November 30, 2007

Scorching Steyn leads pace revival

Just how much have the stats improved for fast bowlers in 2007 compared to the last few years?



Dale Steyn has had plenty of such moments in 2007 © Getty Images

In his column earlier this week, Tim de Lisle celebrated the return of fast bowlers in the year 2007: Dale Steyn combined pace and swing to devastating effect against Pakistan and New Zealand, Brett Lee had the Sri Lankans running for cover, while Shoaib Akhtar was a virtual one-man bowling army against the Indians in the Delhi Test. There have been a few setbacks too - Dilhara Fernando and Lasith Malinga did little of note against Australia - but an analysis of the stats for the year reveals that, on the whole, the year has so far been an excellent one for pace bowlers.

The table below compares pace and spin year-wise since 2000, and it's clear that the gulf between the two has widened this year. Thanks to the efforts of Steyn and Co, the fast bowlers have taken their wickets every 58 deliveries, which is better than what they managed through the entire decade, and 15 deliveries fewer than the corresponding number for spinners. The only year when pace did even better was in 2000, when West Indies were so clueless during an wet England summer that Dominic Cork, Craig White, Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough all got their wickets at less than 22 apiece, while Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh returned the favour with 51 wickets between them.

Break-up of pace and spin each year since 2000
Year Pace - Wickets Average Strike rate Spin - Wickets Average Strike rate
2000 899 27.52 62.0 384 35.38 80.9
2001 1019 33.39 65.4 521 34.47 76.8
2002 1074 32.43 60.7 511 32.46 68.7
2003 890 34.22 64.8 415 40.15 81.8
2004 976 35.69 66.3 578 34.58 67.2
2005 1013 32.92 58.6 470 34.64 67.1
2006 951 33.60 60.5 436 35.91 70.7
2007 505 32.32 58.0 202 37.46 72.9

Of the 505 wickets that have fallen to seam and swing this year, 71 have been accounted for by three of the fastest in the business: Steyn, Lee and Shoaib have taken their wickets at a combined average of less than 16, at an astonishing strike-rate of 29 balls per dismissal.

Combined stats for Steyn, Shoaib and Lee in 2007
Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
11 71 15.69 29.18 4/ 2

Since the year has been one of the better ones for fast bowling, opening batsmen have suffered, managing just five century partnerships in 91 innings. Their performance wasn't much to write home about in 2006 either - and 2000 was, as you'd expect, their worst year of the decade - but in some of the other years, especially in 2001, 2003 and 2004, they had much better numbers.

Year-wise opening partnerships in Tests since 2000
Year Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
2000 164 4938 30.48 9/ 21
2006 172 6061 36.29 10/ 32
2007 91 3169 36.42 5/ 13
2005 179 6876 39.06 13/ 40
2002 191 7404 40.45 15/ 42
2001 199 8086 41.89 25/ 27
2003 162 6766 42.28 16/ 25
2004 191 8150 44.05 24/ 27

The trio of Steyn, Lee and Shoaib have spelt especially bad news for the openers. In the 22 innings that they have bowled in, openers batting against them have managed only once century stand (153, by Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik in Cape Town), while 15 times they've been separated for less than 20. The average opening stand of 28.82 in these 22 innings is also much lower than the average for the entire year.

Scintillating Steyn
In the six Tests he played this year, Steyn set a scorching pace, with 39 wickets that cost him less than 15 each, and a scalp every 26 deliveries. His potential wasn't in doubt from the first international game he played, but his outstanding recent run has ensured he will be counted among the most lethal fast bowlers around today.

Only 15 Tests old, Steyn has already notched up an impressive tally of 71 wickets. Among South Africans, only one bowler had more wickets at the same stage in their careers - Fanie de Villiers had 73 at an average of just over 25. Allan Donald had 70, while Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini had only managed 47 and 41.

The other remarkable aspect of Steyn's stats so far is his strike-rate - he has taken a wicket once every 38 deliveries, which translates into 6.2 overs. Even Donald needed nine more deliveries per wicket. In fact, among bowlers who have sent down at least 2000 balls, Steyn's strike-rate is third in the all-time list, next only to England's George Lohmann and John Ferris, a deadly left-arm swing bowler who played for both Australia and England in a brief nine-Test career.

South Africans with most wickets after 15 Tests
Bowlers Wickets Average Strike rate
Fanie de Villiers 73 25.10 57.7
Dale Steyn 71 24.38 38.1
Allan Donald 70 23.87 52.1
Peter Pollock 68 24.02 53.6
Hugh Tayfield 68 28.83 78.7
Andre Nel 62 25.45 52.7

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.