On the latest episode of Wisden and CricViz’s podcast series The Greatest T20, the panel of CricViz’s Freddie Wilde, England fast bowler Tymal Mills, and host Yas Rana were tasked with picking the greatest T20 fast bowler of all time.
As Wilde described it, “fast bowling is arguably the toughest job in T20 cricket”, and as such, the debate was a tricky one. There are plenty of quicks who have starred for a time, but, as the nature of the role has changed and the need for innovation has arisen, haven’t been able to stay at the top level, with Sohail Tanvir and James Faulkner two examples cited to demonstrate the sprawling nature of the list of candidates.
Here are some players who featured heavily in the discussion:
220 T20s, 256 wickets, ER: 6.75, BBI: 4-9
YR: Dale Steyn did surprise me a little bit, because the other than maybe Bumrah, he’s the only person that we’re mentioning that’s an elite Test bowler as well as a T20 bowler.
TM: The great thing about Steyn is that swing, with the red or white Kookaburra ball. And he’s able to mix it up at the death with yorkers. It’s swing, the big thing.
FW: You make a good point in terms of swing bowlers being able to operate in the powerplay. A lot of red-ball bowlers can transfer into T20 and bowl well in the first period of the innings. What Steyn has managed to do, because he has that pace and that ability to find the yorker, he can bowl two or three up front and one or two at the back end. Very few people can combine those two.
252 T20s, 296 wickets, ER: 7.15, BBI: 5-8
TM: He’s just consistently the top wicket taker [in the PSL] every year.
FW: Wahab is more of a back-end bowler. Often he won’t even bowl in the first six. He looks back of a length quite often with some slower balls, he’s got good length too. I’m not quite sure why he gets a lot of stick among Pakistanis. He’s in and out of the side, his international career in some repsects has almost been a bit of a joke.
But his numbers are absolutely phenomenal. Historically, no one is better than Wahab at the death. He is a master at saving runs when the batsmen are hitting out towards the back-end. He’s combining movement – however achieved – with accuracy and high pace, and that’s a lethal combination.
94 T20s, 140 wickets, ER: 7.15, BBI: 4-15
TM: Starc, he’s an x-factor bowler. He swings that new ball at 90-mile-per-hour plus and then he bowls great yorker at the end. If you were going to build a T20 bowler but you’re only given two attributes, you’d take that. To have both of them at the pace that he can bowl at makes him a coveted asset.
FW: While his raw skills are fantastic, why it might be a bit more difficult to argue his case in this debate is just that volume aspect. When he does play, I’ve got no doubt Starc is going to be brilliant. When the World Cup is coming up I’m sure he’ll be fantastic. When he does play in the IPL, he’s always brilliant. He can just turn it on. He is one of the world’s best bowlers. But when you’re talking about the greatest of all time, there’s a strong case to make that he hasn’t played quite enough T20 cricket to be in the discussion.
164 T20s, 199 wickets, ER: 6.93, BBI: 6-17
FW: He isn’t quite as quick as Starc and Steyn, but he’s very very accurate. And I think that left-arm angle, a lot of these guys are left-armers. He’s classical. He swings the ball at decent pace, he bowls attacking lengths, he’s not afraid to pitch the ball up looking for wickets early on. He is effective at the death as well.
455 T20s, 497 wickets, ER: 8.24, BBI: 5-23
FW: He’s another one who’s maybe past his best now, but has performed at the highest level for 10-plus years. What’s really interesting about Bravo, a lot of the guys we’ve spoken today, their top-speed ball has been pretty quick. If you’ve got a lot of variations and you can reach 140, 145, 150 kph, that gives you quite a lot more options. Bravo hasn’t always had that.
I think he probably used to be pretty nippy, but nowadays he isn’t and that means you’ve really got to rely on hiding your variations, on mystery, and on the quality of those slower balls, and Bravo’s someone who has done that across a long period of time.
I don’t think Bravo’s as great as many people think he is, he picks up a lot of his wickets at the back-end when they are often a little bit cheaper, but his longevity across a long period time can only really be rivalled by Malinga.
157 T20s, 182 wickets, ER: 7.06, BBI: 3-7
FW: I don’t think it would be fair to call him the greatest T20 bowler ever yet, but he’s been bowling now for three or four years as one of the best, if not the best. To win the title of the greatest, you’ve got to do it across a long period of time. Bumrah has this super-high-arm action. He gets out really high, wide on the crease, and spears it in. He absolutely nails his yorkers. He doesn’t really miss.
Eventually, the panel settled on Sri Lanka great Lasith Malinga, famed for his roundarm action and pinpoint yorkers, as the greatest T20 fast bowler.
295 T20s, 390 wickets, ER: 7.08, BBI: 6-7
FW: His effectiveness at T20’s most effective delivery, the yorker, is second-to-none. That comes from the action that he’s got, that unique action, the yorker, that low arm allows him to bowl the yorker more effectively than anyone else. Malinga’s success rate with his yorker is 63 per cent is the best of any bowler to play T20. But if he misses his yorker and bowls a full toss, traditionally yorkers go at 10, 11 runs an over. Malinga’s go at seven and a half. Even when he misses his length, he’s still very hard to get away.
TM: I think it is the longevity, you think what a brilliant career he’s had over a long period of time. He’s done it consistently at the biggest events, the IPL, the World Cups, the Big Bash with the Melbourne Stars. If you can be the best yorker bowler in the world, consistently, you’re the best player in the world.