Dale Steyn on relationships, his beard, how growing up in the bush shaped him, and what attracted him to fast bowling
Dale Steyn: “I come across as quite aggressive and quite in people’s faces and everything like that, but I know where to draw the line”
You have this obsessive love for fast bowling. Is it just adrenaline, or something deeper, more spiritual?
Everybody has adrenaline. I don’t know what it is about fast bowling. I guess it’s the ability to do something that nobody else can really do. Not a lot of people can run in and bowl really fast, you know. So that’s a nice thing, knowing that you are part of a small percentage of people in the world who are able to do that, and that’s a great feeling.
And when you are able to do it, that’s something you can’t discuss with many people, because of the small percentage of people that can do it, if you understand what I am saying. So that’s difficult to express how you really feel. It’s better when you start talking to other bowlers because they start to mention things and you are like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.” It is like a small fraternity, I guess. Probably the same thing like Olympic sprinters or anybody that’s really good at certain things they do. But in this case it’s a really small breed. Anybody who bowls over 145 and can do that consistently.
How much has growing up in the South African bush shaped the way you are?
That has everything to do with who I am, and who I am is part of the way I play my cricket. I come across as quite aggressive and quite in people’s faces and everything like that, but I know where to draw the line. And that was purely from the background where I grew up in, a very humble background. My family all live in the bush, still stay there in Phalaborwa. It’s a small town, but is very much in the bush.
Doesn’t your family partake of the lifestyle you have now?
No, my dad has never been to India. I think he has only been overseas once before. I think it’s different to India. I don’t know, maybe it’s different to the world, but they have never really been approached by anybody, so it’s not even like a conscious effort.
You have spoken of your maternal grandfather being a great influence on you, and that he gives you the best advice. What’s it that you talk about?
He just keeps me grounded. We get along very well. We got along really well when I was a kid because we enjoyed the same things. We enjoyed the bush, fishing, our hunting trips. Nowadays I’m more appreciative of nature rather than being a game-hunter. I don’t particularly like it anymore. So we shared a lot of common interests. And sport was one thing that he was really good at when he was younger, and loves massively. Everybody in my family loves sport. We kind of clicked on that level.
And he was always great at giving advice. He gave my dad and my mom advice, and because of that, I felt it was necessary to get his advice. And then [you are] getting to a point when you are an adult and discuss things rather than just take advice. Then you are able to have a nice discussion and a good chat about certain things and throw ideas around life and decisions and all that kind of stuff. So it’s nice to hear his perspective.
Despite wanting to stay grounded, there must have been times when the fame and riches must have gone to your head? How did you manage to snap out of it?
No, it never gets to the head, man. Because I have never seen myself as anybody like that. Never ever seen myself as anybody that’s famous, and I’m only human, man. I’m no different to you, no different to the person that’s feeding peanuts to somebody with a spoon [points across the lobby]. This is just what I do. I mean it’s really fortunate that I’m really good at it, but it doesn’t make me any better of a human being over anybody else.
You have been in a long-standing relationship…
No, I haven’t. I was in a long-standing relationship. Not everything is true on Google (smiles).
With the kind of career you have, how challenging is it to nurture relationships?
I think it’s really difficult for women to be involved with sportsmen that travel, or men to be involved with men or women, whoever it may be. I am not worried about that sexist thing.
It’s really tough. You’re spending a big chunk of your life away from home, never quite sure whether you’re coming or going.
I’m also somebody that’s quite free-spirited. I never really know what the schedule is. Somebody says to me, “What are you doing in June?” I am like, “I don’t know. I’ll have to look.” Or, “Let’s book a holiday in October.” But it’s only January. “Dude, I can’t. I don’t know where I am going to be in October. I might be at the Champions League, I might not.”
Well, this is the problem, you see. It makes it very difficult for somebody that’s with you because it’s difficult for them to plan their lives. I think it’s important that if you are in a relationship with someone that you are both not on the same road. Your roads run next to each other and they are going in the same direction, but they might look like little things in the way, obstacles that [make you] kind of break away from each other.
But at the end of the day, as long as you guys get back on a similar kind of track, you are running parallel to each other. That’s the main thing in a relationship. So she is able to do her thing at any time and come back. I am able to do my thing and get back on track again. I think it’s really important to be able to do that. It’s very difficult though if you’re both together on the same track, because somebody is going to sacrifice their life for somebody else. I have been fortunate enough to have had relationships where we were able to do that.
How do you cope with loneliness on tour?
Fortunately now, I have gotten to a point where I have visited India so many times. I have been around the world. I have been to every country that cricket has to offer. So now I’m getting tired of going home and telling people about it, like, “Oh, you should have seen me when I was in the Caribbean. How cool it was!”, or, “When I was in India…” like that.
What I have decided now is that when I am going to these tours I’ll bring people over. So I have had family come to India before. My ex-girlfriend used to travel a lot with me. At the moment I have got my partner who’s with me. And one of my best friends is here too, so the two of them keep themselves occupied when I’m busy at training or on the cricket field. I am late for this [interview] because we were all just surfing. It’s better for me now to have these people come and experience what I get to experience all the time rather than me going back, sitting around at the dinner table and telling them. And they just kind of wave it off because they might never do it. So that’s how I get to relax as well.
Tell us about your interest in photography and the course you took last year.
I took a main course last year, finished that and looking to up that again. I didn’t bring my camera this time to India, because I knew I had people coming over, so they were going to consume most of my time. Some guys often bring a PlayStation or a guitar or something. I try [to play the guitar], but I am not as good as I would hope to be. It’s just something that keeps you busy. It’s really cool if you are going to live by yourself.
You have championed causes like water conservation. How active are you when it comes to such causes?
It’s extremely difficult to be active in this stuff if you are not at home. It’s hard enough to try and see my family. So I do what I can, when I can. Fortunately we have got this beautiful thing called Twitter, and it can create massive awareness because I have got a decent following – over a million followers – and Instagram, too. I have got quite some followers, so I have got a group of people I can get the word out to. And that’s my way of contributing. So if I can’t go to a function somewhere or if I can’t go and do a talk somewhere, I can still get the word out to people who themselves couldn’t get there.
What are the best cricketing conversations you have had?
There’s been many, man. The best ones are after wins and after losses. Around fires, drunk, or in the jacuzzi, drunk, at three in the morning. I don’t know, man. It can happen anywhere. You can be sitting down at lunch time, and it breaks out into good cricket conversation. It’s not like they are things that I remember, like a hole-in-one on a golf course or something. More like getting a par on a golf course. They happen all the time. There is nothing that really stands out for me.
What’s the most misunderstood part about a fast bowler?
I think the most misunderstood part is that economy rates are not what they used to be anymore. So I think we need to shy away from comparing current players bowling on small grounds with big bats with field restrictions to bowlers that bowled in the past, those who could bowl ten overs and go for 20. And that was like the standard.
Sometimes now guys are used for specific roles. They bowl in the beginning, they bowl in the Powerplay and they bowl in the death overs. There is never really a chance for them to bowl in a period where they can attack and take wickets. They always are bowling almost to defend runs, which is not fair on the figures side of things.
What is the most overrated thing about you?
My beard. It’s very overrated.
Are you conscious of your vein-bulging celebrations?
I have heard about it. I have never seen it. I am sure people say it looks worse in real life, so when you watch it on TV it’s not that bad. In real life, it’s probably way worse.
Would you ever write a tell-all autobiography? What would it be called?
Would I? Well, I wouldn’t tell you if I was going to do that now, would I? (smiles)
When was the last time you felt manipulated?
Every day. It happens every day.
What’s the best and worst sledge you have dished out?
There are so many. The worst one I have ever done is the best one that has ever happened to me. I swore at a guy when I was in high school, and I was playing in a cricket team that had a lot of senior guys in it. Some of the guys were even 20 years older than me, and when I got him out I swore at him, said something really ugly. I was young, I was 16 or 17, and my team-mates walked up to me and then walked away from me. I felt really small. I felt embarrassed and shy. I think it was the best lesson to learn. You had to make that mistake to realise that it’s not the way to do something, so that’s the worst one I have ever done. And the best thing, because I learnt I didn’t have to do that to get into a player’s face. That was a good lesson learnt.
Why do you describe yourself as an ocean?
I think the ocean is amazing. It can be flat and still and very quiet and calm, and then in the worst seas it can be scary, and it’s got that ability to change very quickly. It’s also got the ability to offer you a lot of things in life. You can fish and eat. It’s got that ability to take that away from you very quickly.
I feel like that’s what I have. When I am off the field, I am the calm, very quiet kind of easy-sailing ocean, and then when I am on a hot streak with a cricket ball, I can be the most disastrous waters you have ever been in.