The great fast bowlers are always remembered fondly but who had the best action of them all?
#1 Michael Holding (West Indies)
He was known as ‘Whispering Death’ because of a smooth action and almost silent run up to the crease that was followed by sheer, hostile pace. Michael Holding’s finest moments on a cricket field surely came on the tour of England in 1976 and, in particular, the final test at The Oval.
He took 14 wickets in that match which, unsurprisingly, West Indies won comfortably. In many ways, his was the classic action but it was delivered so smoothly. His calm run up into the crease could have fooled batsmen into thinking that he was sending down medium pacers before the ball shattered their stumps before they could blink.
#2 Dennis Lillee (Australia)
The 1970s was a classic era for pace bowling, Opposite Michael Holding in the West Indies camp was Australia’s Dennis Lillee whose fearsome reputation was backed up by his performances on the pitch.
He took five wickets on his debut for Australia against England at Adelaide in 1971 and the legend was in place. Eventually, he would finish with 355 test wickets and a best of 7/83.
Similarly to Holding, Lillee had a classic action but his run up was full of menace, highlighted by a grimace and his trademark moustache.
#3 Dale Steyn (South Africa)
Like Dennis Lillee, South Africa’s Dale Steyn also has a bustling run up and a menacing stare at the batsman. But that stare underlines just how still his head is through the action and delivery. He is one of the most accurate fast bowler of all time and keeping focused on the target is the key to that.
He is South Africa’s leading test wicket taker at the time of writing with 439 victims and a best of 7/51. However, many think that his best performance came in November 2007 at Johannesburg when he took ten wickets in a match for the first time as South Africa crushed New Zealand by 358 runs.
#4 James Anderson (England)
Jimmy Anderson is now the leading seam bowling wicket taker in test cricket. It’s taken him a while to get there but his achievements deserve respect and I think the silly ‘Clouderson’ name calling is ridiculous.
His action does allow for more swing and that will exploit English conditions but Anderson has done his bit for the side overseas. A still head and strong wrist position means that he can get seam movement as well as swing and he’s also deadly accurate.
It’s a deadly combination for batsmen and my favourite Jimmy Anderson spell came against New Zealand in 2008 when he was effectively bowling fast leg breaks on his way to figures of 7/43.
#5 Brett Lee (Australia)
This could potentially cause some debate. At a time when fast bowlers were trying to break the 100mph barrier, Brett Lee was outdone by Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar. However, we are talking about beautiful bowling actions and that’s where Lee wins the argument.
He ran into the crease like a sprinter and I can remember him running in training with a parachute tied to his back. That speed into the crease, led to a pronounced jump and delivery stride and all of this helped to build his pace.
Playing against India in the Boxing Day test match of 1999, Brett Lee became the first man since Dennis Lillee to take five wickets on debut for Australia.
#6 Trent Boult (New Zealand)
New Zealand’s Trent Boult is the first left armer on this list. He has got a great action and it allows him to get prodigious swing – even with the white ball. Boult isn’t a tall man but the power in his action means that he has deceptive pace.
A lot of that power comes from the speed of the arm as the jump and coil are less dramatic. He also has a tendency to bowl a fuller length than others and that’s what makes his swing so dangerous.
#7 Wasim Akram (Pakistan)
Trent Boult may be the current ‘King of Swing’ but Pakistan’s Wasim Akram held the crown long before the Kiwi. Along with Waqar Younis, Wasim also developed the art of reverse swing which was inherited from the great Imran Khan.
Wasim Akram had a very short run up compared to most fast bowlers. He liked to concentrate on the delivery stride, the shape of the wrist and the power that he put through his arm on the point of delivery.
There are many brilliant Wasim moments to pick from but perhaps his finest hour came in the 1992 ODI World Cup final. All his swing and seam talents were on display as he firstly dismissed Ian Botham before destroying England’s middle order charge. If you don’t know what a jaffa is, then just take a look at what he did on the pitch.
#8 Glenn McGrath (Australia)
Australia’s Glenn McGrath was one of the most successful seam bowlers of all time but he lacked any genuine pace. The key to that success was a high arm action and an almost perfect wrist position which allowed the ball to hit the seam and deviate with regularity.
Until Jimmy Anderson overtook him, McGrath was the leading seam bowling wicket taker in tests. He eventually retired with an impressive 849 victims in all three formats and a best of 8/24.
#9 Jofra Archer (England)
England’s new pace bowling sensation is currently sidelined with injury but that’s more down to overwork than any issues with his action. It’s a long, rhythmic run up and what’s really interesting is that his front foot doesn’t fully land before he’s released the ball.
All the power is in that run up and on the back leg in delivery.
Hopefully, Archer will recover and play a full part for England moving forward but I think he should focus on the white ball game. His best moment to date came in the 2019 World Cup final when his Super Over sealed the trophy.
#10 Zaheer Khan (India)
Another left armer rounds off this list and many will say that India’s Zaheer Khan deserves to be higher up. Perhaps he was a little underrated but he’s certainly left his mark on the international game.
Zaheer mastered the arts of both inswing and outswing and batsmen didn’t know which way the delivery would move. He was great at hiding the ball and that’s why batters couldn’t work out which grip he was using. Zaheer was another bowler with a shorter run and a focus on nagging line and length. In a long career, he took 610 international victims with a best of 7/87.