Stuart Broad during day three of the tour match between South Africa A and England at City Oval on December 22, 2015 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Choosing the greatest of any human endeavour is thwart with danger, especially in this time of social media. As a wise man once said, opinions are like a******s, everyone has one.

As we have slowly moved into our 144th year of test cricket with the Ashes just around the corner and Dale Steyn’s recent retirement, I have decided to throw myself beneath the glare of public opinion and name my top 50 greatest fast bowlers since 1900.

It is quite remarkable in a sport that has lasted nearly 150 years, there is still questions over who is the greatest of all time. As everyone’s opinion across the world is different, I found this task most enthralling.

I really thought that no matter how much research I did, I wouldn’t be tired of cricket. This has genuinely pushed my brain to the limit. To be the best you must succeed in all conditions, from swinging the duke ball at Lords to reverse swinging the ball on the dust bowls in India. Some of the greatest have had success, yet only a few have succeeded in all conditions.

By trying to tackle this monstrous task, I selected a rough list of about 80 fast bowler’s worthy of selection. For the last two weeks I researched their statistics and compared them all in categories I deemed worthy of excellence. These categories are:

  • Bowling Average and Strike Rate across their career against every opponent that took a wicket in their time period. For example (Malcolm Marshall took 376 wickets in 81 tests at an average of 20.94 from 1978-1993. I looked at every cricketer that took a wicket during Marshall’s career and subtracted his average from the average of all bowlers 29.97 between 1978-1993)
  • The second category was seeing how these fast bowlers bowled in second innings when the ball losses its swing and is harder to take wickets.
  • The third category, I compared how all the bowlers in Losses and Draws. I decided to use this category to see if these top 50 superstars still bowled well and had a good strike rate in tests they did not win.
  • The fourth category, I checked to see how they bowled in away test matches. This category is a testament to the great bowlers whose test nations could depend on them in any condition.
  • Lucky last, the fifth category, this category I researched which bowlers had the most dominant five-year period and just like for the Malcolm Marshall example compared how dominant they were in that period to everyone else over the five years.

The fast bowlers who dominated in all categories, I placed on a pedestal because they were above average during their career on any pitch overseas and were more dominant than contemporaries.

Here is the first 50-41.

  1. Tim Southee (New Zealand) 

Career Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2008-21 79 314 28.22 56.9 31.37 59.94 12 1
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2012-16 39 150 28.51 59.5 32.16 61.87 4 1

 

Instrumental in New Zealand’s 2019-21 World Test Championship victory. Tim Southee has made New Zealand an absolute fortress for the Black Caps with 189 wickets at home at an average of nearly 27. Lethal with the new ball, Southee averages more with the ball in second innings than the total average from 2008-2021 so that slides him down to order and kicks off my top 50.

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Interesting Stats

30 wickets in 2020 at 17.03.

40 wickets in the sub-continent at 25.12

28 wickets from 9 tests in Australia at 40.

 

  1. Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka)

Career Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
1994-08 111 355 29.58 66 31.98 62.31 12 2
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2001-05 46 174 26.82 58.6 33.43 62.48 7 1

 

The perfect foil for Muralitharan’s off-spin, Chaminda Vaas was the key bowler in Sri Lanka’s first overseas test win in 1994-95. New Zealand produced green-tops for their swing bowlers and Vaas exploited it with his wide range of in-cutters, off-cutters and swing.

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Interesting Stats

132 second innings wickets at 27.31.

175 wickets away at 32.22.

36 wickets at 22.56 in New Zealand.

55 wickets at 16.60 against the West Indies.

42% of his wickets were top order batsmen.

  1. Stuart Broad (England)

Career Tests Wkts Aver S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2007-21 149 524 27.84 56.9 31.39 59.86 18 3
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2012-16 61 236 26.60 53.7 32.5 62.58 9 1

 

Extremely reliable, Stuart Broad has taken more than 300 wickets in swinging conditions. Broad’s figures of 8-15 in the 2015 Ashes Series will forever be regarded as one of the greatest bowling performances. With Jimmy Anderson, they have become England’s most famous opening pair since Trueman and Statham.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06: Stuart Broad of England celebrates taking his fifth wicket that of Michael Clarke of Australia during day one of the 4th Investec Ashes Test match between England and Australia at Trent Bridge on August 6, 2015 in Nottingham, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Interesting Stats

81 wickets at 24.71 in the fourth innings.

44 wickets at 38.09 in the sub-continent.

71 wickets in the 2019-21 world test championship at 21.05

Top 5 for most wickets in draws and losses (240 at 36.62) 

  1. N Kapil Dev (India)
Career Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
1978-94 131 434 29.64 63.90 29.81 63.55 23 2
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
1979-83 56 234 26.19 51.8 28.71 62.61 18 2

 

India’s greatest paceman. Kapil Dev is one of the greatest all-rounders of all time with six test centuries and a batting average of 31. Dev was a lock in for every overseas tour for India during the 70s, 80s and 90s, yet still has the most wickets (279) by a fast bowler in the sub-continent. Dev between 1979-1983 finished with 234 wickets at 26.20 in 56 tests and led India to the first World Cup victory in 1983 against the West Indies.

 

Interesting Stats

344 wickets at 32.45 in Losses and Draws (record).

51 wickets at 24.59 from 11 tests in Australia.

89 wickets at 24.90 from 24 tests against the West Indies

58 wickets at 39.95 in swinging conditions

  1. Trent Boult (New Zealand)

Career Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2011-21 73 292 27.67 55.70 30.15 55.78 8 1
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2014-18 39 161 28.5 57.20 30.40 58.91 4 0

 

The greatest opening left arm swing bowler in New Zealand’s history. Trent Boult has shared the new ball with Tim Southee for many seasons now. Boult’s control with the ball in the second innings is a testament to his low average of 25.83.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 17: Trent Boult of New Zealand celebrates after taking the wicket of Steve Smith of Australia during day five of the second Test match between Australia and New Zealand at the WACA on November 17, 2015 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Interesting Stats

124 second innings wickets at 28.53

32 wickets in England at 21.59

128 wickets in away tests at 30.64

  1. Brian Statham (England)

Career Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
1951-65 70 252 24.85 63.71 28.5 72.11 9 1
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
1954-59 33 124 23.06 60.06 26.58 71.40 4 0

 

The accuracy and stamina to Fred Trueman’s pace and aggression, Brian Statham is sometimes criminally underrated. Probably the only fast bowler ever who disliked bowling bouncers, Statham accuracy was undeterrable, more than 144 of his 252 wickets were either bowled or LBW.

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Interesting Stats

45 wickets at 17.47 from 9 tests at Lords.

40.5% of his 252 wickets were bowled.

161 wickets at 21.79 in swinging conditions

  1. Sir Ian Botham (England)

Career Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
1977-92 102 383 28.40 56.96 29.46 63.32 27 4
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
1977-81 42 205 21.74 49 27.34 63.09 18 4

 

During the late 70s and 80s, Sir Ian Botham was the best cricketer in the world. The quickest all-rounder to achieve 1000 runs/100 wickets, 2000 runs/200 wickets and 3000 runs/300 wickets. Botham was also the first test cricketer in history to hit a ton and take 10 wickets in a test. ‘Beefy’ between 1978 to 1981, took 205 wickets at 21.82, but it was the 1981 Ashes that has become known as Botham’s Ashes. 34 wickets at 20.59, Botham levelled the series in the third test with six for 95 off 39.2 overs, then gave England the lead at Edgbaston taking five for 11 off 14 when the Australia needed 150 for victory. Finally in the last test he took match figures of 10 for 253 off 89 overs to wrap up their 3-1 Ashes win. Why Botham is ranked so low is that his bowling career tailed off near the end of his career and inflated his bowling average. (Botham took 45 wickets in his last 23 tests at 45.8) At his best he was unstoppable, but to get a high spot on this list you need to keep the excellence till the end.

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Interesting Stats

253 wickets at 27.54 from 66 tests in swinging conditions

35 wickets from 9 tests at 26.31 in the sub-continent

128 wickets 35 ashes tests at 28.04

 

  1. Josh Hazlewood (Australia)

Career Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2014-21 55 212 25.65 56 29.42 57.01 9 0
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2015-19 49 186 26.08 56.6 29.09 56.28 6 0

 

An unrelenting line and length would be the perfect phrase to describe Josh Hazlewood. A tall fast bowler with 124 wickets at 24.71 on home soil, Hazlewood is also handy away from home with 85 wickets at 27.04 from 24 tests overseas.

Australia's Josh Hazlewood (L) appeals for a decision against Pakistan batsman Asad Shafiq (R) on the second day of the second cricket Test match in Melbourne on December 27, 2016. WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

Interesting Stats

36 wickets in England at 23.58.

91 wickets at 23.12 in the second innings.

20 wickets at 44.10 from 9 draws.

  1. Vernon Philander (South Africa)

Career Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2011-20 64 224 22.32 50.80 30.57 58.96 13 2
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2011-15 32 126 22.08 48.10 32.41 61.75 9 2

 

Often regarded as a green-top bully, Vernon Philander has shown he is more than that. Able to toil on a perfect line all day, Big Vern became the second fastest bowler in the history of cricket to take 50 test wickets, needing only seven tests and 139 days.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 27: Vernon Philander of South Africa is applauded by team mates after being named player of the series during day four of the Third Test match between Australia and South Africa at Adelaide Oval on November 27, 2016 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

 Interesting Stats

 Second fastest bowler to claim 50 wickets in only 7 tests.

Joint sixth fastest to reach 100 test wickets.

16 wickets at 38.06 in the sub-continent.

146 wickets at 19.08 in South Africa.

86 wickets at 22.15 in the second innings (era average 27.67)

  1. Makhaya Ntini (South Africa)

Career Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
1998-09 101 390 28.82 53.40 32.93 63.04 18 4
5-year Tests Wkts Ave S/R Era Ave Era S/R 5Wi 10Wi
2002-06 51 243 26.16 47.9 33.72 62.23 14 4

 

A pioneer for future stars like Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, Makhaya Ntini became South Africa’s first black African international cricketer. Ntini was a menace at home with 249 wickets from 44 tests yet struggled away in swinging conditions averaging 37.76 with the ball. Still, between 2002 and 2006 Ntini was in the top three best bowlers in the world taking 243 wickets and 14 five wicket hauls.

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Interesting Stats

249 wickets from 44 tests in South Africa at 24.04

Took 54 wickets in 10 tests at 21.22 at SuperSport Park in South Africa.

Top six for most wickets in seaming conditions with 292 but averaged 37.76 in swinging conditions.

141 wickets at 37.27 in away tests (era average was 35.37)