TELFORD VICE, Centurion
HOW much does Dale Steyn have left in his 33-year-old tank? On the evidence of his performance against New Zealand at Centurion on Tuesday, plenty.
Steyn missed six of SA’s eight tests last season through injury, sparking fears that the career of the finest fast bowler of the age could be near its end.
But he roared back to the top of his game at Centurion, taking 5/33 to finish with match figures of 8/99 – which helped SA win the match by 204 runs and clinch the series 1-0.
With 416 wickets to his name Steyn is one away from matching Harbhajan Singh and a half-dozen shy of toppling Shaun Pollock as SA’s top bowler.
His haul took him past Wasim Akram’s total of 414 and earned him 11th place on the list of all-time leading wicket-takers.
Steyn’s contribution was massive, but SA captain Faf du Plessis focused on the bigger picture.
“We almost played the perfect test,” Du Plessis said. “If I could have written a script, that’s how I would have written it.”
SA lost six of the eight tests they played last season, and consequently dwindled from No. 1 to seventh in the rankings.
The series win took them up to fifth place, and Du Plessis was confident SA would reclaim more lost ground.
“We’ve definitely found our passion again,” he said.
New Zealand, set 400 to win when SA declared their second innings closed on 132/7 after batting for an hour on Tuesday, were dismissed for 195 late on the fourth day.
The die for the match was cast when New Zealand captain Kane Williamson won the toss and handed first use of the pitch to SA, who declared on 481/8.
“It was a very good toss to lose and unfortunately I eon it,” Williamson said.
Henry Nicholls was the last man out for a career-best 76, the product of more than four hours at the crease.
New Zealand were in trouble from the first ball of their second innings, a rising delivery from Steyn that Tom Latham tried to leave but deflected onto his stumps instead.
With the last ball of that over Steyn produced a fine away swinger that Martin Guptill could only edge to Hashim Amla at first slip.
Vernon Philander rapped Kane Williamson on his left hand with another steepling delivery, causing New Zealand’s captain to call for assistance from the team physiotherapist.
Williamson took time out to receive further treatment at every opportunity, but that didn’t stop Steyn trapping Ross Taylor in front with a delivery that kept low and jagged away off the seam.
Philander ended Williamson’s misery, though not his agony, with the help of a superb diving catch by Quinton de Kock.
Thus were New Zealand reduced to 7/4 in 18 deliveries, and with three of those four gone for ducks.
But the next 26.3 overs were wicketless as Nicholls and BJ Watling steadied the innings with a stand of 68.
The partnership was broken before tea when Dane Piedt trapped Watling in front for 32 with a turning delivery that would have hit the top of middle and leg stumps.
Steyn uprooted Mitchell Santner’s middle stump after tea before Nicholls and the aggressive Doug Bracewell added 46 for the seventh wicket, a stand ended when Philander had Bracewell leg-before for 30 with a ball that was homing in high on leg stump.
Kagiso Rabada yorked the free-swinging Tim Southee before he trapped Neil Wagner plumb in front.
Steyn ended the match when Nicholls heaved a pull to deep fine leg, where Rabada held the catch.