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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

S Rajesh

June 18, 2010

Comments: 47 | Text size: A | A

Dale Steyn leads the team off the field after the convincing win, India v South Africa, 1st Test, Nagpur, 4th day, February 9, 2010
Dale Steyn's team-mates acknowledge the worth of their match-winner © AFP
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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

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Posted by BillyCC on (June 25, 2010, 15:31 GMT)

Diri, I would choose all four bowlers I mentioned previously (Ambrose, McGrath, Donald and Wasim Akram) over Steyn. The reason is simple, they can all win matches (Steyn included) but Steyn is the only one who could most definitely lose me a match. He bowls too many bad balls compared to McGrath and Ambrose and he does not have the variety of Wasim Akram. However, Steyn is well placed to surpass Donald, so over time, he is the first bowler I would "reconsider" in my all-star lineup. Of course, I am only talking two and a half generations of cricketers, so the choices will be expanded if I included previous generations. But if you are asking specifically about McGrath vs Steyn, McGrath wins hands down. Look at the results and the efficiency of McGrath. Forget the process. Fast bowling is not always about raw pace, swing, and style. It is only about taking wickets and taking them cheaply. If you do that, you win most of your Test matches.

Posted by diri on (June 25, 2010, 9:28 GMT)

BillyCC are you saying that you would pick McGrath over steyn in your line up???

Posted by Maestro_of_Cricket on (June 25, 2010, 6:36 GMT)

Rajesh, you've done almost all the comparisons and has bought up a number of tables which show Steyn's bowling might, but you've missed one crucial table. Where is the comparison that shows Steyn's top-order wickets v. lower-order wickets? All the time Ntini or Morkel does the hard work by getting out the big guns and Steyn then comes to mop up the tail to take an undeserved five for. It happens almost ALL THE TIME. Take the first match against Windies, or take the match against Sri Lanka which you've mentioned in the article, or take the match against India at Motera where they were bowled out for 73, you'll see what I mean.

Posted by BillyCC on (June 24, 2010, 9:44 GMT)

Diri, it's irrelevant to the argument whether I'm Australian or not. My comments still stand if Steyn was Australian. In terms of the bowlers I saw regularly, I rate Ambrose a tad, and only a tad, higher than McGrath. Followed by Donald and then a gap to Wasim Akram. And no fast bowler in this generation has come close to my assessment taking into account pitches, bowling quality within teams, opposition batting quality etc. But as I said, Steyn is the best of this generation. For example, he is miles ahead of Mitchell Johnson who is a poor man's version of Steyn. Steyn may one day reach the lofty heights and surpass some of the bowlers I mentioned and some I have not (Marshall, Garner, Trueman etc.). But he may also fail to surpass any of them because he has weaknesses in his game which he will need to improve on.

Posted by diri on (June 24, 2010, 6:43 GMT)

lol BillyCC i had a feeling you were an aussie

Posted by _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on (June 23, 2010, 21:56 GMT)

@BillyC, your point would be a good 1 if he was in the team to contain, there aren't that many out n out quicks who have the ability to contain n still have a dominant SR, especially in this current era where the pitches r roads (it would be a good idea to check how may of the losses he featured in r on such pitches vs 1's which give him some help...for which there r few). I would use your point to highlight Harris' shortcomings in the 1st test n lesser extent the 2nd test because his job in the team is to CONTAIN most the times. G. Smith himself stated that once. Pollock n Mc Grath n Ambrose all had great economies but with the exception of Ambrose, they were no where as quick or constantly "stump-attacking" as Steyn, neither are their SR better. I agree that to surpass these names he would have to drop his Econ a touch but in no-way should one hold his econ against him once his SR remains better than their's, regardless of whether or not his avg is high in team losses.

Posted by BillyCC on (June 23, 2010, 13:06 GMT)

Diri, I'm from Australia.

Posted by diri on (June 23, 2010, 7:21 GMT)

BillyCC may i ask which country you are from?

Posted by diri on (June 23, 2010, 7:20 GMT)

BillyCC you must remember that the game has changed,in the modern era were pitches are roads and the boundaries are shorter.... its a batsmens game. so you should not expect steyns runs per over to be under 3. and i think steyn has not even reached his best yet, he even says that he is still learning new things. the best from this man is still to come mark my words!

Posted by BillyCC on (June 23, 2010, 0:30 GMT)

And yes, we will see whether Steyn can be the greatest bowler of all time. I actually think he already is the greatest in this generation, but it is a weaker generation. For him to be considered the greatest of all time, I would like to see his economy rate drop to under 3, which would take his average to under 22, and if he can more or less maintain a strike rate to around 50 by the time he gets to 400 wickets. And when he gets older, I don't mind if his stats blow out a little, but he must be able to find new ways of getting people out. In my mind, all the current contenders for the greatest bowler of all time fit many if not all of the above criteria.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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