June 18, 2010

Steyn gathers steam

The last couple of years haven't been great ones for fast bowling, but South Africa's spearhead has bucked that trend quite emphatically

The last couple of years haven't been great ones for fast bowling in general, but one bowler has bucked that trend, and done it emphatically. Dale Steyn is the complete fast bowler, and over the last three years he has put the entire package to terrifying use, mixing extreme pace with the ability to move the ball both ways and to bowl the wicked bouncer. Add his relentless aggression and the mix has been far too much to handle for batsmen all over the world. In Trinidad, the hapless West Indians were his latest victims, and his match haul of 8 for 94 took him past the 200-wicket mark in only his 39th Test, making him the fourth-fastest to achieve it, after Clarrie Grimmett (36 Tests), Dennis Lillee and Waqar Younis (both 38).

From the time Steyn made his Test debut, against England in 2004, it was clear that here was a bowler with special skills. The lack of direction made it frustrating to watch him in his early years, but since 2007 he has taken it up a few notches. In 30 Tests during this period, Steyn's wickets tally reads a whopping 172, at an exceptional average and strike rate. During this period his highest average against a team is 28.13, versus England, while he has feasted on New Zealand, taking 20 wickets in two Tests against them.

Steyn's Test career
Period Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Before 2007 9 32 35.93 52.8 2/ 0
Since Jan 2007 30 172 20.65 36.4 12/ 4
Career 39 204 23.05 38.9 14/ 4

His overall average is superb, but the most remarkable aspect of Steyn's career so far has been the rate at which he dismisses batsmen - his average over 39 Tests is a wicket every 38.9 deliveries, which is the best among bowlers with 200 or more wickets. Shane Bond and George Lohmann have done better, but neither has managed 200 wickets. The next best in this club is Waqar Younis, with a strike rate of 43.4, but that's because his striking power decreased slightly during the second half of his career: when he reached the 200 mark, his strike rate was 38.6, which is marginally better than Steyn's at this point. (Click here for Waqar's cumulative summary.) Malcolm Marshall, Allan Donald and Fred Trueman are the only others who've taken more than 200 wickets at a strike rate of less than 50.

Best strike rates in Test cricket (Qual: 200 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average 5WI/10WM Strike rate
Dale Steyn 39 204 23.05 14/ 4 38.9
Waqar Younis 87 373 23.56 22/ 5 43.4
Malcolm Marshall 81 376 20.94 22/ 4 46.7
Allan Donald 72 330 22.25 20/ 3 47.0
Fred Trueman 67 307 21.57 17/ 3 49.4

So lethal has Steyn been over the last three-and-a-half years that his stats are easily the best during this period. Among bowlers with at least 50 wickets, his average is well clear of Pakistan's Mohammad Asif, who has played only 11 Tests to Steyn's 30 and barely makes it past the qualifying mark. Most of the Test regulars average on the wrong side of 25. Mitchell Johnson, the second-highest wicket-taker during this period, averages more than 28, while Muttiah Muralitharan has been on the wane despite averaging more than five wickets per match.

Steyn, on the other hand, has been deadly against all opponents in all conditions, taking at least one five-for against all seven teams he has played over the last three-and-a-half years.

Best Test bowlers since Jan 2007 (Qual: 50 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Dale Steyn 30 172 20.65 36.4 12/ 4
Mohammad Asif 11 53 24.35 51.7 4/ 0
Ryan Sidebottom 21 79 27.43 59.3 5/ 1
Brett Lee 18 85 27.85 52.5 3/ 0
Mitchell Johnson 34 155 28.03 52.1 5/ 2
Muttiah Muralitharan 22 118 28.30 59.0 9/ 3
Stuart Clark 16 52 28.78 63.7 1/ 0
Zaheer Khan 28 113 29.43 53.1 6/ 1
Graeme Swann 20 91 30.02 60.1 7/ 1
Jacques Kallis 35 61 30.37 64.0 1/ 0

The table below indicates how far ahead Steyn is compared to his fast-bowling mates during this golden period. The rest of the pace pack average more than 35 per wicket, and require almost 11 overs per wicket to Steyn's six. Of the 19 bowlers with 50 or more wickets during this period, 12 average more than 30.

Steyn v all other fast bowlers since Jan 2007
Bowler Wickets Average Strike rate Econ rate
Dale Steyn 172 20.65 36.4 3.40
Other fast bowlers 2488 35.34 64.03 3.31

Steyn is also well clear of the other South African bowlers during this period. In the matches he has played, Steyn has grabbed almost 34% of the total wickets taken by the team, despite bowling only about 23% of the overs. Twelve of the 18 five-fors by South Africans stand in his name.

In terms of wickets, Makhaya Ntini is second in the list, but his 75 scalps have cost almost 35 each. Morne Morkel has done much better, averaging 29 for his 74 wickets. Paul Harris and Jacques Kallis are the only others with 50 or more wickets, but neither has a sub-30 average.

Steyn and other South African bowlers in Tests since Jan 2007 (in the matches Steyn played)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Dale Steyn 30 172 20.65 36.4 12/ 4
Other SA bowlers 30 338 32.90 62.87 6/ 0

If Steyn takes a five-for, there's a 93% chance of South Africa winning the Test: of his 14 five-fors, 13 have been in wins. It's a remarkable statistic, and one that reinforces Steyn's value to the side. The fact that he takes his wickets so quickly also means opposition teams have little chance to fight back and force a draw - one deadly Steyn spell usually means the direction of the match has been sealed.

The difference between Steyn's averages in wins, losses and draws indicates his effectiveness, and his ability to change a game: in wins he averages 16, with 149 wickets in 21 matches; in draws and losses the average balloons to more than 41. Overall, 73% of his wickets have come in wins, which is more or less the percentage for Shane Warne (72%) and Glenn McGrath (73.53%), the two bowlers who have played in the most wins.

Steyn's only five-for that didn't win South Africa the match came in Colombo, but even that was an agonisingly close affair, which Sri Lanka won by one wicket, chasing down a fourth-innings target of 352. Steyn would have to take some of the blame for that, as he finished with figures of none for 81 in the second innings after taking 5 for 82 in the first.

Best match-winners in Tests (Qual: 125 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Richard Hadlee 22 173 13.06 33.5 17/ 8
Imran Khan 26 155 14.50 38.3 11/ 6
Dale Steyn 21 149 16.00 28.2 13/ 4
Muttiah Muralitharan 53 430 16.03 42.6 40/ 18
Malcolm Marshall 43 254 16.78 38.1 17/ 4
Allan Donald 33 187 16.79 35.5 14/ 3
Curtly Ambrose 44 229 16.86 44.4 13/ 3
Fred Trueman 34 177 17.30 40.8 11/ 2
Clarrie Grimmett 20 143 17.60 52.6 15/ 6
Brian Statham 28 127 17.74 50.0 5/ 1

The one slight glitch in his career so far has been his performance against left-handers, but you wouldn't know that from the manner in which he bowled against Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Co in Trinidad - six of his eight victims in that game were left-handers. That average against the lefties has already come down to 27.60 in the period since January 2007, and if he keeps going like he is, batsmen of all types will have plenty to worry about in the next few years.

Steyn against right- and left-handers
Batsman type Wickets Average Strike rate
Right-handers 142 17.97 32.72
Left-handers 62 31.87 55.40

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo