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Dale Steyn: Greatest Of All Time?


Dale_Steyn_Cricket_South_Africa(Numbers accurate prior to 1st day of the 2nd Test between Sri Lanka and South Africa, 2018)

Fast bowling is hard work. Experts estimate that around 9 times a bowler’s body weight goes through his front foot when it lands on the crease during his delivery stride. It’s no wonder that fast bowlers have shorter careers and are more injury prone than batsmen and spin bowlers.

In the history of cricket, there have been many fast bowlers whose longevity was cut short because of their injuries.

Dale Steyn has played 87 Tests for South Africa but has missed 47 since making his debut in December 2004. But there is more to Steyn than just his numbers. He can generate extreme pace. He has a beautiful out-swinger which can be viewed on loop. Some might argue that James Anderson is a better bowler. That might be true in conditions that aid swing, but Steyn is more versatile and is definitely superior when the tracks are placid and there is no help from the atmospheric conditions.

Is Steyn all-time great? Let’s see what an analysis of his bowling stats tells us. The table below gives Steyn’s bowling record in home, away and neutral conditions.





Bowl Average

Bowl S/R

5 wkts/inn

10 Wkts/Test






























Unlike most bowlers, who have a much better record at home than away, Steyn’s overseas record is phenomenal as well, both in terms of bowling average and strike rate. His record in neutral venues is not impressive, but that is due to a small sample size and is not a blot on his record.

Most fast bowlers excel in Australia and South Africa, where the pitches have a lot of pace and bounce. In New Zealand and England, there is a lot of lateral movement both in the air and off the pitch. In Asia, the pitches don’t help pacers with the new ball, but when the ball gets old and scuffed up, there is reverse swing on offer. The table below gives Steyn’s record in different parts of the world.





Bowl Average

Bowl S/R

5 wkts/inn

10 wkts/Match

Aus and SA combined







In Asia







Eng and NZ combined








His record in Asia, which is the stumbling block for most fast bowlers, is brilliant. His record in England and New Zealand is slightly misleading as he has played only 8 Tests in these 2 countries combined. In fact, England and the UAE are the only 2 countries where he has a bowling average in excess of 30, which shows how remarkable his performances have been all over the world.

Steyn is currently 10th in the list of leading Test wicket takers in the world and needs just 1 wicket to become the highest wicket taker for South Africa. There have been 71 bowlers who have taken a minimum of 200 Test wickets. Steyn has the 9th highest bowling average and the best strike rate amongst them. When you consider the greats to have graced this game, topping such an illustrious list shows his caliber.

He has taken 92 wickets in Asia, which is the most by a non-Asian fast bowler in the sub-continent. There have been 10 non-Asian fast bowlers who have taken a minimum of 50 wickets in Asia and Steyn takes wickets more often than any of them (Strike rate of 41.1).


Steyn’s bowling average in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th innings in Tests is 21.96, 23.25, 21.68 and 23.64 respectively. There is not much fluctuation in his figures, which shows that he is not dependent on the vagaries of the pitch.


He has taken 293 wickets in Tests where South Africa won, which is the 2nd highest by a pace bowler in victorious Tests for his country after Glenn McGrath. His 293 wickets have come at 16.1, with a wicket every 31 deliveries (31.5).

Incredibly, Steyn has never played more than 3 Tests in a series in his entire career, which shows how unlucky he has been with injuries. Despite this, he has taken at least 20 wickets in a series on 4 occasions, with his highest being 21 against India at home in December 2010.

By his high standards, Steyn had a mediocre start to his Test career, taking 51 wickets in his first 13 Tests starting from his debut on 17th December 2004 till the conclusion of his 13th Test which commenced on 8th October 2007. But, from his 14th Test onwards till 19th July 2018, he has taken 370 wickets in 74 Tests at a bowling average of 21.34 and a bowling strike rate of 40.9. This is the 4th most wickets during this time period and the 3rd best among pace bowlers after James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who have taken 480 and 417 wickets respectively. However, Anderson and Broad have played in 45 and 44 more matches than Steyn, respectively.

Steyn has taken more than 50 wickets in a calendar year on 3 occasions, with 74 in 2008 being the highest. This was the most wickets taken by a bowler in 2008. Among pace bowlers, only McGrath has taken 50 wickets in a calendar year more often (5).


287 of Steyn’s 421 wickets (68%) have been of batsmen batting in positions 1 to 7, which shows that he is not one of those bowlers who feasts on the tail. Out of his 421 wickets in Tests, 268 been caught while 90 have been bowled and 63 adjudged LBW. The batsman he has dismissed the most is Michael Clarke – 9 times.


Since Steyn’s debut South Africa have won 45, lost 21 and drawn 21 of the 87 Tests in which he has played, which is a Win-Loss ratio of 2.142. Without him, in Tests since his debut, they have won 22, lost 16 and drawn 9, which is a Win-Loss ratio of 1.375. South Africa’s win Win-Loss ratio improves by 55.78% when Steyn plays and that shows how influential he is.

Steyn has played just 6 Tests since December 2015 and with age against him (he turned 35 on 27th June), he may never again reach the heights of his heyday. However, that should not detract from his pedigree as a bowler, as this analysis has shown.

In conclusion, Steyn deserves to be in the pantheon of all-time great fast bowlers for his stupendous achievements in all conditions and in different parts of the world. If not for injuries, he would challenge McGrath’s record of most Test wickets by a pace bowler (563). Even if his career were to end right now, he still will go down as one of the greatest of all-time and the best fast bowler of his generation.


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