Dale Steyn is undoubtedly the best among contemporary fast bowlers

Dale Steyn’s aggression, speed, subtlety and numbers places him head and shoulders above the rest of the modern pace pack. © Getty Images

By Karthik Parimal

 

These days, it’s the batsmen who steal the limelight more often than not in any form of cricket. Rarely does a bowler manage to keep the audience enthralled on a consistent basis. However, Dale Steyn has changed all that in recent times. Attributes like aggression, speed, subtlety and shrewdness make him the best in the business of fast bowling. It’s an absolute pleasure just watching him bowl at tearaway pace. Although he didn’t bowl at full throttle during the first Test, he still managed to pick up a five-for that left England reeling during the second innings.

Comparisons were drawn between Steyn, James Anderson and Stuart Broad before this series commenced. While the two English bowlers are no doubt quite effective, statistics reveal that Steyn has been the best bowler in Tests since the last five years. His performance in the first Test was evidence of that. In the list of most effective bowlers since July 2007, Anderson cuts a close second to Steyn, whereas Broad has been in the hunt only since the last couple of years.

Below are the overall statistics of bowlers since the last five years in Tests.

 

 

Player

 

Matches  Innings  Wickets  Average  Strike rate 
Dale Steyn  44 83 237 21.67 39.6
James Anderson  54 99 215 29.06 57.9
Mitchell Johnson 47 89 190 31.29 56.1
Graeme Swann 45 81 188 29.38 59.3
Harbhajan Singh 41 74 168 35.57 74.3
Stuart Broad  48 87 161 31.16 62.2

 

The list shows Steyn’s adeptness when placed beside his counterparts. He has played the least number of Tests when compared to the other fast bowlers above and yet has performed better than them in the columns that matter. He’s not only scalped the highest number of wickets, but has done it with a better average and strike rate. The above statistics indicate that Steyn has conceded just 21 runs for every wicket whereas Anderson and Broad have conceded 29 and 31 runs respectively. Also, Steyn has struck every 39 balls whereas the average number of balls bowled per wicket by the other two English bowlers is 58 and 63.

If only the last two years are considered, and the spinners excluded, Anderson and Broad are the only two pacers who feature in the list ahead of Steyn. However, the fact remains that the two have played a considerable amount of Tests more than the latter. In fact, Steyn has played the least number of Tests when the top ten bowlers in Tests during this span are considered.

Table revealing statistics of Steyn, Anderson and Broad in the last two years:

Player

 

Matches  Innings  Wickets  Average  Strike rate 
James Anderson 23 44 103 24.14 54.4
Stuart Broad 20 39  78 25.84 56.8
Dale Steyn 14 28  68 23.25 46.5

 

Anderson and Broad have no doubt inflicted damage on every opposition they’ve faced since the last two years, but has Steyn played far fewer games compared to the above-mentioned players, one would tout him to be ahead of at least Broad in that list. The contest between Anderson and Steyn would then have been an interesting one, considering that there is hardly anything to choose between the two bowlers in terms of average and strike rates. During this span, Anderson has dismissed more batsmen in One-Day Internationals (ODI) compared to Steyn, but it must be mentioned that the latter played fewer games, and that his average, economy rate and strike rate are far better than the former’s.

 

While Anderson and Broad have been England’s destroyers-in-chief since the last few years, Steyn has been South Africa’s protagonist. Even the best batting line-ups in the world have bowed down before the duo of Anderson and Broad before this ongoing series against the Proteas. Tim Bresnan has joined them in recent times and has bolstered the English bowling attack. From South Africa’s point of view, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel too have wreaked havoc off late. It’ll be an interesting tussle between the six of them in the near future, but the fact remains that Steyn and Anderson are a class apart. However, Steyn holds the edge comparatively due to the sheer pace he generates.

One bowler who is capable of emulating Steyn’s feat in the future is Philander. In just eight Tests, Philander has picked 56 wickets, with a wicket every 30 balls at an average of 15 runs. One hopes that he doesn’t lose fizz as his career progresses. However, he hasn’t bowled at an express pace on a consistent basis during any Test yet; something Steyn is already an expert in. The ability to repeatedly bowl fast while hitting a perfect line and length is what sets Steyn apart from his contemporaries. He’s been an asset to this formidable South African unit. If, like wine, his bowling gets better with age, the cricketing world is in for a treat during the next few years.


(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, 
Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)