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Dale Steyn vs James Anderson: You’ve got it wrong, Alastair Cook

Dale Styen and James Anderson © Getty Images
Dale Steyn has a 32% better average than James Anderson, and a 40% better strike rate © Getty Images

Alastair Cook has come up with a rather curious comment, putting James Anderson and Dale Steyn in “the same class.” Abhishek Mukherjee explains why the comparison was a ludicrous one.

Though he is out-of-form off late, Alastair Cook is a fine batsman; a lot of critics had once vouched for him as the man who would go past Sachin Tendulkar’s records for most runs and hundreds. He was a struggling captain until recently, but he has found his groove back with back-to-back victories against India at Southampton and Old Trafford. Despite the criticism during the Ashes whitewash and the home series defeat against Sri Lanka, Cook is generally loved by all and sundry (including this columnist).

However, the same Alastair Cook has come out with a recent statement, comparing Dale Steyn and James Anderson: “You would put both of them in the same class.” While encouraging your spearhead is something expected of a captain, it is not a good idea to go overboard.

Let us compare the two men, who have been in the battle for the next man to the 400-wicket mark for some time now.

  M I W Ave SR 5WIs 10WMs W/I W/M
James Anderson

99

184

378

29.83

58.3

16

2

2.05

3.82

Dale Steyn

75

142

383

22.56

41.7

24

5

2.70

5.11

Ratio      

1.32

1.40

   

1.31

1.34

Let us have a look at the ratios: Steyn has a 32% better average than Anderson, and a 40% better strike rate. His wicket-per-match and wicket-per-innings are also over 30% when compared to Anderson’s. The comparison is really not a serious one. But, wait for a moment — did Cook want to say “in recent times” and had missed out on the phrase?

Year

Steyn

Anderson

Ave Ratio

SR Ratio

M W Ave SR M W Ave SR

2010

11

60

21.41

39.0

12

57

22.96

48.7

1.07

1.25

2011

5

28

19.57

38.2

7

35

24.85

50.8

1.27

1.33

2012

10

39

29.71

58.5

14

48

29.50

70.7

0.99

1.21

2013

9

51

17.67

42.0

14

52

31.82

61.3

1.80

1.46

2014

6

33

19.03

37.9

8

38

22.89

50.8

1.20

1.34

Since 2010

41

211

21.42

43.1

55

230

26.60

56.8

1.24

1.32

Steyn has a 24% better average and a 32% better strike rate. Let alone better, Anderson’s numbers are not even comparable to Steyn’s! What did Cook imply then? An opposition-wise break-up? Did he intend to mean that Anderson’s records are better than Steyn’s against certain opponents (barring Bangladesh and Zimbabwe)?

Opposition

Steyn

Anderson

Ave Ratio

SR Ratio

M W Ave SR M W Ave SR
Australia

14

69

27.13

45.8

23

77

36.96

67.0

1.36

1.46

England

11

46

32.63

56.3

India

12

63

20.93

40.4

19

80

27.41

55.1

1.31

1.36

New Zealand

10

58

17.05

34.3

10

46

25.04

43.5

1.47

1.27

Pakistan

10

47

21.82

44.3

7

32

17.65

46.5

0.81

1.05

South Africa

17

57

38.07

71.5

Sri Lanka

7

35

23.45

41.2

8

30

30.30

62.3

1.29

1.51

West Indies

6

35

18.68

34.3

11

36

27.72

59.9

1.48

1.75

Once again, the numbers are not comparable. Pakistan is the only country against whom Anderson has a better average, and even against them Steyn has a better strike rate. What, then, induced Cook to make the statement? Was it about venues (once again, we are leaving out Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but including UAE)?

Opposition

Steyn

Anderson

Ave Ratio

SR Ratio

M W Ave SR M W Ave SR
Australia

6

30

28.03

48.1

13

43

38.44

69.3

1.37

1.44

England

5

23

31.65

55.4

58

248

26.53

53.3

0.84

0.96

India

5

26

20.23

34.5

7

22

29.81

62.9

1.47

1.82

New Zealand

3

9

26.55

66.8

5

18

36.27

58.6

1.37

0.88

Pakistan

2

9

24.66

37.0

South Africa

40

214

21.39

39.9

5

18

38.72

65.6

1.81

1.64

Sri Lanka

4

21

24.71

39.0

4

11

40.72

74.0

1.65

1.90

UAE

4

14

32.78

65.2

3

9

27.66

71.8

0.84

1.10

West Indies

3

15

18.13

33.0

4

9

38.00

86.0

2.10

2.61

Anderson is certainly a better bowler at home (and has a better average at UAE, though Steyn has a better strike rate; Anderson has a better strike rate in New Zealand as well, but Steyn is easily the better bowler across venues. Let us add three more parameters, then, to be sure.

Parameter

Steyn

Anderson

Ave Ratio

SR Ratio

M W Ave SR M W Ave SR
Matches won

40

269

15.89

31.3

44

207

22.63

44.9

1.42

1.43

Overseas (Away + Neutral)

35

169

24.05

43.9

41

130

36.13

67.9

1.50

1.55

In Asia

17

84

22.64

39.7

14

42

32.71

67.7

1.44

1.71

Surely there cannot be a comparison, Alastair Cook. But hang on, has Anderson been even the second best since 2010? Let us check (using a 100-wicket cut-off) and sort them by average:

  M I W Ave SR 5WIs 10WMs W/I W/M
Dale Steyn

41

79

211

21.42

43.1

13

2

2.67

5.15

Vernon Philander

26

51

115

21.57

45.8

9

2

2.25

4.42

Ryan Harris

24

46

103

22.56

48.3

5

0

2.24

4.29

Saeed Ajmal

30

56

157

26.45

61.7

10

4

2.80

5.23

James Anderson

55

104

230

26.60

56.8

9

2

2.21

4.18

If we use strike rates, on the other hand, Anderson is not even the top English bowler from the last five years.

  M I W Ave SR 5WIs 10WMs W/I W/M
Dale Steyn

41

79

211

21.42

43.1

13

2

2.67

5.15

Vernon Philander

26

51

115

21.57

45.8

9

2

2.25

4.42

Mitchell Johnson

29

55

127

26.74

47.5

8

2

2.31

4.38

Ryan Harris

24

46

103

22.56

48.3

5

0

2.24

4.29

Tim Southee

28

52

108

27.49

54.5

3

1

2.08

3.86

Morne Morkel

40

77

143

27.95

56.3

5

0

1.86

3.58

Stuart Broad

50

92

190

28.22

56.6

9

2

2.07

3.80

James Anderson

55

104

230

26.60

56.8

9

2

2.21

4.18

I’m sorry, Alastair Cook, but like many others, you have erred by comparing a once-in-a-generation bowler to a very good one. Steyn will be a contender for an all-time World XI by the time he retires; Anderson will struggle to make it to an all-time English XI.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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