Steyn v Johnson
In the physically taxing and mentally gruelling world of international fast-paced bowling, a certain few stand out from the rest. Every generation has had those who have laid standards that others could merely aspire to and the modern era is no different. There are a number of world-class international fast bowlers such as South Africa’s Vernon Philander or England’s soon to be leading Test wicket taker James Anderson. However, in terms of pure and brutal attacking fast-paced bowling two stars currently shine brighter than all the rest – and they just happen to come from the Sport Lived gap year destinations of South Africa and Australia.
One has long been established as a true bowling great, whilst the other has now found the kind of consistency that makes the very quickest bowlers such a devastating proposition for batsmen. Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson remain irrepressible in international Test cricket, motivated by the relentless desire to send timber tumbling. Yet here is a tricky question – who is the better?
Ask most pundits who they believe is the best fast-bowler in the world and Steyn will be the name that leaves their lips. Over the last decade since his debut against England the man who can reach up to 156km with the cherry in his hand has been simply wonderful. There won’t be a batsman in the world whose heart doesn’t beat that bit faster as Steyn starts his approach to the wicket. He is currently 13th in the all-time test wicket taking list with 383, just 7 behind Makhaya Ntini. He will surely become South Africa’s leading Test wicket taker by surpassing Sean Pollock who took 421 during his career. Could he even beat Glen McGrath’s 563 and take the title of the highest Test wicket-taking fast bowler the game has ever seen? If he can stay clear of injuries he could well get close.
So what is it that has enabled this supreme right-arm bowler to dominate the number one spot in the ICC test rankings for the last six years and have what is currently the best bowling strike-rate in Test cricket? Everything from the length of his run-up to the accuracy of his delivery is almost perfect. He creates such power and pace through his fluent action, always attacking the wickets yet having the ability to bowl with great variation. He is the kind of character who would bowl all day if asked to, committing 100% to every delivery. An extremely competitive cricketer, every wicket is celebrated as if it is his last. The 2008 IIC Test Cricketer of the Year and 2013 Wisden Cricketer of the Year is an aggressive bowler who has the ability to generate considerable swing. His capacity to create reverse swing just adds to the nightmare he presents to the men quivering in their pads. He 24 five-wicket and 5 ten-wicket hauls tell you all you need to know about the threat he presents to any side. Terrific pace, unyielding precision and an enormous appetite for sending batsmen back to the pavilion – Dale Steyn was made for taking wickets.
Now, you may be wondering whether Johnson can really contest Steyn for the crown of the world’s modern day leading fast bowler. Yet when Johnson gets it right, which he has been doing with regularity recently, he is right up there with the very best. He was once the laughing stock of the Australian side for his spells of waywardness but now only one person is laughing. The way he terrorised first England and then the number one side in the world South Africa in the last year was astonishing. The 2009 International Cricket Council Cricketer of the Year was the player of the series in the last Ashes, before hitting the same mighty heights in South Africa where he tore the great Graeme Smith, in his final series, to pieces. He may be way behind Steyn in the overall wicket charts with 267 but right now Johnson is about the only one who can match him.
If Captain Michael Clarke ever needs a wicket or to rough up a stubborn batsman, he will automatically turn to Australia’s front-line bowler. Even when he was struggling, such as during the 10/11 Ashes, every now and again Johnson would spring to life and become a wicket-taking machine. People forget that he was Australia’s leading wicket taker in the series. His slingy left-arm action is in complete contrast to Steyn’s yet he also generates serious speed and swing. He has probably the most-feared short ball in the world. He can force you back into your crease and batter you into submission before pulling out the knock-out full delivery. The man who was coached as a 17 year-old in a Brisbane bowling clinic by the legendary Australian bowler Dennis Lillee is often just unplayable. Like Steyn he is a real fighter and fears no-one – his encounters with Jimmy Anderson spring instantly to mind.
At 32 and 31 respectively, Johnson and Steyn aren’t getting any younger. The world of cricket needs to make sure that they fully appreciate everything they continue to contribute to the art of fast-paced bowling and the game as a whole in all of its forms.
So Steyn v Johnson - who is the superior bowler? It could be simply un-answerable and too difficult to make an adequate comparison – let’s just be glad that we won’t have to face one of them…