It is not easy to be a fast bowler as it requires a supreme fitness level to continue at the highest level. We have seen over the years many fast bowlers breaking down because of an injury and never returning back to their old best. However, there have been or are bowlers, who have made comebacks after comebacks despite suffering career threatening injuries. These are the ones who know the importance of carrying on despite facing hardships. Dale Steyn is one such champion bowler who has defied all the odds to become one of the greats. Steyn made his debut for South Africa on 17 December 2004 in the first Test of England’s tour. His first victim in Test cricket was Marcus Trescothick whom he bowled with a fast in-swinging delivery. He did struggled initially but soon became an integral part of the team in a short span of time. The sub-continent and especially India is considered to be one of the most difficult places for a fast bowler. However, Steyn has made a name for himself in India as well. Coming into the three Test series against India in 2007-08 predictions about how Steyn would fare were mixed, with some commentators identifying him a crucial part of a South African team which could pose a serious challenge to India, whilst others predicted he might struggle playing against a strong batting lineup on lifeless subcontinent pitches. The first Test at Chennai turned out to be a very high scoring affair, with South Africa batting first and making 540, then India responding strongly, led by Virender Sehwag who scored 319 from 304 balls, to reach 468/1 by the end of the third day. On the fourth day Steyn helped to restrict India’s lead to 87 runs by dismissing MS Dhoni with a bouncer then blasting through the lower order, taking three wickets in two overs for the cost of two runs, all bowled with reverse swinging deliveries. He finished the innings, and the match, which petered out into a tame draw, with four wickets for 103 runs. On the morning of the second Test at Ahmedabad, South Africa demolished the much vaunted Indian batting line-up within twenty overs, for a meager total of 76 runs. Steyn was the pick of the bowlers taking five wickets for 23 runs, dismissing Sehwag and Rahul Dravid then mopping up the last three batsmen for the cost of 11 runs. In the second innings he added a further three wickets to his match tally, finishing the game with eight wickets for 114 runs, as South Africa completed a crushing victory by an innings and 90 runs. The final Test at Kanpur saw Steyn pick up three first innings wickets which took his total wicket tally to 15 wickets in the series at an average of 20.20. As a result of this, the cumulation of an outstanding 2007/08 season in which he took 75 wickets in 11 matches, Steyn moved up to joint first place (alongside Muttiah Muralitharan) in the ICC Test match bowling rankings. Cut to November 2016, South Africa was on back foot in the first Test against Australia as David Warner was blazing all guns and it took a special effort from Dale Steyn to dismiss the Australian opener and bring back his team into the contest. However, he couldn’t continue for long as he suffered a nasty injury. Steyn went down wincing in pain after bowling to Usman Khawaja, prompting the physio to arrive at the scene right away. As feared by the commentators on air, a previous shoulder injury seemed to have aggravated.
Steyn had previously hurt his shoulder midway through South Africa’s home Test against England last December in Durban, and was sidelined for the rest of the series. He returned to action in the World T20 in India but poor outings left him on the bench in key clashes before featuring in the dead-rubber against Sri Lanka in Delhi. Despite a successful Test series recently against New Zealand, speculation had continued over Steyn’s longevity. And now the fracture of the bone of his right shoulder in the first test against the Aussies at the WACA has further put a big question mark on his international caeer. Speaking after the first day’s play at the WACA, Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa’s manager and team doctor, said that Steyn felt “something popped” and scans soon revealed the bad news. “During this tour he was feeling some tightness and discomfort and had an ultrasound in Adelaide but scans proved normal,” he said. Moosajee said it was an “extremely rare injury” with only one other professional cricketer sustaining that type of injury. He revealed that the injury may not have been originally sustained on the cricket field. “Generally these types of injuries are associated with trauma like motor vehicle injury or falling from a height,” he said. “Definitely while he has been with us he hasn’t had trauma with us. Could be one of those injuries we call a trauma injury, where sometimes with the force of the injury the sheering forces the tendon to pull. It is very rare and everything at the moment is just up in the air,” he added. “He has been through adversity before,” he said. “Knowing Dale he has come back stronger. I think he has a good support structure. We just have to make sure we give him the best opportunity to recover.” He underwent the knife and was successfully operated. “Dale had successful surgery where the fracture in the right shoulder blade was fixated with the placement of a screw. We expect a minimum six-month rehabilitation period before he can start any form of bowling,” said Mohammed Moosajee. He said South Africa were hopeful of Steyn making a full recovery to return to international cricket.
Steyn, who has 417 wickets in 85 Tests, needs five more scalps to overtake retired pacer Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s most successful Test bowler. The reason behind these regular injuries is Steyn’s growing age. He is 33 at the moment and is not getting any younger. In the recent past, he has suffered freak injuries. Hips, shoulders, hamstring and other body parts have troubled him on regular occasions. Even if we consider a comeback six months later, will he be at his best in international cricket. It is highly unlikely that he would pose the same threat to batters as he used to be few years back. We can’t deny the fact that he is now a mere shadow of his past as he is struggling to carry on for a considerable amount of time across formats. South Africa have gone in with Kyle Abbott as Steyn’s replacement and he has done exceptionally well in his absence. The trio of Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Abbott have been brilliant and the team is not missing their great bowler anymore. Even the team management is looking forward to built a team for the future and Dale Steyn might not find a place in it. He has been a great bowler for South Africa but it would be nice if he decides to call it a day after recovering from his latest setback.