Dale Steyn - The greatest fast bowler to have played Test cricket
Mitchell Johnson blew away the English batting line-up with his pace at Lord’s to hand England a hiding. James Anderson responded for England, making the Australians dance to his tune at Edgbaston. Both of them, at different times, have been contenders for the title of “the best pace bowler of this generation”. In fact, many Australian and English fans have often claimed the title for their respective nation’s fast bowling sensation.
However, to all their amazement, the most deserving candidate of the title is currently playing 6 time zones east of the Ashes venue.
It can be said without an iota of doubt that Dale Steyn is the best fast bowler of present times. With due respect to Jimmy and Mitch’s achievements, it would be a futile exercise to weigh them against Steyn. Statistically, comparing them with Steyn’s fast bowling sidekicks – Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel – should be much more intriguing. But we can keep that for a later day.
On the occasion of Steyn becoming only the 13th bowler to take 400 Test wickets, let us look at where he stands vis-à-vis the greatest fast bowlers to have played Test cricket.
The statistical wonder that Steyn’s career provides
Firstly, let’s look purely at statistics. Keeping a cut-off of 200 Test wickets, only 7 fast bowlers have a better average than Steyn. Only one of them – Glenn McGrath – has played more than 8 matches post 2000. Dale Steyn played all his matches in this era.
If we look at strike rates, Steyn is second to none. In fact, he remains numero uno on the list even if we include the exceptional career of Sydney Barnes (189 wickets in 27 matches). He is easily the quickest in the 400 club, reaching the landmark in only 16634 balls. The second placed Sir Richard Hadlee is light years behind.
Statistically, there is little against Dale Steyn. However, I am sure there would be a lot of old school romantics who feel that he doesn’t match up to Lillee’s aggression, Marshall’s determination, McGrath’s accuracy, Imran’s swing or Hadlee’s control.
Well, Lillee and Trueman bullied batsmen when they did not even have a helmet. Steyn bowls to batsmen who reverse sweep fast bowlers for fun.
Bowling great in batsmen's’ era
West Indies’ four horsemen of apocalypse (Garner, Holding, Roberts and Croft) played in an era when one of the most dominant batsmen scored 36 off 174 balls. In Steyn’s era, the most dominant batsman scored 144 off 49 balls. Agreed AB de Villiers plays alongside Steyn and his heroic knock came in an ODI (and he might be the topic of a similar article on ODI batsmen), but he reflects the general audacity in batsmanship of this era.
For the major part their careers, McGrath had Warne while Wasim and Waqar had Saqlain to keep the opposition in check. The best spinner Steyn had for company was Paul Harris (103 wickets at 38).
Walsh and Ambrose didn’t have to keep themselves fit for the IPLs whereas Steyn has been a part of every season of the T20 tournament. In fact, none of his contemporaries – including Johnson, Zaheer and Malinga – have managed that.
In a nutshell, Steyn plays in an era when the edge of the bat is thicker than Kieron Pollard’s arm, when even pitches back home do not provide the amount of assistance that Pollock and Donald enjoyed, when even Nos. 10 and 11 have batting drills, when matches are engineered in favour of the batsmen so that the cricket boards are stocked with sponsors’ funds. Yet he matches the legendary fast bowlers of yesteryears wicket for wicket, and surpasses them more often than not.
To quote Harsha Bhogle, “It is human nature to underrate the present and grossly overrate the past.” But anyone guided by reason rather than romanticism would agree the Dale Steyn is the GOAT when it comes to fast bowling.