Cricket: England v South Africa

Performance of The Day: Steyn shows no mercy

The great South African bowler produced his most hostile performance of the series

Performance of The Day: Steyn shows no mercy

Not since Glenn McGrath cut England to ribbons in the 2005 Ashes, has Lord’s seen such a magnificent and hostile sight as Dale Steyn coming into bowl from the Pavilion End.

There are parallels between these two great bowlers. At their best, they have marvellously rhythmical run-ups and impart movement with their tremendous wrist-cocks. They are also both seriously aggressive and competitive individuals.

But there the parallels end. McGrath was more of a seam bowler, rarely finding movement in the air. When he took his nine wickets for 82 runs in the match in 2005, he bowled offcutters down the Lord’s slope (castling Vaughan, Bell and Flintoff in the first innings), or held the ball up against the slope.

Steyn is much faster than McGrath and relies far more on his skiddy, well-directed bouncers to unsettle batsmen. His most dangerous delivery in a well-stocked armoury is his outswinger, but he has also used the offcutter to great effect down the slope in this game.

With every match in the series, Steyn has improved. At the Oval, he was short of pace on a placid pitch. But at Leeds, in the second innings, he began to look truly dangerous, justifying his reputation as the world’s premier fast bowler. He continued that form on Saturday at Lord’s with a merciless display of aggressive fast bowling.

The fireworks from Steyn and Morkel were a little slow to arrive. With the new ball due eight overs after the start of play, South Africa’s bowlers concentrated on keeping it tight and England managed just 13 runs in that period.

The arrival of the new ball changed everything. Philander picked up Prior with the first ball, finding outswing and tempting a rash drive. Then Steyn began to steam in, ramping up his pace to close to 90mph.

None of the England tailenders was spared the short ball. The unwritten rule of the fast bowlers’ trade union stated that they would bowl no bouncers at each other. But in the era of helmets the rule no longer applies. It’s every man for himself.

Broad was out defending one of Steyn’s vicious short-pitched balls to short-leg. Then Anderson saw the ball whistle past his nose at an alarming speed. Steyn struck him on the wrist and there was a short delay as he received treatment. But Steyn did not let up and eventually forced an error with another short ball which Anderson popped in the air off the shoulder of the bat.

Finn was next for the same treatment. Steyn struck him on the back of the helmet, although this served only to enrage Finn. He played a fabulous hook shot for four, which would not have disgraced Sir Vivian Richards.

In a rich irony, Jonny Bairstow was the one England player spared a barrage of short balls. Having earned the South Africans’ respect on Friday, they didn’t think it was worth testing him with bouncers. So much for his suspected weakness against the short ball.

Bairstow, in fact, did not look in any trouble until he reached the “nervous nineties” at which point South Africa began to play on his patience.

Morne Morkel – also at his magnificent best – bowled ball after ball wide of Bairstow’s off stump to tempt an indiscretion. Twice he flirted at the ball with extravagant cuts. Merkel followed up with a bouncer, then a full ball on leg stump which beat Bairstow’s expansive drive. It was cricket of magnificent intensity, with marvellous fast bowlers facing gritty and determined batsmen.