• Death incarnate

    Dale Steyn’s stats confirm that he is more dangerous at the death of an innings than he is with the new ball.

    Steyn is the No 1 bowler in the ICC Test rankings, and will go to the World Cup as the top-ranked seamer in ODI cricket. And yet, there’s a good reason why he should not be handed the new ball at this year’s global tournament.

    Recently, Steyn played in three of the five ODI matches against the West Indies. On all three occasions, Morné Morkel and Vernon Philander were entrusted with the new ball duties, while Steyn was used at first-change.

    It was a smart move considering Morkel and Philander have proved to be more penetrative at the top of an innings, while Steyn has developed into a latter-innings specialist. The stats support this statement.

    In the period between World Cups (October 2011 to January 2015), Steyn has played 42 ODIs and taken 70 wickets. His average over the past four years has been marginally better than that of his overall ODI career.

    However, what’s been interesting to note is that Steyn hasn’t enjoyed as much success when opening the bowling as he has during the middle overs and at the death. In fact, a whopping 28 of Steyn’s 70 wickets have come in the final 10 overs of an innings. That’s a ratio of 40%.

    What this suggests is that Steyn can be counted on to strike at the business end of an innings, rather than first-up with the new ball. Perhaps that is the formula that the Proteas must adhere to: Morkel and Philander making the initial inroads, Steyn chipping in during the middle overs, and then Steyn shouldering the responsibility to win or lose the game at the death.

    Since October 2011, Steyn has been used as an opening bowler on 32 occasions, and as a first-change option on 10. While there has been consistency across all 42 matches with regards to his  fine wicket-taking performances in the second, third, and fourth spells, there is another stat that helps one understand why he is a better bet at first-change.

    As an opener (during that time frame), Steyn has not proved particularly potent in his first spell. In 32 games, he has claimed just 10 wickets.

    In the 10 games where he has been used as a first change-bowler, Steyn has been more penetrative from the outset. To date, he has struck seven times in his first spell. And on average, he has followed that up later in the innings by claiming key wickets at the death.

    Much has been said and written about the coming tournament, and how it will be decided by the team with the best batting line-up. That may be true to a point, but one shouldn’t discount the impact of the bowling units as well as special individuals like Steyn.

    The opening bowler has a game-shaping role to play. For example, the opposition will want to dismiss the likes of David Warner early in Australia’s innings. For if they don’t, they could end up chasing 350 instead of 300. That said, a team needs a player capable of taking wickets at the death. Both roles are important.

    The stats suggest that Steyn isn’t the bowler for the former task, and that Morkel in particular is better suited to bowling first-up to the left-handed batsmen. What Steyn has proved over these past four years is that he is a bowler who can influence matches, and the Proteas will desperately need him to make the game-shaping plays in the middle overs, and at the death.