We often tend to talk a lot more about the batsmen. Be it in the past or present, batsmen tend to get a lot more limelight when compared to bowlers. Even today, we compare the batsmen and have a ‘Fab 4’ as well. However, there’s hardly any such thing for bowlers.
However, there have been bowlers who have dominated in certain eras as well. The likes of Sir Richard Hadlee, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and many others have been at the top for long. However, there are many other bowlers who have ruled the No. 1 Test ranking once it was introduced in 1987.
At the moment, it is Kagiso Rabada who leads the bowling charts. However, here we take a look at five bowlers who ruled the No. 1 Test ranking for a long period of time.
1. Dale Steyn (2008-2014, 2016)
Dale Steyn is perhaps one of the best fast bowlers to have ever played the game in the modern era. The South African pacer dominated world cricket for almost a decade and a half. No other South African bowler has more Test wickets than Steyn (439 wickets).
Steyn was one of the reasons for a large part of South Africa’s success during his time. His strike-rate of 44.3 is one of the best in the history of Test cricket. He could rip through batting line-ups with ease and when on song, he was too hot to handle.
The South African first rose to the No. 1 Test ranking in 2008 and was tied with Muttiah Muralitharan. However, from 2009, he absolutely dominated that spot. For more than four years, he was at the top of the ICC rankings before his countrymate Vernon Philander took over.
However, he reclaimed the top spot in 2014 before he lost it as he missed a lot of cricket due to injury. But he was back at the top in 2016. However, a shoulder injury in November 2016 which ruled him out for more than a year saw him lose the No. 1 Test rank.
2. Muttiah Muralitharan (2003, 2006-2008)
There may not be a single bowling record that Muttiah Muralitharan hasn’t achieved. Most Test wickets, most Test five-wicket hauls, most ten wicket-hauls in Tests, most balls bowled by any bowler in the history of Test cricket and many more. Moreover, no other bowler is even close to any of these records.
In a career that lasted for almost two decades, Muralitharan has taken 800 wickets in Test cricket. He had an average of 22.72 in 133 Test matches. The off-spinner took 67 five-wicket hauls and 22 ten-fers in his Test career. He was absolutely brilliant and was the heart of Sri Lanka’s bowling attack through the 1990s and 2000s.
He first rose to the No. 1 Test rank in 2003 and was at the top for about a year. However, he was back at the top of the rankings in 2006 and ruled the No. 1 Test rank for three years. However, it was Dale Steyn in 2008-09 who took over and dominated the top spot for the next few years.
3. Glenn McGrath (1996-97, 2001-2004)
He may not have been the quickest but Glenn McGrath was relentless and nagging with his line and length. Batsmen hardly got any freebies from McGrath. With his subtle variations, he caused a lot of damage and troubled most batsmen in the world.
The former Aussie fast bowler played international cricket for 14 years and was the leader of Australia’s pacer attack for a long time. His tally of 563 Test wickets was the best for a fast bowler for a long time as well before James Anderson went past it last year. Irrespective of the conditions, McGrath was at his best.
There were multiple bursts when McGrath was at the pole position in the ICC Test rankings. 1996 was when he reached the top spot for the first time. He stayed at the helm for a couple of years before returning to the No. 1 spot in 2001. From then on, McGrath was No. 1 for a large part of the next four-odd years barring a brief period when Muralitharan took over.
4. Shane Warne (1994-1995, 2005)
The only spinner that comes anywhere close to Muttiah Muralitharan is perhaps Shane Warne. If Muralitharan is the leader of most Test bowling records, Warne comes second. Be it wickets, five-wicket hauls, ten-wicket hauls.
In what was a controversy-filled career, Warne made the ball talk more often than not. He redefined the art of leg-spin. Warne went on to become one of the greatest spinners to have ever played the game. In a 15-year-old career, Warne played 145 Test matches and picked up 708 wickets. In fact, he was the first bowler to reach the 700-mark in Test cricket before Muralitharan took over.
Warne first became the No. 1 ranked Test bowler back in 1994 and held firm at the top spot for a couple of years before his teammate Glenn McGrath rose to the top. That was his only big burst at the No. 1 spot. However, he returned to the top spot in 2005 as well.
5. Ravichandran Ashwin (2015-2017)
Second-fastest to 200 Test wickets, fastest to 250 and fastest to 300, Ravichandran Ashwin has been reaching multiple landmarks in record time over the last few years. He has been India’s premier Test spinner for a long time now.
In fact, between 2015 and 2017, Ashwin was in and around the No. 1 Test rank for bowlers for a long time. In fact, he ended 2015 and 2016 as the No. 1 ranked Test bowler. In 2017, his spin-twin Ravindra Jadeja overtook him before James Anderson reclaimed the No. 1 spot. However, Ashwin’s rise to the top was excellent.
At home, he kept churning out wickets and five-wicket hauls. He bowled India to victory in multiple games and (along with Jadeja) Ashwin’s performances have been one of the big reasons for India’s dominance at home in Test cricket. At the moment, the Tamil Nadu off-spinner has taken 342 wickets from 65 Test matches.
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