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James Anderson vs Dale Steyn – Which bowler is truly the GOAT?

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James Anderson and Dale Steyn. Two modern fast bowling greats who have enthralled the cricketing world in the first two decades of the new millennium.

Steyn was a fierce South Africa quick bowler who generated swing in excess of 90 mph. Anderson, on the other hand, was like the artist who exploited swinging conditions brilliantly to break plenty of records.

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Steyn became the leading wicket-taker in Tests for South Africa while Anderson has the most wickets by a pacer in the history of the longest format. The exploits of both these bowlers has generated a big debate in recent times – Who is the GOAT (Greatest of all time)? Is it Anderson? Is it Steyn? The numbers throw up some interesting aspects.

There have been plenty of statistical analysis on Anderson and Steyn’s exploits. There is also plenty of comparison pieces about who is the best among the lot.

In this statistical feature, the focus will be primarily on three things. The first will be their record in Asia, a continent where spin bowlers rule. The second will be on dismissing top players from all the teams while the third one will be longevity. When all three aspects are considered, one finds out that the contest between these two greats is actually a dead heat.

Comparison in Asia – Steyn wins hands down

Perhaps the greatest factor in the GOAT debate is how pacers perform outside of their comfort zones in conditions which do not suit them. For fast bowlers with no swing or seam, their main weapon is neutralized. However, in the last two decades, one person has defied the conditions and won the contest hands down.

Dale Steyn Asia
Between James Anderson and Dale Steyn, Steyn has better record in Asia. (Credits: Twitter)

Steyn’s record in Asia is simply remarkable. His ability to generate reverse swing consistently was a key factor in South Africa not suffering a single series defeat in Asia from 2005 till 2015. His exploits in 2008 and 2010 when he single-handedly helped South Africa to wins in Ahmedabad and Nagpur with a five-wicket haul and 10-wicket haul is a symbol of brilliance. In the 2014 Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, Steyn took nine wickets as they won a Test series there after 21 years.

DALE STEYN229224.1142.951
JAMES ANDERSON226031.2570.210
James Anderson and Dale Steyn record in Asia

Anderson, on the other hand, has not had much success in Asia and this goes against him in the debate. He has only one five-wicket haul, and his average of 31 vs Steyn’s 24 means his success in Asia has been negligible.

Anderson – Gets top opposition players out consistently

On the other hand, if one has to look at impact on opposition, then Anderson trumps Steyn in many ways. He has dismissed Sachin Tendulkar nine times, the most by any bowler. That fact alone merits his brilliance.

James Anderson record
Between James Anderson and Dale Steyn, Anderson has got top opposition players out consistently. (Credits: Twitter)

In addition to Tendulkar, he has dismissed players like Cheteshwar Pujara, Kumar Sangakkara, Michael Clarke, David Warner, Rahul Dravid and Gautam Gambhir more then five times. Just for the record, he dismissed Jacques Kallis also seven times. In the modern era, he has dismissed Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli more than any bowler currently. 

James Anderson and Dale Steyn record against top opposition batsmen

Steyn, on the other hand, has had huge success against Clarke and Virender Sehwag but on other occasions, he has had occasional success against the greats. The fact that Anderson went after the top player of the opposition team and got them out frequently is a massive factor in favour of the England pacer.

Longevity factor – A mixed bag

If one looks at the careers of Steyn and Anderson, the South Africa pacer has played for 15 years while Anderson is still continuing to play Tests even after 17 years. Anderson is the only bowler to play 150 Tests while Steyn has retired due to injuries.

JAMES ANDERSON151173277958426.83
COURTNEY WALSH132173001951924.44
GLENN McGRATH124142924856321.64
STUART BROAD138132807948528.5
KAPIL DEV131162774043429.64
SHAUN POLLOCK108132435342123.11
CHAMINDA VAAS111152343835529.58
WASIM AKRAM104172262741423.62
CURTLY AMBROSE98122210340520.99
SIR RICHARD HADLEE86172191843122.29
IAN BOTHAM102152181538328.4
MAKHAYA NTINI101112083439028.82
JACQUES KALLIS166182023229232.65
IMRAN KHAN88211945836222.81
ZAHEER KHAN92141878531132.94
DALE STEYN93151860843922.95
Bowler Records in Test Cricket

The fact that Anderson is the only pacer to play for 17 years and bowl over 32000 balls (barring Imran Khan who played for 21 years but did not bowl much in the later part), makes him a once-in-a-generation bowler. But, Steyn’s average of 22 means that his impact was greater while Anderson’s will be longer. 

In the end, the GOAT debate will continue with some new factors. As far as this analysis is concerned, it is a dead heat. Both bowlers are great beyond doubt. Nitpicking them on certain factors only sullies their greatness.

Do tell us in the comment section, who between James Anderson and Dale Steyn do you think is the GOAT bowler?

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