Dale Steyn vs Mitchell Johnson: A much-awaited contest

By Suyash Srivastava | Updated: Feb 12, 2014, 15:56 PM IST

His senior team-mates had once again crumbled against another Mitchell Johnson’s fearsome spell. Debutante Gary Ballance was stuck in the middle like a fish surrounded by sharks. While he would have wanted to impress the selectors, at the same time, he would have known the inevitable – departure to the English dressing room. Mitchell Johnson came running towards the youngster and fired a bouncer that hit him in the middle of the helmet and the ball popped near George Bailey at short silly point, after making a heartbreaking sound. While Ballance clearly lost his balance, Bailey immediately looked at the ball with a grin on his face. He wasn’t bothered if the ball had lost its shine, his immediate reaction reflected something else – he was probably looking if the ball had some blood. That one nasty delivery summed up Johnson’s frightening spell throughout the series.

The pace of Johnson’s delivery can be ascertained from the fact that on most of the occasions, the English batsmen couldn’t duck under the ball. Johnson either bowled too full, but even when he was short, the batsmen had no clue of the length as the ball smacked their helmet within the blink of an eye. The delivery that hit Ballance was a similar one. The left-hander lost his vision, the moment he realized it was a short delivery and even before he could make up his mind whether to duck the delivery or defend it with the bat, the ball zoomed past his bat over 150 kmph and hit the middle of his helmet.

England speedster James Anderson bowled several brilliant spells as the Michael Clarke-led Australian team had a forgettable time when they toured England in 2013. Cricket experts then triggered a debate - whether Anderson was a better bowler than Dale Steyn. But times have changed, so has the debate. After Johnson’s astonishing show in the return Ashes, experts now want to know who is the best fast bowler at the moment – Johnson or Steyn?

Dale Steyn might not have a moustache like Mitchell Johnson, but the South African speedster has everything in his repertoire, to give a neck-to-neck fight to the Australian, as far as the speedometer is concerned. While Anderson and Johnson bowl well in patches, Steyn is someone who bowls with the same pace all across the world, which is why he has always dominated the ICC bowlers’ rankings.

At times, Dale Steyn looks like an ordinary bowler but that’s only when he isn’t targeting the stumps. He becomes extremely lethal when the batsman is forced to play every delivery.

In the first Test against India, Steyn witnessed his worst figures ever in a Test match (1/165). The reason being, he bowled too short, something which worked for the Indian batsmen. But the 30-year-old bounced back in the second Test with all guns blazing, where he scalped nine wickets from two innings – a match-winning performance in Jacques Kallis’ final Test.

The only difference between Steyn and Johnson is the length of their deliveries. If Johnson’s wrist position is wrong, even the best of the wicketkeepers can’t prevent four wides. The reason why Johnson succeeded in the Ashes was because his wrist position was perfect on most occasions. Every now and then he would send one down the leg side for a boundary, but immediately make for it with a snorter.

Alastair Cook and his boys looked clueless against Australia in the recently concluded series, as the Poms had no answer to Johnson. But the Proteas not only have a quality batting order, but also bowlers who can trouble the best of the batsmen. No pacer likes his team-mates being hit on the helmet off a delivery which has come from a rival bowler. If Mitchell Johnson will bowl fast and short to intimidate the South Africans, Steyn and Morne Morkel too will aim for the head.

Australian pacers’ intimidating spells against the English batsmen has made the Australia-South Africa series – a mouth-watering contest. Experts say while touring abroad, one has to be a good back foot player. With genuine pacers in both the teams, there would hardly be shots played from the front foot. This would be a different series.

While the bowlers would be practicing hard in the nets to bowl as fast as they can, the batsmen wouldn’t be spending too much time in the nets on their batting skills, rather they would be personally picking the best set of helmets they have for the Australian tour. The batsmen would also want their physios to remain just behind the boundary ropes – with a first aid kid and some new helmets.