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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Adelaide Oval a prime-time venue in BBL No. 10
All seven of Adelaide Oval’s Big Bash League fixtures will play out in prime-time evening slots in one of the standout features of a fixture that has lengthened the 10th edition of the tournament to 65 days to appease broadcasters while also creating more room to move amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the chief complaints about last summer’s BBL was a proliferation of afternoon matches to squeeze the tournament’s 56 regular season games into a tighter window, with the Adelaide Strikers suffering one of the biggest drop offs in terms of attendances due to getting far more early starts compared to Melbourne and Sydney in particular.
However the schedule for the 2020-21 tournament, subject to changes forced by covid-19, has created room for the vast majority of matches to be played at night, with only eight earlier starts on double header days this time around – of those, only two matches start any earlier than 5pm eastern daylight time. As part of the carve up between broadcast rights holders Fox Sports and Seven, the pay TV network will get exclusive access to 10 evening matches.
“While we know that the challenging, fast-changing coronavirus pandemic could ultimately mean revisions to the schedule, there is nonetheless a lot to like about the way both competitions are shaping up,” the head of the BBL Alistair Dobson said. “It is our sincere hope that the WBBL06 and BBL10 will go some way towards lifting the spirits of, and restoring a sense of normality to, the nation.
“As with all sporting competitions around the world, we must remain vigilant and agile in responding to the COVID-19 situation as it develops and we will continue to work with all relevant federal and state government agencies, biosecurity experts, venues, clubs, players, broadcast partners and our own internal teams to ensure a safe and successful summer. We’ll continue to act in accordance with public health advice and government protocols to ensure the safety of the public, players and support staff.”
Among other changes, the regional component of last season’s fixture has been stripped back considerably after complaints from broadcasters about costs, while the problematic nature of the pre-Christmas period has been underlined by the use of the boutique-sized Junction Oval for a match between the Melbourne Stars and Adelaide Strikers on December 20.
The regular season will begin with Adelaide hosting the Melbourne Renegades at Adelaide Oval on December 3, the evening after the opening day of the scheduled first Test between Australia and India at the Gabba, and conclude with the Brisbane Heat hosting the Strikers at the Gabba on January 26, before the five-match finals series concluding on February 6.
WBBL to feature three-week Sydney hub amid Covid-19 contingencies
The WBBL will feature a three-week hub in Sydney and won’t be played in Melbourne until late November as the tournament builds in contingencies to deal with the ongoing challenges posed by Covid-19.
The tournament is scheduled to begin on the weekend of October 17 and 18 at Allan Border Field in Brisbane and in Perth before a weekend of matches in Adelaide and Tasmania ahead of the lengthy stint in Sydney which begins on October 28 and lasts through to November 15. The venues in Sydney will be Blacktown International Sports Park, Hurstville Oval and North Sydney Oval.
Melbourne is then set to host the last period of group matches from November 19-22 ahead of the finals which will be played November 27-29. Melbourne is going through its second Covid-19 lockdown following a spike in cases, with the restrictions currently set to last until at least August 19, while there has also been an increase in cases in New South Wales.
“The League is pleased to have delivered a fixture that includes matches in each club’s home market while also reducing the overall travel burden on clubs,” Alistair Dobson, the head of Big Bash Leagues, said. “By focusing parts of the competition in a central location (Sydney), it also provides optionality should the COVID-19 situation affect the flow of the season and we remain vigilant in all aspects of our planning to provide a safe environment for players and staff.
“As with all sporting competitions around the world, we must remain vigilant and agile in responding to the Covid-19 situation as it develops and we will continue to work with all relevant federal and state government agencies, biosecurity experts, venues, clubs, players, broadcast partners and our own internal teams to ensure a safe and successful summer.”
There will be an increase in televised matches from the tournament, 26 in total, three more than last season with the remaining 33 games available via streaming.
“Our clubs should be commended for their determination and commitment to delivering a full 59-game season for the rebel WBBL06,” Dobson said, “along with the commitment shown to the WBBL from our broadcast partners Seven and Foxtel to bring more of the WBBL action live to TV screens across the country than any of the previous five seasons of the competition.”
The Brisbane Heat will be aiming to make it a hat-trick of titles in the 2020-21 season.
Shan Masood ready to turn the tables in England
Despite England’s loss to West Indies in Southampton, Pakistan opener Shan Masood remains wary of England’s fast-bowling depth ahead of his side’s three-Test series next month. He thinks James Anderson, in particular, will continue to be a big threat.
“Jimmy Anderson is a world-class bowler,” Masood said during a video conference. “By achievements, he’s perhaps the No. 1 fast bowler in the world right now. He carries a threat, of course, and several other England bowlers carry a threat. England’s resource depth is very good. They had few very good bowlers sitting on the bench [during the opening Test], particularly pacers.”
Masood has good reason to be respectful of Anderson. The Pakistan opener has struggled against no other bowler quite as much; in the three Tests that Anderson and Masood have both played, the 37-year-old Englishman has dismissed him in all six innings. His last England tour was particularly unhappy, with Masood managing just 71 runs in four innings; Anderson nicked him off in all four innings.
But that was long ago. Back then, Masood was something of a journeyman in international cricket, drifting into the side from time to time without ever being able to quite nail down a place. Now, he’s among the first names on the team sheet, and as far as personal career fortunes go, few will have enjoyed as dramatic a turnaround as the 30-year old in the past 18 months.
Destined, seemingly, to be a back-up opener on the tour of South Africa in 2018-19, Masood was called up for the Boxing Day Test after a late injury to Haris Sohail. Until then, he had played in just 12 of the 45 Tests Pakistan took part in since his debut, and those 12 came across five different stints. He averaged just 23.54 in that time.
That was the Masood that Anderson had tormented over the years. The Masood of today who walks – no, struts – out to open for Pakistan has averaged a smidge under 45 since that Boxing Day Test, and hasn’t missed any of the eight Test Pakistan have played in that period. Masood has put the past very much where it belongs, and it was a point he didn’t shy away from making.
“You learn from the past and the mistakes you made then, but you also learn not to become fixated on the past,” he said. “You should also know when to move on. Things have changed from 2016. The mistakes we’ve made before we have to learn from, but we have to react to the needs of today. Nothing is constant, and I want to live in the present.
“We have had a fantastic opportunity to prepare. We spent 14 days in Worcester and are going to spend another three weeks in Derby. There’s no need to put myself under extra pressure to say I need to prove this thing or the other. Practice is going well and I understand my game. The outcome isn’t controllable, but I can put in my best effort and keep my attitude positive.
“But while coming here early has allowed us to acclimatise, there is no substitute for match time. In that sense, England have an advantage. But the basics don’t change; we have to figure out how to get 20 wickets, and how to score 300-400 runs in an innings. So our primary focus has to be on our preparations. We have a few advantages too, in that we can analyse their performances and work on their weaknesses. These things balance each other out.”
He lavished praise on interim batting coach Younis Khan, who has joined the side in England, calling him the greatest Test batsman in Pakistan history, and said everyone, including the bowlers, were eager to learn off him.
It shouldn’t, perhaps, be surprising that Younis’ arrival brings back fond personal memories for Masood. Despite a frustrating first few years with the national side where he couldn’t quite nail his place down, one of his cricketing highlights took place while Younis was at the other end. It was 2015, and a series-deciding Test against Sri Lanka, with Pakistan requiring an improbable 377 for victory against the hosts. But having lost two wickets early, Masood would stick around with the current batting coach, striking up a 242-run partnership en route to scoring 125 as Pakistan stormed to a stunning win with seven wickets to spare.
“Younis’s stature is inarguable and his arrival makes a huge difference,” Masood said. “He’s Pakistan’s greatest Test batsman and all batsmen in the side are eager to interact with him and draw on his experiences. The way the guys were playing in Worcester, be it in the nets or the scenario matches, he worked with everyone.
“He even works hard with our bowlers on their batting because in Test cricket, the runs they provide from the lower order are crucial too. Fifty or 60 runs added there could turn the tide of a Test match. We’re having two sessions a day, morning and evening. There’s been a hugely positive impact and we’re looking forward to learning more from him.”
He did caution against slipping into thinking England weren’t quite as strong as was believed before the first Test against West Indies. “We shouldn’t undermine England,” he warned. “This was the same top four that went to South Africa and won a series there. They’re playing at home and they’ll have experience of playing there regardless of whether or not they’ve played international cricket.
“But we have our own strengths, too. If you’re talking about our spinners, we have a world-class spinner in Yasir Shah. Alongside him, we have an allrounder and an able backup in Shadab Khan. So we have more than enough resources if the situation comes down to needing a spinner to lead.”
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