Overs 3.2 - Around the Wicket's "Best Swing XI" of the last 25 years
The dearth of swing bowlers has made the cricketing world a sadder place. If you ask any batsman, whether express fast bowling is more difficult or quality swing bowling, 90% of them will choose the latter. And there have been some absolute beauties in my cricket viewing career. There are very few in contemporary times who can claim to be supremely skillful exponents of true swing bowling. There may be some who may not agree with some of my choices, but if there are any swing bowlers who can match these eleven then they must be some bowler. Here is Around the Wicket's "Best Swing XI" of the last 25 years.
WPUJC Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka)
Try saying Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas. Unfortunately for batsmen, his bowling was more difficult to handle. The former Sri Lankan spearhead lacked pace, but not the skill. On dead subcontinent pitches, the left-arm swing bowler was the leader of the Sri Lankan Cricket team for over a decade with the peerless Mutthiah Muralitharan. He has captured 755 international wickets and most of them on spinner-friendly dry subcontinent pitches, which makes the achievement more impressive.
Brett Lee (Australia)
Brett Lee is known more for his deadly pace than swing bowling. The Australian when in full-flow had a vicious outswinger and when the ball went old, his dangerous reverse swing toe-crushers sent nightmares to numerous tail-enders. Along with Shoaib Akhtar, Lee was consistently the fastest bowler in the universe. With over 700 international wickets and being part of a bowling quartet that included Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne, they could collectively go down as the statistician and skillfully, the greatest ever bowling unit in world cricket.
Shane Bond (New Zealand)
There will be few of the current cricket watchers who will remember Shane Bond. The current Sydney Thunder coach has a career riddled with injuries. He has been arguably New Zealand's best fast bowler since Richard Hadlee. Bond only played 18 Test matches and took 85 wickets. His strike rate of getting a wicket is the second best amongst bowlers who have bowled a minimum of 2500 deliveries in the history of test cricket. Bond presented an impeccable seam and sent rapid inswingers that would swing late. Ask Ricky Ponting, who Bond removed in all of the six one day internationals he played against Australia. If Bond was injury free, he could have taken over 400 wickets.
Trent Boult (New Zealand)
The second Kiwi in this list and conditions have a lot to do with the production of swing bowlers from New Zealand. Trent Boult or "Lightning/Thunder Boult" as he is commonly known and Tim Southee form NZ greatest ever opening bowling combination. Unsurprisingly Boult's hero growing up was Wasim Akram and the left-arm swing bowler like Akram can swing the ball both ways at pace. Boult worked really hard with Shane Bond to ensure he got the most out of his natural bowling style and was one of New Zealand's most dependable and lethal cricketers under the captaincy of Brendon McCullum.
Zaheer Khan (India)
Zaheer Khan or Zak has been rated by Kevin Pietersen as the five best bowlers he has faced. Khan has taken over 600 wickets in international cricket for India. Khan was most effective with the old ball when getting reverse swing at searing pace, but he could move the new ball both ways as well. India was not known to have world-class fast bowlers since Kapil Dev, but Khan was all quality. He decreased his pace to increase the longevity of his bowling-life and with that came increased intelligence. Khan had an outstanding record against left-handers and was instrumental in India claiming top ranking for the first time in Tests.
Mohammad Amir (Pakistan)
When Mohammad Amir burst into cricketing limelight, there were smiles on almost every cricket viewer as wide as the smile possessed by the man himself. Amir was touted as the next Wasim Akram. In 2010 in England, he became the youngest to 50 Test wickets with prodigious swing bowling. Perfect action, perfect wrist position and the perfect age to become one of the greatest. What could go wrong? In 2011, his whole world turned upside down after being found guilty for spot-fixing. Unfortunately, he has not been the same since that incident.
Imran Khan (Pakistan)
The state of Punjab has produced some exceptional bowlers whether swing or fast. And no one is as charismatic, erudite and engaging as Imran Khan. The former Pakistan captain is the leader of this talented XI. The Pakistani prime minister put the country on the cricketing map which his peerless leadership. His playboy lifestyle went against the norm of Pakistan cricket, but without Khan, Pakistan would not have lifted the 1992 World Cup trophy. Sarfraz Nawaz is known as the person who first started the art of reverse swing but no one was better at executing it than Khan as India found out when they got rolled over in the second test of the 1982-83 series when Khan took 8-60 in the second innings. Khan was also credited with mentoring the other two great swing bowlers who are to follow.
Waqar Younis (Pakistan)
One of Imran Khan's biggest achievements as a captain was to give the world the privilege to see Waqar Younis. If you look at some of the vision of Younis and his banana-bending inswinging yorkers, you would come to the realization that there were not may if any like him. He changed the perception that short bowling was the way to take wickets. It was an unreal sight when watching the "Burewala express" steam in and instead of trying to bowl short of a length or bouncers, he would aim for the base of the stumps. Until a certain Dale Steyn appeared, Younis had the best strike-rate amongst bowlers with over 200 wickets. Younis went on to get over 780 international wickets and along with the other W, Wasim Akram, they became the most skilled and fearful bowling attacks in the history of world cricket.
Jimmy Anderson (England)
James "Jimmy" Anderson is statistically the most successful fast-bowler of all-time. With 565 test match wickets, he went past the great Glenn McGrath as the highest wicket-taker amongst fast bowlers. He also has over 260 one-day international wickets. He struggled initially to cement his place in the England line-up. In the last decade, however, he has been the premier fast bowler along with Steyn. Anderson's action is side on and bowls a natural outswinger and like all the great swing bowlers, he has the ability to reverse the old ball. In English conditions, Anderson is almost unplayable. He is the "King of Swing" and there is a general consensus that if Jimmy does not swing it, then no one can.
Dale Steyn (South Africa)
Dale is the greatest fast bowler of the modern era and his strike rate says that he may be the greatest of all-time. Steyn possesses everything a fast bowler needs - athleticism, fire, aggression, pace and tremendous swing bowling. Just a week ago Steyn became South Africa's greatest ever wicket-taker, but to get from 400 to 422 test wickets took him over 3 years due to numerous shoulder injuries. It is one of the more beautiful sights in world cricket when Steyn runs in at full intensity and with a front on action delivers the classical outswinger at 145-150 km/h. Steyn is also very clever at getting the best out of conditions by altering his pace and lengths at will.
Wasim Akram (Pakistan)
Many on this list would agree that Wasim Akram was the greatest of them all. Akram never played first-class cricket before being drafted into the international side. He is another product of the state of Punjab and the fourth Pakistani cricketer on this list. Akram has an eye-opening four international hat-tricks in international cricket. One-half of the "Sultans of Swing" along with Younis, Akram had mastered the art of swing bowling. West Indian great, Viv Richards, confessed that Akram was the best bowler he had ever faced. Whether it was swing, seam, inswing, outswing, reverse swing, Akram had it all. All of these secreted with his ultra-fast arm action and quick release. He had complete mastery. With over 900 international wickets, there will never ever be another Wasim Akram.
Honourable mentions: - Tim Southee, Shoaib Akhtar/Stuart Broad/Mohammad Asif (not an out and out swing bowler), Lasith Malinga.