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Cricket news - Steyn - A slick machine made for speed and breaking records
439 wickets at 22.95 from 93 Tests. Dale Willem Steyn finishes with more wickets in Test cricket than any other South African. It will be an understatement if one limits him to South African cricket fraternity for Steyn is among the best the world has ever seen. Steyn ends his illustrious Test career as the eighth highest wicket-taker in the oldest format and no one within 250 wickets close to him has taken wickets at a more frenetic rate - a strike rate of 42.4.
Most wickets in Test cricket
Most wickets for South Africa in Tests
Early days and first break
Steyn made his Test debut alongside AB de Villiers against England in Port Elizabeth in December 2004 with just seven first-class matches under his kitty. His first five-wicket haul came in April 2006 against New Zealand at his home ground in Centurion, a love affair that would continue till then end of his career.
The big break in Steyn's career came in the 2007-08 season which he ended with 78 wickets - a record then for the most wickets in a single season. A second innings five-fer in Karachi in 2007 paved way for a series win in Pakistan and the start of South Africa's dominating away record for the next decade where they remained unbeaten in series away from home.
Steyn announced himself to the world in the home series against New Zealand later that year. In the two-Test series against the Kiwis, Steyn picked 20 wickets including three five-fers. The enduring image from that series is that of a poleaxed and blood-faced Craig Cumming as he missed an attempted hook off Steyn. Steyn followed up the New Zealand rubber with 20 wickets in three Tests against West Indies at home and 14 in two in Bangladesh. He was duly adjudicated Player of the Series in each of the three rubbers.
The season ended with a three-Test series in India, which the visitors drew 1-1 on the back of a win in the second Test in Ahmedabad. Steyn's spell of 8-2-23-5 on the first day morning helped South Africa to dismiss India before lunch for just 76 runs - the first instance of a side getting bowled out before lunch on day one of a Test in over 100 years. The year finished with a ten-wicket haul in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, which also included his career-best of 76 with the bat in a match-winning 180-run ninth-wicket partnership with JP Duminy as South Africa won their first rubber down under.
Steyn finished 2008 with 74 wickets and it remained his most successful calendar year in red-ball cricket and was awarded ICC Test player of the year in 2008 for his efforts. Between 2007 and 2014, Steyn was the leading bowler in the world with more wickets than any other bowler.
Most Test wickets between 2007 & 2014
The tormentor in the sub-continent
If the record in the sub-continent is a litmus test for a visiting fast bowler, then Steyn has come out of it with flying colours. South Africa remained unbeaten in Asia across seven series between 2007 and 2014, winning three and drawing four and they did so without a world-beating spinner in their ranks. The Proteas had one of the strongest batting outfits with the likes of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, and AB de Villiers at their disposal but in the absence of wicket-taking spinners, it was Steyn who carried the bulk of the load with the ball.
No other visiting pacer has taken as many wickets in Asia as much as Steyn's 92 and his strike rate of 42.9 is only bettered by Richard Hadlee's 42.7, among bowlers with at least 50 wickets. A career-best of 7/51 in Nagpur in 2010 resulted in a rare innings defeat for India at home and his match figures of 10/108 in the Test was his best in sub-continent. Four years later in Galle, his nine-wicket haul including 5/54 in the first innings, helped South Africa register a series win in Sri Lanka.
Most wickets by visiting fast bowlers in Asia
The Steyn-Morkel-Philander trinity
By 2011, Steyn was already the leader of South Africa's attack and lanky Morne Morkel combined forces, with him replacing Makhaya Ntini. Vernon Philander hit the ground running in an impressive debut in the home summer of 2011 and the trio raked up some impressive numbers in the 31 Tests all the three featured together.
The trinity picked 368 wickets in the 31 Tests they played together at an impressive average of 23.50 and a wicket every 49 balls. Steyn was the wrecker-in-chief with 144 wickets at 21.74, while Philander with his metronomic accuracy scalped 130 wickets at 21.04. Morkel with his hard lengths was largely the containing bowler of the three, which in turn helped the other two to bag a lot more wickets. South won 18 of these 31 Tests and lost just four.
Consistency across innings
One of the most remarkable aspects in Steyn's Test career is his consistency in numbers across the four innings testifying his multi-faceted skills - swing, seam movement, bounce, and reverse swing - he could conjure up whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. This was one factor that elevated him on a higher pedestal compared with his contemporary James Anderson among the cricket pundits.
He averages best in the third innings (21.82) and the lowest in fourth innings (25.46). In terms of his strike rate, he was again at his best in the third (38.8) and poorest in fourth (48.8). He has taken at least five five-wicket hauls in each of the four innings and his economy rates vary from 3.12 to 3.36 across the four innings.
A tame end to a memorable career
Steyn featured only sporadically in the longest format in the last four years of his career, playing in 16 of South Africa's 43 Tests since the start of 2015. In a large portion of this period, he was plagued by injuries one after another. His 400th Test wicket came in Bangladesh in July 2015, reaching the landmark faster than any player (in 80 Tests) in the history of Test cricket, barring Muralitharan.
The first injury stuck in November 2015 in India in the form of a groin strain which ruled him out for seven weeks. Back in action in home against England, he was sidelined again following a shoulder injury. Making his return in the home series against New Zealand in mid-2016, he picked his 26th and final five-wicket haul in Tests - against New Zealand in Centurion - the same place and opponent against whom he picked his maiden five-fer ten years ago.
The comeback didn't last long as he was ruled out for over a year after fracturing his right shoulder in Perth. A comeback against India in early 2018 ended with a damaged left heel which kept him on the sidelines for another six weeks. He finally broke Shaun Pollock's record for most Test wickets for South Africa in the first Test of the home summer in 2018 when he dismissed Fakhar Zaman of Pakistan.
His last Test was against Sri Lanka - at the venue where he made his Test debut - Port Elizabeth - and he ended it wicketless. The series also saw South Africa losing a Test rubber to an Asian side at home for the first time in its history. While playing against the same opponent, he went wicketless in his final away Test, with South Africa slipping to a series defeat. For a man who was the backbone of South Africa's successful reign in the sub-continent, the moment of him walking into the sunset couldn't have been more symbolic.
A few interesting nuggets from his career
42.4 - Steyn's strike rate in Tests - the best among the 74 bowlers with 200 or more wickets.
8 Wickets taken by Steyn against New Zealand at an average of 16.05 and a strike rate of 33.0. Among bowlers with 50-plus wickets against an opponent, Steyn's strike rate of 33 balls per wicket is the third-best after Syd Barnes's 25.6 against South Africa and Muralitharan's 30.5 against Zimbabwe.
31.6 - Steyn's strike rate in Centurion - the best ever for a bowler at a venue with 50-plus wickets. His tally of 59 wickets in ten Tests at his home ground is bettered only by the 74 wickets in Cape Town. He played three Tests against New Zealand in Centurion and picked up 25 wickets, including five-fers in all three, with his first and last five-for coming against the same opponent.
Steyn in Centurion
16.60 Steyn average in wins - the second-best among bowlers with at least 200 wickets in victories, only behind Muralitharan's 16.18. His strike rate of 32.1 is the best among the bowlers on this list. In losses and draws, his average nosedives to 37.39 and the strike rate doubles to 65.6.
4 Steyn is one of the four bowlers and only pacer to take five-wicket hauls against all of the ten oldest Test-playing nations. The others to do so are Muralitharan, Rangana Herath and Shakib-Al-Hasan.
9 Instances of Steyn dismissing Michael Clarke - the most he dismissed any batsman. Clarke averaged 29.11 per dismissal against Steyn at a dismissal every 45 balls. Talking about batsman dominating Steyn, it was someone with whom he shared a birth date - Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen scored 155 runs at a strike rate of 83.33 against Steyn, getting dismissed thrice.
347 - The number of wickets taken by Steyn under the captaincy of Graeme Smith - the most by any bowler under a captain in Test cricket.
Graphics by Sandipan Chowdhury
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