I’ve already discussed the art of swing bowling at length and how it can be used as an effective weapon. Now it’s time to take a closer look at some of the best exponents of swing bowling that the game has ever seen. Here are the 12 best swing bowlers of all time (strictly subjective).
I’ve been lucky enough to see many of these players in action at test matches in England but, there will be an honest appraisal of all the bowlers. Each one deserves to be on this list for the great contributions that they’ve made to cricket.
Best Swing Bowlers of All Time
Wasim Akram, Pakistan: The Sultan of Swing
Active years: 1984-2003
There are many who feel that Wasim Akram was the best swing bowler of all time and it’s hard for me to argue with that theory. The Pakistan left armer could move the ball considerably and he was one of the first to effectively use the relatively new phenomenon of reverse swing.
Wasim’s figures certainly back up his supporters: His test match career lasted for an incredible 17 years and in that time he took 414 wickets in 104 games. His figures in ODIs were equally remarkable with 502 wickets while his averages and economy rates were exceptional. The statistics are astounding but it’s worth watching highlights of Wasim Akram in action to fully appreciate the art of swing bowling at its best.
James Anderson, England: The King of Swing
Active years: 2002- present
England’s James Anderson has become the most prolific fast bowler of all time with over 600 test wickets. Only three spin bowlers, Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble are ahead of him at the time of writing.
Anderson can use both swing and seam to good effect and, while he has been more successful in English conditions, he can also perform well overseas. Late away swing is a particularly strong skill set which helps to put the Englishman high up on this particular list.
Imran Khan, Pakistan: The Lion of Pakistan
Active years: 1971 – 1992
I actually got Imran Khan’s autograph when he played a benefit match in England in 1975. He’d already played international cricket by then but who would have known just what a brilliant career he would go on to have.
Imram played 88 tests and took 362 wickets making him one of the leading performers of his day. A natural leader of men who would go on to become the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan, he also captained his country as they won the World Cup in 1992.
Waqar Younis, Pakistan: The Toe Crusher
Active years: 1989 – 2003
There is a book by John Crace called Wasim and Waqar: Imran’s inheritors and it outlines how Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis carried on the art of swing bowling when Imram Khan retired. As a right arm bowler, Waqar was the perfect foil for Wasim and between them they ran through many international batting line ups.
Each was a world class performer in their own right. As Waqar played his final game for Pakistan in 2003, he retired with 373 wickets from just 87 tests plus a further 416 victims in 262 one day internationals.
Allan Donald, South Africa: The White Lightning
Active years: 1991 – 2003
Allan Donald of South Africa will be primarily remembered for his pace bowling and some notable duels with batsmen from all over the world. He was certainly one of the most hostile quick men to have ever played international cricket but he was a clever bowler too.
Swing was a part of Donald’s armoury and, allied to that great pace, he was exceptionally difficult to handle. He claimed 330 wickets in 72 tests and it should be remembered that he didn’t make his international debut until he was 26. South Africa were readmitted into international cricket in 1992 and the man known as ‘White Lightning’ could have claimed even more victims with swing bowling at genuine pace.
Sir Richard “Paddles” Hadlee, New Zealand
Active years: 1973 – 1990
New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee was a contemporary of Imran Khan, having made his international debut in 1973. The Kiwi was a genuine all-rounder and was just as valuable with the bat as the ball.
However, we shouldn’t forget that he was one of the earliest bowlers to rely on swing as one of the main threats to batters. When he retired in 1990, Hadlee had taken 431 wickets in just 86 tests with another 158 scalps from 115 One Day Internationals.
Dale Steyn, South Africa: The Steyn-Gun
Active years: 2004 – present
Like Jimmy Anderson, Dale Steyn is a bowler who can employ all fast bowling techniques and has the ability to take wickets with late swing. Unfortunately, unlike his English counterpart, the South African has been unable to stay clear of injuries late in his career.
Had he stayed fit, Steyn may well have challenged Anderson in the list of leading test wicket takers but his figures are still impressive. In 96 test matches, Steyn took 439 wickets and he can add another 260 victims from his limited overs games. He still has time to add to those totals, particularly in the short formats.
Bhuvneshwar ‘Bhuvi’ Kumar, India
Active years: 2012 – present
One of the best of the current crop of swing bowlers is India’s Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Injuries and a loss of form have restricted his appearances in recent years but he remains a threat with conventional and reverse swing when he’s fully fit.
I hope that he’s going to be a part of the Indian set up for many years to come as there are few truly ‘great’ swing bowlers around, when compared to some of the retired legends on this list.
Shane Bond, New Zealand: The 007
Active years: 2001 – 2010
Injuries restricted Shane Bond’s international career and that’s a great shame. The Kiwi had great pace and he also had the ability to swing the ball when conditions were in his favour.
Bond played just 18 tests plus another 102 games in the shorter formats but he claimed an impressive 259 wickets in that time. Had it not been for those injuries, there would have been so much more.
Chaminda ‘Vasy’ Vaas, Sri Lanka
Active years: 1994 – 2009
Sri Lanka’s Chaminda Vaas wasn’t quite as quick as Wasim Akram but he has often been compared to the great Pakistan international. They are both left armers with a similar build and Vaas was also effective in home conditions and abroad.
Vaas claimed 355 wickets in 111 tests and was also prolific in limited overs. It’s harder to swing the white ball but this impressive Sri Lankan was a master of the art in all formats.
Glenn ‘Pigeon’ McGrath, Australia
Active years: 1993 – 2007
It’s hard to argue with the theory that Glenn McGrath was the greatest seam bowler to have played the game. However, because he was so deadly accurate and had an almost perfect wrist position for seam bowling, it’s easy to forget that he could swing the ball too.
Until James Anderson overtook him, McGrath was the leading fast bowling wicket taker in tests with 563 victims from 124 matches. That combination of seam and swing also helped to make Australia the most successful ODI team in history.
Malcolm ‘Sobie’ Marshall, West Indies
Active years: 1978 – 1992
I remember Malcolm Marshall for his sheer pace: He’s surely the quickest bowler on this list and this is another player where his perfection of swing is largely forgotten. 376 wickets in just 81 tests shows what a brilliant player he was over a 14 year international career.
Sadly, Marshall passed away in 1999 at the age of just 41 and I would definitely suggest checking out some of his best highlights on the regular video sharing channels.
Swing Bowlers at the 2021 WTC Final
Many of the great swing bowlers on this list, most notably Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Imran Khan, have long since retired but the art of swing bowling has a big part to play in the modern game.
Sir Richard Hadlee is another name included in the round up and he believes that swing will be influential in the final of the inaugural World Test Championship.
In the New Zealand camp, there is Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson and Tim Southee while India’s Jasprit Bumrah will be supported by the likes of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. Some of those names will rely on pace and seam while others will use swing as their key weapon of choice.
I’ll certainly be watching the final of the World Test Championship and I’d urge readers to do the same. This will be a game where India and New Zealand’s finest will underline just how important swing bowling is in modern day test match cricket.
Swing bowling is incredible to watch as the ball can move prodigiously through the air, deceiving the batsman as it crashes into the stumps. It’s an important part of a fast bowler’s weaponry and the above names are up there with the very best.