Dale Steyn called it quits after a glorious career for South Africa in Test cricket. Not very tall for a fast bowler but that did not diminish his stature and achievements with the red ball in the premier format of the game.
Steyn ended with 439 wickets in 93 Tests as the fifth-highest wicket taker amongst pace bowlers only after James Anderson (575 wickets), Glenn McGrath (563), Courtney Walsh (519) and Stuart Broad (450). Overall, he is the eighth-highest wicket taker in Test cricket history.
Steyn has an excellent average of 22.95 – the eleventh-highest amongst all fast bowlers in Test history (minimum of 40 Tests and 150 wickets). What stands out is the fact that his average is the third-best (only after McGrath and Muttiah Muralitharan) in the top-10 wicket-takers’ list – which basically tells us that he was able to maintain his high standards almost through his entire career which spanned for a little over 14 years.
But it is really his bowling strike rate which separates him from the rest and makes him the great he is.
STEYN – THE BEST STRIKE RATE IN TEST HISTORY
Steyn has picked a wicket approximately every 42 deliveries, ie 7 overs – this is the best strike rate (42.3) amongst all bowlers (pace and spin combine) in Test history (min. 40 Tests and 150 wickets). This is a testimony of his phenomenal wicket-taking prowess.
Only two fast bowlers – Richard Hadlee (2.87 wickets per innings bowled) and Dennis Lillee (2.69 wickets per innings) have a better wickets per innings ratio than Steyn (2.57).
Only five fast bowlers – Hadlee (every 1.91 matches), Lillee (2.33), Alec Bedser (2.55), Terry Alderman (2.73) and Alan Davidson (2.75) have a better frequency of fifers in an innings and ten-wicket hauls in a match (combined) than Steyn (every 3 matches; 26 fifers and 5 ten-wicket hauls in 93 Tests) in Test history.
But Steyn is in a league of his own and stands tall right at the top when one considers the product of bowling average and strike rate. This basically indicates that when we take a combination of balls bowled per wicket taken and runs conceded per wicket taken it is Steyn who comes out at the top amongst the 101 bowlers in Test history who have played in at least 40 Tests and picked at least 150 wickets – an indicator of his great wicket-taking abilities in the format.
This is an incredible achievement.
A MATCH-WINNER AND A SERIES-WINNER FOR SOUTH AFRICA
Steyn had been the spearhead of the South African pace attack for the most part of his illustrious career. He was at the peak of his bowling prowess between 2007 and 2016 where he aggregated 385 wickets in just 76 Tests (second only to Anderson who picked 424 wickets but in 107 Tests).
His average of 21.17 and strike rate of 40.5 during this period was the best for any bowler in the world (min. 80 wickets).
Steyn’s dominance in these 10 years can be seen in the numbers he notched in this period – in eight of these 10 years he had an average of less than 22 and in six of them a strike rate of less than 40 – these are sensational numbers!
It is not surprising then that South Africa had the best win-loss ratio (2.238) and winning percentage (52.22 %) in the world in this period.
Steyn’s performance with the ball is directly related to South Africa’s impeccable record away from home between October 2007 and July 2015. They were unbeaten away from home in 14 series (two or more matches) in this period. He was the highest wicket-taker in 7 of these.
It does not come as a surprise then that Steyn’s strike rate in away conditions (45.5) is the best ever for any bowler (min. 20 Tests and 80 wickets) after Shoaib Akhtar (44.8).
A GREAT RECORD IN THE SUBCONTINENT
Sub-continent wickets have been a challenge for visiting fast bowlers especially from SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries.
Some great fast bowlers have struggled in the hostile weather conditions and spinner-friendly placid wickets in Asia. Broad (average 38.14, strike rate 81.6), Mitchell Johnson (40.36, 80), Craig McDermott (37.14, 70.5) and Anderson (31.25, 70.2) – all have middling to poor records in Asia (including UAE).
And this is where Steyn’s outstanding record in the sub-continent stands out. He has picked 92 wickets in just 22 matches at an average of 24.11 and strike rate of 42.9.
No fast bowler from SENA nations and the West Indies has taken more wickets in Asia than Steyn. His strike rate is the third-best (overall, for all bowlers) after Waqar Younis (38.2) and Hadlee (42.7) in this region (min. 10 Tests and 20 wickets). This made Steyn a complete fast bowler and showed the variety in his repertoire. Not only was he lethal in helpful conditions in SENA countries but made the ball reverse and talk in barren Asian conditions.
Steyn was a genuine match-winner for South Africa. Of the 81 bowlers who have picked at least 50 wickets in at least 20 victorious Tests, Steyn has the fifth-best average of 16.60 after Hadlee (13.06), Imran (14.50), Derek Underwood (15.18) and Muralitharan (16.18).
His strike rate of 32.1 is the best in such matches in Test history again showcasing his lethal wicket-taking abilities in winning matches for South Africa. He is better than the likes of Younis (35), Donald (35.5), Marshall (38.1) and Imran (38.3).
Steyn made his Test debut against England at Port Elizabeth and played his last Test against Sri Lanka at the very same venue – his career coming a full circle after a little over 14 overs.
His numbers put him in the pantheon of all-time great fast bowlers in Test history.
And perhaps cement him as the greatest of them all!