A Dale amongst Goliaths

July 24, 2012

He could be mistaken for the good guy next door. With his pleasant smile, calm and gentle disposition, modest attitude and a small built, he is perhaps the most unassuming of all the great fast bowlers. Give him the red cherry in his hand and there is a complete transformation – a ruthless, aggressive, relentless and hungry fast bowler who is regarded as the best in contemporary Test cricket. We compare Dale Steyn to the other greats and try and analyse where he stands amongst them.

We include in our analysis the top 12 fast bowlers in terms of the product of their Bowling Average and Strike Rate, subject to a minimum of 40 Test Matches, 100 Test Wickets and, a Bowling Average and a Strike Rate of at least 25 and 60, respectively. We will then rank these 12 bowlers on a number of criteria and try and conclude the best amongst them.

Overall Career:

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Player Inns Wickets Ave SR Average*SR Rank
MDMarshall 151 376 20.94 46.7 9.77 2
JGarner 111 259 20.97 50.8 10.65 5
CELAmbrose 179 405 20.99 54.5 11.43 9
FSTrueman 127 307 21.57 49.4 10.65 6
GDMcGrath 243 563 21.64 51.9 11.23 7
AADonald 129 330 22.25 47 10.45 4
Sir RJHadlee 150 431 22.29 50.8 11.32 8
DWSteyn 103 279 23.16 41 9.49 1
WYounis 154 373 23.56 43.4 10.22 3
WAkram 181 414 23.62 54.6 12.89 12
MAHolding 113 249 23.68 50.9 12.05 10
DKLillee 132 355 23.92 52 12.43 11

We see that Steyn has the best Average* Strike Rate statistic. His strike rate is also the best in the list, which indicates that he produces a wicket-taking delivery more often than the other quicks. His success lies in his ability and skill to swing the ball at pace with an immaculate and consistent line and length. The great Pakistani exponent of traditional and reverse swing, Waqar Younis is second in terms of number of deliveries bowled per wicket taken. Surprisingly, Wasim Akram is last on the list.

Performance in Matches Won

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Player Inns Wickets Ave SR Average*SR Rank
Sir RJ Hadlee 44 173 13.06 33.5 4.37 1
DW Steyn 56 189 16.27 29.6 4.81 2
MD Marshall 86 254 16.78 38.1 6.39 5
AA Donald 64 187 16.79 35.5 5.96 3
CEL Ambrose 87 229 16.86 44.4 7.48 9
FS Trueman 68 177 17.3 40.8 7.05 6
Waqar Younis 78 222 18.2 35 6.37 4
DK Lillee 61 203 18.27 39 7.12 7
MA Holding 62 152 18.36 40.1 7.36 8
WasimAkram 81 211 18.48 42.3 7.81 10
GD McGrath 168 414 19.19 47.7 9.15 12
J Garner 60 142 19.71 46.1 9.08 11

Steyn has been the lone spearhead of the South African bowling attack. Unlike a Marshall, who had Holding and Garner, Akram who had Waqar, Lillee who had Thomson, McGrath who had Warne, Gillespie and Lee, or Ambrose who had Walsh, Steyn does not really have an outstanding partner, and though Ntini was quite a handful on his day and Morkel is just about blossoming, it is left to Steyn to provide the team with the initial breakthroughs and break partnerships at crucial junctures. His performance is exemplary when South Africa has won, with the best strike rate in the list and an average only second to Richard Hadlee.

At Home

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Player Average SR Av*SR Rank
FS Trueman 20.04 44.9 8.99 4
MD Marshall 20.06 42.4 8.5 2
Waqar Younis 20.29 38.7 7.85 1
CEL Ambrose 21.19 55.7 11.8 8
AA Donald 21.64 45 9.73 5
Wasim Akram 22.22 51.1 11.35 6
J Garner 22.34 51 11.39 7
DW Steyn 22.27 39.5 8.79 3
GD McGrath 22.43 54.7 12.26 12
Sir RJ Hadlee 22.96 53 12.16 11
DK Lillee 23.73 49.9 11.84 9
MA Holding 23.75 50.1 11.89 10

Away

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Player Average SR Av*SR Rank
FS Trueman 26.08 62.6 16.32 12
MD Marshall 21.57 49.8 10.74 5
Waqar Younis 25.96 47.3 12.27 9
CEL Ambrose 20.78 53.3 11.07 6
AA Donald 22.96 49.3 11.31 7
Wasim Akram 24.61 57.3 14.1 11
J Garner 19.74 50.6 9.98 2
DW Steyn 23.18 40.8 9.45 1
GD McGrath 21.35 49.8 10.63 4
Sir RJ Hadlee 21.72 48.9 10.62 3
DK Lillee 24.28 55.9 13.57 10
MA Holding 23.65 51.3 12.13 8

In the Sub-Continent

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Player Average SR Av*SR Rank
FS Trueman NA NA NA 12
MD Marshall 23.05 48.7 11.22 6
Waqar Younis 25.98 43.8 11.37 7
CEL Ambrose 22.5 56.3 12.66 8
AA Donald 20.33 48.5 9.86 3
Wasim Akram 24.86 58.9 14.64 9
J Garner 19.2 54.3 10.42 5
DW Steyn 21.33 34.7 7.4 1
GD McGrath 25.96 60.3 15.65 10
Sir RJ Hadlee 21.58 42.7 9.21 2
DK Lillee 28.63 57.9 16.57 11
MA Holding 22.1 44.7 9.87 4

Steyn has an excellent record on the seamer-friendly wickets at home, and remarkably, an almost identical record when he has played outside the country (the best away record). Particularly striking is his strike rate of 40.8 in matches outside South Africa, the next best being Waqar Younis’ at 47.3. A bowler’s true test of character and ability can be judged from his performance in the sub-continent, with batsmen friendly, slow and placid wickets, shortened boundaries, lightning quick outfields and against strong batting line ups of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Remarkably, Steyn betters his overall strike rate in the sub-continent (a wicket less than every 6 overs ) and is the best amongst all the other bowlers above.

Frequency of 5 wickets in an Innings/ Frequency of 10 wickets in a Match

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Player Inns 5 Inns/5 Rank 10 Match/10 Rank
MD Marshall 151 22 6.86 5 4 37.75 6
J Garner 111 7 15.85 12 0 NA 12
CEL Ambrose 179 22 8.13 9 3 59.66 10
FS Trueman 127 17 7.47 8 3 42.33 7
GD McGrath 243 29 8.37 10 3 81 11
AA Donald 129 20 6.45 4 3 43 8
Sir RJ Hadlee 150 36 4.16 1 9 16.66 1
DW Steyn 103 18 5.72 2 4 25.75 3
W Younis 154 22 7 6 5 30.8 4
W Akram 181 25 7.24 7 5 36.2 5
MA Holding 113 13 8.69 11 2 56.5 9
DK Lillee 132 23 5.73 3 7 18.85 2

Steyn has taken a five wicket haul every 5.72 innings, second only to Hadlee who is at No.1 in both the categories.

Success when 4, 5 Wickets in an Innings/ Ten Wickets in a Match

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Player 5 5(Won) % of D/C Rank 10 inMatch 10(Won) % of F/E Rank
FS Trueman 17 11 64.7 4 3 2 66.66 5
MD Marshall 22 17 77.27 2 4 4 100 1
W Younis 22 14 63.63 6 5 4 80 4
CEL Ambrose 22 13 59.09 8 3 3 100 1
AA Donald 20 13 65 5 3 3 100 1
W Akram 25 14 56 9 5 2 40 7
J Garner 7 3 42.85 12 0 0 NA 8
DW Steyn 18 14 77.78 1 4 4 100 1
GD McGrath 29 18 62.06 7 3 3 100 1
Sir RJ Hadlee 36 17 47.22 10 9 8 88.88 2
D Lillee 23 17 73.91 3 7 6 85.71 3
MA Holding 13 6 46.15 11 2 1 50 6

The probability of winning rises is a staggering 77.78 % when Steyn takes a 5 wicket haul which we calculated earlier is every 5.72 innings, again the best in the above list.

Conclusion

He may have the most un-fancy of physiques for a fast bowler, is one of the shorter ones in height but certainly not in stature! Having been born in an era when it is increasingly becoming rare to find good quality fast bowlers, where their numbers are dwindling faster than of the tigers in India, where the game is almost totally skewed in favour of batsmen with short boundaries, restrictions on bouncers, fancy helmets and protective guards, broader and meatier tailor-made bats, unhelpful and dead wickets, fast outfields, where the influx of 20-20 and IPL have tempted the young generation to emulate a Pollard rather than a Roach, it is an absolute privilege to see a fast bowler of Steyn’s quality rip through famed batting attacks all over the world.

Simple arithmetic shows that as far as the above criteria and statistics go, he is the best to have played the game. Is he really? Let’s wait and watch. This England series would be a real and severe test. He has certainly started with a bang.

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