Dale Steyn’s Human Body
As India came onto bat on Day 1 at Newlands with a few overs left, the spectators were buzzing with bated breath, in anticipation the return of Dale Steyn. If not having their best batsman for almost 2 years was not enough, South Africa have not had the services of their best bowler for almost the same time. Earlier in the day, AB De Villiers, in only his second Test match in 2 years wasted little time in demonstrating what cricket missed in his absence.
This was now time for South Africa’s greatest bowler to announce his return on cricket’s most prestigious stage. The world had to wait for the entirety of South Africa’s 1st innings and one more excruciating over. Not only had Du Plessis elected to bat first and denied everyone the exhilaration of watching the red cherry flowing out of the hands of Dale Steyn, given an extra thrust by the magical wrists of the maestro, the wind acting as the musical instruments, blowing just enough for the ball to deviate in the air and defy centuries of batting school in a fraction of a second, he had given the first over to Vernon Philander.
Oh, the cruelty of the anticipation!
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At the start of the second over, the red ball was back in the rightful hands of its owner. Dale Steyn. As he marked his run-up and turned towards his opponent standing at the other end of the pitch, the world stopped for a moment, to reflect upon the sight.
The first time it happened, major alarm bells did not go off. Standard groin injury. Nothing major. Happens to fast bowlers. Should be back soon. The wait wasn’t that long. In 2 months, he was back in whites again at the Durban test. In his second over, he had Alastair Cook caught at slips for a duck and all was well with the world again. The stars aligned, the earth revolved around the sun and Dale Steyn took wickets. His 50th against England. Missed two months of cricket and he was bowling like he had never left. Not for long.
Oh no! Is he clutching his shoulder? Why? Oh, at least it’s not the groin again. He is not completing his over. He is walking off. He had left during the first innings but was back shortly. Not this time. England batted for 444 minutes. Steyn did not come back to bowl. England scored 326 runs in that time because Steyn did not come back to bowl.
He would not come back to bowl for nine months. Murmurs started. Is he going to be back at all? Has he still got it? South Africa are to play New Zealand. Water evaporated. Clouds formed. Dale Steyn took wickets. Rain fell. The match was called off. The series moved to Centurion for the second test. This time there were no clouds, the sun was out and Dale Steyn was taking wickets. 8 of them. He goes on to proclaim that he has been put on earth to play Test cricket. The balance had returned to the Universe finally.
In November 2016, he was back at the WACA, bowling furiously fast, roaring and exulting and affirming his existence as a fast bowler, this time by getting the outside edge of David Warner’s massive bat. The human body is not equipped to run towards a jump and then throw a projectile at the other end by bending your back. Again and again. Dale Steyn did just that and did it better than anyone else. But he still had a human body. And he was clutching the right shoulder of his human body again.
This time the murmurs were a bit louder. They were prolonged whispers. Is this it? Will he play again? Was his human body finally rebelling and protesting against the superhuman act of fast bowling? His career is over. How many more comebacks would cricket allow? How many more ‘months off the game’ could he overcome?
On the 12th day of 2018, Dale Steyn was in whites again. This was not just a cricketer making a comeback after fourteen months. This was Dale Steyn looking at the same forces that had put him on earth to play test cricket, with righteous anger in his eyes at the injustice and cruelty of being given merely a human body to do so.
He usually vents out his anger at the batsmen and this time it was Shikhar Dhawan at the receiving end. Dale Steyn had completed his first day of Test cricket, bowled 4 overs of fast bowling, and demonstrated as he had done throughout his career that fast bowlers could transcend the limitations of the human body, that fast bowlers were superheroes, not mortals.
At the end of Day two, he was no longer standing on his feet. The human body had struck back with a vengeance. It had taken almost two years of fast bowling from his life to remind him of his mortality. This time his heel gave away. This time it was going to take six weeks more. Six weeks where the fast bowler would have to breathe inside his human body and face it’s mortality.
That Dale Steyn will be back in whites, for that’s the superhero costume fast bowlers wear, at the end of six weeks is not in question. As time stopped for a moment when Steyn stood at the start of his run-up, red ball in hand, we finally understood who he really was. The alter ego always has a weakness to blend in with us mortals. Clark Kent wears glasses. Dale Steyn has a human body.
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