Statistics back up the view that Dale Steyn is Test cricket’s greatest-ever strike bowler.
James Anderson finally has an advantage over Dale Steyn, but the one Test wicket Anderson now has (397 vs 396), when analysed, highlights the chasm between the two and makes a mockery of England captain Alastair Cook’s assertion that Anderson is more skilful than Steyn, the best playing in Tests, and the best bowler England has ever produced.
One is a very good Test bowler; the other is a great one, among the greatest to have played Test cricket.
Anderson’s wickets have come in 102 Tests. Steyn has played 78 Tests for his 396. The detail of these Tests is even more damning of Cook’s view.
Steyn has bowled 16 486 balls for his 396 Test wickets. Anderson delivered 2 830 for 397, which means he needed 1 057 overs to get one more wicket.
Cook conceded Steyn was more effective, had more pace and took more wickets. Confused? I was.
Cook said: ‘No disrespect to Dale Steyn, but the way Jimmy can swing the ball both ways – I don’t think Dale can do that as well as him, but Dale has the advantage of being quicker. Dale has been the No 1 bowler in the world for a long time in terms of the amount of wickets he takes. He always picks up wickets.’
I tried to make sense of Cook’s statement and couldn’t. I found the most comprehensive dissection of his view, which makes for embarrassing reading if you are Alastair Cook.
Abhishek Mukherjee, deputy editor and historian at www.cricketcountry.com, described the comment as ridiculous. He wrote that the two simply could not be classed in a similar category. Steyn was a once-in-a-generation Test bowler. Anderson was one of many very good Test bowlers.
Steyn has a 32% better average than Anderson, and a 40% better strike rate. His wicket-per-match and wicket-per-innings are also over 30% when compared to Anderson’s. Mukherjee added that Cook couldn’t even be referring to ‘the past few years’ because the numbers still differ significantly.
Steyn has a 24% better average and a 32% better strike rate. Let alone better, Anderson’s numbers are not even comparable to Steyn’s!
Mukherjee’s research showed Pakistan to be the only country against whom Anderson has a better average, and even against them Steyn has a better strike rate. What, then, induced Cook to make the statement? Was it about venues (once again, leaving out Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but including the UAE)?
Anderson has a better average in the UAE, though Steyn has a better strike rate; Anderson has a better strike rate in New Zealand too, but Steyn is easily the better bowler across venues.
Now consider Cook’s statement: ‘James Anderson is the most skilful bowler in the world. There have been some very good bowlers I’ve played with but, for pure out-and-out skill, he is the best bowler England have ever produced.’
Is the delusional captain talking about skill again or effectiveness? The benchmark of a Test bowler’s career worth examination would be 200-plus wickets, and Steyn’s return of a wicket every 41.4 balls makes him the greatest strike bowler to have played Test cricket.
Fred Trueman is the only England bowler in the game’s history with a strike rate of a wicket in less than 50 deliveries. Anderson’s strike rate is closer to 60 than 50. Isn’t the aim of a new ball bowler to take wickets? Isn’t his performance and worth judged on his strike rate and ability to take wickets?
Cook would be expected to talk up his premier fast bowler but his bizarre assertion of Anderson and not Steyn because of supposed skill (read potential) and not effectiveness (read strike rate) explains why England are a team at the back end of the chasing pack and why the Proteas are the ones leading the pack.There will never be consensus on who is the best fast bowler to have played the game. Arguments and counter-arguments include different eras, home versus away and quality of opposition batsmen at the time of a bowler’s career.
But when it comes to the greatest bowlers it’s about statistics, not opinion.
It explains why Steyn has consistently been ranked the best in the world, according to the ICC’s rankings, which assesses venue, conditions and strength of the opposition, in team ranking and batting rankings of the top order.
The facts are that Steyn, tested in all conditions home and away, and against every ranked opponent, is the strike king.
Australia’s Mitchell Johnson has on occasion been unplayable but he has always lacked the consistency to be a contender. Another Australian left-arm quickie, Mitchell Starc, was the toast of the 2015 World Cup.
Like Johnson against England in the most recent Ashes victory, he bowled with menace in bursts. But it is one thing to be a terror in short spells and another to do it in Test matches, home and away, in a 60-month period.
Many a player has enjoyed the branding of ‘potentially the best’ and opinion has turned the good into the very good, the very good into the great and the great into the legendary.
So who are Test cricket’s legendary strike bowlers? Opinion would be that it’s many of the famous West Indian pacemen and the Australians.But the reality is different because only five fast bowlers in the history of the game have taken their 200-plus wickets in less than 50 deliveries, with Steyn (41.4) a clear winner over Pakistan’s Waqar Younis (43.4), Windies’ Malcolm Marshall (46.7), fellow South African Allan Donald (47) and England’s Trueman (49.6).
Not that Cook would agree.
This appears in the current issue of Business Day/Sunday Times Sport Monthly.
The column does not take into consideration the current Test being played at Lord’s.