This decade may not have belonged much to the bowlers, but that didn’t let their community down out of dissatisfaction, it only inspired them to do better. With every passing year, there was a new change coming into the game, making the life of bowlers now difficult, but cricket being the funny and unpredictable game it is, it kept providing different solutions to these individuals.
Test cricket continued to mesmerize this decade, sometimes in the usual way and sometimes in a way one would’ve never imagined. The game prevailed some very tough tests, so did some of the champion bowlers mentioned in the list given below. Test cricket never comes easy no matter who you are and no matter what kind of a mental toll in asked for to these bowlers, they rose up to the challenge.
With the decade coming to an end, let’s celebrate some of these outstanding bowlers and their achievements by looking at the 10 best of the last 10 years.
Top 10 Test bowlers of the decade (2010-2019)
10. Mitchell Johnson
Just the sight of Mitchell Johnson in that moustache of his could terrorize the batsmen, such was his impact in the final few years of his outstanding career. His man of the series performance in the 2013/14 Ashes will be revered for centuries and perhaps it was one of the very few occasions where batsmen kept ducking to a fast bowler sheerly to save themselves from getting hit.
That intimidation factor he reignited was found only in the 80s and 90s when West Indies had some stunning fast bowlers. Mitchell Johnson also had a brilliant outing in South Africa a few months later and maybe it was the standard he set for himself, but besides these, even some of his decent performances appeared bleak, such was the expectation from this man.
Johnson retired towards the end of 2015, but his contribution was good enough to win him a mention. In 43 Tests, he picked up 176 wickets at an average of 28.68. This included 8 five-fers and 2 ten-wicket hauls, not to forget a record-breaking 37 wickets in a single series in 2013/14 against England.
9. Rangana Herath
Rangana Herath is the only player in this list to have made his international debut back in the last century (1999). Muttiah Muralitharan‘s presence never allowed him to make a place for himself in the Sri Lankan XI, but he kept fighting for his position. Once Murali retired from the game, no one expected to fill in his boots, but Herath did a magnificent job to nearly replicate his genius.
Not the sharpest of spinners like that of a Lyon or Ashwin, Herath has a very straight-arm action and trusts predominantly on the drift he generates or that little turn which is good enough to find the edge. He also registered the best individual figures of the decade in an innings, picking up 9 wickets for 127 runs against Pakistan. It’s also the best figures for a left-arm spinner.
Herath finished his career towards the end of 2018 and entered the top ten list of most wickets taken in a career in Test cricket. In this decade, his tally of 363 wickets in 72 matches is the fourth-best and most by a left-arm bowler. He had a sensational average of 26.41, to go with 9 ten-wicket hauls and 30 five-wicket hauls, which also is the most by any bowler.
8. Vernon Philander
Having made his debut in November 2011, not many had an idea of what Vernon Philander was to bring to international cricket despite showing promising signs in the South African domestic circuit. Clearly, he didn’t take a lot of time to announce his arrival and became the second-fastest bowler ever to claim 50 Test wickets. That spree continued and did so for quite a long period of time.
Just two years after his debut, he reached the pinnacle of the ICC Test rankings and remained on top for quite a while despite facing still competition from his countryman Dale Steyn. Ask him to bowl at a spot for the whole day and Philander would do it with a smile on his face, as easy as taking a walk in the park, such was the accuracy of this man.
Philander raked up some scintillating numbers on his way up the ladder. In 60 Tests, he picked up 216 wickets at a mind-boggling average of 22.16, the best among all bowlers mentioned in this list. He hasn’t looked as good and potent in the last 12 months, but he clearly has some more left in him to offer the Proteas.
7. Ishant Sharma
Maybe Ishant Sharma has been under the pump a little too much, so much so that people quite literally undermine what he has achieved as an international Test cricketer. It has been a decade of ups and downs for the lanky fast bowler from Delhi, but Ishant Sharma managed to pull out some sensational performances in and outside India.
Some of his performances in the forgettable tours of New Zealand, England or South Africa could not fetch his side a winning result, but that takes nothing away from what he contributed. Two of his most memorable spells of this decade came once at the Lord’s in 2014, where he helped India register a rare win at the cricketing Mecca and the other one came in India’s first-ever pink-ball Test.
Ishant played 77 Tests in this decade, a tally surpassed only by Virat Kohli. In this span of time, he picked up 238 wickets at an average of 32.28. His numbers might not speak volumes of how good he has been for the Indians, but most of these wickets came in difficult circumstances for the nation and he’s well worthy of the position he takes.
6. Mitchell Starc
Mitchell Starc made his Test debut in December 2011 and despite injuries plaguing a lot of his valuable times, the left-arm seamer ended up having quite an impact on the Australian side. He didn’t have enough pace in his early couple of years, but with time, he developed into a beast that was difficult to handle even for the best in the business.
Starc always had the pace, mental strength and relentless consistency to be a top-class fast bowler and he did show a fair bit of what he is capable of doing. He easily could’ve been much higher up these rankings if he had more time to spend on the pitch, much of which was hampered by injuries. But whenever he came back after a long break, it never felt like he was away.
No matter which format he plays, Starc always ends up having great statistics. He picked up a staggering 229 wickets in just 54 Tests, which came at an impressive average of 27.57. He picked up 12 five-wicket hauls and 2 times he picked up more than 10 wickets in a game.
5. Stuart Broad
Arguably the most prolific fast bowling duo the game witnessed in this decade, Stuart Broad, partnership with James Anderson, kept haunting batsmen with their unrivalled accuracy and swing. Broad might be the same bowler who conceded six sixes in an over, but in this decade, not many batsmen even had the courage to loft his cherries. That was quite a turnaround.
Broad worked a lot on improving his speeds and from having an average speed under 135 in the last decade, he kept touching the 140s regularly since 2012 and adding to it was his movement off the deck, which made him nearly unplayable on his days. Talking about his days, Broad had quite a lot of them where he was all over the opposition batting lineup, the most famous instance being his 8/15 against Australia in Nottingham.
The second-highest wicket-taker of the decade, Broad is two shy of picking up 400 wickets in these 10 years. He could perhaps have one final shot at reaching that mark in the boxing day Test against South Africa. He picked up 398 wickets in 110 games, which came at an average of 27.75 and includes 14 five-fers and 2 10-fers.
4. Nathan Lyon
One of the most underrated cricketers of this generation, maybe Nathan Lyon doesn’t really get the credit he deserves. Maybe a fact that we stereotyped the origin of spinners so much so that we cannot agree with a non-subcontinental bowler doing well with his fingers or wrists. Shane Warne will perpetually remain an exception for this.
Lyon had his share of challenges on his way towards the top. He never found enough grip on the Australian tracks and on the odd tour to India or Sri Lanka, he wasn’t very impressive in the early part of this decade. Yet, he kept working hard on getting more turns in his fizz and as it turned out, Nathan Lyon became a huge weapon for Michael Clarke and Steve Smith on the dead Australian tracks.
It took some time for the spinner to settle into the environment and has represented the side 93 times, the most by an Australian player this decade. He picked up 370 wickets in this time span at an average slightly above 32. He also picked up 16 five-fers and two times, he picked up 10 or more wickets in a game.
3. Ravichandran Ashwin
Perhaps the finest spinner of this decade, the consistency showed by Ravichandran Ashwin in terms of picking wickets for fun was matched only by the great spinning duo of Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. Having made his debut in November 2011 against West Indies, Ashwin kept rising up the ranks at a rapid pace and soon became a very hot prospect in Indian cricket.
Ashwin had some issues early in his career when he found it difficult to keep control of all the variations he had in his arsenal. But the man found great success once he started keeping things simple and trusted his basic off-spinner to do the bulk of the damage. The odd variation that came in once in a blue moon was a wicket-taker on most occasions and he just kept adding wickets easily to his tally.
Only Herath has had a better record in terms of picking 10-fers in a game this decade. With 362 scalps in 70 Tests at an average of 25.36, Ashwin’s statistics speak for the genius he is. His outstanding run includes 27 five-fers and 7 times he’s picked up 10 or more in the game.
2. James Anderson
The king of swing for those who started following cricket profusely in this decade, James Anderson remains a perfect example of what a fast bowler can achieve with accuracy despite not having the speed. Anderson might not have been the quickest, but he was smart, reliable and consistent with his approach and that earned him laurels like no other.
He will remember this decade as one of the most memorable phases of his career, having won the Ashes thrice (Once in Australia in 2010/11) and also registering a historic Test series win in India. Besides the disappointment of failing to perform well in the subcontinent, Anderson’s decade had pretty much everything a cricketer wants. He also surpassed Glenn McGrath as the highest wicket-taker among seam bowlers.
In 105 Tests he has played in the given span of time, Anderson picked up a whopping 427 wickets, the most by any bowler and all of this came at an outrageous average of 24.19. This includes a staggering 20 five-wicket hauls and 3 ten-wicket hauls for the English legend.
1. Dale Steyn
One of the greatest speedsters the game has ever witnessed, it’ll be tough to find someone who can match up to the quality of Dale Steyn. The South African legend remained their most important spearhead for more than a decade and led his side to some unforgettable triumphs during his tenure. Steyn announced his Test retirement right after the IPL 2019.
Besides the usual outswinging delivery to right-handers, Steyn kept troubling batsmen with his short-of-the-length tactics and the odd delivery that moved the other way. He always kept things simple and tight, setting a perfect example for the youngsters who want to pick up this game as a profession. His unmatched passion was palpable every time he came steaming in and that contagious energy always rubbed off on his teammates.
Might not be the popular choice to top this elite chart of bowlers, but Dale Steyn, for me, has been the best in every department. He picked up 267 wickets in 59 matches at a standout average of 22.29, including 15 five-fers and 2 10-wicket hauls. He also had the best strike-rate among all the bowlers mentioned in the list, picking wickets every 43.9 deliveries.
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