TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
WHAT will be louder – Dale Steyn’s roar if he takes his 400th wicket during the first test against Bangladesh or what the crowd will tell him when he sets foot on the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury stadium outfield in Chittagong on Tuesday?
Steyn is four wickets away from joining Shaun Pollock as the only South Africans to claim 400 test scalps, and he would be the 13th bowler to reach the milestone.
Naked numbers are not needed to confirm the greatness of the finest fast bowler of the age, but they don’t hurt. Here’s a few more: the only active bowler in the 400 club is James Anderson – who took 105 tests to get there. Tuesday’s game will be Steyn’s 79th.
If Steyn cross the line in this match, he will have put 26 degrees of separation between himself and the Englishman.
In Bangladesh, the successes of visiting players are invariably met with the incredulous silence of a crowd who only have eyes for their own team.
But Steyn, who missed the one-day and T20 series that preceded the tests, should not expect a moment’s peace from the Bangladeshis; not after he said he would be “wasting” deliveries on their beloved batsmen by playing in the shorter format games.
Steyn’s clumsy comments sped like a flame around a puddle of petrol, and Bangladeshis have since had 11 weeks to stew about him in their own juices. On Tuesday, they get the chance to tell Steyn, more or less face-to-face, how they feel.
The fact that Bangladesh go into the series on the back of playing David to SA’s Goliath in the ODIs will only add to the heat the crowd directs at the pace ace. So much so that Hashim Amla could find himself having to manage more than his team if they field first on Tuesday.
“His action and his style of bowling, especially if the ball starts to reverse swing, is really dangerous and there are very few bowlers in the world who can be as successful on flat wickets as Dale has been,” Amla said on Monday.
“It’s a combination of everything: the way he bowls, his commitment and his hunger to put in the team performance when the team needs it.”
Steyn’s average on Asia’s unhelpful pitches is 22.64. Overall it is 22.55. He has taken five of his 25 five-wicket hauls and one of his five 10-wicket virtuosos there, and his strike rate on the sub-continent is only a mite less impressive than at home: 39.7 versus 39.6.
However, Steyn is coming off a World Cup in which he was less than the dominant force he has been for much of the last 11 years, his 11 wickets taken at an average of 31.45.
The mere sight of his steaming to the crease with eyes wild and tattoos bright still scrambles the butterflies in the batsman’s stomach. But he will have a point to prove – to Bangladeshis as much as to himself.
Another bowler who will want to make his mark may not get that chance in this match. Asked about him, Amla said “you never want to rush players into the international environment” and that SA’s attack was “pretty settled”. So, take a break, it would seem, Kagiso Rabada.
But Reeza Hendricks seems sure to be blooded at the top of the order, while Simon Harmer looks likely to get a game on a responsive pitch.
That’s if anyone does. Dhaka has been soaked by the monsoon for days now, and rain has been predicted until Monday.