Cricket, as every bowler knows, is very much a batsman’s game.
Bowlers are afforded a disproportionate share of the limelight, especially in the batsman-friendly Twenty20 arena, but could that be about to change?
At the upcoming World Cup, which starts next Friday, spectators will have the chance to cast their eyes over some toe-crunching yorkers, devious slower balls, doosras, sliders and of course, some good old-fashioned chin music.
Part of the skill of being a bowler in the modern game is the art of deception. If a bowler can deceive a batsman with a well-concealed variation, half the battle is won.
So, with all these things in mind, who are the top 10 bowlers to watch out for in Australia and New Zealand this February?
- James Faulkner – Australia – left-arm pace
- Key stat: Took 19 wickets in 14 ODIs during 2014
Under normal circumstances, this crafty Aussie pacer would occupy a spot in my top three bowlers at the 2015 World Cup. However, a side strain has thrown Faulkner’s participation into doubt. There is a chance he may overcome the niggling injury to bat for the home side, but his chances of bowling are slim. His fans will be lamenting his luck as his superb variations have made him Australia’s go-to man in the ‘death overs’ with the back-of-the-hand slower ball his most impressive, and deceptive, weapon. He will be sorely missed if he cannot recover in time.
- Vernon Philander – South Africa – seamer
- Key stat: Conceded just 4.84 runs an over in 2014
Very much underrated in some corners of the cricketing world, Philander will line up Down Under as one of the Proteas’ most valued assets. His economy is outstanding and the unsung seamer also has the knack of picking up key wickets – often by frustrating batsmen with his line and length, making him the perfect foil for the terrifying pace duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
- Matt Henry – New Zealand – right-arm fast
- Key stat: Averaged over three wickets per ODI in 2014
New Zealand have unearthed a gem in Matt Henry. The 23-year-old destroyed Pakistan in their ODI series in December, claiming 13 wickets at a measly average of 16.30 apiece. Henry is still relatively new to ODI cricket, competing in eight games, but his career wicket tally of 21 suggests he has the ability to strike quickly and regularly. His lack of fame could see him surprise many teams and looks set to be the World Cup’s dark horse bowler.
- Shakib Al-Hasan – Bangladesh – left-arm spin
- Key stat: Took 21 ODI wickets with a 3.72 economy in 2014
Shakib is a proven limited-overs performer and is consequently coveted by many T20 franchises across the world. Those lucky enough to secure his signature can count on his accurate spin, frugal economy and habit of picking up wickets in the middle overs. His bowling alone would see him picked in most teams but his batting is aggressive, making him the top-ranked all-rounder in all three forms of the game.
- Ravi Ashwin – India – off-spin
- Key stat: Took 23 ODI wickets in 17 matches through 2014
Tall, clever and hugely effective, Ashwin will lead India’s spin attack Down Under. Using variations both subtle and tricky, he has become one of the leading spinners in world cricket. However, his temperament can sometimes be questioned, particularly when he is attacked by batsmen looking to unsettle him, and that will prove to be his biggest challenge at the World Cup.
- Mohammed Shami – India – seamer
- Key stat: Joint-highest ODI wicket taker in 2014 with 38 scalps
Shami enters the World Cup as one of India’s breakthrough trio of pacemen. Alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Varun Aaron he is beginning to dispel the myth that Indian pace bowlers lack bite. Shami enjoyed an excellent 2014, taking 38 ODI wickets, but his economy of 6.16 is in danger of undermining his good work Down Under if he cannot limit the runs he concedes.
- Dale Steyn – South Africa – right-arm fast
- Key stat: Claimed 22 ODI wickets in 2014
The sight of Dale Steyn charging in to bowl at over 90mph is arguably the scariest in cricket and South Africa will reap the rewards on the fast, bouncy Antipodean pitches. Steyn is especially useful in the death overs, where fierce yorkers and off-cutters help him to keep the run rate down. He will form a lethal opening attack with Morne Morkel, but his individual brilliance alone could help South Africa to World Cup victory come March.
- Lasith Malinga – Sri Lanka – right-arm fast
- Key stat: Took 29 wickets (one every 27 balls) in 2014
‘Malinga the slinger’ is a harsh nickname for such a talented player, but Malinga’s unique action continues to fool the world’s best batsmen. Armed with 90mph pace and a fiendishly deceptive slower-ball, Malinga regularly picks up wickets in large numbers, including two five-wicket hauls in 2014 alone. Look out for his eye-watering yorkers, which decimated the lesser teams in 2011.
- Mitchell Johnson – Australia – left-arm fast
- Key stat: Claimed a 4.80 economy in 2014
Part of Mitchell Johnson’s appeal is that he tends to aim for batsmen’s heads rather than the stumps but, then again, how else would he be considered the world’s most feared pace bowler? He has managed to ditch his reputation as a wayward paceman, and is now seen as one of the most accurate around. Add that to his ability to reach speeds of up to 95mph and Australia might just have a World Cup-winning bowler on their hands.
- Ajantha Mendis – Sri Lanka – right-arm spin
- Key stat: Took 38 ODI wickets at 21.63 in 2014
Mendis has become the great mystery of modern spin bowling. His mastery of variation balls has helped his deception to such an extent that nobody is sure whether he’s an off-spin or a leg-spin bowler. As a batsman, that uncertainty must be a gruesome thought and his collection of 38 victims during 2014 shows just how effective he is. The one criticism that surrounds his magical bowling is that he tends to be quite expensive – he had an economy of 5.76 in 2014 – but his awesome strike rate of 22.5 goes a long way to excuse that profligacy.
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