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Best Bowling Pairs in Cricket History

Throughout history, there have been great bowlers. But some of them go better together in pairs. Certain names are inseparable from others: Wasim-Waqar, Ambrose-Walsh, Warne-McGrath, Kumble-Harbhajan, Johnson-Harris, etc. Inseparable bowling pairs still exist nowadays too, here are some of them.

Chris Broad and James Anderson:

By the numbers:

90 matches

689 wickets at 27.7 and economy rate of 2.93

Compared to some others, Broad and Anderson had it rough to start off, with both averaging over 30 after their first 30 games. But both, individually, managed to turn a corner. After Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison were, rather harshly, dispensed with in 2007, Anderson and Broad had to step up. And they have.

Anderson is a relentless bowler with a fiery nature, even if he isn’t that quick, especially in his older years. But he’s arguably the best bowler in the world when the ball swings, and even without swing, he’s managed to have some notable successes, like the Ashes down under in 2010-11, where he took 24 wickets at 26.05.

James Anderson was a crucial part of England winning for the first time in Australia since 1986, and the tour of India in 2012, where he took 12 wickets at 30 and was called the difference between the two sides because of his frugal spells that kept the pressure on and the ability to harness reverse swing which won England the Kolkata test, where bowling was an unthankful task.

While Anderson’s primary weapon is prodigious swing, he’s still an excellent bowler when it’s not there. Ever since 2010, he’s been more focused on hammering out a consistent line and length and the results show. On two tours of the UAE, as far removed from cloudy England as possible, he was outstanding, and his record there is arguably the greatest of any pacer. He’s far from powerless in unhelpful conditions, as he has a few tricks up his sleeve and, if worst comes to worst, is able to bowl tightly.

There’s no doubting Broad’s ability to bowl incredible spells; no bowler has taken 5 wickets in a spell more times than him, and his pace is also noteworthy. When everything is going well, he’s unstoppable. But when things don’t click, he can look quite lost.

However, he’s experienced enough to know when he needs help and when things aren’t quite working out for him. Broad’s highlights are many, but the biggest would be the hat-trick against India at Trent Bridge in 2011, 8-15 vs Australia, also at Trent Bridge, in 2015, and 6-27 against South Africa at Johannesburg.

Each of them were mesmerizing displays of concentrated pace and seam to dismantle some of the best teams in the world to all but seal a series victory. Broad’s steely character has also earned many plaudits, like when, despite the overwhelming hostility by Australian media, he was mighty successful and the pick of England’s bowlers on the embarrassing and systemic annihilation at the hand of the Australians in 2013-14.

Together, the pair are England’s greatest ever bowling pair, and have the most combined wickets out of any other pair since 2010. They complement each other nicely as well, with Anderson being able to stem the flow of runs from one end and Broad bowling menacingly from the other to build pressure and induce mistakes.

The pair are all set to finish first and second on England’s all time wicket takers list (although the order is still undecided), and could well be remembered as their two greatest bowlers ever. England will have a tough task replacing them.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja:

By the numbers:

21 matches

239 wickets at 21.1 and an economy rate of 2.40

The latest in a long line of spin twins from India. While both have been circumspect at best overseas, there’s no doubting their prowess at home. Ashwin has one of the sharpest cricketing minds in the world, and it’s only getting sharper. His career started well, which aligned with a run of home tests, before a period of stagnation which happened to align with India’s run of overseas games.

But he’s worked on improving himself since then, and had the presence of mind to focus on consistency in the longest format rather than variations, and the results speak for themselves.

Starting with a tour to Sri Lanka where he had Kumar Sangakkara’s number, he’s been nothing but extraordinary since, leaving the Sri Lankans, South Africans, West Indians, New Zealanders and Englishmen in a spin and claimed 4 player of the series awards along the way and was only denied a fifth by Virat Kohli’s sheer brilliance. India largely depend upon him to take their wickets, and can look quite toothless if he doesn’t.

Jadeja is a flat, quicker bowler who doesn’t turn it much. But what he lacks in turn, he more than makes up for it in accuracy. Particularly in matches where the pitch does whatever, Jadeja can be devastating as he’ll hit the same spot again and again but the ball will do anything and everything, leaving the batsmen bamboozled.

This came to prominence after he was dropped following a poor run overseas, after which he took 36 wickets from 3 games on admittedly dodgy pitches in the first few round of Ranji games, leading to a return to the side to face the touring South Africans. He and Ashwin blitzed through their line up 7 times to seal a thrashing 3-0 win and end South Africa’s unbeaten streak.

The pair have combined since then to lay waste to some more batting line ups. A right arm, left arm duo who spin the ball in different ways and are wildly different bowlers is something that any team would want especially on the subcontinent. While the real test will come when they play a sustained run of games away from home, India will know that they have something special in their possession.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood:

By the numbers:

21 matches

193 wickets at 23.8 and an economy rate of 3.13

Australia is no stranger to brilliant bowling partnerships, and Starc and Hazlewood seem to be continuing that tradition. Starc caught the eye early with searing pace, but injuries and inconsistency saw him go in an out of the side a lot over his first 3 and a half years.

But after a fantastic World Cup coupled with an opening in the test side that came from Ryan Harris’ retirement, Starc finally got a chance for a sustained run in the side. It came at a time when he was starting to seem like the finished product as a bowler, so it could not have come at a better time.

He had an outstanding series against an admittedly mediocre West Indies side away, and an average series in England that followed, which saw Australia concede the Ashes, led to some question marks about his spot popping up. He ripped through every comer at the start of the Australian summer however, and had an excellent series against the New Zealanders that came.

A knee injury sustained in the third test of that series kept him out of the side for half a year, but he returned in emphatic fashion to rip through Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, despite receiving little support from his batsmen and his side being crushed. He’s looked a  complete bowler ever since then, with his pace being able to generate significant swing of both the conventional and reverse variety, and the left arm angle adding variety to Australia’s attack.

Hazlewood burst onto the scene by becoming the 4th Australian in 4 years to take a five wicket haul on debut, at the Gabba against India. Even before his debut, he had been likened to Glenn McGrath, with his consistent line and length style, and the comparisons only grew as he dismantled the West Indies away, much like McGrath himself did 20 years prior.

However, the England series that followed was an eye opening experience, which saw him dropped for the final test as he hadn’t had the impact Australia would’ve liked. But he returned as Australia returned home, and has been a transformed bowler. Excellent returns at home and in New Zealand over the 2015-16 summer cemented his image, along with Mitchell Starc, as the next big bowling pair for Australia.

Hazlewood’s accuracy and control allow Starc to be as aggressive as he can, as regardless of the runs Starc may leak, Hazlewood won’t give anything away. The test for them remains overseas, but the pair have shown glimpses of brilliance away from Australia. While it remains to be seen if they can live up to Australian pairs of old, they’re well on their way to doing just that.

Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Wagner:

By the numbers:

23 matches at 26.1 and an economy rate of 2.94

New Zealand’s greatest bowlers throughout history tended to be alone. They had good support, but the likes of Hadlee never had another world class bowler with him. The closest they ever got was Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori playing together, but repeated injuries on both fronts, particularly for Bond, severely limited the number of matches they played together. Now, however, there’s serious potential for New Zealand to have a three pronged attack of top quality bowlers in Boult, Southee and Wagner.

Boult has been highly rated since his school days, and while he didn’t have the brightest start to his career with the senior side, things have picked up since. One of the fastest bowlers in the New Zealand setup with an ability to swing it around, he’s been an irreplaceable asset to his country since he found his feet.

His bowling average of 29 seems quite large for all the plaudits he’s received, but he has had to bowl a lot. The West Indies know all too well how devastating he can be. When everything comes together, he can swing the ball at high pace to leave most batsmen reeling.

Southee Burst onto the scene with a five wicket haul and a savage 77 against the touring Englishmen on his debut. Since then, he had been in and out of the side, usually with injuries, evidenced by the fact that he’s played 56 tests in 9 years. Boult has played 49 in 5.

He has also  gone through some rather barren periods of inconsistency, which are largely responsible for his rather bloated average just over 31. Southee began as a military medium pacer, the latest from the island renowned for its legacy of dibbly-dobbly pacers, and was able to swing it a lot when conditions suited him, but he has since put on a lot more pace and added a variety of tricks and variations to his arsenal to help him succeed on unhelpful tracks. He still lacks Boult’s raw ability, but Southee is still among the most consistent bowlers in the world, much less the country.

Wagner is a bit of an odd ball. A South African native who found himself unable to secure a spot in the domestic ring despite excellent returns at youth level, he emigrated to New Zealand and has had considerable success. Wagner certainly lacks the talent that Southee and especially Boult have, but what he lacks in raw ability he more than makes up for with heart, spirit and determination.

Not to say that Boult and Southee have neither of those, but Wagner simply has so much of those. How else can you describe a man who’s main weapon of choice is bouncing out the opposition with deliveries in the 130kph range. While some bowlers aim for top of off stump as the place to hit, Wagner aims for the batsmen’s head and shoulders. If that doesn’t work, he tries again, and again, and again until he’s either taken off or the batsman is dismissed.

While he originally could only be effective with the new ball before resorting to the stubborn bouncer barrage, he’s now added reverse swing to his repertoire, becoming a more complete bowler. He spent a lot of time floating around the side because he didn’t have the talent others did, but he performed at every chance and was finally given a sustained run in 2016, where he was New Zealand’s best bowler statistically and became the second fastest New Zealander to a century of wickets, only behind the great Sir Richard Hadlee.

Boult and Southee can get the ball to misbehave when it’s new, before Wagner comes in with the ball slightly battered and bowls slow, persistent bouncers for a while, maybe even finding some reverse swing along the way. Boult and Southee then get a few overs to reverse the ball, before the new ball is taken and the process  starts again.

They each have their own assigned roles in the side, and they perform it well. The trio could very well end up as 3 of New Zealand’s top 5 wicket takers, perhaps even top 3. Either way, they’re already among, if not the best, bowling groups in New Zealand’s history.

Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander:

By the numbers:

30 matches

353 wickets at 23.9 and an economy rate of 2.89

Perhaps the quintessential bowling attack of this era, Steyn, Morkel and Philander can all claim to be among the best bowlers of this decade, never mind bowling attack. This attack is lifted significantly by the presence of Steyn, but Morkel and Philander have both proven numerous times that they are not to be taken lightly.

Steyn could very well end up as the finest bowler this side of 2010, and possibly even, of the turn of the millennium. He has searing pace, outstanding command of all types of swing and excellent control despite the fact that he’s always after wickets. Everywhere he goes, he takes wickets and he’s thoroughly deserved them.

Only James Anderson has taken more wickets since his debut, and they’ve come from 16 more tests at an average almost 6 runs higher and a much higher strike rate. Anderson is also one of the finest bowlers of his time, and it says a lot when Steyn’s numbers are so much greater than his.

Steyn is the fastest South African to every multiple of 100 wickets from 100 to 400 and is closing in fast on Shaun Pollock’s national record of 421. Once Mt Pollock has been scaled, only 5 pacers will stand above him. How far Steyn can go with his aging body remains to be seen, as injuries have limited his play time lately. But when he does play, he’s shown he still has the signature Steyn touch, as New Zealand discovered on their trek down to South Africa in mid 2016.

His haul that series catapulted him back to the number 1 ranking for bowling, a list he has headed for a record 263 weeks. With all the tools in the fast bowlers’ book, and a feisty on field personality as well, there’s no doubting Steyn’s ability and legacy as one of the finest bowlers ever produced by South Africa.

Morkel is an almost perfect foil to Steyn. He’s tall and can get significant bounce which is perhaps the only weapon missing from Steyn’s arsenal. He’s incredibly useful for roughing up the opposition as a support bowler but can still be useful as the leader of the attack.

It was his stippling height mixed with the bounce his height generated which shot him to prominence. He’s played most of the tests South Africa have played since his debut in 2007, but, like Steyn, he has spent considerable time injured lately. But his contributions to the South African team that dominated the world shouldn’t go unnoticed, and he’s been excellent in all three formats. While Steyn is head and shoulders South Africa’s best test bowler, perhaps even of all time, Morkel has a genuine claim to being their best limited overs bowler.

Philander was the latest of these three to debut. He got his test spot after years of consistent performances domestically, but even then, how he took to test cricket was extraordinary, with a Man of the Match performance on debut to win South Africa the Cape Town test after being bowled out for 96, and a second one as South Africa lost the second test, but he still bagged the Man of the Series award.

He raced to 50 test wickets thereafter, reaching the mark in only 7 tests, the second fastest in history. Philander has since leveled off from those early highs, but that’s not to say that his game has degenerated since. He just hasn’t had those eye catching hauls, instead he’s had frugal, slow burner spells in contrast to his fast bowling partners.

Philander is not as fast as Steyn or Morkel, but he has swing and seam at respectable speeds, and is mighty accurate.Philander is able to swing the ball more than either Steyn or Morkel, and can also get it to seam and has a good command of line length. In helpful conditions, he’s arguably even more devastating than the other two, and even when conditions aren’t helpful, he’s still accurate and tight.

Steyn and Morkel can bowl at high pace and intensity upfront. Steyn can also get some swing with the new ball, and Morkel gets some intimidating bounce. Philander can take the ball with it still new, and can get some swing and seam before it loses its shine, then can keep the runs down as they wait for the ball to start reversing.

When the ball is old, all three of them are able to reverse the ball, which is a terrifying prospect for any batsman to face.It’s almost a complete attack now helped by Kagiso Rabada emergence. The trio will go down in history as one of the country’s greatest bowling attacks, and Rabada and co will have some mighty big shoes to fill once they call it a day.

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