War­rior and loyal ser­vant

Post - - SPORT -

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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