Dale Steyn – The Best in My Lifetime

Posted on January 20, 2011 by

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Wholeheartedly agreeing with Dileep Premachandran’s article, I recently tweeted that I think Dale Steyn is the best fast bowler that I have seen since I started sentiently watching cricket (1990-present). The best???, some asked. Yes, THE best, I said. Better than Allan Donald, Curtly Ambrose, Glenn McGrath, and Wasim Akram who are the other contenders for the spot. This post is to explain why I think Steyn is better than those legends.

First a few standard caveats. All these men are giants, so if I talk about a weakness or a shortcoming, it is from comparison at those astronomic levels. Secondly, my assessment is obviously subjective and based on some assumptions that you may or may not agree with. Thirdly, I am not going to use statistics, although in terms on average, Steyn is comparable to the rest of them, and in terms of strike rate, is miles ahead.

Let’s start with Allan Donald. Fearsome pace, smooth action, and probably the best in-swingers I have seen a right-hander bowl. The biggest point that Steyn scores over him is in the out-swing department. And that brings me to my first assumption. I believe that as lethal as a good in-swinger can be, good out-swing is more difficult to play, score against, even survive against. Donald’s in-swingers were lethal, and at his pace, it made him unplayable on his day. But without that prodigious outward swing that Steyn generates, it would be relatively easier to survive against Donald. Of course, another assumption I should clarify – I am thinking from the perspective of right handed batsmen because that’s the majority. Against left-handers, Donald’s in-swinger was just as lethal and potent. Which is why some of his most memorable spells came against left-handers. Against right-handers, his memorable spells (like that Trent Bridge spell to Atherton) consisted primarily of in-swingers, and while difficult to handle, were not as probing as Steyn’s out-swing spells. If you however disagree with my assumption and rate in-swing as being equally if not more potent than out-swing, I can see you won’t agree with my assessment.

The comparison with Ambrose and McGrath, similar bowlers, is somewhat easier. Those two lanky greats relied on bounce and movement off the seam. Not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But personally, I rate swing tougher to handle than movement off the seam. That’s another assumption for you. Ambrose and McGrath’s height meant they got disconcerting bounce. It also meant their length was a touch short. But it also meant that relatively…relatively more of their deliveries could be left alone. Not that batsmen always left them alone. But potentially, they were relatively easier to see off. Steyn’s swing combined with the length he consistently bowls at means that a batsman has to play at most of his deliveries. In other words, if Sachin Tendulkar is batting at his best, I’d expect him to find Steyn tougher to handle than Ambrose or McGrath.

The toughest comparison is with Wasim Akram whom I considered the best before Steyn came on the scene. Wasim’s swing was probably better than Steyn’s. Being a left-armer gave him the uncomfortable angle for right-handers. His superior ability to swing the ball both ways made him tough for left-handers to handle as well. And his length was a shade fuller than Steyn’s, making him even more must-play. Akram at his best was a tougher bowler than Steyn at his best. So how can I put Steyn ahead of him? Solely based on their bowling actions. Akram’s jerky action led to a lot of injuries throughout his career. It also meant that he was not as consistently at his best as Steyn is. Comparing the two over a longer period of time, Steyn’s smoother action gives him the consistency and longevity that is far better than Akram’s. I admit these are early days. Steyn has been around for just half a decade. But I believe his action will end up making him way more consistent, less injury-prone, and lethal than Akram.

So that’s my explanation of why Steyn is the best I have seen in my lifetime. It probably isn’t a water-tight argument and is based on assumptions I put forth. So I do expect healthy dissent.

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Article by Gaurav Sabnis