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The Wicket Hunters – 3 Best Bowlers of All Time

The Wicket Hunters – 3 Best Bowlers of All Time

From Frederick Demon Spofforth in the 1880s to Jasprit Bumrah now, every generation has produced great bowlers. Some were lightning quick, others relied more on subtlety, and then there were the mystery spinners who were always a step ahead. Picking the very best from a group of more than 50 across generations is no easy task. It’s much harder than picking an XI on a fantasy cricket app, but here we’ve chosen a pace bowler and two spinners we believe had that little bit extra, three men who would have improved any XI they played for. 

1) Malcolm Marshall – 376 Test wickets, 157 in ODIs

There are now 4 pace bowlers with more than 500 Test wickets. But when it’s time to pick a fast bowler for an all-time XI, the first name that most turn to is at No. 20 on the list with 376 Test wickets. Arguments are often fierce when it comes to debating the best batters or bowlers of a particular era. But when it comes to Malcom Denzil Marshall, there is no second opinion. In the eyes of the batters, he terrorized, and for the fans who looked on with awestruck eyes, he was simply a player apart.

Cricket produces a great fast bowler every few years. Of those with more than 500 Test wickets, Australia’s Glenn McGrath is undoubtedly the standout, with his unrelenting accuracy and ability to prey on a batter’s weakness. Now picture a pint-sized version of McGrath who bowled much faster but was every bit as accurate, someone who smashed noses, jarred bat handles and broke arms over the course of 13 years as part of the most intimidating Test team ever seen. 

No country’s batters mastered Marshall. He averaged less than 23 against every team, and a strike rate of under 50 against each of them. When part of a legendary quartet, as he was when West Indies ruled the roost, it’s hard for one bowler to stand out. But Marshall often did, even taking 33 wickets on dead Indian pitches in 1983. His grave in Barbados – he died of colon cancer in 1999 – is something of a shrine for cricket lovers. 

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2) Muttiah Muralitharan – 800 in Tests, 534 in ODIs, 13 in T20Is

No bowler in the game’s history was mocked or humiliated as much as the Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah. Arjuna Ranatunga, under whose captaincy he blossomed into a world-beater, once said: “People only throw stones at ripe mangoes,” suggesting that the endless stories about Muttiah Muralitharan’s action were mostly fuelled by batters unable to pick him. Murali was born with anomalies that gave him extremely elastic shoulders, elbows, and wrists. The action he was able to impact on the ball was very different from your classical spinner, and his ability to turn the ball sharply on any surface quickly made him

many enemies. Throughout most of his 19-year career, Murali mostly laughed off the accusations and the innuendo, though he did bowl in a plaster cast for Channel 4’s cameras in 2004 just to show that the ‘bend’ one saw when he bowled was an optical illusion. Apart from smiling, what Murali did was take wickets, at an unprecedented rate. He finished with an even 800 in Tests and picked up 534 in ODIs. His 67 five-wicket hauls in Tests is 30 more than anyone else, while no one can claim even half of the 22 ten-wicket figures he managed.

More importantly, Murali was part of the generation that put Sri Lankan cricket on the map. Part of the World Cup-winning team in 1996, he also featured in the 2007 and 2011 finals. If you were giving someone fantasy cricket tips in the late 1990s and 2000s, the first one would just have been “Pick Murali.” Only in Australia, where he was twice called for throwing by umpires, and in India did he struggle, but it can be argued that he didn’t play enough in either country in his prime. But whichever way you look at it, there’s no arguing with 1347 international wickets. 

3) Shane Warne – 708 in Tests, 293 in ODIs

At first glance, his numbers aren’t as impressive as those of McGrath’s, Wasim Akram’s, or Dale Steyn’s. But Shane Warne transcended numbers. The Sheik of Tweak revived interest in spin bowling and had a knack for delivering his best performances on the biggest stages. Warne wasn’t just a bowler, he was an experience. The tubby blonde who Ravi Shastri and Sachin Tendulkar smashed at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 1992 matured quickly enough to help his team win a Test in Sri Lanka later that year. The bowling summer, he went to England and announced himself to the Ashes rivalry with the Ball of the Century to Mike Gatting.

There would be many more such balls over the year, with some of them delivered just when Australia needed them most. When they came back from the brink to win the World Cup in 1999, it was Warne that destroyed South Africa in the semi-final (a tie) and Pakistan in an utterly one-sided final. Even when Australia finally lost the Ashes in 2005, Warne picked up 40 wickets and scored more than 200 runs. But for a one-year ban for taking pills to aid weight loss, his final tally of 708 Test wickets would have been much closer to Murali’s.

But to focus on figures alone is to lose the magic of Warne – the ripping leg-breaks, the top spinners and the sliders, and most importantly the immaculate control over all of them. If there was a patch of rough to be exploited, you could bet on Warne landing the ball on it. His tussles with the likes of Tendulkar, Brian Lara, and Kevin Pietersen not only brought spectators thronging to the grounds, but they also elevated the game.

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