Analysing the reasons why Dale Steyn is a better Test bowler than James Anderson
One of the best sights in cricket is seeing a fast bowler running in with a red cherry in hand and shattering the stumps. Nothing can match that. Over the years, we have seen the West Indian bowlers make opposition batsmen dance to their tunes, Pakistan's pace trio bamboozle the batsmen with their pace and swing, the likes of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Shane Bond and Alan Donald etc. dominate the opposition.
McGrath, with 563 Test wickets, is the leading wicket-taker among the pacers and one bowler who can surpass him is England's, James Anderson. Recently, Anderson became the third bowler after McGrath and Courtney Walsh to take 500 Test wickets and the 35-year-old is currently in the sixth position on the list of all-time wicket-takers.
Anderson has already set his sights on playing the 2019 Ashes and if he remains injury free, he will easily go past the Aussie's tally. Meanwhile, he has a rival who has also threatened to surpass McGrath's rally, Dale Steyn. Over the last decade, Steyn has been the best Test bowler by a long way and has often been pitted against the Englishman for the 'best fast bowler of this generation' tag.
Who is the better bowler? Jimmy Anderson or Dale Steyn? Let us take a look at a detailed analysis between two of the best Test bowlers of this era.
Anderson and Steyn made their Test debuts for their respective teams just 18 months apart. It took Anderson five long years to cement his place in the English Test team as they had the likes of Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Freddie Flintoff, Simon Jones etc in their ranks.
On the other hand, Steyn had a few nervous moments in his first few matches after making his debut in December 2004, as he was dropped from the side in 2005 before making a strong comeback the next year.
Since then, there was no turning back for the Proteas bowler as he established himself as a part of the South African pace attack that had the likes of Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini. Under the guidance of Pollock, he had his breakthrough season in 2007, as he took 44 wickets in seven matches at an average of 17.47.
Just as Steyn hit a purple patch in 2008 with 74 wickets in 13 Tests at 20, Anderson became a regular in the English side, establishing himself as the focal point of England's bowling attack in the format. That year saw him take 46 wickets in 11 matches at an average of 29.
Fast forward by a decade or so and the Lancashire lad has become one of the most feared bowlers around the world while Steyn, after holding the world number 1 Test ranking for bowlers from 2008-2014, has fallen behind the Englishman in the overall wickets tally, thanks to the injuries that ruined his career.
Anderson became the third fast bowler to take 500 Test wickets, and with 506 scalps in 129 matches at an average of 27.39 till date. Steyn, who last played a Test in November 2016, has accounted for 417 wickets in 85 matches at an average of 22.30 in his career. Adding to this, Anderson takes a wicket every 56 balls compared to Steyn's 41.
Verdict: Anderson might have edged past Steyn in the overall wickets tally but the rate at which Steyn takes his wickets puts him far ahead of Anderson as a Test bowler.
Home and away figures
Doing well at home is a cakewalk for most of the cricketers. What matters most though is how they perform away from home, which is what separates normal cricketers from the greats. So, a player's performances outside his home should always carry more weight.
Let us take a look at how both of them have fared in the opposition's home. In spite of taking 506 Test wickets, many believe that Anderson's new-ball partner Stuart Broad is a better bowler than him because of his ability to bowl consistently well outside England. This is evident from the fact that Anderson's numbers outside Britain look average.
Out of the 506 wickets he has taken so far, 335 have been taken at home when compared to just 171 in away Tests. His 171 away wickets came at an average of 33.46 while his home ones came at 24.29.
Steyn, on the other hand, has a brilliant record away from home too. In spite of playing 14 matches fewer than Anderson away from home, Steyn has taken five more wickets.
Steyn has taken 176 wickets outside South Africa at an average of 24 while his 241 wickets at home came at an average of 21.
Verdict: The number of runs conceded per wicket (average) and the number of balls taken to dismiss a batsman (strike-rate) for Dale Steyn away from home are miles better than James Anderson's at home. Nothing else is needed to point out who the better bowler is in this aspect.
Numbers in winning cause
It doesn't matter how well you play, at the end of the day, winning the match for your team matters the most. Ask any player and he will tell you that a small contribution in a winning cause is always more satisfying than an outstanding performance in a losing cause.
Both these bowlers are proven match-winners for their respective teams, as they have won many matches single-handedly. Anderson's records in matches that were won by England are very impressive as he has accounted for 284 wickets in just 59 matches at an average of 20 and strike-rate of 43.
One might feel that this puts Anderson ahead of Steyn in this category. Unfortunately for the Englishman, Steyn's numbers are
Bradmanesque Steynesque in matches won by South Africa. An average of 16 and a wicket every 31 balls are simply phenomenal for any bowler who has been a part of 44 matches, irrespective of the conditions.
With 291 wickets, Steyn has seven wickets more than the Englishman in spite of playing 15 matches fewer than him.
Verdict: Is it difficult to pick the better bowler between the two in a winning cause? No, it is as easy as picking the better club in European Cups between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Once again, Steyn has the upper hand in this category.
This slide is a sort of in-depth analysis of their away numbers where we zero in on one particular condition. In spite of doing well in Asia, off-spinner R Ashwin is not considered a world-class spinner because of his struggles outside the continent and for a spinner, the real challenge is to do well in Australia, England, South Africa etc.
This is one of the main reasons why Shane Warne is considered the greatest spin bowler ever in spite of taking 92 wickets fewer than Muttiah Muralitharan, because the former took a majority of his wickets in Australia and England while the latter did it in Asia.
Asia is always considered to have spinner-friendly conditions and the fast bowlers have their task cut out whenever they tour the countries in the continent. So, to be a successful fast bowler, one has to prove himself on the spin-friendly wickets in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the UAE.
Let us take a look at how both the bowlers have fared in conditions that are alien to them. Both have played the same number of matches in Asia and Steyn has almost twice the number of wickets that Anderson has in the continent.
Steyn has been terrific on wickets in the sub-continent and UAE as he has taken 114 wickets at an average of 22.66 when compared to Anderson's 59 wickets at an average of 30. Adding to this, Anderson takes approximately 27 more balls than Steyn to strike in these conditions.
Verdict: An average less than the career average in Asia for a pacer is simply phenomenal. There shouldn't even be an argument on who is the better bowler in Asia, conditions that are very tough to exploit for a fast bowler. Dale Steyn all the way.
After 85 Tests
After taking in to account all the numbers, one can easily say that Dale Steyn is miles ahead of Anderson when it comes to bowling in the Test format. Despite playing fewer matches than the Englishman, the devastation caused by the South African is much more. One can only imagine what Steyn could have achieved had he remained fit and played consistently like his English counterpart.
This is one area where Anderson deserves a lot of credit. The demands of the game and the effort fast bowlers put in definitely take a toll on the body and Anderson has overcome all these things and managed to stay fit for a longer period of time than Steyn. Playing just one format has helped his cause, however, it is still a fantastic achievement by the Lancashire man to remain injury-free throughout his career.
Adding to this, England have played more matches than the Proteas in the last one decade and this helped Anderson race past Steyn on the wicket-takers' list. So, why not compare them after their first 85 Test matches?
With 417 wickets at 22.3, Steyn has outclassed Anderson in this category as well as the latter had managed just 358 wickets at 24.3 after 85 Test matches.
Verdict: Five out of five for Steyn. The South African has pipped Anderson in every single department and is, without a shadow of a doubt, better than the England pacer.