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Who Is the Best Fast Bowler in the World Right Now?

Chris TealeFeatured ColumnistNovember 18, 2013

Who Is the Best Fast Bowler in the World Right Now?

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    It is a question that sparks significant debate, with many having their own opinion on who is currently the best fast bowler in the world.

    Everyone has a subjective opinion on the matter, but if we were to look at hard statistics, would that produce a similar result?

    Would that mean we could determine who is the best seamer in the world right now?

    That is our aim, as we use statistics from all three forms of the game and try to determine which fast bowler is the best on the planet.

    Before we do that, however, let’s first examine the statistics we will use and how we will use them...

    All stats courtesy of ICC Player Rankings, correct as of 17 November 2013.

Methodology

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    To try to answer this question, we will use the statistics provided by the ICC Player Rankings, which the world’s governing body will now explain for us:

    The Reliance ICC Player Rankings are a sophisticated moving average. Players are rated on a scale of 0 to 1000 points. If a player’s performance is improving on his past record, his points increase; if his performance is declining his points will go down.

    The value of each player’s performance within a match is calculated using an algorithm, a series of calculations (all pre-programmed) based on various circumstances in the match.

    All of the calculations are carried out using pre-programmed formulae, using the information published in a Test match scorecard. There is no human intervention in this calculation process, and no subjective assessment is made.

    For bowlers, the rankings take into account how many wickets they take and how many runs they concede, but also the ratings of the batsmen they dismiss.

    Therefore, if a bowler removes more top-order batsmen they will have more rating points, as opposed to one who comes on and mops up the tailenders.

    For the purposes of this exercise, the ratings will be manipulated slightly to reflect the widely held belief that Test cricket is harder than One Day and Twenty20 Internationals.

    The rating a bowler has in Test matches will be doubled to reflect this higher standard, while their rating for ODIs will be multiplied by 1.5.

    With their Twenty20 rating left the same, it is a reflection of the difficult nature of Test cricket and rewards bowlers who are consistent in the toughest arena of the game.

Limitations

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    This method is not without its problems, however.

    One drawback is that it excludes seamers who are very effective in one form of the game but have been unable to fully realise their potential in other forms.

    Take the example of Australian seam bowler Ryan Harris.

    Harris is ranked at No. 6 in the Test rankings and is one of his country’s spearheads going into the upcoming Ashes series.

    However, due to his immense injury problems, Harris is ranked at just No. 86 in ODIs and is not even ranked in Twenty20 Internationals.

    It is unfortunate, but while Harris is clearly a very skilled bowler his injury problems have prevented him from playing an ODI since 2012 and a Twenty20 International since 2010.

Notable Omissions

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    The most notable omission comes in the form of South African seamer Vernon Philander, a man ranked No. 2 in Tests but without a rating in the other two forms of the game.

    However, by virtue of his high rating in Test matches, Philander actually comes in at No. 21 in our list.

    Another let down by his lack of ranking in ODIs and Twenty20s is Australian Peter Siddle, ranked No. 7 in Tests.

    However, due to a player’s Test rating being worth double, he is at No. 23 in our list, although this is perhaps not a good reflection of one of Australia’s premier seamers.

    Let’s get into the bulk of our list though, starting with those ranked between No. 20 and No. 11.

Players Ranked 20-11

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    NameTest Rating (x2)ODI Rating (x1.5)Twenty20 RatingAverage RatingOverall Rank
    Tim Bresnan 1048798484776.6611
    Kemar Roach13369630766.3312
    Shane Watson846784.5612747.513
    Ravi Rampaul 894829.5471731.514
    Ryan Harris1594616.50726.83315
    Mitchell Starc 86475649270416
    Ishant Sharma 990682.5318663.517
    Darren Sammy970429573657.3318
    Jacques Kallis 942630313628.3319
    Junaid Khan9928790623.6620

    At No. 19, South African Jacques Kallis shows he is still one of the premier all-rounders in world cricket with a strong showing in all three forms of the game.

    Darren Sammy is also rewarded for his consistent displays in international cricket with a spot at No. 18, while Ryan Harris comes in at No. 15 thanks to his superb Test displays.

    Another West Indian find himself at No. 12, as Kemar Roach’s lack of rating in Twenty20s does not prevent him from a high finish in this list.

    This section is then rounded out by England’s Tim Bresnan, another who is rewarded for his good form in Test matches combined with solid performances in limited-overs cricket.

Players Ranked 10-4

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    NameTest Rating (x2)ODI Rating (x1.5)Twenty20 RatingAverage RatingOverall Rank
    Steven Finn116010626679634
    Tim Southee 1170900541870.335
    Mitchell Johnson10741005473850.666
    James Anderson1482104408427
    Nuwan Kulasekara 798940.5655797.8338
    Umar Gul 10947115507859
    Zaheer Khan1176721.5442779.83310

    Into the top 10 we go, with Zaheer Khan proving that age is not a barrier to good performances across all forms of cricket.

    He sits just below Umar Gul and Nuwan Kulasekara, both of whom again prove that consistency across all three forms of the game results in a high ranking in this list.

    Next comes something of a surprise, as James Anderson at No. 7 sits below Mitchell Johnson, who finds himself at No. 6 thanks to his rating in Twenty20s.

    Tim Southee has been New Zealand’s premier seamer, and is rewarded with a spot at No. 5 thanks to high rankings across every format.

    Then, in at No. 4 comes Steven Finn, whose Test ranking of No. 20 combined with his top-five rank in the limited-overs formats places him very high indeed.

The Top Three

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    NameTest Rating (x2)ODI Rating (x1.5)Twenty20 RatingAverage RatingOverall Rank
    Dale Steyn1806994.56471149.1671
    Morne Morkel 14001002558986.662
    Stuart Broad1480811.5621970.8333

    Into the top three we go, and there is another surprise at No. 3 as England’s Stuart Broad occupies this position.

    Broad is rewarded for his high Test ranking as much as anything, although being his country’s captain for Twenty20s has definitely helped his rank climb in that format.

    Above Broad comes one of South Africa’s top seamers, as Morne Morkel reaches No. 2.

    Again, Morkel is helped by a high Test ranking, and this combined with a very high ODI rank too means he is in the uppermost reaches of this list.

    However, at No. 1 and enjoying an enormous margin of victory by 162.5 points is Dale Steyn, regarded by many as the best bowler in the world, not just the best seamer.

    Steyn has enjoyed sustained excellence in all forms of the game since arriving in Tests in 2004, so his position atop this list should be of little surprise.

Conclusions

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    To conclude, Dale Steyn definitely deserves his place on top of this list, given his excellence as a fast bowler.

    This system of weighting forms of the game based on their difficulty means that bowlers who have succeeded in Test matches get greater rewards, and that means there are few surprises.

    However, that Vernon Philander can be the No. 2 Test bowler in the world yet be unable to break the top 20 of this list is troubling, especially considering some of the names above him.

    It is by no means a perfect system, but the final result of Steyn at No. 1 is a solid one and shows that he has managed to separate himself from the rest of international cricket’s seam bowlers and become a truly formidable opponent.

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