South Africa’s over-dependence on Dale Steyn – A misconception?

Dale Steyn – terrifying pace coupled with pinpoint accuracy

Some players are like the nitro-boost in racing games – their usage needs to be timed perfectly. On the other hand, there are players like Dale Steyn – players who would give their one hundred percent – day in, day out.

In the freezing cold of a London morning or the sweltering heat of a Jamaican afternoon, Dale Steyn will bowl. The sweat may drip down his body and his legs may tire, but Dale Steyn will give it his all – every single ball, every single spell, and every single match.

Statistically, Steyn has already booked himself a spot amongst the greats. 332 scalps in 65 Tests, at an incredible average of 22.65 runs per wicket, is downright stunning. Amongst bowlers who have taken more than 150 wickets, his strike rate of 41.1 is the best in the history of Test cricket.

The Steyn-gun does not get tired of showing off his obvious class in the shorter formats either. In 73 ODIs for the rainbow nation, Steyn has seen the back of the batsman 102 times, at a more-than-decent average of 29.07 and a miserly economy of 4.92.

Those are good numbers – numbers any bowler would be proud of. But to appreciate the sheer magic and the raw effectiveness of Dale Steyn, a glance at his performances in South African victories should do the trick.

In Tests where South Africa has ended up on the winning side, Steyn averages a jaw-dropping 16.02, at a surreal strike rate of 30.7. He averages 23.94 at 31.2 in ODI victories – again, significantly better than his results in losses.

Surprisingly, South Africa have fared better without Dale Steyn in ODIs

He has made himself close to indispensable due to his deadly habit of ripping apart high quality top-orders with effortless ease. Of his 234 Test wickets in South African victories, 155 of them are of batsmen slated above number seven – a staggering 66.24%.

Steyn possesses what most others don’t – a unique amalgamation of raw pace coupled with immaculate line and length. When supported by an appropriate field setting, this combination ensures that runs become mythical whispers. He brings in the fear factor – the sickening moment of the geography of Craig Cumming’s face being permanently altered by a Steyn bouncer surely lingers in the minds of most batsmen.

Oppositions spend hours chalking out strategies on how to play him, and entire training sessions are dedicated to facing bowling machines operating in the “Steyn” mode.

Steyn has held the top position in the ICC Test Bowlers Rankings for a record four years in a row

South Africa has somehow secretly managed to please the cricketing gods. Mysteriously, they are constantly blessed with fast bowlers of immense skill and unquestionable talent. But Steyn isn’t just another talented South African speedster.

It would be unfair to say that he is one of the best fast bowlers of the decade. No, he is the best bowler. But is South Africa over-dependent on Steyn? Is the presence of the tear-away pacer an absolute necessity for the rainbow nation to be successful?

Since Dale Steyn’s Test debut on December 17th 2004, South Africa has played 85 Tests, Steyn featuring in 65 of those. Of those 65 Tests, the Proteas have won 35 – a win percentage of 53.84. In the 20 Tests Steyn has missed, the Rainbow Nation has won 8 – at a visibly lower win percentage of 40.

However, ODI statistics convey a different story altogether. Since Steyn’s ODI debut, South Africa has played 82 ODIs without him, and has won 55 – a success rate of 67.2%. With Steyn in the team, they have won only 43 of 73 – at a poorer success rate of 58%.

Those figures suggest that the South African bowling line-up certainly does not look meagre or lacklustre even without the seemingly indispensable Dale Steyn. Over the last few years, Steyn has been ably supported by a number of quicks – Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Rory Klienveldt, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and the evergreen Jacques Kallis have all played the role of being second fiddle to perfection. And in Steyn’s absence, any of these bowlers are perfectly capable of leading the attack.

Morne Morkel has a career bowling average of 29.97 in Tests, which comes down to 26.20 in South African victories. He effortlessly trumps Steyn in ODIs – his career average being 23.46. In victories, he gives away only 20.24 runs per wicket.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe is even better! His exploits in the ODI format are commendable; taking into consideration the fact that he lacks the pace of Steyn or the bounce of Morkel. In 48 ODIs, he has taken 77 wickets at an excellent average of 24.48. Fifty nine of those wickets have come in victories, where he averages a spectacular 20.04.

Vernon Philander has been a revelation

Vernon Philander has been a revelation

Vernon Philander had a dream start to his international career – on his debut, he picked up 5-15 to ensure that Australia folded up for a paltry 47. Thereon, there was no looking back.

In 16 Tests, Philander has picked up 89 scalps at a breathtaking average of 17.13. Currently ranked number two in the ICC Test bowlers rankings, he is Steyn’s closest competitor for the coveted number one spot – a spot that Steyn has held on to for a record four years.

Like wine, Jacques Kallis seems to get better with age. His astounding batting records often divert attention away from all the boxes he ticks as a bowler. In his 162 Tests, the 37-year-old has taken 288 wickets at 32.43 – a number that improves to 24.26 in victories.

In the 41 Test victories he has featured in since Steyn’s debut, he has picked up 79 wickets at 25.74. The 69 ODIs post Steyn’s debut where Kallis has been entrusted with the ball and the Proteas have ended up victorious, have yielded 52 wickets at 28.03.

Clearly, South Africa is not too badly placed without Steyn – this speaks volumes about the depth in their pace bowling battery. South Africa is a champion team. And no champion team relies on one or two players – it is always a complete team effort.

Dale Steyn is just one piece in a massive jigsaw that makes the Proteas a team of world beaters. He is arguably the biggest piece – but still, just one piece amongst many.

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