Dale Steyn's back‚ and there's no but
Dale Steyn’s narrative has become about breakdowns‚ injuries and lengthy spells of rehab‚ so when that isn’t the story he doesn’t hit the headlines as hard as he should.
But there’s no arguing with the numbers‚ and here they are: on his return from a groin strain this week Steyn took 3/25 and 3/41 for Hampshire against Worcestershire and‚ into the bargain‚ cracked five fours in his 25 overs in the first innings.
That’s about as good as it gets for a 35-year-old fast bowler who has spent much of the past three years overcoming an assortment of calamities that‚ had they not happened so publicly‚ would have made people wonder if he had made an unhealthy hobby out of antagonising nightclub bouncers.
A groin problem in Mohali in November 2015 was followed by a couple of broken shoulders — at Kingsmead in December 2015 and at the WACA in November 2016 — and a heel injury at Newlands in January this year.
So it came as welcome news that the groin he tweaked playing for Hampshire last month would keep him out for only two weeks at most.
What’s two weeks out of nearly three years of pain and suffering and wondering if he will ever again mark out a run-up?
That Steyn has managed to play eight Tests and take 19 wickets in the throes of all that tells us plenty about the level of mental strength he has managed to maintain despite his physical travails.
That he has‚ in the process‚ matched Shaun Pollock’s record total of 421 Test wickets is a delicious detail of one of the most captivating careers in cricket.
That he should claim the record for himself at home in the coming summer is a moment for all cricketminded South Africans to savour.
For now Steyn is doing what he has done since abandoning‚ some 15 years ago‚ mad ideas about becoming a professional skateboarder.
Hampshire‚ under whose crest he has taken 13 wickets in four matches this English summer‚ will have his services for another three matches before the season ends on September 27.
“I just love playing‚” Steyn said in a video interview posted on the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s website on Tuesday.
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m playing county cricket or club cricket in Cape Town‚ or I’m playing at the highest level for South Africa.”
There was alarm when Steyn went back to Hampshire to play first-class cricket after South Africa’s Test series in Sri Lanka in July instead of staying on for the one-dayers.
With a World Cup looming in England next year shouldn’t he have stuck around?
Perhaps not‚ if you take Steyn seriously when he says “one-day cricket kind of followed” his rise to the top — by the time he played his 10th ODI he had 18 Test caps.
“My base was Test cricket: run in‚ hit the top of off-stump with an odd bouncer‚ and consistently try and do that over and over and over again for five days‚” Steyn said.
“I’ve got that base and I always go back to that base. It will always be the same.”
Even so‚ some people will remember Steyn for little else than laying flat on his back on the pitch at Eden Park late on the night of March 24‚ 2015.
Grant Elliott had smacked him over his head for six to put New Zealand into the World Cup final and to send South Africa home to think again for another four years.
“Any player would like to win a World Cup‚” Steyn said.
“That is‚ strangely‚ how they get judged.
“You can have as many Test wickets as you want but if you’ve never won a World Cup it’s one of those things.
“There’s a bragging right about winning a World Cup that not many have achieved.
“I’d love to have one of those medals. I’d be able to go to a bar or a restaurant and say I’ve achieved that. That would be fantastic.
“I think that looms over every cricket player’s head‚ not just mine.
“I haven’t yet ticked that box.”
Yet. It’s a big word fuelled by hope.
And‚ to be running in and bowling after everything‚ how could Steyn possibly not have hope?