Greatest Test cricketers of the century – Fast Bowlers

To continue our series on the greatest cricketers of the fairly young century, it would make sense to follow our list of batters with a list of their tormentors.

So, look away batsmen of all ages, here are my top five fast bowlers of the century. 

Honourable mentions and spoiler warning, we will not be seeing the terrifying Mitchell Johnson and Shaoib Akhtar on this list. Neither will we be seeing Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Pat Cummins or Kemar Roach who would be strong contenders for a 2010 list but didn’t quite muster the same levels as our top picks below. 

5) Stuart Broad 485 Wickets, average 28.50, Strike rate 57.8

This pick was remarkably the most difficult of the entire list so there is a high chance that I will change my mind several times after the publication of this piece. There are a huge number of fast bowlers that could have been in contention here, the list mentioned above alongside Chaminda Vaas, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Mitchell Starc to name a few. I decided however to go with my heart and go with my favourite from this list. Broad ticks a lot of criteria for a modern fast bowler: he is tall, athletic, can generate enough pace to hurry the best batsmen and has now developed a better control than at any point of his career. 

Broad has more series defining spells of fast bowling than most of the players considered here put together. The culmination of this would be his superlative 8-15 in England’s 2015 rout of Australia. For an English fast bowler, it doesn’t get much better than blowing away the old enemy in under 20 overs. 

4) Glenn McGrath 297 Wickets, average 20.53, Strike rate 51.4

I’m going to come clean and admit that for a second, I toyed with the idea of Cummins here, that idea was swiftly shouted down by what sensible brain cells remain available to me. I think this may have come down to my almost admirable (if I do say so myself) refusal to accept just how good the 90’s and 00’s Australian side was. One pillar of this obscenely dominant team was the evergreen fast bowler Glenn McGrath. 

McGrath was the leading wicket taker of all time among seamers until James Anderson overtook him back in 2018 (in substantially more matches). Nearly 300 wickets this century (adding to the 267 the previous decade) at an average better than everybody else on this list is a serious achievement. The standout performance this century would be between the astonishing 8-24 he took at Perth against Pakistan in 2004 or the brilliant 5 wickets against England in the famous ’05 Ashes series which led Australia to a dominant position in the first Test. 

3) Kagiso Rabada 197 Wickets, average 22.95, Strike rate 40.6

With nearly 200 wickets at a superb average, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was where the statistical marvel ends with this (still) young man. This is not the case. With an all-time great strike rate for anyone having bowled more than 2000 deliveries in their career, Rabada is already one of the greats at the age of 24 and baring a very unfortunate downturn in events, on course to be top of the pile. 

Kagiso Rabada in action for South Africa

What elevates Rabada above so many others is his pure watchability. He is one of the most entertaining fast bowlers to play the game, particularly recently. Not doing anything by halves, everything is pure theatre with Rabada, his long run up culminates with an explosively athletic action, generating blistering pace. The fiery temper on the pitch could do with toning down occasionally but it is a small mark on an otherwise impeccable record.

Of all the great performances we have seen from him thus far, the standout would be the ridiculous 13 wickets he took across the 4th test against England at Centurion at the age of just 20!

2) James Anderson 584 Wickets, average 26.83, Strike rate 56.1

Our next pick is the poster boy for longevity and adaptability, un-paralleled among test players particularly this century for improving with age. Anderson’s career has undergone more different chapters than one of the longer Game of Thrones instalments, with his beginnings as a talented but inconsistent teenage tearaway fast bowler through to a lithe and skilful manipulator of the new ball. 

His overall average is hurt by the fact that his stats were not immensely impressive up until the turn out the decade however, once the home summer of 2014 came around, Anderson established himself as among the top three or four bowlers in the world. In this time, he surpassed Sir Ian Botham’s wickets total for England and became possibly the most dominant bowler in home conditions that we have seen. 

There are many performances to take note of but among the most impressive are his ten wickets across the first Ashes test in 2013, a game which England would not have snuck home in were it not for Anderson’s contribution. For fast bowlers, it is often important to consider their performances in the sub-continent; it would be remiss to not mention Anderson’s performance in England’s famous victory in India in 2012. Anderson bowled one miserly spell after another, almost reversing the pace/spin relationship, holding down one end whilst Panesar ran through India’s batsmen. Since performance in Asia is often a yardstick to measure pacers by, this effort was particularly impressive.

1) Dale Steyn 439 Wickets, average 22.95, S/R 42.3

I doubt there was ever going to be much confusion about the number one position. Scarily, Steyn can lay claim to most likely being the number one bowler of two decades in a row in the 00’s and the 2010’s and in my estimations, he is at least level, if not ahead of Wasim Akram and Richard Hadlee on the all-time list. 

Dale Steyn when fit has been more or less at the top of the world for almost his entire career with an all-time great strike rate from post war bowlers, bettered only by Rabada, coupled with over 400 wickets (the most in South African history). 

Steyn has most of the skills that Anderson has in his locker, allied with the ability to crank up the pace to over the fabled 90mph mark, and the ability to bowl with any condition of ball, at any stage of the game. Cricket’s apex predator has brains to go with this brawn and has many a time humbled strong line-up on unresponsive pitches by sniffing around for a spell or two before sensing blood and going on a rampage through a team’s middle order.

Notable examples of this would be the 10-wickets he plundered in 2008 against Australia and his infamous 7/53 in Nagpur, seeing off a selection of India’s best, among them Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag. 

So all-in-all, there have been several all-time greats and maybe the best of the bunch feature this century. A great time to be watching the sport. 

By Michael Vince

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