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Steyn impressed with Sri Lanka’s young quicks

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By Champika Fernando in Dubai   

When Dale Steyn made his first overseas tour with the South African national team in 2006, they were at the receiving end of a monstrous batting performance from Sri Lanka, as skipper Mahela Jayawardena (374) and Kumar Sangakkara (287) shared a world record stand of 624 to win the opening Test by an innings and 153 runs.   
The 23-year-old Steyn, who retired as South Africa’s most feared bowler, given his pace and the ability to swing the ball both ways, then removed openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga cheaply before the run feast continued with the bowlers having a torrid time.   

Out of the five Sri Lankan wickets that fell, Steyn accounted for three including that of TM Dilshan. Steyn almost had Sangakkara twice in his fourth over of the match. Sangakkara was dropped by Jacques Rudolph when the batter was on seven and then had his stump rattled with a no-ball two balls later.   

“Thanks for reminding (me),” he laughed, reminiscing about the historic match at the SSC grounds, in an exclusive chat with some Sri Lankan journalists covering the World Cup being played in the UAE and Oman.   

“From a cricketing perspective, it is very difficult to play cricket (in Sri Lanka),” he said. “It was amazing. The first Test, I got Sanga out off a no-ball and I had him dropped at point two balls earlier. Sanga went onto make almost 300. Mahela batted for two days and almost made 400. Great learning curve. It’s not the one you want. You always want to win games and take five-wicket hauls and have the best condition. But there is no learning in that. You need to have really bad stuff like that to learn.”   

Steyn says, however, that while he did not enjoy the thrashing at the time, looking back, it was one of the best things that happened to his cricket at the start of his career.   

“It’s a great story to tell and great experience and lot of learnings,” he reflected. “As a young fast bowler I wanted to run and bowl as fast as I could. My mindset was similar to what Sri Lankan bowlers have right now. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”   

The former South African quick is part of the international commentary panel during the ongoing T20 World Cup and says he is impressed by the aggression of the Lankan seamers, something that he has not seen before from them.   

“Sri Lanka is not a country known to have that aggression,” he said. “Whenever I played against Sri Lanka, there were some good fast bowlers, don’t get me wrong. Malinga was amazing but he wasn’t like the most aggressive man in the world. It’s nice to see a bit of Mongrel (a dog grown up street but has good fighting qualities) inside those bowlers.”   

Steyn retired from cricket last year, with 699 international wickets, including 439 in Test cricket, at an average of 22.95 and a strike rate of 42.30. One of the fastest bowlers in world cricket, having frequently crossed the 150kmph mark, Steyn reiterated that he is impressed with the pace the Sri Lankans generate but believes they need to get their length right to be effective, especially in the T20 format.   

The seam pair of  Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara have shown tremendous improvement during the World Cup but have struggled to get their lengths right since of late, giving away far too many runs in the second half of the innings.   

“They are bowling 145kmph which is quick and good,” he analysed. “Where they went wrong was their lengths were off. Against Australia they were too full. Then, in the backend they dragged their lengths back. Against South Africa, it switched the other way. At the start they were pretty good, not so much at the end. That’s experience for you. You have got to play at the highest level. Yes, they are playing at the highest level but they need to do so more frequently. Lanka Premier League, that kind of stuff, and more T-20s will help you to get into those situations more as you get accustomed to it.”   

 “I like the way Kumara went about it,” Steyn said. “Chameera is more round arm and he can swing it. Kumara is kind of hit-the-deck and he will be a good bowler in South Africa where you get something off the deck and you can hit the deck hard at six to seven-metre length and find the edge when batters don’t know whether to go back or full. I felt bad for him. Just running into a guy like David Miller is not easy.”   

Kumara was smashed for two sixes and a boundary as South Africa edged past Sri Lanka by four wickets in the final over, bringing him and rest of the players into their knees.   

“I actually thought Sri Lanka had the game in the bag,” Steyn, once ranked top bowler in Tests and ODIs, confessed. “I actually thought South Africa got things wrong. I was going to do the post-match presentation and I was actually preparing  

 for a South African loss. But I was kind of hoping David Miller to kind of hit three fours or two sixes. He needed to hit four, four, four or six, four, four something like that. But he went six, six and that was the end of the game.”   
In Steyn’s opinion, Sri Lanka has enough talent as they come out with “superb players like Sangakkara, Lasith Malinga and Mahela” who, he says, should win more tournaments for Sri Lanka in the future.   
 “It’s very early stages,” said Steyn, who played for Kandy Tuskers in the inaugural Lanka Premier League. “Very impressed with the batters I saw at LPL. The local talent was amazing.” 

“Kusal Janith Perera, after the knock he played in Durban, he caught my eye immediately,” he added. “He was my captain in the Kandy team. Asalanka looks so good. He is unbelievable. Lot of talent and I don’t mind spending some time in Sri Lanka. You keep coming with superb players like your Sangas, Malinga, Mahelas. These guys should be able to win you more tournaments.”   

Steyn also heaped praise on Kumar Sangakkara with whom he has shared many a dressing room from country cricket to franchise cricket, in addition to playing against him.   

“I just loved him,” he said. “What’s there not to like about Sanga? He’s the nicest guy in the world. He’s the best man in the world. Then, when it comes to his cricket, he is just phenomenal. Even when he was whacking hundreds against us, it was great to watch. So beautiful. There was fierce competition, no doubt, against each other but we have never been ugly to each other. That’s because Sanga is the nicest guy in the world and I love him. I don’t want to treat him any other way. Playing against him, I want to get him out but we are also friends. That’s the best thing about cricket. You are meeting all these people all around the world.”   
He also said Sangakkara never sledged at him.   

“He is smart with his cricket brain,” he concluded. “He will say little things. Maybe he would irritate me than sledge me. I’m like, if I think about it, that’s very clever. You have got a point, you know, and I just step back.”   

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