Dale Steyn is one of the all-time greats of fast bowling and Vernon Philander shows more than dangerous signs of becoming one. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the numbers to determine why oppositions have been shot out regularly for sub-50 scores against them.
Whichever way one looks at the figures, Dale Steyn comes up as one of the greatest ever fast bowlers. He has captured 323 wickets in 63 Tests, which puts him 22nd on the all-time list of bowlers – 15th among the fast men. At 29, with several good years ahead of him, he is bound to climb to higher and higher rungs in the elite list.
Right now, among all the men who have taken 300 or more wickets, he ranks seventh in terms of averages, taking his wickets at 22.67 apiece. The names which precede him are great to the extent of sublime – Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Fred Trueman, Glenn McGrath, Allan Donald and Sir Richard Hadlee. The names that follow are august as well – Muttiah Muralitharan, Imran Khan, Shaun Pollock, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Dennis Lillee and the rest of them follow in his wake.
The top averages in the 300-plus club
|MD Marshall (WI)||81||376||20.94||46.7|
|CEL Ambrose (WI)||98||405||20.99||54.5|
|FS Trueman (Eng)||67||307||21.57||49.4|
|GD McGrath (Aus)||124||563||21.64||51.9|
|AA Donald (SA)||72||330||22.25||47.0|
|RJ Hadlee (NZ)||86||431||22.29||50.8|
|DW Steyn (SA)||63||323||22.67||40.8|
|M Muralitharan (ICC/SL)||133||800||22.72||55.0|
|Imran Khan (Pak)||88||362||22.81||53.7|
|SM Pollock (SA)||108||421||23.11||57.8|
|Wasim Akram (Pak)||104||414||23.62||54.6|
|DK Lillee (Aus)||70||355||23.92||52.0|
If we look at the strike-rates, capturing one wicket every 40.8 balls, Steyn leads this 300 plus club. As we know, he strikes lethally and strikes often. The next bowler on the list is a good three balls away.
What is interesting is that he does not fare too badly even when we reduce the minimum number of wickets to make this group much larger. Even if we take a look at all the bowlers who have captured 120 wickets or more in Test cricket, Steyn comes up with the most phenomenal strike-rate.
If we lower the qualification to 50 wickets, we expect to find the list littered with bowlers of the late 19th or early 20th century, who ruled the cricket pitches before they were standardised. Indeed, George Lohmann, the Surrey medium-pacer who played from 1886 to 1896 and picked up 112 wickets in just 18 Tests, heads the honours board with an unbelievable strike-rate of 34.1.
However, Steyn enters the top five even in this category, one place behind another modern bowler, Shane Bond. It is even more remarkable that immediately after Lohmann in the 50-plus group we find the name of Vernon Philander – Steyn’s partner in pace.
Top strike-rates among bowlers with at least 50 Test wickets
|GA Lohmann (Eng)||1886-1896||18||112||10.75||34.1|
|VD Philander (SA)||2011-2013||14||78||17.48||36.6|
|JJ Ferris (Aus/Eng)||1887-1892||9||61||12.70||37.7|
|SE Bond (NZ)||2001-2009||18||87||22.09||38.7|
|DW Steyn (SA)||2004-2013||63||323||22.67||40.8|
|SF Barnes (Eng)||1901-1914||27||189||16.43||41.6|
|AEE Vogler (SA)||1906-1911||15||64||22.73||43.1|
|FR Spofforth (Aus)||1877-1887||18||94||18.41||44.5|
|W Barnes (Eng)||1880-1890||21||51||15.54||44.8|
Philander, admittedly, has not played too many matches. But, the 14 Tests he has bowled in has seen his career take off in a blinding flash. He currently has 78 wickets at a strike-rate of 36.6, that is roughly one every six overs. Besides, his average reads 17.48. If we stick to the 50-plus group, Philander ends up eighth in the list of all time averages. None of the seven men who end up above him played cricket after the First World War. It makes his fledgling career appear monstrous even when we don’t restrict it to confines of the modern day.
Ten best averages for bowlers with 50 or more Test wickets
|GA Lohmann (Eng)||1886-1896||18||112||10.75|
|JJ Ferris (Aus/Eng)||1887-1892||9||61||12.70|
|W Barnes (Eng)||1880-1890||21||51||15.54|
|W Bates (Eng)||1881-1887||15||50||16.42|
|SF Barnes (Eng)||1901-1914||27||189||16.43|
|CTB Turner (Aus)||1887-1895||17||101||16.53|
|R Peel (Eng)||1884-1896||20||101||16.98|
|VD Philander (SA)||2011-2013||14||78||17.48|
|J Briggs (Eng)||1884-1899||33||118||17.75|
|H Ironmonger (Aus)||1928-1933||14||74||17.97|
We need to remind ourselves that this pair – Steyn and Philander – hunt together. And to back them up, they have the services of Morne Morkel, not a bad option to have as the third prong of a lethal trident.
It is of little wonder that in the 14 Tests that Philander has played, and Steyn and Morkel have appeared in all of them, opponents have been bundled so often for sub-100 scores – Australia for 47, New Zealand for 45 and Pakistanis for 49 being cases in point.
Between them, Steyn and Philander have taken 146 wickets in the 14 Tests, with 11 five-wicket hauls between them, topping 10 for the match three times. If we take Morkel into consideration as well, they have accounted for 191 wickets in all.
It is of little wonder that the South Africans have won nine and lost just one of these 14 Tests.
In the 14 Tests Philander has played
|Bowler||O||Wkts||Ave||SR||5 WI||10 WM|
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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