Dale Steyn’s demolition of Pakistan at Johannesburg – he took 11 for 60 - has drawn attention to his phenomenal Test strike-rate. He takes a wicket every 40.8 deliveries, which is the best strike-rate for any bowler with over 300 wickets (Steyn has 323). That puts him ahead of every modern great, from Malcolm Marshall to Waqar Younis.
At Firstpost, we thought it would be fun to take a look at the bowlers with the best strike-rates for each Test playing nation. We set 200 wickets as the cut off, but that didn’t stop us from looking at bowlers with fewer wickets where their strike-rate stood out for one reason or another. For example, we didn’t expect the Indian bowler with the best strike-rate to be Chetan Sharma (56.8), but he took just 61 wickets from 23 Tests.
Here’s a look at the country-by-country break down.
No surprise that Zaheer Khan heads this list, having taken 295 wickets at a strike-rate 59.7, or essentially one wicket every 10 overs. He also has the dubious distinction of having the highest-strike rate of any of the country leaders, suggesting that bowling on Indian wickets is not for the faint-hearted bowler. His absence from India's attack explains why it is hard for India to take 20 wickets in a Test match.
Kapil Dev struck every 63.9 balls on his way to 434 wickets, though that number would have been lower had he not lingered on to break the world record.
If 100 wickets were the cut off, then Irfan Pathan would be leading the way with a strike-rate of 58.8.
Glenn McGrath is on top of the list, but by the slimmest of margins. His 563 wickets came at a strike-rate of 51.9, compared to Dennis Lillee’s 52. Jeff Thompson, perhaps the fastest bowler ever, knocked over a batsman every 52.6 deliveries.
Among the current crop of bowlers, Doug Bollinger has only taken 50 wickets in 12 Tests in his young career, but he is doing so at a strike-rate of 48, better than Lillee and McGrath. He did go unsold in the lastest IPL auction though.
There is no surprise that the man who tops Pakistan was renowned for his toe-crushing yorker and devastating reverse swing. Waqar Younis comes closest to Steyn, striking every 43.4 balls on his way to 373 wickets.
It is the man who is next on the list, though he didn’t take 200 wickets, that is the surprise. Shoaib Akhtar’s 178 wickets came at a strike-rate of 45.7, which is better than both Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. It explains why so much was expected of the Rawalpindi Express, and is a reminder of what could have been if he had made the most of his talent.
Imran’s strike-rate was 53.7, marginally ahead of Akram’s 54.6.
England has not produced a truly world class fast bowler since Bob Willis and that is reflected in the man who heads the list: Fred Trueman was the first to go past 300 wickets (307) and he struck once every 49.4 balls.
Since 1900, Sydney Barnes is the best of the Englishmen, taking 189 wickets at a strike-rate of 41.6, but even that is short of Steyn’s current pace.
One man who perhaps doesn’t get the credit he deserves is Darren Gough, who took 229 wickets and a strike-rate of 51.6, just ahead of McGrath and Lillee. Had Goughie’s body not broken down, perhaps he might be considered one of the modern greats.
James Anderson’s strike-rate is 58.8, or the same as Ifran Pathan’s.
The great Malcolm Marshall leads the pack of fearsome West Indies fast bowlers. Marshall knocked over opposing batsmen every 46.7 deliveries. He was followed by Joel Garner, the least heralded of the fast bowlers, who struck every 50.8 balls, slipping in ahead of Michael Holding at 50.9. Colin Croft, had he played more Tests, may have made this list, having taken 125 wickets at 49.3.
Curly Ambrose, somewhat surprisingly, is down the list with a strike-rate of 54.5. Someone who may be part of this conversation in 10 years is Kemar Roach, who has taken 82 wickets at a strike-rate of 51 so far in his career.
Steyn leads the way ahead of Allan Donald, who took his 330 wickets at slightly less than one every eight overs (47). But it is Vernon Philander who has been otherwordly since he made his debut, with a strike-rate of 36.6. That number is more than likely to go up, but given the advantages the modern batsman has, it is probably the best start to a bowler’s career in the history of the game.
The only spinner on this list but what a spinner he was. Murali Muralitharan was a force of nature and Sri Lanka’s one-man wrecking ball. His many physical gifts allied to a fantastic work ethic allowed him to wickets as regularly as a fast bowler. His strike-rate of 54.9 puts him in the company of Ambrose and Akram, which is not bad company to keep at all.
Had Lasith Malinga not quit Tests to preserve his body though, he may have pipped Murali, having taken 101 wickets at a strike-rate of 51.5.
No surprises Richard Hadlee is the man on top with 431 wicket at 50.8, but do away with the 200 wicket threshold and Shane Bond blows everyone, including Steyn, out of the water. Bond struck every 38.7 deliveries, putting him in Philander territory. If only he had been able to stay fit, New Zealand might have had a lot more success in Tests.
Chris Cairns, remembered more for his batting than his bowling, is next in line, having taken 218 wickets at a strike-rate of 53.6.
Neither Bangladesh nor Zimbabwe have a bowler who has taken 200 Test wickets.