Cape Town – In an exclusive interview with Sport24, Proteas fast bowling great DALE STEYN talks about his return from long-term injury, his ambitions in the 50-over format and why the public must cut AB de Villiers some slack for his decision to call time on his Proteas career.
Sport24 asked: Did you miss playing Test cricket and does it remain the pinnacle?
Dale Steyn: For sure. There is a plenty of T20 cricket going on at the moment because that is where the money is at, but I think that people will always know that Test cricket is the real deal. I love the red-ball game. The challenge of waking up on day four with the game evenly poised, and then going out there and potentially making a difference is something that motivates me. Test matches are what really drive me to perform. If I can carry on playing Test cricket for as long as possible that will be great. Unfortunately, Test cricket doesn’t pay as well as the white-ball game – so you have to earn your keep in other formats – but it remains the pinnacle for me. (The 35-year-old is tied with Shaun Pollock as the Proteas’ leading Test wicket-taker on 421 dismissals. He will have to wait until December to become the highest South African wicket-taker in Test history when playing Pakistan).
Sport24 asked: Was your shoulder injury easily the worst of your professional career?
Dale Steyn: Yes. It’s the worst injury I have had in my career by a long way. I have played 15 years of international cricket and prior to injuring a bone in my right shoulder in the first Test against Australia in 2016, the longest I was sidelined from the game for was four weeks. When I went for the MRI, the doctor told me that they normally see that type of injury from someone who has fallen off a ladder or been involved in a motorbike accident. When I arrived at the hospital the doctor asked me: “Where’s your motorbike?” For the first two months, I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t get my arm near the steering wheel. When I got past that stage, and starting using my arm again, my shoulder specialist said I could start running – before then no movement was allowed. I then trained every day and saw the physiotherapist three times a week. My recovery went well, but it took a little longer than I expected. I missed a lot of cricket, but I was always confident that I would get back out there. I hadn’t played any cricket in a number of months, so the key was to get overs under my belt.
Sport24 asked: Do you agree cricket is both a mental and physical test of endurance?
Dale Steyn: Definitely. Someone like Shane Warne played the game on and off the field really well and got into guys’ heads. Even though he couldn’t bounce you and hurt you physically, he was verbally aggressive and would let you know he’d get you out. He made batsmen doubt themselves. I learned from players like him and made a point of incorporating it into my own game. Warne was a master sledger, but most of the time I let my crazy eyes do the talking for me. I will, however, have a word with the batsmen every now and then. It’s important to get under your opponent’s skin and let them know that you are coming for them out in the middle. When you do that, half the battle’s won!
Sport24 asked: Which young Proteas players have impressed you the most and why?
Dale Steyn: Kagiso Rabada is hot property at the moment and is a great bowler. (Rabada was recently named Wisden’s Gold Boy of 2018) The 23-year-old has got everything on his side – pace, skill and patience. I believe he has everything it takes to become the best fast bowler South Africa has produced. I won’t lie – he has got it all. It’s in Cricket South Africa’s hands in terms of how they manage him and his workload. It’s important, so as to ensure that he has a long and successful career for his country… I remember Shaun Pollock slipped a note under my door before I played my first Test. Since he did that, in the latter stages of my career I have done the same for KG and hopefully he will continue the legacy, as he grows older and develops into a senior player in the side. Meanwhile, Quinton de Kock is so good you can just let the kid do what he wants to in terms of his match preparation. The 25-year-old’s ODI record is ridiculous (De Kock has already scored 13 centuries) and, as long as he keeps scoring runs, he’ll be a fixture in the Proteas side for many years.
Sport24 asked: What stands out to you about Faf du Plessis’s style of captaincy?
Dale Steyn: Faf is a very good captain. Graeme Smith looked after his players really well and Faf is definitely doing a very similar thing. Much like Graeme, Faf is a father-figure to many of the players. He takes younger players under his proverbial wing and protects them. Off-field things have a massive effect on how players function on the field. Faf is much like Graeme in the sense that he knows all his team-mates very well. Graeme knew a lot about me from a young age and always took an interest in me. A quality captain gets to know you off the field and finds out what makes you tick.
Sport24 asked: Should we respect AB’s decision to quit playing for the Proteas?
Dale Steyn: Yes. I believe AB doesn’t deserve to get a bad rap. Even though we both made our Test debuts in 2004, him and I are in two completely different boats. He is married with children and I only have dogs. Family time is a big pull for him right now. We spend on average 220 days of the year out of the country. It’s a long time to be away from your family especially when your children are growing up. AB is a phenomenal player, but the pleasing aspect is the Proteas have managed to win without him. It’s nice that the circle (of talent) is getting bigger and there is hope for the future. (De Villiers has said he has “absolutely no regrets” about retiring from international cricket). Calling time on his international career has also given AB time to recover from a physical point of view. His back had been giving him trouble for so many years. Through sheer pride of representing South Africa he pushed on. (De Villiers still expects to partake in IPL and other T20 leagues for a few years).
Sport24 asked: What are your aspirations at the twilight of your career?
Dale Steyn: I would love to win a trophy for South Africa in white ball cricket. A number of cricketers who have played before me – Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Graeme Smith are legends of the game, but weren’t fortunate enough to win an ICC-sanctioned event during their playing careers. I might join those names, but hopefully I will still be around in 2019 to play in the next World Cup and have a crack at winning the trophy in the UK. However, I have got to earn my way back into the Proteas ODI team. Our fast bowlers are doing quite well of late and, if they are in-form and performing, I don’t mind sitting aside and watching them shine. However, I still believe I can deliver the goods and hopefully I can represent my country for a couple more years. Hopefully I can get some white-ball games this year and put my hand up for the spot in that World Cup team next year (Steyn made his ODI debut for South Africa in 2005, with his last coming against Australia in 2016).
Previous Q&A chats: