5 greatest performances by Dale Steyn in the subcontinent

Debjyoti Samanta
·9-min read

Dale Steyn will go down as South Africa's greatest bowler ever
Dale Steyn will go down as South Africa's greatest bowler ever

It has been exactly a year since South African great Dale Steyn announced his retirement from Test cricket. Steyn, one of the modern-day legends, bid goodbye to the game’s longest format after a series of injuries crippled him in the last portion of his career.

The pacer ended his 15-year Test career as South Africa’s all-time leading wicket-taker in the longest format, surpassing Shaun Pollock’s mark of 421 wickets. Overall, Dale Steyn finished with 439 wickets in 93 matches at an outstanding average of 22.95 and a strike rate of 42.30.

To put this into perspective, no player with more than 200 scalps has a better strike rate than Steyn. This is a clear indicator of how consistent he was throughout his career.

Steyn wasn’t one who needed the conditions to favour him, though. He did perform incredibly at home, but it was his performances in the subcontinent that made him stand out from his peers. On the dust bowls of India, Pakistan & Sri Lanka, where the best of seamers struggle, Steyn single-handedly won games for South Africa.

No visiting bowler (non-Asian) can match Dale Steyn's tally of 92 wickets in 22 matches in the sub-continent. His strike rate of 42.9 in Asia is only bettered by Sir Richard Hadlee.

Dale Steyn's 5 best sub-continent bowling performances

Therefore, on the one-year anniversary of his farewell from the game, we take a look at 5 of his match-winning spells in the subcontinent:

#5 2/50 & 5/56 vs Pakistan, Karachi 2007

Dale Steyn's first foray in the subcontinent proved to be a successful one
Dale Steyn's first foray in the subcontinent proved to be a successful one

Match Result: South Africa won by 160 runs

The 2007 tour of Pakistan was Dale Steyn’s first foray into the subcontinent, and he didn’t disappoint. In the first Test at Karachi, South Africa, riding on Jacques Kallis’ 155, racked up 450 in the first innings. In reply, the rookie Steyn struggled to make an impact on a flat Karachi wicket.

However, with the wickets of Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammad Asif, the pacer returned with decent figures of 2-50 in the first innings. Led by the left-arm spin of Paul Harris, the Proteas restricted the Pakistanis to a sub-par score of 291, snaring a crucial 159-run first inning lead.

Another Jacques Kallis masterclass in the 2nd innings helped set Pakistan a near improbable target of 424, with little more than four sessions remaining. With the Proteas sensing a famous victory, Dale Steyn started the second innings on fire, removing both openers Mohammad Hafeez and Salman Butt with little on the board. His pace was up, and control was top notch – a deadly combination for any batsman to negotiate.

Despite the early setbacks, the Pakistanis led by Younis Khan attacked the Protean bowlers, and needed 278 runs on the final day with 7 wickets in hand.

As more would be evident in the future, Steyn would be the game-changer. He scalped the prized wicket of Younis next morning, and finished off the tail (5/56) to register one of many historic victories in the subcontinent.

Jacques Kallis deservedly took home the Man of the Match for his twin centuries, but it was Dale Steyn who proved to be the difference between a win and a potential draw.

The South Africans won the series 1-0 and that remains their only series victory against Pakistan away from home.

#4 3/27 & 4/48 vs Bangladesh, Dhaka 2008

Steyn once again proved to be the match-winner in a low scoring thriller
Steyn once again proved to be the match-winner in a low scoring thriller

Match Result: South Africa won by 5 wickets

Steyn’s second visit to Asia involved a tour to Bangladesh and this time, the South Africans were clear favourites against the hosts. The first Test turned out to be a low scoring thriller.

Batting first, Bangladesh were skittled for 192 as the Steyn and Morkel duo wreaked havoc on the batsmen, snaring 8 of the 10 wickets to fall. Once again, the openers fell prey to Steyn, unable to handle his pace and swing as he ended with figures of 3/27.

To everyone’s surprise, the South African batting lineup failed to fire in reply, as Shahadat Hossain’s 6/27 gave the Bangla Tigers an unlikely first-innings lead. A strong start was required from the Protea bowlers to cover up for their batters’ failures and once again, Steyn took up the mantle.

Tamim Iqbal was beaten for pace and his off stump went cartwheeling towards the keeper. A couple of beautiful in-swingers to Shahriar Nafees and Habibul Bashar trapped them in front of the stumps and in no time, the hosts were reduced to 3/27.

With terrific support from Kallis, who picked up 5 in the innings, Steyn finished with 4/48. He trapped the resilient Aftab Ahmed for 24 to trigger a collapse as Bangladesh set a challenging target of 205.

With useful contributions from Hashim Amla and captain Graeme Smith, the Proteas managed to get over the line by 5 wickets. Though Kallis won the Man of the Match for his 5-wicket haul, without Steyn’s early burst in both innings, Bangladesh could have sprung up a huge surprise.

#3 5/23 & 3/91 vs India, Ahmedabad 2008

Dale Steyn ripped apart India's batting on a green top
Dale Steyn ripped apart India's batting on a green top

Match Result: South Africa won by an innings and 90 runs

Following the 2-0 series win in Bangladesh, South Africa set foot on India, looking to add another feather to their cap in the subcontinent. After a drab draw in the first Test in Chennai, all eyes turned to Ahmedabad for the second game.

Unlike Indian pitches, the surface at the Motera was a green top and Anil Kumble, after winning the toss, elected to bat first. That decision turned out to be a costly one as a reinvigorated Dale Steyn ripped through the Indian batting lineup, with the hosts stumbling to a stunning 76 all out. Steyn was the wrecker-in-chief, finishing with incredible figures of 5/23.

The highlight of the innings was the wicket of Rahul Dravid, as Steyn’s late out-swinger penetrated The Wall's defence.

In reply, the South African duo of Kallis & De Villiers plundered the Indian bowling, who looked pale in comparison to their Protea counterparts. AB de Villiers’ unbeaten 217 and Kallis’ 132 took the game away from the Indians, and it was left to the bowlers to finish the job and take a 1-0 lead in the series.

Second time around, the Indian batsmen played far better, but Steyn’s crucial scalp of Sourav Ganguly (India’s top-scorer with 87) put the brakes on their innings as the Graeme Smith-led side inflicted an innings defeat on the hosts.

Although India levelled the series at Kanpur, Dale Steyn finished as his side’s top wicket-taker for the second series running.

#2 7/51 & 3/57 vs India, Nagpur 2010

This remains Steyn's best performance in the subcontinent to date
This remains Steyn's best performance in the subcontinent to date

Match Result: South Africa won by an innings and 6 runs

Dale Steyn and his love affair with India continued in the 2010 series. This time, the South Africans were visiting India after back-to-back home series against England and Australia, so it seemed a big challenge for them to acclimatize to the subcontinent conditions.

Yet, everything went out of the window in the first Test at Nagpur. After winning the toss and electing to bat first, the duo of Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis plundered the Indian attack, putting on 340 runs over more than 100 overs.

Kallis eventually got out for 173, while Amla notched up an unbeaten 253 to grind the Indian bowlers to the dust.

Once the batsmen had done their job, it was up to Steyn and Co. to bowl their team to a commanding lead, and that they did. After Morkel removed Gautam Gambhir, Steyn followed up with the wickets of Murali Vijay and the great Sachin Tendulkar.

Despite the early setbacks, India’s attack was led by the flamboyant Virender Sehwag and Subramaniam Badrinath, who put on 136 for the fourth wicket. Once Parnell got rid of Sehwag for 109, the next phase solely belonged to Dale Willem Steyn.

On a flat wicket in Nagpur, Steyn produced an outstanding spell of reverse swing, as India collapsed from 221-4 to 233 all out in a matter of seven long overs. Steyn finished with mind-boggling figures of 7/51, handing the South Africans a mammoth 325-run lead.

After asking the Indians to follow on, Steyn got rid of the first inning centurion Sehwag, followed by the wickets of Wriddhiman Saha and Amit Mishra to fire his side to another innings victory and yet another 1-0 lead in India.

As was the case two years ago, the Indians denied the Proteas a series win by winning their next game at the Eden Gardens. Steyn finished as his team’s top wicket-taker with 11 scalps.

#1 5/54 & 4/45 vs Sri Lanka, Galle 2014

Steyn made an impressive comeback from injury
Steyn made an impressive comeback from injury

Match Result: South Africa won by 153 runs

After the retirement of the inspiring Graeme Smith, the baton of leadership fell to Hashim Amla. His first assignment was a tough tour to Sri Lanka in 2014 and for the transition to be smooth, he needed his premier fast bowler Dale Steyn to be fit and firing.

By the time Smith had retired, Steyn had started to struggle with injuries and as a result, South Africa had lost the home series against the Aussies before the Sri Lanka tour.

A strong start by the South African batsmen at Galle made it easier for Steyn to find his rhythm and replicate his best. After posting 455/9, courtesy of centuries from Dean Elgar and JP Duminy, Steyn bowled one of his more disciplined spells in the subcontinent. Against a strong batting lineup containing the likes of Sangakkara and Jayawardene, the pacers’ lines and lengths were spot on.

He ended with figures of 5/54, as the Lankans were bowled out for 292. A quick-fire fifty from AB de Villiers set a target of 370 with four sessions of the game remaining.

As was the case in the first innings, the pace duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel (both claiming 4 wickets apiece) ensured that the Lankans got nowhere near the total, giving the Proteas a 153-run victory.

On his return from injury, Steyn duly took home the Man of the Match award for his persistence and never-say-die attitude. A draw in the second Test ensured that the Proteas won their first series in Sri Lanka in more than 20 years. Steyn once again finished as his team’s top wicket-taker in the series (13).