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This is a really interesting thread (when you filter out the direness, which admittedly is a lot). Joining so late in the thread most of my thoughts have been articulated already by others but I think if we consider Brett Lee to have been the best fast bowler in the world a couple of years ago then he's inferior to Steyn.
Beyond that I reckon you'd have to go back to the late 1960s between the retirements of Trueman/Davo and the coming of DK Lillee. Wes Hall, Peter Pollock, Garth McKenzie and John Snow were very, very fine bowlers but I'd question whether they were clearly better than Steyn - there's not much in it in my opinion, which probably more than anything shows how highly I rate him.
Steyn of course need several more years of high achievement to be considered among the true greats but I think he's well on the way.
In relation to a number of mentions of Wes Hall in this thread, and how the 1960s compared with other eras, when Tom Graveney (who faced all the greats of the 50s and 60s) wrote his "Top 10" cricket book in 1982 he considered Wes Hall the second greatest fast bowler since WWII, which is considerably higher than I think any of us would place him. His Top 10 was:
1. Ray Lindwall
2. Wes Hall
3. Dennis Lillee
4. Brian Statham
5. Fred Trueman
6. Michael Holding
7. Keith Miller
8. Frank Tyson
9. Andy Roberts
10. Alan Davidson
It would be interesting to see how that list would have changed 27 years on.
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And as I say, I think Peter Pollock was probably > Steyn as well, but that's perhaps open to question.
Already mentioned the Snow case plenty TBH - I'm sure you, unlike some, know just how good Snow really was without judging purely on his banal Test career average.
However he was the fastest bowler in the world at the time, faster imho than Patterson or Donald. Cricinfo's pen portrait says that "In his youth, he was one of the fastest ever" and I think that pretty much sums it up.
How he would have performed but for that injury is impossible to say. But he was very very quick before his injury, and post-injury bowled at around Darren Gough sort of speed ie on the borderline between RFM and RF.
A year ago, when Lee was taking Indian wickets to stake his claim for the number one spot, I thought for sure he was the best fast bowler in the world. Sure, Dale Steyn was tearing through New Zealand and had just had an unbelievable year, but I thought that was just a purple patch and only Lee would go on to maintain his form.
In hindsight, i think Steyn really was the best in the world at that time- he hadn't yet proven it, but in terms of ability, he was. His purple patch has gone on too long to maintain anything else. Funnily enough, that means that Lee never really was the world number one fast bowler, which pretty much hands the title to Dale Steyn on a platter.
It's a question that's probably been asked of other greats early in their careers though. If he continues to play so well throughout his career I'm sure we'll look back on this thread in the same way as we'd look back on a "is Wasim Akram the worst fast bowler ever?" thread now.
I think that the extreme pace will desert Steyn after a while, after which time he'll come toward the pack so to speak. How far he comes toward the pack will determine his legacy, imo.
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Certainly would have likely reached the 250-300 mark, but I am willing to bet that his extreme pace will desert him quite early in his career, similar to Waqar Younis.
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