ICC layered out the latest rankings for bowlers in the Test matches, and it was no surprise that the fast bowlers ruled the charts. With Ravichandran Ashwin as the only spinner in the Top 10, while only three spots amongst the Top 20 have been claimed by the spinners.
It was not a year or two back that the Indian Cricket Team used to launch an all-out spin attack to dominate the long format of the game. The two Ravis of the Indian team, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja had mastered the art of spin with the red ball. Ashwin ruled the leaderboards of the Test Rankings in two consecutive years, 2015 and 2016.
There was a time when the spin-action from all around the world was favoring the teams, and it not only included the teams in the sub-continent. Not that this time was years ago, it was just a matter of few months or a year when Australia’s Nathan Lyon, Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath, New Zealand’s Ish Sodhi, Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, West Indies’ Sunil Narine, dominated the Test Rankings and were the most effective ones on weary-teary pitches.
The trend has completely taken a different side now, with only one bowler in the Top 10 ICC Test Rankings, the fast bowlers have retained their province. Pacers have always been the heart of bowling in Test Cricket, and history illustrates the fact quite precisely. The era of bowlers from the 70s to the mid-80s was clearly in the hands of pacers from all around the world. It was the time when India was finally establishing itself as a dominant nation with pacers like Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath threatening the batsmen with their pace and swing.
West Indies was considered one of the strongest bowling sides with Andy Roberts, Sylvester Clarke, Michale Holding, and Colin Croft, a few of the fastest bowlers in the history of cricket. These were not the only dominating bowlers the time saw. Australian bowlers Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, England’s duo of Bob Willis and Ian Botham, and New Zealand pacer Richard Hadlee were the biggest threats to the batsmen. The sub-continent was not too far, as Pakistani bowler Imran Khan and Indian pacer Kapil Dev were bringing an end to the spin authority.
Since then, there were times when pacers would thrive for swing, but India has constantly grown with the alternating dominance of spin and pace in Test Cricket. The time when Australian duo, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee, along with Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and Indian spinner Anil Kumble dominated the Test Rankings equally.
Every major test nation, over the years, has been overshadowed by pacers hegemony. The Indian pace attack led by the trio of Jaspreet Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohd. Shami, Australian fast bowlers Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, and Josh Hazlewood, English bowling duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, New Zealand’s pacers Neil Wanger and Tim Southee and South African pacers Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander were the pacers who dominated the Test rankings, leaving spinners with just three spots in the Top 20 positions.
Let’s take a look at how these major test playing nations depended on Pace attack more than the spinning options in 2019.
India has been one of the few Test-playing nations that have dominated the batsmen with their spin routine. India used to play the home test on dustbowls, and the spinners would nail the opponent’s batting line-up. The golden era of spin bowling in India revolved around the spin-attack of B.S. Chandrashekhar, Bishan Singh Bedi, E.A.S. Prasanna, and S. Venkataraghavan. Then came the new-age spinners, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, who completely changed the definition of spin-bowling with their quick wicket-taking abilities. A more recent of all was Ravichandran Ashwin, who ruled the ICC Test rankings with his carom ball in two consecutive years, 2015 and 2016. Ashwin was the only spinner in the Top 10 rankings of 2019 and was placed in the 9th position.
The times quickly changed and pacers made it to the Test team while the spin bowlers were rested by the current Indian captain, Virat Kohli. India’s pace attack led by the duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami has won them a great set of matches.
Gone are the times, when India used to be a spin-attack. Indian pacers have the pink ball to thank to, that has effectively remoted the game in favor of fast pace action. India’s pace attack has been immensely delusional for the other teams. Picking up 95 wickets at an astonishing average of 15.16, the strike rate of Indian pacers in 2019 was the best in Test history. Jasprit Bumrah made it to the Top 10 this year in the ICC test rankings for a bowler with 6th position, while Mohammed Shami was ranked at 10th.
Nathan Lyon has been the only spinner for Australia when it comes to white-shirt cricket. The Australian bowling attack has constantly been influenced by the likes of pacers and fast-bowling swingers. Nathan Lyon, at one time, was the leading wicket-taker for the Australian side and won the team matches, but his presence has been regularly shadowed by the Australian pace duo of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. The current test series against Pakistan was not as expected for Pat Cummins, but it was Mitchell Starc who became the leading wicket-taker for Australia.
Before Starc and Cummins were around for the Australian team, Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson dominated with their fast pace and tactical bowling. The lack of spin and overwhelming pace attack has been a blessing in disguise for Australian Cricket. Pat Cummins bagged the number 1 position in ICC Test Rankings for bowlers in 2019, while Mitchell Starc landed in 5th position. Nathan Lyon was ranked up in 2019 and winded up in 14th position.
Had it not been for the injuries and the rest, England’s 37-year-old bowler James Anderson would be on the top spot of this year’s ICC Test Rankings for bowlers too. He has been the go-to bowler for the English side for a decade now and has still managed to surpass his teammate Stuart Broad and the upcoming talent, Jofrah Archer in the Test Rankings this year.
A spearhead with the bowl, James Anderson’s swing mixed up with Stuart Broad’s pace has worked in favor of the English team in Tests. England has a lot of options when it comes to pace, with Jofrah Archer and Ben Stokes making a place for themselves. There was a time when right-arm off-spinner Graeme Swan would hypnotize the opposition batsmen with his spin. England’s current line-up has Moeen Ali as a vital spinner but it is the pacers who have ruled the hard pitch in England’s home conditions.
New Zealand was once the team that was captained by one of the finest spinners in the history of cricket, Daniel Vettori. A man who was responsible for the team’s success in all the three formats of the game, Vettori’s spin bowling was more dangerous than his captaincy skills. Not only were the fans supportive of his decisions but his stats and presence on the field spoke for itself. As Daniel Vettori retired from the cricketing world, the country saw an amazing spinner in Ish Sodhi and for a short-span, New Zealand’s bowling was again ruled by spinner’s hegemony.
Sodhi’s spin attack was effectively overshadowed by the presence of Neil Wagner, Trent Boult and Tim Southee as the essential pacers in New Zealand’s bowling attack. Wagner proved to be one of the finest pacers for New Zealand in Test Cricket this year and was placed at No. 2 position in ICC Test Rankings. Tim Southee and Trent Boult made it to the top 20 with 13th and 18th position respectively.
West Indies has always been the team with a bunch of pacers ruling the bowling-attack. At one point, West Indies used to have the finest bowlers in the world. That era was a golden time for fast bowling in the nation as well as the world. The team never really considered spin as its strength and there were only a few pacers in the Windies’ test team. Sunil Narine was one name in the recent bowling attack of the team that stood above the pacers and dominated the game, but that time was short-lived and since then the pacers have constantly been the favorites for the side.
West Indies’ current pace attack has seen some prominent stats and brilliant action from the bowlers. Jason Holder has not only been one of the finest bowlers for his side but was also ranked at No.3 in ICC Test Rankings for bowlers. Kemar Roach is up in the line by making his presence felt in the Windies team and making it to the top twenty in 12th position. This fast-bowling attack from the West Indies could be the revival of pacers for the nation.
It all started with the inclusion of fast bowler Makhaya Ntini in the South African national squad. Whenever we talk about the pace-attack in the country, Ntini’s name has to come out for the way he has changed the bowling attack of the nation. Continuing Ntini’s legacy was Dale Steyn, who was once the most dangerous bowler on this planet. South Africa has been regularly dominated by the likes of fast bowlers but some spinners stood out amongst the vital spear attack by the Proteans. Johan Botha and JP Duminy were the spinners who made their presence felt with their spin bowling action.
Kagiso Rabada, the winner of South Africa’s top player prize, has been in the news for his dominant bowling and attacking speed. The South African cricketer is a representation of his country’s pace attack. Vernon Philander is another name that has been dominant in South Africa’s pace attack. Rabada grabbed the No. 4 spot while Philander laned on the 8th in ICC Test Rankings 2019.