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Conventional off spin can still be a useful weapon, even in modern day cricket. Here are some of the best exponents of this art, across cricket history.
Best Off Spinners of All Time
There was a time when India relied more on their spin bowlers than anyone else. The seamers would appear for just a few overs to take the shine off the ball before the spinners took over.
Erapalli Prasanna played in that era and he was highly effective at his craft. He was one of a great spin quartet in the 1960s and 1970s but was the most conventional right arm off spinner of the four.
Prasanna wasn’t always effective in overseas conditions and that’s partly why he played just 49 tests between 1962 and 1978. His overall returns were impressive, however, and he claimed 189 international wickets with best match figures of 8/76.
This list is in no particular order. It’s worth mentioning that fact as many would say that Muttiah Muralitharan was the greatest off spinner of all time. It’s actually hard to argue with that theory when you look at his statistics.
The Sri Lankan is simply the leading wicket taker in international cricket with an incredible 800 wickets in 133 tests. Added to his stats are 547 victims in the two limited overs formats and that total of 1347 wickets may never be broken.
Often referred to as a mystery spinner, Murali certainly had his variations, but he was exceptional with conventional off spin when he used it.
In a test match against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956, Jim Laker’s place in cricket history was assured when he took 19 wickets in the game. It was an incredible achievement for this off spinner and it’s another record that may never be broken.
He is one of only three bowlers to have taken ten wickets in a match, but that game was just a highlight of what was a brilliant overall career. In 46 test matches, he took 193 wickets at an impressive average of 21.24.
Pakistan’s Saqlain Mushtaq was an innovative off spinner who is credited with introducing some new deliveries into the game. In his time, he was the fastest bowler to reach 200 and 250 One Day International wickets, but he was effective in all formats.
Batters in the 1990s had rarely seen such variation from an ‘offie’ and that was Saqlain’s key weapon. In 218 games in two formats, he took 496 wickets with best match figures of 8/164.
Another great Pakistani off spinner, Saeed Ajmal could get prodigious turn from most surfaces. There was some concern over his action at times during his career but his figures, ultimately, speak for themselves.
His international career was restricted to just 35 test matches over seven years and Ajmal would take 178 wickets in the longer format. He featured more in limited overs games and claimed 269 victims in 197 matches across ODIs and T20is.
At the end, an inability to rectify his action brought about a close to what was a relatively brief, but prolific career.
Graeme Swann was made to wait for his opportunity at international level, but he would finish his career as one of England’s most prolific bowlers. Swann featured in a solitary ODI against South Africa in 2000 but would have to wait another seven years before getting a second chance.
He was a competitive bowler who liked to use variations in flight and speed to fox the opposition. And, when the conditions were in his favour, Swann could get extreme turn.
Eventually, imparting all those revolutions on the ball meant that a troublesome elbow would finish his career at the age of 34. Graeme Swann played 178 international games across the three formats, taking 410 wickets and returning a best in tests of 6/65.
Australia tried so many times to replace Shane Warne when the great man retired. After a number of leg spinners were discarded, Nathan Lyon came along with conventional off spin to become one of the most prolific Aussie bowlers of all time.
Lyon has recently passed 400 test wickets and is currently in third place in Australia’s all-time test list. With 438 victims as of October 2022, he has some way to go before he can catch Glenn McGrath and Warne at the top, but it’s been a seriously impressive display for this conventional off spinner.
A South African international who played test cricket between 1949 and 1960, Hugh Tayfield could genuinely be described as the game’s first great off spinner. He would become the fastest of his countrymen to reach 100 test wickets and that record stood right through to 2008 when it was finally broken by Dale Steyn.
Tayfield enjoyed great success at home, and also in Australia where he took 30 wickets in the 1952/53 series. Those 30 victims contributed to an overall haul of 170 wickets from just 37 test matches.
The West Indies are largely known for their fearsome pace bowling attack, but there was a time when they produced some world class spinners. Sonny Ramadhin is probably the best of those with his 158 wickets in just 43 test matches.
While he was, strictly speaking, an off spinner, Ramadhin had the ability to turn the ball both ways. He was named as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year in 1951 at a time when he was at the height of his powers.
Sonny Ramadhin played international cricket between 1950 and 1960 and those 158 wickets included best innings figures of 7/49.
India’s first great off spinner was Ghulam Ahmed who played in 22 test matches between 1948 and 1958. That may not sound like a prolific career, but it should be remembered that far fewer tests were played in that post war era.
Ahmed certainly made a mark in the limited opportunities that were on offer to him. In those 22 games, he claimed 68 victims and took five wickets in an innings on four occasions. Ghulam Ahmed’s best return came against Australia in 1956/57 when he took ten wickets in a match, including best innings figures of 7/49.
Best 5 Off Spinners in IPL History
Spin has an important role to play in the Indian Premier League and India’s R Ashwin has been one of the most effective bowlers around. He’s played for five different franchise teams up to 2022 and is climbing the list of all time wicket takers with 157 victims.
It’s a shame that the IPL came along so late in the career of Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan. The league only saw him perform from 2008 to 2014, but he made a mark and is still one of the leading wicket takers among off spinners.
Murali took 63 wickets in those seven seasons and he continues to contribute to the IPL in a coaching capacity.
Sunil Narine’s mystery spin has become becalmed since he was forced to change his action. It’s more like conventional off spin these days but he’s still hard to get away. Narine has been a regular for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL and has claimed 152 wickets between 2012 and 2022.
For a time, Harbhajan Singh was one of the leading off spinners in world cricket. He enjoyed a long career and played for no fewer than 14 seasons in the IPL.
Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai were his three teams and Bhaji claimed an impressive 150 wickets in 163 games.
It’s actually quite hard to find conventional off spinners in the modern game. Moeen Ali came to the IPL quite late in his career, but he’s since become a regular for his CSK side.
He’s such an elegant batter that his bowling can be underrated. However, if he is included by Chennai on a regular basis moving forward, Moeen has the quality to climb the list of leading IPL wicket takers.
When I started watching cricket, it was said that leg spin was a dying art. Many years later, could we be saying the same about off spin? It’s been interesting to note that, of the names on the main list here, only one is still playing the game.
And, with all due respect to Nathan Lyon, it’s fair to say that he is starting to reach the end of his career. Who are the young off spinners coming through to take their place?
That’s a question for another day but, for now, let’s just enjoy the remarkable statistics delivered by the greatest off spinners in the history of cricket.