Best XI: Best ‘bamboozlers’ the Test game has ever seen

By April 11, 2020
Muttiah Muralitharan (left) and Shane Warne Muttiah Muralitharan (left) and Shane Warne

The importance of good spinners in Test cricket has fluctuated over the years, with different environments changing the need for them. Over the decades, the spinners to stand out are those who defied their environment. The list of spinners who have done that isn’t as small as you would think and finding the best Test spinners of all time is not the easiest task. But here is the best that we have come up with to date.


 

Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)

The wide-eyed steer of Muttiah Muralitharan has signaled the demise of batsmen in Test cricket 800 times over the course of 133 Test matches, making the Sri Lankan, the most successful bowler, let alone spinner, in the history of the game. His doosra meant that for about four and a half years, the off-spinner remained the number one bowler on the ICC Test bowlers rankings, a record to this day. For some, Murali should never have been allowed to bowl, a deformed elbow forcing a change in the laws of the game that some believe legitimized throwing. But wherever you stand on this point, for at least five Sri Lankan captains over the course of his 18 years in Test cricket, he was the man you could depend on to change the course of a game. In fact, his greatness was given an exclamation mark, when in 2004, he was asked to stop bowling his doosra. It never mattered, he would go on to devastate batting line-ups over the next six years with the same kind of consistency.

 

Shane Warne (Australia)

Shane Warne can lay claim to being the man that made being a leg spinner a thing again. After the 1980s and ‘90s where pace ruled supreme for both Australia and the West Indies, the two kings of cricket throughout those decades, the spinner was left a forgotten artform filled with people whose job it was to give the high-energy, high-impact quicks a breather. Warne was never a space filler and became Australia’s go-to bowler. Warne was rated as one of the five greatest cricketers of the 20th century, no great surprise when you remember the remarkable turn he could impart on a ball, his ability to drift it away from the batsman’s eyeline at the last moment, as well as an incredible ability to vary his pace without a discernable difference in the speed of his action. Then there was the addition of the flipper, which for the most part, batsmen never saw coming. That combination has led many to agree that Warne and not Muralitharan is the greatest bowler of all time and one couldn’t mount a serious challenge to the argument without creating some animosity. Warne was certainly a headline maker and the ball he bowled England’s Mike Gatting with in 1993, is the most famous delivery ever released from a bowler’s fingers. The ball was full and pitched well outside Gatting’s leg stump and turned so big, it clipped off stump. Warne was the first bowler to 700 wickets and would end his career with 708 from 145 Tests at an average of 25.41.

 

Jim Laker (England)

Jim Laker is most notably remembered for taking 19 Australian in wickets in a single Test match at Old Trafford, a feat that has not been repeated at the Test level or at the first-class one for that matter. But the off-spinner was more than that. Initially he was seen as good in County cricket but not quite at the Test level, however, that would change in 1952 when his 100 wickets for Surrey forced him back into the England set-up from which he was routinely dropped. He ended among the five cricketers of the year, according to Wisden. More regular inclusion meant he played 46 Tests, taking 193 wickets at an average of 21.24. That average made him one of the most dangerous spinners in the history of the game. In addition to his Test career, which admittedly could have included more Tests had his value been seen differently, he took nearly 2000 first-class wickets at the incredible average of just 18.41.

 

Anil Kumble

Tall and elegant, fairly quick through the air, Anil Kumble was not the typical Indian spinner who used flight and guile to dig batsmen from the pitch. His results weren’t typical either. Even among a country notorious for creating the best spinners in the world, Kumble still has the feather in his cap of being the bowler to have won most matches for India in their history. Kumble, rather than relying on flight and variations in pace, preferred to spear his deliveries in, extracting bite upon pitching. The leg-spinner’s tac made him notoriously hard to score off. He would get his variation from changing where he delivered from, creating illusions that were very difficult to manage. Kumble would go on to stand only behind Muralitharan and Warne in the wicket-taking department, ending his career with 619 wickets from 132 Tests at an average of 29.65. The figures meant he would break every bowling record for an Indian player.

 

Lance Gibbs (West Indies)

Lance Gibbs had unusually long fingers and it allowed him to extract prodigious turn from even the most pace-friendly wickets. Running in chest on, Gibbs was remarkably accurate and seemed to possess unlimited stamina. That stamina, combined with his ability, led to him becoming the West Indies all-time leading wicket-taker and the first spinner to go past 300 Test wickets. What was more impressive, was the fact that Gibbs, who ended his career with 309 wickets, did so in just 79 Tests at an average of 29.09. His accuracy meant he would end his career with an economy rate of 1.98 runs per over. On 18 occasions Gibbs would take five wickets in an innings, making sure that even if the West Indies batsmen were not at their best, they would never be completely out of a contest.

 

Rangana Herath (Sri Lanka)

It is not often that an active player can lay claim to being one of the greatest of all time at anything. Those athletes are usually so far ahead of the competition in their era, that it begs the question of where they could find greater. Rangana Herath has played 93 Tests for Sri Lanka, and in that time, he has taken 433 wickets at an average of 28.07. For a long time, Herath was the man that held one end, creating pressure, while Muttiah Muralitharan destroyed batting attacks from the other. With Murali’s retirement, Herath has stepped out of the great spinner’s shadow to become Sri Lanka’s go-to bowler. The left-arm orthodox spinner is accurate to a fault and his ability to bowl long spells makes him a true Test for even the most obdurate of batsmen. His greatness has been added to, by the inclusion of a mystery ball to his arsenal, a quicker delivery that darts back into the right hander. That arsenal includes the ability to vary his pace and flight, ever so subtly. But there is nothing subtle about his wicket-taking ability.

 

Bishan Singh Bedi (India)

Like the West Indies or Australia could fill a greatest of all time list with their pacers, the same is true about India and their spinners. At different times in their history, India have been able to field four high-quality spinners, keeping opposition attacks at bay. The patriarch of using spin to devastate oppositions, is one Bishan Singh Bedi.

Bedi was the consummate master of deception, conjuring variations in flight, loop, spin and pace all without changing his action. He would challenge batsmen to hit over the top, yet he wasn’t expensive, becoming a consistent wicket-taker throughout his career. In 67 Tests, Bedi carved out 266 wickets at an average of 28.71. His economy rate of 2.14 runs per over was not at all shabby.

 

Richie Benaud (Australia)

His brilliance from the commentary booth meant there are many who do not realise that at one time Richie Benaud was one of the best bowlers in the world. Benaud, who would captain Australia with the same quiet authority that he displays as a commentator, didn’t start very well, remaining a fairly ordinary player in the Australian side for the first six years of his Test career. But as captain, he thrived, leading from the front to end with 247 wickets from 63 Tests at an average of 27.03. His leg break googlies would be filled with little nuggets for batsmen on the attack to fall for, and as his wicket haul suggests, they often did. Benaud was the guru who Shane Warne would look to on his way to becoming arguably the greatest spinner of all time. Later Australian captains like Ian Chappell, who never lost a Test series as captain, would also look to the example of Benaud.

 

Clarrie Grimmett (Australia)

While Clarrie Grimmett turned out for Australia, he was really born in New Zealand, a fact which may have been why he never got the chance to suit up for Australia until he was 33 years old. Despite the advanced age for a debut, so high was his skill level, that he went on to play for 11 years, from 1925 when he started against England at Sydney, until he faced South Africa at Durban for his last.

At 44, he took his 216th wicket from just 37 Tests at an average of 24.21. Grimmett’s bowling was the stuff of legends. He was as accurate as a machine, adding the top spinner, the googly, and the flipper, by the time he began his foray in the Test arena. He was a wily customer and worked out whatever strategy batsmen had worked out for him. For instance, he would snap his left fingers when he bowled a regular leg spinner so as to hide the snap of his fingers when he produced the flipper. Australia put Grimmett out to pasture after the Durban Test, but his 7-100 in the first innings and 6-73 in the second, proved he may still have continued to twirl his magic for a few years more. Many believed, that in his earlier years, he was as important to Australia’s fortunes as was the batting of a certain Don Bradman.

Ravichandran Ashwin (India)

Ravichandran Ashwin leads the new generation of Indian spinner, who have now taken a more traditional role in bowling line-ups with the cricket-crazy country investing in fast bowlers in recent times.

Still, Ashwin has proven to be a go-to bowler, notching up 365 wickets in just 71 Tests at an average of 25.43. Ashwin broke into the Indian side via the Indian Premier League. He found it difficult to get into the Test team and play a major role thanks to the presence of Harbhajan Singh. Harbhajan’s fortunes began to fade and in the meantime, Ashwin began to put together an impressive tally of performances. In his first Test against the West Indies, Ashwin took nine wickets but it was agreed that a weak batting line-up may have contributed to that. The world waited to see if the performances could have been replicated and Ashwin duly provided the proof he was for real after a lean spell. While a far more dangerous limited-overs bowler, his progress since his Test debut in 2011 has made him one of the most impressive spinners in the modern age.

 

Saqlain Mushtaq (Pakistan)

Saqlain Mushtaq can most be remembered for being the bowler who first mastered the doosra, a delivery from an offspinner that turns the other way. Saqlain has been accused of trying too many different deliveries, always trying to get a wicket. Despite the differing attitudes to the spinner, Saqlain still managed 208 wickets in just 49 Tests at an average 29.83. His 10-155 in a match against India that brought about a close 12-run win is still talked about today.

Paul-Andre Walker

Paul-Andre is the Managing Editor at SportsMax.tv. He comes to the role with almost 20 years of experience as journalist. That experience includes all facets of media. He began as a sports Journalist in 2001, quickly moving into radio, where he was an editor before becoming a news editor and then an entertainment editor with one of the biggest media houses in the Caribbean.

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