill with ball in hand. Whether he will be celebrated with the same gusto right here in South Africa, I am not so sure. As South Africans, our modesty often tends to get in the way of appreciating our nation’s most gifted individuals. The British press are notorious for glorifying their players. They draped a superhero cape around Jimmy Anderson years ago. Steyn’s longevity is characterised by his ability to constantly rise up again from career-threatening injuries. His infectious smile and appetite for wickets has rubbed off on Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, who will lead the Proteas’ bowling attack in the years to come. While he is still playing, fired up and raring for more, this is our best chance to give him the praise he deserves. A warrior and a loyal servant to the Proteas’ cause, he has the ability to make the most out of his God-given talent. Myron Naicker is an awardwinning sports journalist based in Durban.
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