James Anderson with 632 wickets to his name in Test cricket — the most for a fast bowler in the longest format of the sport — is as good a judge as there can be to deliver the verdict on who is the best pacer of all time.

We do not, however, need an interview to get his opinion on the matter. He revealed it a few days back on Twitter just as South African great Dale Steyn announced his retirement from cricket.

You could argue that despite his obvious qualifications, Anderson’s pick is subjective. Wasim Akram, Malcolm Marshall, Glenn McGrath, or Curtly Ambrose could be your pick, but Steyn would surely be among your choices for the Greatest of All Time (GOAT).

With 699 wickets across all formats, Steyn is 15th in the list of all time wicket-takers, but none of those 15 have a strike rate as low as his 37. He has also played the least number of matches among the top-15 but the rate at which he picked the wickets was the fastest. It’s not just the numbers that define the pace bowling legend. It is his hunger for the wickets.

You can’t picture Steyn bowling without his vein-bulging intensity. Every ball that he bowled, regardless of the match situation and pitch surface, had his everything behind it. His storied career is littered with countless memorable performances, but one of his best has to be when he helped South Africa successfully defend seven off the last over against New Zealand in the 2014 World T20.

This was not your typical Steyn running through batting, but one of brilliance in a pressure cooker situation where he restricted the opposition (New Zealand) from scoring just seven runs from an over. Add to this, South Africa had lost their first match in the World T20 and a defeat against New Zealand would have meant curtains.

The 2014 World T20 started with group stages and the top two teams from both groups went to the semi-finals. Aiming to stay in the hunt, the Proteas put up 170/6 batting first against the Kiwis.

New Zealand got off to a strong start, scoring 57 for the first wicket, but Steyn kept pulling them back with his economical bowling. In his first two overs, he only gave away five runs along with taking the wicket of Kane Williamson who made 51 off 35.

He returned to the attack to bowl the 18th over with the Kiwis needing 29 from the last 18 balls. Steyn gave away eight and picked the wicket of Corey Anderson. Morne Morkel leaked 14 in the 19th over and the equation came down to just seven from the last six balls.

The Proteas were in need of a miracle and Steyn was about to emerge as their magician. South Africa and ICC tournaments have often produced the biggest chokes in the game but Steyn had only one thing to say to defeat: ‘not today’.


Ball 1 — Wicket: A pumped-up Steyn fired in a fast full and outside off ball that the dangerous Luke Ronchi edged to wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock.

Ball 2 — 0: Next up, a 143kph length ball outside off which Nathan McCullum missed trying to slog it out of the park.

Ball 3 — 0: This time Steyn cranked up the pace to 148kph and McCullum missed it again trying to work it on the leg-side.

Ball 4 — 4: The heartbeat of the South African supporters cranked up this time as McCullum finally made contact with the ball for a boundary to the extra cover region. Just three runs to defend.

Ball 5 — Wicket: New Zealand’s joy was short-lived as Faf du Plessis put in a terrific dive to take McCullum’s catch at extra cover. It was a short ball, outside off, that McCullum skied in the air. The good thing for the Kiwis was that Ross Taylor who was batting on 62 crossed to the striker’s end.

Ball 6 — Wicket: With just three runs to defend from the last ball, Steyn once again bowled outside off but Taylor could only push it back to the bowler. Steyn quickly collected the ball and ran back towards the non-striker’s end to run Taylor out.

The crowd’s noise at the Chattogram stadium in Bangladesh reached a crescendo. Steyn pulled off the seemingly impossible task and set off on a victory celebration sprint. Surreal.

South Africa would then go on to beat Netherlands and England to finish second in their group and reach the semi-finals. The last four brought an end to their journey as they lost to India by six wickets. This time South Africa had to defend a target of 173. India won the match with five balls remaining as Steyn gave away 36 runs in 3.1 overs. As they say, cricket is a great leveller.

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