COMMENT: Did Dale Steyn cross a line with his Kwena Maphaka comments?

Mumbai Indians' Kwena Maphaka prepares to bowl during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Mumbai Indians at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad

What responsibility lies on the shoulders of the custodians of cricket to build up the next generation of stars like Kwena Maphaka (pictured), asks IOL Sport’s Michael Sherman. Picture: Noah Seelam/AFP

Published Apr 7, 2024


What responsibility lies on the shoulders of the custodians of cricket to build up the next generation of stars like the promising fast bowler Kwena Maphaka?

This is a question that arises when former players like Dale Steyn cause a stir on social media with comments that may not be particularly helpful.

Last week, the 17-year-old left-arm swing bowler Maphaka made his debut in the Indian Premier League. It did not go well. The lanky speedster was carted around the park before returning figures of 0/66 in four overs.

A much more established fast bowler, and star of the last One-Day International Cricket World Cup for the Proteas, Gerald Coetzee did not fare much better for Mumbai Indians (MI) as his figures read 1/57.

In fact, it was a record day as the pitch turned out to be a batting paradise as the Sunrisers Hyderabad went on to post the highest total in IPL history with a staggering 277/3. In response Mumbai Indians made an incredible 246/5 in their 20 overs.

Baptism of fire

It meant 523 runs were scored in 40 overs, for an average run-rate of 13 throughout the match.

Proteas legend Steyn, though, posted on X, formerly Twitter, after the match: “Maphaka realizing the difference between U19 and PRO league. Baptism of fire.”

Before analysing Steyn’s comments, it’s important to bear in mind that Maphaka was the star of the Under-19 Cricket World Cup for South Africa earlier this year. In fact, it was his second appearance at the event (after debuting at the age of 15 in 2022), and he was awarded the player of the tournament with 21 wickets from seven matches for an average of 9.71.

Dale Steyn. Picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Newspapers

Cricinfo described Maphaka’s performance at the tournament as follows: “South Africa might well go on to remember this World Cup for being the one in which they discovered Maphaka, just as they do with the 2014 edition where they unearthed Kagiso Rabada.”

This was high praise indeed from the premier cricketing website in the sport.

But back to Steyn. His comments were clearly not helpful for the young bowler, but were they harmful? That’s not as clear-cut.

While many took exception to his comments, it’s nothing like the taunting a young player would face during a game from some of the more established players.

Playing with the big boys

It was akin to a seasoned pro in a team saying to the young buck in the team “it’s not so easy playing with the big boys, is it young man?”

It’s not a nice thing to say, but that’s the nature of sport. It’s a competition of clashing characters, and there’s always an element of one-upping your opponent and sometimes even teammates.

Some call it bravado, others call it damaging to a person’s mental health. Both may be true at the same time. But the situation won’t change any time soon, and that’s a certainty.

South Africa’s Kwena Maphaka celebrates picking up a wicket with Tristan Luus during their Under 19 Cricket World Cup clash against India in Benoni on Tuesday. Picture: ICC/on X

It actually reminds me of an interview of a 20-year-old Tiger Woods in 1996. In his first event as a professional he said his aim was to win the tournament, to interviewer Curtis Strange.

At the time, Strange was 41 and a successful career on the PGA Tour was mostly behind him.

Strange said: “For me that comes off as a little cocky or brash, talking to some of the other guys that have been out here for years. What does that say to them when you say ‘I can win in my first pro tournament’?

Woods responded with the famous line: “Why go to a tournament if you’re not going there to try and win? There’s really no point in going then. Second sucks and third is even worse.

Strange interjected: “But on tour that’s not too bad” before he smirked and quipped: “You’ll learn.”

Those words, and his dismissive attitude, would come back to haunt Strange as Woods became a phenomenon which transformed the sport and in turn inspired a new generation of sporting superstars.

With Steyn, his comments probably would not do anything to dent the rising star of Maphaka in a fiercely competitive sport like cricket.

Next time though, Steyn would be better off sending his thoughts to Maphaka privately, as posting them on a public platform will certainly draw more negative publicity towards himself.


IOL Sport