<
>

Exceptional in Test wins

Dale Steyn took three of New Zealand's wickets in the second innings Getty Images

With a perfectly-pitched outswinger, reminiscent of the deliveries that dismissed Michael Vaughan in 2004 and 2008, Dale Steyn bowled Doug Bracewell to become the fourth South African bowler and the 19th bowler overall to reach the 300-wicket mark. Steyn is also the joint second-fastest to the mark among fast bowlers (61 matches) with only Dennis Lillee achieving the mark in fewer matches.

Steyn reached the landmark in eight years and 16 days making him the second-fastest South African bowler (in terms of time taken) after Shaun Pollock. Among the bowlers with 300-plus wickets, Steyn has the best strike rate (42.1). After an incredible 2011, when he averaged 19.57, Steyn has struggled to maintain the same level of hostility since the beginning of 2012. In 21 innings, he has picked up 42 wickets at a relatively high average of 28.27. However, he does boast the best strike rate and second-best average among bowlers with 200-plus wickets in wins.

When Lillee reached the 300-wicket mark in his 56th Test, he had an excellent average and strike rate of 22.83 and 49.3 respectively. His bowling record fell away slightly after that as he managed only 50 wickets in the next 14 Tests. On the other hand, Richard Hadlee, who got to the mark in 61 Tests, ended his career with a better average and strike rate than the numbers he had when he picked up his 300th wicket. Hadlee, who ended with 431 wickets in 86 Tests, had the highest number of five-fors (24) at the time of passing 300 wickets. Malcolm Marshall, who has the best average among all bowlers with 300-plus wickets (20.94), had marginally better stats at the time of picking up his 300th wicket. Although Steyn has the highest average (23.68) among the bowlers in the group, he has the joint-best strike rate (42.0) along with Waqar Younis, who reached the 300-wicket mark in 65 Tests.

* Unless otherwise mentioned, all stats refer to the numbers at the end of the Test when the bowler picked up 300 wickets.

The distribution of wickets in home and away Tests throws up quite a few interesting numbers. While Lillee picked up nearly 67% of his wickets (191) in home Tests, the distribution was nearly equal for Hadlee. Marshall, on the other hand, picked up 62% (186 wickets) of his dismissals in away Tests. While Lillee and Marshall had better averages and strike rates at home, Hadlee did much better abroad. Both Steyn and Allan Donald, two South African bowlers who reached the mark quickest, have a very similar distribution pattern. Steyn, however, has a much better strike rate (39.6) in home Tests as compared to Donald (45.1). Perhaps the most skewed distribution is that of Fred Trueman, the first bowler to pass the 300-wicket mark. When he crossed the landmark, he had 223 wickets (74%) in home Tests at an average and strike rate of 19.57 and 43.5. In sharp contrast, his corresponding numbers in away Tests were 26.08 and 62.6 respectively. Only Waqar, who has a sub-20 average in Pakistan, has a better strike rate (38.5) than Steyn in home Tests.

At the time of passing the 300-wicket mark, Marshall had the highest percentage of wickets in wins (69.00) and an extraordinarily low percentage of wickets in defeats (2%). His bowling was one of the major factors in West Indies' remarkable success in the 1980s when they went through the decade without a single series defeat. Glenn McGrath, the most successful pace bowler (563 wickets), has the second-highest percentage of wickets in wins followed by Steyn. The scarcity of draws in the period since 2000 is reflected in the very low percentage of wickets in draws for McGrath and Steyn. In contrast, the corresponding number for bowlers in the earlier decades is much higher. Hadlee has the best ratio of average in wins to the overall average (1.84) followed by Steyn (1.42). In comparison, Mcgrath's average in wins (19.48) is not much better than his overall average of 21.71. While the averages of McGrath and Lillee in defeats are not vastly inferior to their overall numbers, the corresponding number for Marshall is much higher than his overall average of 20.88. Steyn's averages in losses and draws also drop significantly when compared to his overall average (ratios of 1.50 and 1.79 respectively).

The increase in the number of left-handed batsmen over the years becomes very obvious when the bowler stats against batsmen are compared. For most bowlers who played before the 1990s, the dismissal percentage is sharply skewed towards right-handers. For example, Marshall dismissed 256 right-handers and just 44 left-handers in the 61 Tests (85-15 distribution). However, since the 1990s, the rise in the number of left-handers has meant that their dismissal percentage has also gone up. Both McGrath and Steyn, who played in this period, have a 70-30 distribution of right-hander to left-hander wickets. Steyn, however, has had to work much harder against left-handers (91 wickets at 30.56) in comparison to right-handers (213 wickets at 19.77).

Nearly all bowlers in the group have tasted great success against top-order (1-4) batsmen. While Donald and McGrath have the highest percentages of top-order victims (48.51 and 48.34), Hadlee and Waqar have the lowest figures. When it comes to the middle-order wickets (5-8), Hadlee has the highest dismissal percentage (38.07) followed by Lillee and Marshall. Steyn has a high lower-order (9-11) dismissal percentage of 22.51 surpassed only by Trueman, who has a corresponding percentage of 22.92.

Both Lillee and McGrath predominantly bowled good length and hence have a high percentage of caught dismissals (67.21 and 70.19) but a low percentage of bowled dismissals (15.73 and 12.25). Steyn, whose first and 300th wickets were bowled, has a relatively high percentage of bowled dismissals (22.84). This is, however, much lower than the corresponding percentages of Trueman (32.89) and Waqar (28.57). Waqar, one of the best bowlers of the full inswinging delivery, stands out because of a very high combined percentage of bowled and lbw dismissals (59.46%). Trueman comes a distant second, with a combined percentage of 45.84.

Hadlee and Waqar are the only bowlers to pick up over 100 wickets in the first innings of matches. Lillee, however, has the best first-innings average (19.57) followed by McGrath (20.27). In the second innings, McGrath and Trueman are the highest wicket-takers but the honours go to Marshall on the average front (20.04). Steyn's average in the second innings (24.96) is the second-highest in the group after Waqar's 25.69. Marshall, the only bowler to pick up 100-plus third-innings wickets, also boasts an excellent average (20.15) second only to Donald's 16.42). Steyn is the second-highest wicket-taker in the third innings with 98 wickets at an average of 21.38. However, he has struggled in the fourth innings where he averages 32.51. McGrath has been the most succeesful fourth-innings bowler (60 wickets) but Hadlee has the best average (15.21) followed by Marshall (17.36).

Against Australia and England, two of the top Test teams in recent years, Steyn's average has not been very impressive. However, his bowling did play a crucial role in South Africa's first series in in Australia in 2008-09. Against India, New Zealand and West Indies, Steyn has picked up a total of 136 wickets while maintaining a sub-20 average. He has also picked up 57 wickets in the subcontinent at a superb average of 21.33. Donald also averaged higher against Australia but was highly consistent against all other teams. Lillee, the second-highest wicket-taker against England after Shane Warne, was superb at home and in England but did very little of note in the West Indies and the subcontinent, where he averaged 68.33. Marshall, one of the best overseas bowlers in the subcontinent, reserved his best against England finishing with 104 wickets at 17.90. Hadlee's average was the lowest against Sri Lanka (11.24) though it can be argued that the success came when Sri Lanka were still finding their way in Tests. Trueman also profited heavily against weak batting teams (India, Pakistan and New Zealand) who had very little exposure to the bowler-friendly conditions in England. Waqar, who was at his best against New Zealand, had a tough time against India (eight wickets at 48.75) and Australia (24 wickets at 34.37).