Is Dale Steyn the greatest fast bowler ever?

Vivek Kumar

On 17th December, Marcus Trescothick was bowled by a debutant speedster from South Africa - It was the beginning of a journey that still continues at 417 wickets in Tests. Dale Steyn, without a shadow of a doubt, is the greatest fast bowler of his generation.

Many fast bowlers have come and gone during his reign but no one has been as consistent as him. His dominance can be explained by the fact that he was the number 1 bowler in Test cricket for a record 263 weeks between 2006-2014.

However, how good of a contender is Dale Steyn when it comes to the greatest of all time?

Whenever the question arises of who is the greatest fast bowler of all time, the most common answers are either Wasim Akram or Glenn McGrath or Dennis Lillee or Sir Curtly Ambrose. So, let's have a look at bowling stats of the highest wicket-takers in Test cricket.

Sorting these bowlers according to their strike rates, 'Steyn-Gun' easily outshines the other greats with an impressive strike rate of 42.1.

Bowlers having highest strike rate with minimum 300 wickets in Test cricket. (Image credit - Wikipedia)
Bowlers having highest strike rate with minimum 300 wickets in Test cricket. (Image credit - Wikipedia)

Strike-rate of a bowler means the average number of balls bowled per wicket taken. In fact, Steyn has the best strike rate in Test cricket amongst bowlers who have bowled at least 10,000 deliveries. Most people confuse this with the average of a bowler which shows the number of runs conceded before taking a wicket. Despite that, Steyn still boasts an impressive average of 22.81.

However, now a question arises that are stats enough to prove if a particular cricketer is better than the others? This is where I believe Dale Steyn proves his mettle again. If you look at the bowling conditions that these 3 bowlers bowled in, you will realize that they were a lot more friendly. In the 80s and 90s, pitches had more bounce and swing.

They were less doctored and more dangerous for the batsmen. When you compare two batsmen of different eras, the first objection anyone points out is that the batsmen belonging to '80s or '90s played in more stiff conditions. So can we not say the opposite when it comes to comparing bowlers of different eras?

In Asia, where pitches are more spin friendly, Dale Steyn has outshone every overseas bowler. Dale Steyn has taken 90 wickets in 19 Tests with a strike rate of 39.7. In fact, this strike rate is better than all the bowlers who 25-plus wickets in Asia except Waqar Younis. Even the pitches outside Asia are not as friendly to a fast bowler as they were 2 decades ago.

The other thing that is often left unnoticed is the evolution of bats.

Barry Richards comparing his old bat with David Warner's
Barry Richards comparing his old bat with David Warner's

Here is a picture of Barry Richards comparing his old bat with David Warner's bat. The current cricket bats are a nightmare for any bowler. We have seen mis-hits going for six. The thickness of the bats has increased significantly over the years. Thus, back in the '90s, it was definitely tough for the batsmen to face those lethal bowlers. However, doesn't it makes easier for the bowlers to beat those thin bats?

To summarize, Dale Steyn has a terrific bowling record that is better than many of the bowling greats. However, the fact that he did it in a period where the bowling conditions were much more tougher, makes him a very strong contender for the greatest bowler of all time.

Edited by GVS Sastry


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