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Who are the Best Bowlers of All Time?

They say batsmen win matches, but bowlers win you championships! The visual of a batsman defending a good delivery, employing all his footwork, is a sight that can only be equated with the image of a fast bowler uprooting his opposition’s stump with acute precision or a spinner, casting a web around a batsman’s defense.

There have been many great bowlers who’ve played the game of cricket over the years, let us try and condense it down into the top eight.

Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka) – 1,334 wickets

The greatest off-spinner of all times, Muralitharan managed to scalp 800 wickets in Test matches — an all-time record — in a rather unspectacular Sri Lankan side over the years. Not just the longer format of the game, Muralitharan was equally proficient in ODI cricket, with 534 wickets in 350 matches at an average of just over 23.

It was in Test matches, however, that Muralitharan showed his mettle. The wily-old fox, who announced his retirement from international cricket before the last match of a Test series against India, still needed eight wickets to reach the 800-mark. But such was his confidence that Murali managed to grab the last wicket of the Test match, in the process reaching 800 Test wickets, a feat no bowler has achieved so far.

Murali’s most potent weapon will perhaps be his infamous ‘doosra’, which no other bowler has been able to master like him.

Glenn McGrath (Australia) – 944 wickets

Glenn McGrath is undoubtedly one of the greatest bowlers of all time. Critics say he didn’t have express pace, but his accuracy was bang on. McGrath could continue bowling the same line and length without tiring, which surely tired out the batsman by testing their patience.

The “Pigeon” as he is called by his team-mates scalped 563 Test wickets at an impressive bowling average of 21.6 — the second-most by any fast bowler ever. In ODI cricket too, McGrath managed 381 wickets. However, his finest record could be the 71 wickets at an average of 18.19 he managed in Australia’s world cup triumphs in 1999, 2003, and 2007 editions.

The lanky Australian’s USP was his consistency at bowling on the off-stump line with an immaculate length.

Shane Warne (Australia) – 1,001 wickets

If Muttiah Muralitharan was the finest off-spinner, his counterpart Shane Warne was the world’s finest leg-spinner. Wane was no less than a magician, who performed his tricks even on tracks that had nothing to offer. Warne became the first bowler in the world to pick up 700 wickets and ended his career with 708 wickets at an average of 25.4. His delivery to dismiss English batsman Mike Gatting in the Ashes in 1993 has been termed as the “Ball of the Century”.

Though not as influential, Warne still managed 293 ODI wickets from 194 matches. In fact, when Wisden chose its top five cricketers of the 20th century, legends such as Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram, and even Murali didn’t make the cut. But Warne was one of the elite cricketers, alongside Don Bradman, Garfield Sobers, Jack Hobbs, and Viv Richards, who was honoured with the title.

Read More: Top 10 Fastest Bowlers in Cricket History

Wasim Akram (Pakistan) – 916 wickets

The ‘King of Swing’, Wasim Akram could make the ball do the talking like none other. Along with Waqar Younis, Akram formed a deadly combo for Pakistan, and the duo was a nightmare for batsmen all around the world.

Akram had complete mastery over swing and seam and sometimes moved the ball both ways in one delivery. He became the first bowler to take 500 wickets in ODI cricket and ended his career with 502 scalps at an average of 23.5 and a strike rate of 36.2.

The reverse swing specialist from Lahore was the Man of the Match in the 1992 World Cup final, which Pakistan won. He also picked up the most wickets (18) in the tournament. Akram went on captain Pakistan in the 1999 edition of the World Cup, eventually bagging 15 wickets as Pakistan lost the finals at Lords.

Sir Richard Hadlee (New Zealand) – 589 wickets

Richard Hadlee often carried the New Zealand bowling attack on his own shoulders during his heyday. He became the first bowler to scalp 400 wickets in Test cricket, eventually retiring as the highest wicket-taker with 431 scalps.

Hadlee was the definition of control and precision, often relying on swinging the ball through the air. His 431 Test wickets came in 86 matches at an average of 22.2, which included 36 five-wicket hauls. He single-handedly made New Zealand a force to reckon with in international cricket.

The Kiwi legend was highly effective in ODIs, too, as his average (21.5), economy (3.3) and strike rate (39.1) was as good as anyone.

Joel Garner (West Indies) – 405 wickets

Standing tall at over six feet, seven inches, Joel Garner relied on pace and bounce, especially since the balls were released from a height of around eight feet. The unhittable Calypso, sans the pace of a Holding or Marshall, intimidated yesteryear’s batsmen with his incredible presence and economy, which made him virtually unplayable.

Garner grabbed 259 wickets in 58 Tests at 20.9 make for an impressive read, but it was in ODI cricket that his real presence was felt, where he took 146 ODI wickets at an average of 18.84.

“The Big Bird” is the only bowler who has taken a five-wicket haul in the World Cup finals, a record he made in the 1979 edition, as his five-for helped his country clinch their second trophy.

Curtly Ambrose (West Indies) – 630 wickets

Cricket West Indies has produced some of the greatest fast bowlers of all time, and Sir Curtly Ambrose is most certainly one of them. One of the tallest to play the game, his high-arm action brought fear into the opposition batsman.

Ambrose’s Test bowling average of 20.9 is among the third-best among bowlers who have picked up at least 200 wickets. The right-arm fast bowler took 405 wickets in the longest form of the game, along with 225 wickets in ODI cricket at an average of just over 24.

Ambrose also holds the record of bowling more than 1,000 maiden overs in his Test career.

Malcolm Marshall (West Indies) – 533 wickets

Another West Indian fast bowler in the list just goes on to show how lethal the Caribbean pace attack was in the ’70s and ’80s. Marshall breathed fire with his devastating pace, as pitches became graveyards for batsmen. His bouncers were lethal, and yorkers unplayable.

Apart from Marshall’s vicious bouncers, he could swing the ball both ways. He scalped 376 wickets at an average of 20.94 apiece. In 136 ODI matches, Marshall took 157 wickets an average of 26.9.

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