Greatest Test cricketers of the century – Spinners

For our next list of cricketers of the century we will be covering the bowlers that didn’t use pace to give batsmen sleepless nights, but rather employed mind games keeping them tossing, turning and guessing to the very last. 

The recent resurgence of fast bowling has led to a slight dearth in overtly brilliant spin bowling options, with teams often opting for control and steadiness over pure wicket taking talent. 

With that in mind here are my top 5 spin bowlers of the century.

5) Anil Kumble, 355 wickets, average 31.02

Kumble get into this selection purely on weight of numbers in his favour, over 350 wickets in just 74 games, in the second half of his career, this is the turning point for me. Taking five or more wickets 20 times during a span of eight years from 2000 to 2008 is highly impressive. This includes a number of mammoth efforts such as an eight-wicket haul against Australia to add to a number of six and seven wicket contributions across the board. Only failing to take five wickets in an innings against one team this century (New Zealand, against whom he only played twice) makes sure that Kumble settles into my top 5.

4) Ravichandran Ashwin, 365 wickets, average 25.43

This pick was a peculiar one for me as Ashwin’s exploits with the ball had often seemed to slip under the radar from my point of view. There are the obvious quibbles with his away performances but an average of 31 away from home, mostly in countries offering very little for spinners, is not to be sniffed at. An average of 22 at home makes an imposing obstacle for visiting players, this was shown at its most brutal when Ashwin almost single-handedly brought down the axe on Ben Duckett’s test career (for now). This ruthlessness and never letting the opposition off the hook once a chink in their armour is exposed, makes Ashwin a worthy member of this five. 

3) Rangana Herath 427 wickets, average 28.07

A highly underrated talent due to his quiet persona, Rangana Herath has been a mainstay of Sri Lankan cricket since the late 00’s and was in and out of the team prior to that. Herath is another example of a spin bowler who has aged like a fine wine, becoming a better bowler in the twilight of his career, his Indian summer culminating in his last 143 wickets coming at an average of 22. Further proof of this late career flourish is his 2018 fourteen wicket hauls against Pakistan, bearing the brunt of the side’s disappointment against South Africa in the previous series. One of only two Sri Lankans to reach the coveted 400 wicket mark in test cricket and a much-loved character, Herath is a very worthy number three.

2) Shane Warne 357 wickets, average 25.17

Our next pick hardly needs any introduction, the ultimate Aussie pantomime villain, hated, feared and respected in equal measure by English fans. Shane Warne was the scourge of English cricket during the 90’s and carried this into the 00’s. At this point in his career, Warne often emerged victorious in the mental swordplay with the batsman before he had even bowled the ball. 

The weight of his record and his character bred a negative mindset in incoming batsmen and this tendency to stick rather than twist and take the game to Warne was often their downfall. The weight of wickets in this decade and the astonishingly good average AND economy rate, unusual in a wrist spinner mean that Warne would, under any normal circumstances be the best of any decade (post 1960). The one black mark against Warne’s record is that for some reason he struggled when bowling in India, somewhere offering a lot of assistance for slow bowlers. 

Warne bowling for Rajasthan Royals

Warne has taken centre stage for many great moments throughout his career, from his mystifying first delivery on English shores right through to decimating England 5-0 in 2006/07, his last series. The performance that sticks in the memory the most from this century however would be one of two. In 2002 against Pakistan Warne took 11 wickets in Pakistan in their own backyard to ensure a close fought Australian victory. Secondly, his performance in a losing cause across the famous 2005 Ashes has gone down in history as one of his, and crickets best. 

1) Muttiah Muralitharan 573 wickets, average 21.01

My number one pick is, in my mind, the greatest bowler of all time. I won’t quibble too much with people who want to place Warne here. It is not that I can’t see the reasons for Warne at the top spot, it’s that I cannot see the argument against Murali. 

It would be remiss of me to not address the controversy that, ludicrously, surrounded his action around the mid-point of his career. I shall just say, in my opinion the decision to no-ball his action was disgraceful. All one needs to do is look at any close up to see that the bend in the arm is legal, the flick that we see in his delivery is all provided by a rare double-jointedness in his wrist. In the rather sad footage of the infamous event in which he was called for throwing, there is no more compelling evidence than the fact that Murali proceeded to bowl wrist-spin and the umpire still chose to call his action, despite it being almost impossible to throw the ball with a wrist-spinners action. 

Now the unpleasant business is dispensed with, there are some truly staggering stats to add to Murali’s genius with the ball. During the 2000’s in 84 games he took five or more wickets in an innings 50 times. FIFTY. The next best during this time was India’s Harbhajan Singh with 21, remarkable. The sheer volume of wickets that Murali took during this time helped him to achieve more wickets than any other bowler to ever play test cricket, a record I cannot see being surpassed any time soon, potentially ever. 

The performance that sticks out the most during this period (again slightly anglo-centric) would be his eight-wicket demolition of England at Trent Bridge in 2006 on a pitch not overly conducive to spin.

By Michael Vince

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