All eyes on Steyn

There are good reasons and bad reasons why so many lessons from the past are either not learnt or quickly forgotten. Hopefully, one very painful lesson from the last Australian tour has not been forgotten.

Having won a dramatic and emotional series down under the teams followed each other back to South Africa for the return series and the Proteas’ greatest weapon, Dale Steyn, was told to “head for the bush” for two weeks and not even think about cricket, let alone bowl a ball.

It was an understandable reaction by coach Mickey Arthur after a stunning series and heavy workload for the great pace man. Arthur felt he needed to be rewarded and rested at the same time and there was no better way for him to do that than by getting away from it all.

By the time the first Test arrived Steyn was as fresh as a daisy – and as rusty as the cabin door on an old prawn trawler. Before he had regained his rhythm South Africa were 2-0 down and the Aussies had their revenge. Some athletes thrive on rest, others are hamstrung by it.

I once asked Courtney Walsh how he had managed to play virtually all year round (18 seasons with Gloucestershire as well as Jamaica and West Indies commitments) and he said that, if he had stopped for any significant length of time he “probably wouldn’t be able to get started again.” And that applied more and more as his career stretched deep into his 30s. When he finally called it a day at the age of 38, he never bowled another ball in anger.

Steyn is a supreme athlete and one of the fittest members of the national squad ever since he became a member of it. He was third overall in strength, endurance and conditioning at the squad’s pre-season testing session at Arabella last month. Even spending a month travelling with his girlfriend across America did nothing to affect his regime – “minimum of four eight kilometre runs per week and four or five gym session – not because I had to, but because I enjoy it.”

But he did not bowl a ball. And when he did, he jokingly admitted that it felt “as if my arm was being wrenched out of its socket.” As Steyn says, “bowling a cricket ball at 140 kilometres per hour is a very, very unnatural thing for your body to do. Athletes run and jump and throw things, they are all normal movements. Fast bowling is not normal!” he says with a laugh.

He admits that the only way to be “bowling fit” is to bowl – a lot. The problem with doing that, of course, is that you increase the risk of injury.

Steyn has spent considerable time in the nets with Cobras coach Richard Pybus over the last couple of weeks and also played in the Champions League. But none of that constitutes the workload needed for him to be functioning at his best by the time the two Test matches come around next month. And he’s only got three ODIs between now and then.

If he never played another match Steyn has already done enough in his career to be regarded as one of the finest fast bowlers of all time, but it would be even better if he could spend another five or six years winning Test matches for his country. He is the single biggest difference between Australia and South Africa and will almost certainly play the lead role in deciding the outcome of the series.

Let’s hope the lesson of three years ago has been learnt and not forgotten and that his workload will be successfully ‘managed.’

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