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Dale Steyn’s long, long record-watch

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It took Dale Steyn 10 years and 225 days – and 80 Test matches – to take 400 Test wickets. He was the third-fastest in the world to get there in match terms.

It has been three years since, and Steyn’s career has been punctuated with injuries. He has played only six Tests and added 19 wickets to his tally. He needs three scalps more to overtake Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker. It’s been a long wait and this is what it has looked like:

July 2015
Dale Steyn takes his 400th wicket in Bangladesh when he dismisses Tamim Iqbal on the opening morning of the second Test. Though Steyn takes two more wickets, there is no play possible on the remaining four days.

Wicket tally: 402

November 2015
Steyn goes wicket-less for only the second time in his career as India are bowled out for 201 in their first innings in Mohali. He is unable to take the field in the second innings after sustaining a groin injury, which rules him out of the rest of the series.

Wicket tally: 402

December 2015
A fit-again Steyn storms back at Kingsmead, dismisses Alastair Cook and Alex Hales inside the first seven overs and finishes England’s innings with 4 for 70. But in the second innings, with South Africa well behind the game, he manages just 3.5 overs before leaving the field with a shoulder problem that sidelines him for eight months.

Wicket tally: 406

August 2016
At the same ground he last appeared, Steyn takes two wickets against New Zealand in Durban in a low-key match where a wet outfield forces a draw under sunny skies. In the second match, Steyn shows shades of his best with eight wickets at Supersport Park to begin South Africa’s resurgence from No.7 on the rankings.

Wicket tally: 416

November 2016
A fired-up Steyn talks about cutting off the head of the snake as South Africa attempt a third successive series win in Australia. His warning is to Steven Smith and David Warner but he only ends up dismissing one of them, Warner, in Perth, just as things were getting away from South Africa. Steyn is so pumped up that he cranks up his pace and then goes down, clutching his right shoulder. The injury proves to be a rare break, the corricoid bone has snapped. Steyn has surgery, a pin inserted into his shoulder and spends 13 months in recovery, during which time he attempts several comebacks and tears a bicep and pec muscle.

Wicket tally: 417

January 2018
Against all odds and much retirement speculation, Steyn returns for a marquee series against India. He takes a wicket in his third over and bowls 17.3 in the first innings. Then he lands awkwardly in a foothold and a muscle in his heel separates from the bone. He spends another six months on the sidelines.

Wicket tally: 419

June 2018
Steyn signs for Hampshire in a bid to make an international return. In his first match, a fifty-over fixture, he concedes 80 runs in 10 overs. But he soon finds his rhythm and takes 5 for 66 in a County Championship game against Yorkshire and declares himself ready to try and break Pollock’s record, in Sri Lanka.



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Dom Bess feeling ‘really dangerous’ and keen to spin series England’s way

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He may have gone wicketless during the fourth innings as England fell to a bruising defeat in the first Test, but Dom Bess isn’t the sort of cricketer whose confidence is easily dented. England’s offspinner, still only five matches into his Test career, has declared that he is feeling “really dangerous” and said he was keen to get back into the thick of it when the teams resume their behind-closed-doors contest at Emirates Old Trafford this week.

Bess is used to playing with a burden of expectation of his shoulders, having developed at Somerset where the Taunton surfaces are often tailored to suit himself and Jack Leach, the other spinner in England’s 21-man party. Ben Stokes, standing in as captain during the first Test, had partly based his decision at the toss on the theory the Ageas Bowl pitch would take spin in the fourth innings, but while Bess was unable to make a decisive contribution he seems in no way cowed by the experience.

In fact, had a tight review for lbw against Roston Chase gone his way – it came back as umpire’s call despite Hawk-Eye suggesting the ball would have hit the top of middle stump – West Indies would have been 31 for 4 and the eventual outcome of the game might well have been different.

ALSO READ: Denly facing final curtain as England prepare to bounce back

“Personally I was really happy with how it came out, it’s just the opportunities that went missing in that last innings,” Bess said via video conference from Manchester. “It would have been nice to have that lbw shout, it could have potentially got us on a roll to have them four down. It’s coming out really nicely and if I get picked, hopefully we’ll get a big score and I can spin a couple out.

“I know I went wicketless [in the second innings], but like I said it could have turned… And actually, the thing I’m focused on is how well it’s coming out at the moment, I do feel really dangerous and that’s a great place to be. I think as a spinner, some will go your way some days, some won’t. That’s cricket. I don’t look too much into that. I want to contribute with bat, ball and in the field, and when opportunities come I just want to make sure I take them.”

Old Trafford has traditionally been viewed as a ground on which spinners can thrive, largely due to the extra bounce. Recently that advantage has been less pronounced, with spin in first-class games averaging 37.95 over the last five years – higher than at all of England’s Test grounds bar Cardiff and The Oval – which might suggest Bess, who has never previously played in Manchester, will asked to fulfil more of a holding role.

Even so, he will not be fazed if asked to try and win the game in the fourth innings again (a cause that would be helped by England’s batsmen putting up a few more runs), comparing the scenario to that of quick bowlers being presented with seaming conditions.

“I’m used to bowling on spinning wickets,” he said. “People talk about this pressure of it being on me, the last day… I’ve spoken a lot with Leachy about it, this pressure that people put on us. I actually flip it around, it’s a great opportunity – it’s like saying to a seamer, it’s a green one today, are you worried about getting them out? Course you’re not, you’re excited because it’s probably in your favour a little bit more. And that’s how I look at it, certainly the last couple of days and hopefully when it spins, it’s my time to shine and stand up.”

As for his own form, the encouraging signs are simple: bounce and spin. “I feel like I am attacking both edges of the bat. My consistency and accuracy within where I am landing it is dangerous. That comes through training, getting that feel, that rhythm. I’m very big on my rhythm, getting into it. It’s just a feeling, I guess and that’s certainly what I think I have got at the moment.”

The Southampton Test was Bess’s first at home since his debut in 2018, having come back from a period in the wilderness to dislodge Leach, his county team-mate, as No. 1 spinner. Bess, who is out of contract with Somerset at the end of the summer, may have to move in order to secure more regular cricket but suggested that as far as he was concerned there was no rivalry with England.

“I am playing at the moment but I am not taking it for granted. I know Leachy is behind me and I know how much he is working. I’ve had to fight for my spot for a long time I guess, always being behind. Potentially it’s a little bit different at the moment, the feeling. But it’s about making sure that I focus on what I can control. I know it’s a big cliché but it is as simple as that. I’ve got to make sure I am doing what I can do, day in and day out. There is no rivalry with it. We are helping each other to be as best we can for the England side. That’s a great place to be.”

Bess’s other noteworthy role in Southampton was to contribute to the ball-shining process. “Being a very sweaty man out on the field, I took a little bit of responsibility,” he said. Sky’s cameras even picked him up collecting sweat from his back – England might need such a combination of inspiration and perspiration if they are to level the series this week.



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West Indies must consign Ageas Bowl win to ‘history’ – Phil Simmons

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Phil Simmons, West Indies’ coach, has challenged his players to consign the events of the first Test at the Ageas Bowl to “history”, as they look to guard against complacency and close out their first overseas series win against a leading Test nation in more than a quarter of a century.

Speaking after his team’s return to Emirates Old Trafford ahead of Thursday’s Test, Simmons praised the resolve of his players in Sunday’s four-wicket win in Southampton – in particular Jermaine Blackwood for his decisive 95 on the final day of the contest, and Shannon Gabriel, whose haul of nine wickets across the two innings demonstrated his return to full fitness following ankle surgery.

The result means that West Indies have now won four of last six Tests against England – dating back to their famous run-chase at Headingley in 2017, and encompassing their 2-1 series win in the Caribbean in early 2019. However, they have not won a series in England since 1988, and Simmons acknowledged that it would be their duty to start from scratch in the coming days.

“For me it was a great win because I think that it signified a lot of hard work being done by the players over the last four or five weeks,” he said. “But you don’t come to England and just win a Test match. It was a top-class Test match, with good cricket played by both teams, and even coming down to the last hour, it could have gone either way.

“To come out on top. It’s been great for us, and it was important because you don’t want to have to chase England in England. So the chasing is from their point of view now. But you guard against complacency by just trying to do the same things you did before the first Test. Right now that Test match is history. We’ve got to be thinking about what we do from Thursday to Monday.”

West Indies successfully backed up their first-Test victory in Barbados last year with an equally impressive win in Antigua, but the challenge of replicating that form in an overseas campaign is rather harder.

Leaving aside their tours of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, they have only taken the lead in the first Test of an away series on three occasions since 1995. In that year’s tour of England, they were pegged back to a 2-2 draw after a crushing win at Headingley, and were then overturned 3-1 on their next visit to England in 2000, and 2-1 in South Africa in 2007-08.

ALSO READ: ‘When he crosses the line he gives his all’ – Holder on Blackwood

However, the circumstances of the current England tour are different in a number of key respects – firstly, the absence of a home crowd, which England arguably noticed during a flat day in the field in West Indies’ first innings, but perhaps more significantly, the extended preparation period, which may have been forced on the tourists by the Covid-19 outbreak, but which Simmons said harked back to his own playing days in the 1980s and 1990s.

“I think that has been the biggest influence on the performance,” he said. “I think the fact that we’ve been here for that period of time, we’ve had quality bowling in the nets because we’ve had nearly 11 seamers here, you can’t put a price on that.

“I think that’s something that we have to look at. I don’t like to go back into my [playing] days, but we would come to England and play something like three or four proper warm-up games before the first Test, and we would also have three-day or four-day games in between the Test matches. So I think that period of training goes a long way to how we performed in that first Test.”

One of the key beneficiaries of the lead-up time was Gabriel, who had not originally been named in West Indies’ first-choice 14, but was added to the squad after proving his fitness in both the nets and the intra-squad contests at Old Trafford. His hostility in both England innings echoed his crucial contributions to the win in the Caribbean last year, and Simmons took particular pleasure in his two-wicket burst on the pivotal fourth evening of the match.

“The hardest time for bowlers, after bowling from the morning, is that last session,” Simmons said. “To see him and Alzarri [Joseph] come up trumps in that session is so pleasing to us. With him coming back from that ankle surgery and working as hard he has worked since we’ve been here, it was a joy to see him successful in that period.”

Blackwood also proved his mettle, and not for the first time against England, against whom he now averages 55.00 in seven Tests. He withstood intense pressure on the final day – both from the scoreboard, which read 27 for 3 with John Campbell retired hurt, and from England’s fielders, with Ben Stokes in his ear from the outset as they attempted to goad him into a rush of blood.

“I think he must be commended because he has worked very hard on trying to get that temperament right for each part of his innings,” Simmons said. “As we saw in the first innings, it was still there a bit, but in the second he controlled it a lot better. And that helped him to bring home the game for us.”

Blackwood himself conceded that England’s words were “nothing bad, just cricket” and Simmons accepted that it was all part and parcel of the Test match battle.

“It’s what I would have done too,” he said. “Try to get him irrational, but I think he held his own. He looked at the situation and played it as well as he could have. So that shows that his mindset is improving, and that’s all you can ask for.”



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Mashrafe Mortaza recovers from Covid-19

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Former Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza confirmed on Tuesday that he is Covid-19 negative. His wife Sumona Haque, however, continues to test positive.

Mortaza, who is also a Member of Parliament representing the ruling Awami League party, was diagnosed with the virus three weeks ago, on June 20.

“I heard the results of the test this evening, which is negative,” Mortaza wrote on his Facebook page. “I am thankful to everyone who prayed for me, was beside us and showed concern during this time. But my wife is still Covid-19 positive after two weeks of being diagnosed. She is doing well. Keep her in your prayers.

“I got treatment at home. To those who are affected, stay positive. Keep faith in Allah and abide by the rules. Together we will keep fighting the virus.”

Nafees Iqbal and Nazmul Islam, who also tested positive three weeks ago, have also recovered after undergoing treatment at home.



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