Steyn vs. Anderson: it’s not debatable

By Ant Sims 24 May 2013

David Saker made the big mistake of calling James Anderson “the most skilful bowler in the world” after the Lancastrian become the fourth Englishman to pass the 300-wicket mark in Test cricket. While his comments hold some merit, skill doesn’t mean he’s the best, and there really isn’t much to debate regarding who is. BY ANT SIMS.

After James Anderson became the fourth English bowler to pass the 300-wicket mark in Tests, England bowling coach David Saker said he was the most skilful bowler in the world. His comments caused a right old kerfuffle – not unlike the controversy last year ahead of South Africa’s tour to England, when there were murmurs of England having the better-rounded bowling attack.

Those comments, stripped down to their essence, are perhaps true: England has Graeme Swann as a spinning option and when it comes to an all-round attack, they might be better. Does that make them the best? Of course not. South Africa’s bowling prowess has meant that they don’t need a spinner, much like the West Indies attack in their heyday didn’t need a spinner.

As Anderson’s coach, Saker’s comments are understandable. He is there to guide him, to motivate him and to give him confidence. What better way to boost somebody’s ego than to say that he’s good at what he does?

Saker’s comments do have some merit. When it comes to skills of executing both an inswinger and an outswinger to perfection, Anderson is arguably better than Steyn. Arguably being the operative word in that sentence. His action doesn’t change much and after 10 years, he’s finally learnt how to swing the ball, old and new, in any conditions. When it comes to swinging skill, Anderson might edge his compatriot, and for that he deserves a lot of credit. Does the fact that he has plenty of skill in certain departments make him the best in the world? Of course it doesn’t, and even Anderson himself was a bit stunned by his coach’s comments.

“It’s a lovely thing for Sakes to say — but it’s his opinion. It’s strange when you hear things like that, because I look up to Dale Steyn. He is obviously very quick. He has the ability to hit people in the head at 90mph and swing the ball. He is also relentless with his accuracy — a very formidable bowler,” Anderson said.

England’s spearhead hailed Steyn as somebody other bowlers respect.

“Steyn is a bowler that everyone looks up to. When you see someone like him at the top of his game, it makes you want to improve and try to compete with him. What I try to do is improve as much as I can so I can be the best bowler I possibly can. If that puts me up there with him then, great, but at the moment I see him as comfortably the best in the world.”

Much has been written on these pages about South Africa’s pace ace.  He is the best bowler of our generation and his ability to bounce back from a “slow” series is unmatched. On paper, there is nobody better than Steyn; that cannot be disputed.

When it comes to swagger, aggression, pace and being a remarkable fast-bowler, there is nobody better than Steyn – in all formats. His adaptability across formats and in different conditions makes him a supreme athlete and if he were American, he’d have been inducted into some or other “Hall of Fame” long ago. His figures won’t tell it all, but Steyn has been sublime in the IPL. He’s taken 19 wickets in 19 games in conditions totally different to where he learned to master his craft. India’s brutal humidity and high temperatures have not deterred his ability to keep things tight and he has managed to restrict the scoring rate of the opposition up front on more than one occasion. That is a special skill to have: in a game of swing and miss, he’s managed to keep some of the highest-rated players in the world quiet. That kind of adaptability is just one of the things which sets him aside from anybody else, but it’s the Test arena where Steyn has really stood out as one of the best to ever grace the game.

In 65 Tests, Steyn has taken 332 wickets, while Anderson has managed 305 in 81 Tests. Average-wise, Steyn is also head and shoulders above Anderson. Steyn averages 22.65 while Anderson is still sits at 30.14. The South African has taken 21 five-fors and five ten-fors compared to Anderson’s 13 and one.

Those are simple statistics which serve as proof, as if anybody needed it, that Steyn is the best in the world, if not one of the best ever. There might be three kinds of lies in the world – lies, damned lies, and statistics – but even without arranging figures to beguile, it’s hard to argue that anybody is better than Steyn at the moment. After all, who else is going around telling Sachin Tendulkar how he wants to take his head off?

It’s that kind of snappy, fierce attitude coupled with ferocious pace which sets Steyn apart from the rest of the pack. Those statistics? Well, they’re just the cherry on top of a rather big cake. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Dale Steyn (L) is congratulated by teammate Hashim Amla after dismissing Australia’s Nathan Lyon at the WACA during the fourth day’s play of the third cricket test match in Perth December 3, 2012.  REUTERS/Stringer; and England’s James Anderson (R) celebrates after the dismissal of West Indies’ Kieran Powell for 5 runs during their first test cricket match at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London May 17, 2012.  REUTERS/Philip Brown



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