It is widely agreed that South Africa’s Dale Steyn is one of the finest fast bowlers of the last generation, probably of all time as well. Especially in red-ball cricket, the 36-year-old has an incredible record of 439 wickets in 93 Test matches.
In The Pitch Side Experts Podcast with Ian Bishop, Tom Moody and Freddie Wilde, Steyn spoke about how he got introduced to fast bowling and he honed his ability in the initial years.
“Pace came naturally to me since I was a kid. I liked speed in everything I did. Jonty Rhodes was a big inspiration to me and he was so quick on the field. When I got introduced to cricket, my default mode was to get the ball from one end to the other as quickly as possible. That was even before I had heard of fast bowling greats like Allan Donald,” said Steyn.
The right-arm quick said that his ability to bowl fast gave him immense confidence he was a threat to batsmen even when he was in high school.
“When I was 14 years old and playing men’s club cricket, I saw myself bowling faster than people twice my age, and it gave me a sense of power that I had never felt before. For the first time I could hurt somebody who was my senior and that was just through playing cricket. So when I went to play school cricket, there was a level of domination for me. That’s how my fast bowling developed,” he said.
Steyn also made another important point when he said that he was lucky his coaches in junior cricket didn’t try to mould his skill-set in anyway. They allowed him to bowl fast and that made him stand out.
“They (the coaches) saw this kid who didn’t know what he was doing and used him well as a weapon. My club captain always said that you can’t teach how to bowl with pace, you can direct or channel it, so he always asked me to run in and just bowl as fast as I could. I would bowl 15-20 wides in a game but I would even pick 7-8 wickets if I bowled the ball straight,” said Steyn.
“When I was young, my coaches simply focussed on not letting me lose my biggest asset, which was pace. They had seen plenty of players who could bowl fast but were converted into bowlers who could just land it at a spot without pace. So they just let me run with it. I was pretty wild throughout high school, it was only when I met players like Alfonso Thomas and Shaun Pollock that I realised that there is more to bowling than just pace,” he added.
Steyn said that he learnt a lot from Pollock, who was South Africa’s pace spearhead before him, especially how to bowl economically in One-Day Internationals.
“Pollock was a big influence to me in white-ball cricket. He had a very low economy-rate and was proud of it. So I decided that when he resigns, I need to take over that role that he prided himself most in. Although he took a lot of wickets, he was known for being an incredibly economical bowler. So I thought that’s what I needed to do. South Africa needed someone to keep batsmen quiet and strike when possible, I wanted to be that guy,” he said.
Lastly, the legendary pacer also explained how fast bowling isn’t for everyone, but he used his good friend and former teammate AB de Villiers’ name to drive home the point in a hilarious manner.
“You have to be blessed with the ability to bowl fast. If you look at me and AB, we have a very similar built, he’s probably a little fatter than me (laughs), but I don’t think he could ever bowl even 110 kmph at his quickest. So fast bowling is a natural gift, not everyone has it,” said Steyn.