When a bowler marks his run up and runs in to bowl, there is always some apprehension in a batsman’s mind regarding the ball which the bowler is about to deliver. Will it swing in or away? Will it be a flighted one or flatter one from a spinner? Will it be a faster one or a slower one? Bowlers are always up to their polished tricks in order to deceive batsmen and bag loads of wickets. The world has seen bowlers who have delivered for their captains and taken wickets at will. Assisted by the fielders, a bowler is always on the lookout for the batsman’s scalp and this is resisted by the batsman with all the skills in his armoury. This is what makes the Gentleman’s game more interesting. Now lets have a look at the list of the best bowlers in the world, who have plied their trade for different countries and have brought laurels for themselves as all time greats of the game.
#10- Michael Anthony Holding
The international media sometimes called him as ‘quite possibly the most beautiful athlete to grace a cricket field’. The batsmen called him ‘Whispering Death’ as his balls whizzed past their unprotected heads or in some cases, their helmets. Sometimes, the batsmen were hit. Otherwise, they mostly ducked. And there were a few batsmen who refused to play him, fearing for their lives. Yes, this was the mortal fear which Michael Anthony Holding generated in the batsmen. Michael Holding and his lethal bouncers terrified batsmen across the globe during the 1970s. He was part of the West Indian Team which conquered every other cricket playing nation and bagged the first two cricket world cups in 1975 and 1979.
He picked up 391 wickets in his international career and is widely accepted to be the bowler who bowled the ‘Best Over in Test Cricket’ to Geoffrey Boycott. The first five balls increased in pace, causing Boycott to have to react very rapidly to avoid being hit. The final ball saw Boycott clean bowled, to the great delight of the crowd. Holding continues to delight the crowd with his commentary.
#9- Joel Garner
At number nine on this list is Joel Garner, another West Indian bowling great who was Michael Holding’s partner-in-crime. He was one of the tallest bowlers to have played test cricket and he used his height to his utmost benefit to generate fearsome bounce, which he coupled with his ferocious pace to instil fear in the hearts of the batsmen. He also had the ability to generate devastating yorkers with two most likely results- Either the toes of the unfortunate batsman would get crushed or the stumps uprooted. He is the only player with more than 100 ODI wickets to average under 20, while his economy rate of just over 3 runs per over, and average of less than 20 runs per wicket are also the best ever for any bowler who took more than 100 wickets.
His 5 for 39 in the 1979 World Cup final against England remains the best ever performance by a bowler in a final including a spell of 5 wickets for 4 runs, and he was on a hat-trick twice. He grabbed 405 wickets in his international career and had a significant contribution towards the West Indian feat of not having lost a test series in 16 years. Rampant Garner! Rampant Windies!
#8- Sir Richard John Hadlee
Regarded as one of the greatest new-ball bowlers, Richard Hadlee of New Zealand was one of the best fast bowlers of his generation. Not regarded as ‘fearsome’ like Joel Garner or Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee had many variations to offer and generated prodigious swing, which deceived the batsmen into giving away their wickets. He was the first bowler in the history of cricket to reach the milestone of 400 test wickets. In fact, he was also a decent all rounder and made invaluable contributions with the bat for New Zealand. That is the reason why he was considered to be indispensable for New Zealand cricket in his heydays.
As a fitting end to his international career, he captured 5 wickets in his final innings including a wicket off the final ball of his career. As curtains came down on the career of one of the most celebrated fast bowlers in the history of cricket, Richard Hadlee bowed out successfully. ‘Paddles’ had indeed caused ripples in the mind of batsmen!
#7- Dennis Keith Lillee
At number seven on this list comes Dennis Lillee of Australia, rated as one of the ‘Most Outstanding Fast Bowlers ever to have played cricket’. In fact, he delivered the ball with such pace that the batsmen were left unsettled. Known for his fiery temperament and on-field aggression, Dennis Lillee was also a man with lots of fortitude. As a fast bowler, his career was fraught with injuries, but he clawed back with all his customary aggression and determination to establish himself on the field. By the time of his retirement from international cricket in 1984 he had become the then world record holder for most test wickets (355).
Dennis Lillee’s most memorable performance was against the World XI whose batting line up boasted of names like Sunil Gavaskar, Rohan Kanhai, Garry Sobers and Clive Lloyd. He bowled a devastating spell and finished with figures of 8-29 and destroyed the much vaunted batting line up. For batsmen around the world, Dennis was indeed a menace!
#6- Kapil Dev Ramlal Nikhanj
Nicknamed the ‘Haryana Hurricane’, Kapil Dev ran riot among the batsmen. With his natural ability to swing the ball and bowl difficult, in-swinging yorkers, Kapil Dev attained the status of one of the best fast bowlers to have ever played for India. He was also a gifted batsman who was known for his attacking style of play. His graceful action with a majestic jump made his bowling action stand out. So did his contribution to the team. He held the world record for the highest number of wickets(434) and he captured 687 wickets in his entire international career. He also scored 9031 runs. Such was his utility as an all-rounder.
He is best known for guiding India to a famous ODI World Cup win in 1983 where he was instrumental with his all round performance, the most notable one being the ruthless 175* against Zimbabwe. At 17/5, India were reeling. In came Kapil Dev. The ‘Haryana Hurricane’ blew the Zimbabweans away, literally!
#5- Glenn Donald McGrath
At number five on this list comes Glenn McGrath, who, throughout his career unerringly bowled a tight line and length at the batsmen and reaped rich dividends. Gifted with a perfect, free flowing bowling action, he had a knack of making batsmen dance to his tune and bag a bountiful number of wickets. His perfection with the ball carried his team Australia to the heights of absolute cricketing dominance. He is also credited as the fast bowler with the highest number of test wickets. He scalped 944 wickets in total and this huge figure is indicative of his bowling prowess, revered by batsmen the world over.
Glenn McGrath is also at the helm of the McGrath foundation for breast cancer support and educational charity and is known for his charitable pursuits. ‘Pigeon’, as he was called, won hearts with his character as effectively as his bowling.
#4- Wasim Akram
He was a fast bowler, who wasn’t feared for his pace, but for his awesome control of the ball and the vicious swing which he generated. Akram had a very special talent to move the ball both ways in one delivery which is called “double swing of Wasim Akram”. No one in cricket history has done it so far His well disguised in swinging deliveries mostly caught the batsmen wanting and contributed to his high success rate. Wasim Akram was the key architect of several memorable test and One Day victories for Pakistan and is regarded as the greatest fast bowler ever to have played for any country in the Indian Subcontinent. With 916 international wickets and an awesome average of 23 in either format, Wasim Akram rightly deserved to be the only Pakistani cricketer to be named in an all-time Test World XI by Wisden Cricket Magazine.
Wasim Akram delivered a memorable all round performace in the finals of the 1992 ODI world cup in which he was adjudged as ‘The Man of The Match’. The ‘Sultan of Swing’ indeed!
#3-Anil Radhakrishna Kumble
Known as the ‘Silent Assassin’, Anil Kumble is regarded as the greatest spinner India has ever produced. His guile and subtle variations made many a batsman succumb to his outstanding bowling. Kumble has a penchant for superlative records including a ten wicket haul against Pakistan. Along with Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne, he was one among the trio, which was feared by batsmen the world over. He has a huge tally of 956 wickets in international cricket, which shows his class. Even after his retirement, he played with much success for the Royal Challengers Bangalore IPL Franchise, before taking up the role of a coach and mentor. He is nicknamed “Jumbo” not only because his deliveries, for a spinner, are “as fast as a jumbo jet”, but also because his feet are quite big or “Jumbo” as observed by his team-mates.
Anil Kumble will particularly be remembered for being the only bowler apart from Jim Laker to have taken a ten wicket haul in a single innings. The way he endured pain and bowled with broken jaws in the Antigua test against the West Indies in 2002 will forever be etched in public memory.
#2- Shane Keith Warne
The googly, zooter, leg break, flipper- Shane Warne mastered them all. And then, he became the master of his trade. He could generate vicious turn on almost any surface and more often than not, his victims were caught unawares. Regularly billed by Wisden as one of the Best Cricketers of successive years, he was the greatest leg spinner of his generation. Along with his illustrious teammates, he was the member of an Australian team which conquered almost everything in world cricket. With 1001 wickets in international cricket, he stamped his authority and class, wherever he went, whichever pitch he played on. Even after retiring from international cricket, he guided Rajasthan Royals to a spectacular victory in the first ever IPL season as their captain, coach and mentor.
He is best known for ‘The ball of the century’ in which he bowled the then English captain Mike Gatting with a gem of a ball. The Ball swung from much outside leg stump and clipped the bails off the off stump as the batsman looked on. Yes, he could only look on as the wizard weaved his magic wand! Warnie at his best!
#1- Muttiah Muralitharan
The World’s Greatest Bowler Ever- This crown rightly goes to the ever-smiling Muttiah Muralitharan. Wait! Do not be deceived by his smile. Looks can be deceptive. Look at his figures instead. With 1347 wickets in international cricket, this pint-sized off spinner sits on top of the bowling charts across all formats. Batsmen are flummoxed by his subtle variations and call him ‘The Smiling Assassin’. With an awesome average of 22 and 23 in tests and ODIs respectively, Muttiah Muralitharan was Sri-Lanka’s workhorse for over a decade and he delivered spectacularly, causing partnerships to be broken, batting line-ups to collapse. The world took notice as the magician from Kandy weaved his magic, ball after ball.
He had taken a special liking for Indian batsmen who fell victims to his strategy and variations. His 7/30 against the Indians in a Sharjah ODI in 2002 shines out as extra-special, considering the big names which the Indian batting line-up boasted of. Did you know that Muralitharan is a well known philanthropist? You must.