Friday, August 5, 2011

Is Dale Steyn, The Greatest Fast Bowler Ever

There is little doubt that the Modern Age of Cricket has seen the game become so in favour of the batsmen. You see this not only through the observation of your eyes, but also with the support of figures:

In the history of the game, 40 batsmen have career averages of 50 or over

17 batsmen starting there careers in the 80's or after have averaged 50

In 2010 alone 27 batsmen averaged over 50

Good time to bat isn't it?

I am even thinking of dusting off my old pads and practising my forward defensive

Ultimately bowlers have had their effectiveness blunted and only been allowed to be a factor when on the oft occasion a pitch resembles what it should in a Test match. In regards to being an equal test for all, rather than being shamelessly in favour of one aspect of the game

Hugely relevant to all involved in the game, but one.............

The one im referring to is the South African quick bowler Dale Steyn

For while most, if not all batsmen have looked as if they were on a Jamaican beach surrounded by girls in bikinis and sipping Jamaican Rum. 

Steyn has been like the bogey man in all of their sweetest dreams

Testimony is his career figures. which are accentuated when you look at his mastery from 2010 onwards

Career, 65 Tests, 122 innings, 322 wickets, average 22.65 strike rate 41.1

2010- 11 Tests, 20 innings, 60 wickets, average 21.41, strike rate 39.2

2011- 5 Tests, 10 innings, 28 wickets, average 19.57, strike rate 38.2

2012/13- 15 Tests, 29 innings, 72 wickets, average 21.76, strike rate 46.2

To put these remarkable figures into context any average of under 25 in this age is considered exceptional with Steyn having a career average in the mid 22's and a 4 year period of being consistently under 22. When you factor in his strike rate that hovers around 40 and below and consider a strike rate of 55 for a bowler is considered exceptional it makes you pose this very valid question

Is Dale Steyn the greatest fast bowler ever?

This indeed is a huge call, but giving it credence is the fact that he is only 29 with already 332 wickets that have been taken in all conditions. Then his strike rate is already the lowest of any fast bowler in the games history in what is regarded as an era very in favour of batsmen.

Injury allowing, he could play another 6 years and 70 odd Tests. Then going on his form line now, he could end up his career with near on 600 wickets. That would have him as the highest wicket taker in the games history for a pace man.

Lot of if, buts and maybes in seeing the future, but at present it is not as far fetched as it might seem.

So with me claiming Steyn as having a stake as potentially being the best ever- who are the bowlers who challenge this contention of mine?

Glenn McGrath (Australia)

There is little or no doubt that this great Australian fast bowler would be near the top of most choices for the best bowler ever. This supported by his record alone.

Career: 124 Tests, 243 innings, 563 wickets, average 21.64, economy rate 2.49, strike rate 51.9

Career Peak: 286 wkts at an avg of 20.50 with a S/R of 48.1 for McGrath

There are many things remarkable about McGrath with the one that stands out first and fore most is that he is the highest wicket taker for a fast bowler in the games history. Then aside from that, his economy rate of 2.49 runs per over is exceptional. Especially in the era he played where batting strike rates were being focussed on stringently with all Teams trying to score upwards of 3.5 runs an over.

His greatness is given credence by the completeness of his record with his highest average against any opposition being 27.33 against South Africa. Away from home his highest was 31 in Pakistan, but overall in Asia his average is 23.02

Also his record against the batsmen in the era considered great can't be overlooked either:

Brian Lara: 24 matches against him, dismissing him 15 times

Jacques Kallis: 14 matches, dismissed him 6 times

Sachin Tendulkar: 9 matches, dismissed him 6 times

Malcolm Marshall (West Indies)

This great West Indian was a freak of nature, and like McGrath, widely regarded as the best ever. 

81 Tests, 151 innings, 376 wickets, average 20.94, economy rate 2,68, strike rate 46.7

Career Peak: 238 wkts at an avg of 18.90 with a S/R of 43.1 for Marshall (1984-89)

The first thing that jumps out at you when you assess Marshall is his exceptional strike rate. That he maintained over 81 Tests making him arguably the sincerest strike bowler in the games history. As a bowler he had it all, swing, seam and a bouncer that was so dangerous that there were even moves to get it banned (im sure Mike Gatting would have supported this....!)

His record had no cracks in it with him performing every where. As seen by his highest average against any opponent being 22.51 again Australia and away from home 32.11 in New Zealand (only 3 Tests though)

Against the great batsmen of the time he was also impressive

Allan Border: 19 matches, 11 times dismissed by Marshall

Sunil Gavaskar: 14 matches, 8 times dismissed by Marshall

Imran Khan (Pakistan)

In looking at the credentials of any fast bowler from Asia, especially in Imran Khan's era. You have to take into account that for the large part of the time the pitches were tailor made for spin bowlers and in no way favourable to fast bowlers. So a fast bowlers with figures as exceptional as Imran Khan has to be given credence when looking at the best ever.

88 Tests, 142 innings, 362 wickets, average 22.81, economy rate 2.54, strike rate 53.7

Career Peak: 154 wkts at an avg of 14.85 with a S/R of 40.9 for Imran (1981-86)

Also in Imran's favour, when assessing his career is the fact that he was a Captain of Pakistan. Which is arguably the toughest role in cricket and also an all rounder. So he achieved these remarkable figures with the burden of two other roles. 

Like the others, his record was complete with his highest average against any opposition being 28.19 versus NZ. Then his highest average away from home was 28.51 in Australia.

Supporting his greatness was the fact that he came back from debilitating injuries too

His record against great batsmen in his time is very impressive also

Sunil Gavaskar: 18 matches, dismissed him 11 times

Gordon Greenidge: 14 matches, dismissed him 9 times

Fred Trueman (England)

The great English fast bowler from the 1950's- 60's with the lethal outswinger. He held the World record for wickets taken, until over taken by Lance Gibbs, and was beloved in England. He could bowl too as his record shows!

67 Test, 127 innings, 307 wicket, average 21.57, economy rate 2.61, strike rate 49.4

His strike rate and average alone makes him be viewed as one of the greatest fast bowlers ever. Then when you delve into the completeness of his record you are further in awe with his highest average being 25.3 against Australia.  Away from home his worst was 32.3 against the West Indies. The only flaw in his record was that he never played in Asia, so can't be judged in conditions that as a rule don't favour fast bowlers.

Which is a strike against him, but going on the skill he bowled with im sure he would have excelled in those conditions.

His performances against the best batsmen in the era was admirable

Rohan Kanhai: 15 matches dismissing him 9 times

Neil Harvey: 15 matches dismissing him 8 times

Gary Sobers: 16  matches dismissing him 7 times

Richard Hadlee (New Zealand)

Few in the games history have made the ball talk off the pitch like this great Kiwi seam bowler. He is a ex holder of the wickets record and his career totals are mind blowing

86 Tests, 150 innings, 431 wickets, average 22.29, economy rate 2.63, strike rate 50.8

Career Peak: 222 wkts at an avg of 18.76 with a S/R of 46.1 for Hadlee (1983-88)

Truly great bowler on whatever statistical view point you measure him on. When you look at his record against all oppositions his highest average is 28.39 against Pakistan that is adversely affected by one bad tour away against Pakistan where he averaged 44.7. His overall record in Asia is exceptional with an average of 21.58 and a strike rate of 42.7!

Against great batsmen of the era, he too was impressive:

Allan Border: 16 matches dismissing him 6 times

Greg Chappell: 13 matches dismissing him 6 times

Dennis Lillee (Australia)

One of the smartest bowlers in the games history with his ability to out wit batsmen. Also one of such heart recovering from a career threatening back injury in 1971. When he was a tear away fast bowler and other debilitating injuries throughout his career. Despite this, he held the record for most wickets ever for a time and his record is exceptional.

70 Tests, 132 innings, 355 wicket, average 23.92, economy rate 2.75, strike rate 52

The main criticism against Lillee is his lack of performance in Asia, so his record lacks completeness. He only played 4 Tests in Asia with 3 against Pakistan and 1 against Sri Lanka. Where he struggled with an average of 68.33.

Aside from this, his record against all other oppositions are very impressive with a highest averages, either home and away being the overall record of 27.74 against the West Indies.

In Lillee's favour was the fact that in the pomp of his career. At 28, his career was interupted for 2 years by his involvement in World Series Cricket. Robbing him of a chance to make his record even more impressive

A true feather in his cap was his record against the best batsmen in his career

Dismissing the immortal Viv Richards 9 times in 11 matches (the most times Richards was dismissed by a certain bowler)

Also dismissing David Gower 9 times in the 10 Tests they faced each other

Wasim Akram (Pakistan)

One of the most skilled bowlers in the games history being the master of reverse swing. That is now arguably the key tactic in the game.

104 Tests, 181 innings, 414 wickets, average 23.62, economy rate 2.59, strike rate 54.6

Career Peak- 195 wkts at an avg of 19.87 with a S/R of 46.4 for Wasim (1990-95)

In Akram's career, he played 63 of his 104 Tests away from home, so the fact that he couldn't exploit his knowledge of home conditions as much as others gives his record greater strength.

Despite this, his record in all conditions against everyone was very impressive with his highest average being 30.88 against England. Away from home his worst average was 39 against South Africa, but thats skewed by only having two Tests against them

Frank Tyson (England)

Sadly you can't really consider Tyson as the best ever, for he lacks the longevity in his career. That the others have, but in his 17 Tests, he arguably rocked the Test arena like no other. Such was his blistering pace, that lead Richie Benaud to label him as the fastest bowler in the games history. Then despite his pace, he could swing the ball out and cut it off the pitch too.

An absolute nightmare for batsmen as his record shows

17 Tests, 29 innings, 79 wickets, average 18.56, economy rate 2.45 strike rate 45.4

Allan Donald (South Africa)

The man known as 'White Lightning' and what an apt moniker for a man of such express pace with a stare that pierced you like a lightning bolt. His record is exceptional:

72 Tests, 129 innings, 330 wickets, average 22.25, economy rate 2.83, strike rate 47.0

Career Peak 233 wkts at an avg of 19.88 with a S/R of 43.1 for Donald (1995-00)

Donald was truly intimidating for any batsman, not just for the express pace he had, but his ability to swing the ball. Especially out making him a nightmare. That put the frighteners on opponents everywhere with his worst average being his overall record against Australia of 31.18 and his worst away record being 32.28 in Pakistan (only 2 Tests). Testimony to his skill was his remarkable 20.33 average in Asia combined with a strike rate of 48.5

Alan Davidson (Australia)

My boyhood idol was this great left arm fast bowler, and now he is a player I always get into debates over with the youth. When they exclaim Wasim Akram as the best left armer ever. His record is exceptional

44 Tests, 82 innings, 186 wickets, average 20.53, economy rate 1,97, strike rate 62.2

His career average and economy rate is one of the lowest for a fast bowler in the games history. Then the beauty of 'Davo' was his ability to perform anywhere with his highest average against any opposition being 23.76 against England. His worst away average being 25.45 in England. In Asia, he was devastating averaging 17.86 in 10 Tests

Waqar Younis (Pakistan)

You can't have one W (Wasim Akram) without including the other W- Waqar Younis, and my word. What a great bowler this express fast bowler with the mastery of swing was. His record supports this

87 Tests, 154 innings, 373 wickets, average 23.56, economy rate 3.25, strike rate 43.4

Career Peak: 194 wkts at an avg of 20.02 with a S/R of 38.0 for Waqar (1990-95)

Waqar's career strike rate stands out like a beacon, and in the 5 years at his peak. The strike rate of 38 was just mind blowing. Great bowler and like the rest a complete bowler as his record shows. His worst record, albeit only over 4 Tests was a average of 48.75 (76.5 away) against India. Though balancing his record is the fact that he was never able to fully capitalise of his mastery in home conditions with on 33 Tests in his career being played in Pakistan. The other 54 Tests in his career were played away giving greater weight to his overall record.

His pure skill  in regards to swing was in the top echelon in the games history. As this ball that made an immortal batsman like Brian Lara look silly showed:
Curtly Ambrose (West Indies)

I have the greatest respect for Alan Border and his batting prowess against anyone, but on one of his final confrontations with the West Indies. He exclaimed how glad he was that he didn't have to face Ambrose again, such was his regard. That told me told everything of the greatness of the giant Antiguan Curtly His record is mind blowing

98 Tests, 179 innings, 405 wickets, average 20.99, economy rate 2.30, strike rate 54.5

Curiously the only hole in his record is against India having an average of 38.26. Despite playing all 9 Tests against them at home. His mastery is again shown by the fact that his away record of 20.78 is slightly better than his home record of 21.19

A Few Old Timers For Consideration: Sydney Barnes, George Lohmann and Fred Spofforth

All three of these had truly remarkable records which are as follows:

Sydney Barnes:

27 Tests, 189 wickets, average 16.43, economy rate 2.36, strike rate 41.6

George Lohmann:

18 Tests, 112 wickets, average 10.75, economy rate 1.88, strike rate 34.1

Fred Spofforth:

18 Tests, 94 wickets, average 18.41, economy rate 2.48, strike rate 44.5

On their records you would have them as first choices in any discussion regarding the best fast bowlers. Though the thing that goes against them is the fact that in all 3 careers there were only 3 Teams playing. So they lose credibility by the lack of other oppositions, and the differing conditions others were confronted with. Though this can't really be held against them, for you can only be judged by who were your opposition, and in all three cases they were exceptional. Like few others

Two Others- Mike Procter and Vince van der Bijl

These unfortunate South Africans had their careers ended in Procter's case and never started in Big Vince's case. Though I say without a shadow of a doubt that they are two of the finest bowlers that I have ever seen. In truth, if he played in Tests, id have no doubt that I would  be nominating Van der Bijl as being the best. For think of Glenn McGrath and then add 10 kms to his pace..... Also Procter was a nightmare bowler that would have ripped batting line ups to shreds.


  1. Points made in this article are undermined by the poor grammar.
    Learn to use apostrophes. No, they are not used to form plurals - ex: "two South Africans".
    In order to be taken seriously, you have to be literate in the language you use.

  2. To the comment above:- Rather than commenting as Anonymous and being critical, how about you leave your name? Your worried by poor grammer, but have forgot the actual article is brilliant. It has good factual points and is a good guide to decide the best Fast Bowler ever. Next time, atleast have the decency of leaving your name.

  3. Hey Tim sir, this is the best blog to judge a fast bowler. I didn't knew many of the things before reading this blog. I m a big fan of ur articles. U r d best sir... Getting back to ur blog, i felt Wasim Akram and Waqar were the best bowlers if we talk about hunting in pairs but Dale steyn is certainly one to watch out for provided he doesnt get injured as he got injured in the cl t-20 semi final against Csk.

  4. Imy and Rohan, thanks for the kind words on the article.

    Also 'Anonymous'- agree with Imy that it would have benefited me with your 'constructive criticism' if you indeed left your name. Then at least I could have tapped into your 'wisdom'

  5. Great article Tim. I agree with Rohan about Waqar and Wasim. Watch out for Morne Morkel though. He is only now starting to get it completely right. He and Steyn makes a formidable bowling pair that can rip any batting line-up to shreds. Morkel with his uncomfortable steep bounce and Steyn with his skiddy off the pitch bowling. Can't wait for Australia to arrive in SA in October...

  6. Thank you for you kind words Ashley.

    And I agree Morne Morkel is an absolute star

  7. An amazing read. Thanks for sharing and please keep doing this great work. Cheers

  8. Great read as usual Tim. I think all time best fast bowlers are Wasim Akram, Mohd Asif and Shoaib Akhtar.