50 Greatest Bowlers in the History of Cricket- Part 1
They say cricket has become a batsman’s game. The biggest superstars of the game have always been batsmen. From Grace to Bradman; from Hobbs to Richards; from Hammond to Tendukar, they have been the game’s big ticket draws. Bowlers have hardly dominated world cricket since the end of the 19th century (save for the Bodyline and a brief period in the 1970s). But even then, bowlers possess the ability to turn a game around much faster than a batsman. They can initiate those fourth day post-tea collapses to induce result in a seemingly dead Test. They can rip out that unbelievable spell of six overs to cripple that ODI chase just as it was gaining momentum. They can bowl a maiden at the death to take the target further away from the batsmen. No matter how many runs batsmen might score, you don’t win a game if the bowlers don’t take wickets. So, here is the follow up to my earlier batting list– a five part list of the 50 greatest bowlers in the history of modern-day cricket.
50. JOHN SNOW (ENG) Right Arm Fast Medium (1961-80)
Tests- 49, Wickets- 202, Avg- 26.66, 5W- 8, Best- 7/40
ODIs- 9, Wickets- 14, Avg- 16.57, 4W- 2, Best- 4/11
1174 FC wickets at 22.73 with 56 five-wicket hauls
Anyone who played alongside or against John Snow would vouch for the fact that he was a true character. For almost a decade starting the mid-1960s, he was England’s best fast bowler by a margin. But despite that, his Test appearances are limited to 49 only because he found himself on the wrong side of the administration very so often (like a typical fast bowler). He was selected for only three overseas tours but took 62 wickets in them at just 20.91. His performances came against the strongest sides of his age- West Indies and Australia. 155 of his 202 wickets came against these two teams including all of his 8 five-wicket hauls.
49. TICH FREEMAN (ENG) Legbreak Googly (1914-36)
Tests- 12, Wickets- 66, Avg- 25.86, 5W- 5, Best- 7/71
3776 FC wickets at 18.42 with 386 five-wicket hauls
Alfred Percy ‘Tich’ Freeman was a great slow bowler, even though he wasn’t a regular in the Test side and even though he did not possess any great variations or surprise deliveries. He makes this list by the sheer weight and volume of his wickets. Wisden called him “one of the greatest slow bowlers the game has known”. His peers described him as a wizard of spin with unbelievable levels of stamina that allowed him to bowl an entire day unchanged. He missed many years due to the First World War but made up for all of it in grand style. From 1928 to 35, he took over 200 wickets each year (a total of 2,090 wickets in 8 years) and remains the only bowler to take 300 wickets in a year, a feat he achieved in 1928.
48. PETER POLLOCK (RSA) Right Arm Fast (1958-72)
Tests- 28, Wickets- 116, Avg- 24.18, 5W- 9, Best- 6/38
Pollock hails from one of the greatest cricketing families ever. His brother Graeme is widely regarded as one of the greatest batsmen ever (no. 15 on Hatter’s list of the Greatest Batsmen) and his son Shaun also makes an appearance later in this list. Peter Pollock was the spearhead of one of the greatest bowling attacks in Test cricket history, the 1960s Springboks (South Africa, before they were called the Proteas). He was a tearaway fast bowler who had the ability to terrorize batsmen with pace alone, but his nagging line and accuracy made him even deadlier. Sadly, he was only 29 and the peak of his bowling powers when South Africa was forced out of international cricket due to their policy of apartheid.
47. BOBBY PEEL (ENG) Slow Left Arm Orthodox (1882-97)
Tests- 20, Wickets- 101, Avg- 16.98, 5W- 5, Best- 7/31
1775 FC wickets at 16.20 with 123 five-wicket hauls
Robert ‘Bobby’ Peel was one of the first great slow bowlers in Test cricket history and certainly the greatest of all 19th century left-arm spinners. He excelled both for his county Yorkshire as well as for MCC (as the English Test side was then called). A master of fine length who had splendid command over spin, Peel bowled England to several memorable Ashes victories. His partnership with Johnny Briggs haunted the Australian batting line ups throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Amazingly enough, Peel was no bunny with the bat. He was more than competent as a batsman, scoring over 12,000 FC runs with a highest score of 210.
46. SHANE BOND (NZ) Right Arm Fast (2001-10)
Tests- 18, Wickets- 87, Avg- 22.09, 5W- 5, Best- 6/51
ODIs- 82, Wickets- 147, Avg- 20.88, 4W- 11, Best- 6/19
T20Is- 20, Wickets- 25, Avg- 21.72, Best- 3/18
Here is the Greek God of cricket. Chiselled, blonde, lethal and fragile; Bond’s tale seems straight out of a Virgil or Homer epic. The unstoppable warrior single-handedly carrying the load of his troops, but tragically enough, his body lets him down so often on the battlefield that he cannot ensure victory for his side. No one has managed to leave such a lasting impression on world cricket in an international career so small. Batsman today shudder to think what he would have done had he played more than his measly 18 Tests and 82 ODIs. The greatest testament of his greatness is his success against the pre-dominant side of his times- the mighty Aussies. He took 50 wickets against them at an average of 20, across all forms of the game.
45. HAROLD LARWOOD (ENG) Right Arm Fast (1924-38)
Tests- 21, Wickets- 78, Avg- 28.35, 5W- 4, Best- 6/32
1427 FC wickets at 17.51 with 98 five-wicket hauls
Probably the fastest and most dangerous speedster of all times, Larwood remained an enigma throughout his playing career and an icon long after he retired. The mere mention of his name was enough to spread terror across the enemy ranks. He was England’s Goliath; their Kryptonite for the Australian superman named Bradman. He dismissed Bradman more times than any other bowler and restricted his legendary scoring prowess substantially. The main protagonist (or antagonist, depending on which side of the equator you live) of the infamous Bodyline series, he ripped through the celebrated Australian batting line up comprising of Woodfull, Bradman, Ponsford and McCabe, taking 33 wickets in 5 Tests at 19 and injuring almost the entire opposition at least once.
44. HUGH TRUMBLE (AUS) Right Arm Offbreak (1887-1904)
Tests- 32, Wickets- 141, Avg- 21.78, 5W- 9, Best- 8/65
929 FC wickets at 18.44 with 69 five-wicket hauls
Trumble was a dead-wicket specialist, perhaps the pioneer of the trend. He was a challenging bowler on normal wickets but almost unplayable on wet and sticky wickets. His off-spin was more like medium pace, much like Kumble and Afridi a century later. The pioneer of the slower delivery, he was the first man to take two Test hat tricks (a feat achieved only twice again). His variations in flight and pace were good enough to bamboozle the likes of Grace, Shrewsbury and Wilfred Rhodes. Trumble had the rare fortune of signing off his career with a remarkable performance, when he bowled Plum Warner’s England for 101 taking 7/28 in a memorable Ashes victory.
43. RICHIE BENAUD (AUS) Legbreak Googly (1948-64)
Tests- 63, Wickets- 248, Avg- 27.03, 5W- 16, Best- 7/72
Richie Benaud is a man of many faces. He is the charismatic captain, the champion all-rounder, the insightful cricket expert and the influential mentor all rolled into one. In this list however, we talk of Benaud- the shrewd leg spinner. His bowling was full of baits and traps for the batsmen, carrying forward the legacy of Grimmet and O’Reilly. His presence on the field was inspiring for the team mates and intimidating for the opposition. He was undoubtedly the greatest leg-spinner in the world during his heyday. His impact on the game can be gauged by the fact that one his protégés went on to play for Australia himself; a fat little bloke by the name of Shane Keith Warne.
42. ABDUL QADIR (PAK) Legbreak Googly (1975-96)
Tests- 67, Wickets- 236, Avg- 32.80, 5W- 15, Best- 9/56
ODIs- 104, Wickets- 132, Avg- 26.16, 4W- 6, Best- 5/44
If wrist-spin is alive and kicking (ass) today, much of the credit for that should go to Abdul Qadir- Pakistan’s spin wizard from the 80s. Qadir is the embodiment of mystique. Batsmen of his time had no idea what he was going to do next; there were just so many different arrows in his quiver. Many believe that with his temperament, he could very well have been a fast bowler but he chose spin and the gods of cricket thank him for it. A man who could bowl six different deliveries in an over, Qadir thrived on variety and spectacle, distracting and confounding the batsman at the same time; and that too in a way that no one had done before him and no one has done since.
41. SONNY RAMADHIN (WI) Right Arm Offbreak (1949-65)
Tests- 43, Wickets- 158, Avg- 28.98, 5W- 10, Best- 7/49
758 FC wickets at 20.24 with 51 five-wicket hauls
Ramadhin was the epitome of a ‘buttoned down’ cricketer. His shirt was always neatly tucked in and sleeves were always buttoned at the wrists. In more ways than one, he was more English in his style than Caribbean. Ramadhin shot to international prominence in 1950 when he baffled stalwarts like Hutton, Simpson, Edrich and Bailey with his ability to spin the ball both ways without any discernable change in action. He formed one of the most effective spin partnerships with his spin twin Jamaican Alf Valentine (who debuted alongside him) through the 1950s. A champion of long spells, Ramadhin brought out his best against England, troubling the likes of Colin Cowdrey and Peter May even when he was nearing the end of his career.
Stay tuned for the next ten bowling greats in part 2 of the list.