The notion that English opening bowler Jimmy Anderson is on a par with our very own Dale Steyn really shits me. To be fair, it is usually the Poms who fuel this fire and bless them for it. They need something to pick them up and out of the mucky-muck lives they lead on that wet and dreary island of theirs. True to form, the Steyn vs Anderson argument was reignited recently by none other than the current English skipper, Alastair Cook, who told the press that in his
esteemed opinion, Jimmy was in the same class as Dale and at one stage even insinuated that perhaps Jimmy could do more with the ball than Dale could. Pffffft! Whilst in my biased opinion, that is a load of shite, I feel it high time to end this argument once and for all. To achieve this, we need to keep our emotions out of the situation and focus on the cold, hard stats.
For the record, Alastair was quote as saying:
“No disrespect to Dale Steyn in terms of actual skill, but the way that Jimmy can swing the ball both ways I don’t think Dale does that quite as well as Jimmy, although Dale has the advantage of being able to bowl quicker. You would put both of them in the same class.”
In truth, to even consider comparing the two bowlers is a laughable notion. Dale Steyn is a Rolls Royce to Jimmy Anderson’s Hyundai i20. And they still persists with the comparison despite the facts drawing a clear line in the sand. It baffles. Anyway, let’s move on, shall we?
*As a side, the stats used below include data from the recently completed Test series between England and India.*
Firstly, the most basic of numbers for each player: Their current Test bowling stats.
What is of interest in the above image is that Steyn’s strike rate – or ‘Balls/Wicket’ aka how many balls each bowler bowls before he takes a wicket – is so exceptional that when compared to some of cricket’s legendary bowlers who played 50 Tests or more, he has no compeers. The below bowlers are consider cricketing gods by most and their strike rates are nowhere close to that of Steyn’s: Malcolm Marshall (46.7), Allan Donald (47.0), Fred Truman (49.4), Joel Garner (50.8), Richard Hadlee (50.8), Michael Holding (50.9) and Glen MaGrath (51.9). Interesting.
In comparison, Anderson’s strike rate places him in the company of workhorses the likes of Andy Caddick (57.9), Merv Hughes (57.9), Steve Harmison (59.1) and Peter Siddle (59.6). On their best days, these fella’s efforts would have been – and for some, are – described as “workman-like”, which is not a term to be associated with the best in the world.
Moving on. Claiming to be the best in the world at any discipline requires you to pit yourself against the best and come out on top. In the recent past, the top Test playing nations have been Australia, India, England and South Africa and it is of interest to note both bowler’s stats against the Baggy Greens and Indians (By way of interest, Anderson averages 38.05 against South Africa at a strike rate of 71.5 whilst Steyn averages 32.63 against England at a strike rate of 56.3).
Also worth noting are their statistics on the subcontinent, which by and large is the true test for any fast bowler as the lifeless pitches found in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India offer limited assistance to any fast bowler. To put Steyn’s strike rate in context, the greatest subcontinent spinner of them all, Muttiah Muralitharan, only ever managed a strike rate of 53.2 on the very tracks he grew up on. Anderson, in comparison, has to bowl 28 more balls – almost 5 overs – before he takes a wicket.
To be fair, those who argue in Anderson’s favour constantly refer to the fact that ‘current form is the real test’ and on current form, Jimmy is only on par with Steyn. Not better. Just on par. Below are the annual averages and strike rates of each fast bowler for the past five years.
Despite Anderson’s rollicking summer, which has seen him stick it to the Indians, his average – which is the lowest it has been over the time period – is still a massive four runs worse than Steyn’s, whilst his strike rate is 13 balls off the pace. Don’t forget that Jimmy has played the majority of his Test this year on the seam-friendly pitches of England, whilst Steyn’s has toiled away in Sri Lanka and most recently Zimbabwe. What is noticeable is Steyn’s consistency throughout the time period, with perhaps the exception of 2012. Anderson, on the other hand, is hailing down a shower of shit one day and a barrage of tight bowling the next.
What a bowler can do in the second innings of a Test match is the key difference between good and class. Performing well when bowling to a team for the second time is much harder than the first as the bowler is fatigued and will generally receive little assistance from the pitch. This facet of a fast bowler’s stats suddenly takes on a weighted importance when debating who of the two are the best. The stats speak for themselves.
Basically, if you want to close a match out, Steyn is your man!
There is something to be said about the skill required to move the ball both ways and Cook’s suggestion that Anderson does this is warranted. Steyn too can do this, albeit with less effect and at a far greater speed, however, one has to question whether swing is the true measure of a fast bowler’s skill? Is the skill rather not the ability to relentlessly put the ball in the perfect place, ball after ball after ball? The stats suggest that whilst Steyn never gives you a moment to relax, Anderson will inevitably bowl a good ball followed by a meh one.
With that in mind, it is clear that Alastair Cook has no idea what he is talking about!
In closing, there is a reason Anderson is always compared with Steyn, and never vice versa. If Steyn can take 17 wickets in his next four matches, he will become the quickest fast bowler EVER to 400 Test wickets. Only Muralitharan would have got there faster. Hadlee got there in 80. This kind of record is not available to Jimmy Anderson and the reason he is a workhorse and not a class act.
You stay classy,