Dale Steyn vs James Anderson; a debate that will go on for years and generations to come, for the sheer quality they possess and the audacious numbers they have under their names. Two of the greatest fast bowlers of this era, Steyn and Anderson have both been match-winners for their respective teams.

James Anderson became the fourth-highest wicket-taker in Test Cricket surpassing Glenn McGrath as he bowled Mohammed Shami during India’s tour of England in 2018. And with it, he became the highest wicket-taker among pace bowlers. Swing and seam have been Anderson’s forte and these exponents have given him enormous success. Still actively playing Test cricket, Anderson has a realistic chance of going past Anil Kumble’s tally of 619 wickets.

A bit contrary to Anderson’s success mantra, a South African went on to become one of the fiercest fast bowlers of the era with his pace, accuracy, swing, and bounce. Dale Steyn tormented oppositions with his intimidating pace throughout his career. However, injuries have been a constant hurdle for him since 2015, which led to his premature retirement from the longest format of the game.

Both the speedsters will undoubtedly go down as the two of the best of this era, who at their peak were some of the most difficult bowlers to face. Here we look at some of the numbers and statistics to find out who among the two had a greater impact in Test cricket:

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Overview:

The parameters include –

  • Wickets taken (longevity and fitness),
  • Bowling Average and Bowling Strike Rate (evaluating effort per wicket),
  • Wickets per Inning (evaluating the impact on each match) and
  • Innings per 5-fer (evaluating the frequency of high-impact performances)
Steyn v Anderson numbers

Insights:

  • Dale Steyn’s injuries cut short his career at 93 Tests and he finished with 439 wickets, which is nearly 150 wickets short of an active James Anderson, who seems all set to break the 600-wicket mark.
  • Steyn has conceded nearly 4 runs less and took about 14 deliveries less than Anderson for each wicket.
  • Steyn picked 0.5 wickets more than Anderson per innings.
  • Anderson takes nearly 4 innings more than Steyn for each 5-fer.

Steyn v Anderson in Asia:

Steyn v Anderson in Asia
  • Anderson concedes 7 runs more and takes 28 balls more than Sten per wicket in Asia.
  • Steyn picks nearly 1 wicket per innings more than Anderson.
  • Anderson has a solitary 5-fer in 41 innings in Asia, while Steyn has 5 in 38 innings.
  • Dale Steyn has been phenomenal in Asia, one of the best overseas pacers in the subcontinent

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Country-wise Average:

  • Both Steyn and Anderson have been phenomenal at home, averaging 21.62 and 23.77 respectively.
  • Steyn has a better average than Anderson in every country except England and UAE (Anderson has not played in Zimbabwe and Pakistan).
  • Steyn’s impressive away record played a huge role in South Africa’s unbeaten streak away from home for more than 7 years

Progressive Average:

Innings-wise progression of bowling average throughout the career.

Steyn v Anderson progressive average
  • Anderson started off on a brilliant note, averaging 14.60 after his first inning while Steyn had an average of 58.50 after 1 inning.
  • However, both the pacers had a similar average (35) after nearly 20 innings.
  • Steyn’s average has never gone above 25 since his 30th inning, while Anderson’s never gone below 26 after his 4th innings.

Distribution of Wickets based on Batting Position:

  • James Anderson has a high percentage of wickets from the top order, nearly 5% more than that of Dale Steyn
  • Almost almost one-third of Steyn’s wickets are of batsmen batting below number 7, nearly 6% higher than that of Anderson

Impact:

Terminologies:

[* PTW – Percentage of team’s wickets in all the matches involving the player

*NA and NSR – Average and Strike Rate of the player as compared to his teammates in all matches involving the player

*NAO and NSRO – Average and Strike Rate of the player as compared to all bowlers in all matches involving the player

* AI and SRI – Impact on Average and Strike Rate of the team With and Without the player]

James AndersonDale Steyn
Percentage of Team’s Wickets (PTW)23.89%28.47%
Normalized Average (TA)6.828.76
Normalized Strike Rate (TSR)7.5518.40
Normalized Average Overall (TAO)7.0911.62
Normalized Strike Rate Overall (TSRO)8.4224.07
Average Impact (AI)1.632.50
Strike Impact (SRI)1.885.29
  • Dale Steyn picks more than one-fourth (~28%) of his team’s wickets while James Anderson picks slightly less (~24%)
  • Anderson’s teammates concede 6.82 runs and take 7.55 balls more than him to get a wicket. While the numbers for Steyn are 8.76 and 18.40 respectively. This implies Steyn’s impact on his team as compared to his team mates was greater than that of Anderson on his team.
  • Steyn takes 24.07 balls less than every bowler involved in the game per wicket while Anderson takes 8.42 balls less than all bowlers.
  • Without Anderson, his team would have conceded 1.63 more runs and taken 1.88 more balls to dismiss a batsman. Steyn’s absence would have costen 2.50 runs and 5.29 balls extra per wicket. This again shows Steyn’s value for his side.

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From the overall numbers, we can say that Anderson has been extremely fit and athletic is the lone pacer to play 150 Tests. Steyn, despite having a lot of injury issues, had a far more impact throughout his career except for the little initial phase. Also, Steyn actively played and dominated all three formats of the game while Anderson’s limited-overs career never really took off and he has stopped playing white-ball cricket for more than half a decade.

The impact is magnified by Steyn’s glorious overseas records, especially in India and Sri Lanka which are considered to be the toughest for fast bowlers, implying the ability of Steyn to perform irrespective of conditions. Anderson’s records have been phenomenal in countries where pitches provide assistance for seamers but leave a lot of scope for improvement on flat and spin-friendly pitches.

Looking at the above numbers which show Steyn’s greater impact on his team than Anderson and his ability to succeed independent of the pitch, can we say that Steyn was a bigger match-winner and perhaps the best fast bowler of this era?

[Source for dataHowstat, ESPNcricinfo]