'It doesn't need to be pretty' - Steyn
Dale Steyn has admitted to a win-at-all-costs attitude on the tour of England, knowing that victory will end years of being second-best and give South Africa the No. 1 Test ranking.
South Africa have been top of the ICC Test rankings only briefly in the past, for four months back in 2008, but have hovered close by since then. With an unbeaten record away from home since 2006, Steyn believes it is time for the team to stamp their authority.
"We don't care how the series goes, as long as we win," Steyn said in Canterbury, where South Africa are facing Kent in their final warm-up before the first Test at The Oval. "It doesn't need to be pretty, it doesn't need to be beautiful with guys scoring hundreds and guys taking five-fors. We just want to get the job done."
The contest between the two bowling attacks has been the most anticipated match-up of the series and while he would not draw a comparison, Steyn called South Africa's current pack "fantastic."
Graeme Smith, the Test captain, has also hailed the unit as one of the best he has worked with and attributed consistency in selection to their fine performances of late. "We've got experience and the guys know how to bowl in different conditions," Steyn said. "It's also been the same group of guys for quite a while and there's a lot of trust between us."
Although Steyn is often referred to as the kingpin of the attack, he denied that there is any hierarchy among the bowlers in contrast to England where Jimmy Anderson is widely perceived to be the guiding force in the group. He expresses the belief that the likes of Morne Morkel, Lopsy Tsotsobe, Vernon Philander and the leg spinner Imran Tahir share equal responsibility.
"There's nobody that leads the attack. If you are looking for a leader, you're always looking for the guys that have been around the longest but when it comes to bowling, any of us are capable of doing the job," Steyn said. "It's not like we are looking at a leader to stand up and take five wickets for us on the day. Whether its Morne or Lopsy or Imran, all of them are capable of bowling teams out by themselves."
Despite that confidence in his team mates, Steyn remains the go-to man when Smith needs wickets because of his superior speed.
"There are times when my team needs me to bowl really fast and make something happen. You need those types of players who can break an end open for you," Steyn said. "That's something that I've got in my arsenal that Graeme treasures. When we need a wicket, he tends to throw the ball to me because I can make it happen with pace."
It showed in the tour match against Kent, when Smith brought Steyn on to break an opening stand which had grown to 81. Steyn had an appeal in his first over and got a wicket in his second. But Steyn knows that with that expectation there is responsibility as well. "I also need to be bowling in the right areas. You can't bowl at 150 and be bowling it all over the show, that's not going to help." Even though wicket-taking is always on his mind, Steyn said he has no preference for which scalps he picks up and has not identified any of the England batsman specifically as a prized scalp.
"I've seen South Africa on previous tours where I haven't played for them in Australia and Glenn McGrath and Mike Hussey put on 150-run partnership and the value of that tenth wicket means a lot more than the ninth one," he said. "It just shows you that you can't put too much emphasis on one particular person, you have to worry about everything."
He also does not mind if the spoils are shared as long as the team benefits. "Even if I only take one wicket in the whole series, as long as we win, I will still be on the balcony with a big smile on my face and I will be stoked," he said.
This South African squad sound a focused bunch with common purpose. But, Steyn said, they also have a bigger picture in mind. Mark Boucher's serious eye injury which forced him to retire on Tuesday still hangs heavily on everyone.
"Everyone is going on and on about being the No. 1 Test side in the world but when one of my friends possibly loses an eye and his whole life is about to change that means so much more to me than any cricket game that I will ever play," he said. "Having said that, I am here to play cricket so I have to focus on that. Reality struck down hard when that happened and it just put things into perspective."
The team have not specifically adopted a "do it for Mark" strategy, according to Steyn, but will try to pay tribute to the veteran wicket-keeper in the best way they can. "We wanted to win this series before the incident. However, it does add a little extra inspiration or motivation because Mark would have wanted to stand on that podium."