Ranking the 5 Best Swing Bowlers in World Cricket Right Now
Swing bowling has long been a crucial art all fast bowlers have tried to master. Whether utilising conventional movement through the air with a new ball or reverse swing with an older ball, swing bowling is a staple of the game.
The current ICC bowler rankings indicate just how important this skill is: six of the Top 10 bowlers can be categorised as swing bowlers.
Taking into account skill, form and statistics, here are the Top Five swing bowlers in world cricket right now.
All stats are from ESPN Cricinfo and correct as of October 12.
First, we begin with honourable mentions—bowlers who have performed well recently but fall just short of the Top Five.
Trent Boult: Twenty-five-year-old New Zealander Trent Boult has taken 19 Test wickets in 2014 and made a good contribution to New Zealand’s 2-1 Test series win over the West Indies this summer. The left-armer naturally swings the ball back into right-handers, taking many wickets bowled or LBW.
Vernon Philander: South Africa's Vernon Philander burst onto the scene by reaching 50 wickets in just seven matches, but he has stalled somewhat recently, only managing 10 Test wickets this year. Philander is an intelligent bowler who uses a consistent line and length and subtle swing to take wickets, but he misses out on a top spot on current form.
Mitchell Johnson: Although primarily known for his pace and aggression, swing is also a weapon in the Mitchell Johnson's armoury. With the new ball in hand, the left-arm quick can generate late movement through the air and has managed an impressive 28 Test wickets in just four matches this year.
5. Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Test Wickets in 2014: 19
Bowling Average in 2014: 26.63
At number five is Bhuvneshwar Kumar. An ICC bowling ranking of 34th does not tell the whole story of the Indian bowler.
Despite bowling at a gentle medium pace, Kumar is extremely skilful and capable of generating a prodigious swing both ways in almost any conditions.
Kumar was consistently India’s best bowler on their summer tour of England. In the first Test, he took 5-82 and followed it up with career-best figures of 6-82 at Lord’s—dismissing the left-handed Alastair Cook and right-handed Sam Robson with beautiful away swingers.
The Indian’s ability to swing the ball both ways with little discernible change in action is what makes him so talented. His mastery is such that he has not needed extreme pace, prolific seam movement or variations to take wickets in his career thus far.
At 24 years old and only having played 11 Test matches, we are sure to see more of his talent in the future.
4. Tim Southee
Test Wickets in 2014: 22
Bowling Average in 2014: 22.45
Beating Kumar to fourth spot with more wickets and a lower average is Tim Southee.
The New Zealander has been excellent bowling alongside Trent Boult this year as the national side has enjoyed a period of success. The 25-year-old has been a consistent performer and is currently ranked as the seventh-best bowler in the world by the ICC.
Although not especially quick, Southee is an intelligent bowler. His control and fitness allow him to bowl long spells on a tight off-stump line and build pressure for his team.
He has a classical action, naturally swinging the ball away from the right-hander. However, in his best bowling performance of the year, he showed he can swing the ball both ways as he picked up 4-19 against the West Indies.
3. Stuart Broad
Test Wickets in 2014: 30
Bowling Average in 2014: 26.70
In third place is England’s sixth-highest all-time wicket-taker, Stuart Broad.
Broad has been a key component of the England team since 2008, and he has many attributes that have made him successful bowler for England over the years.
His height gives him the ability to generate good bounce on hard pitches. His pace means he can bowl aggressively when required. However, it is his ability to swing the ball, particularly in English conditions, that has brought him the majority of his wickets.
When he develops a rhythm and pitches the ball up in favourable conditions, he is capable of bowling match-winning spells.
One such spell was his 6-25 against India at Old Trafford this summer, in which he blew away the Indian batting order with aggressive swing bowling.
2. James Anderson
Test Wickets in 2014: 40
Bowling Average in 2014: 22.15
Beating Broad to a place in the top two is his bowling partner, James Anderson.
Anderson is approaching Ian Botham’s England Test wicket record, and it is not hard to see why. The Lancashire bowler has the purest bowling action of all the bowlers in this list—a smooth run in and a perfect wrist position that allows him exceptional control, decent pace and long spells.
He has every trick in the swing-bowler’s manual: the hooping out-swinger, the darting in-swinger and the canny use of reverse swing as the ball deteriorates.
England rely upon Anderson for crucial wickets, and he rarely fails to deliver. Their rise to top of the world rankings owed a lot to his wicket-taking ability, and he was still performing as they fell away.
He will go down in history as one of England’s finest bowlers and one of the best swing bowlers of all time.
1. Dale Steyn
Test Wickets in 2014: 33
Bowling Average in 2014: 19.03
In first position is not just the best swing bowler in the world, it is the best bowler in the world: Dale Steyn.
The South African has continued on from a remarkable 2013 to keep his place at the top of the tree. Having bowled 120 less overs than the likes of Anderson and Broad in 2014, he has still managed 33 wickets at a fantastic average.
The 31-year-old is a batsman’s nightmare. He combines hostility, ferocious pace and swing to create the hardest possible formula for the opposition to deal with.
He can take every kind of wicket: vicious bouncers and yorkers can be followed by phenomenal out- and in-swingers. He is also an expert at utilising reverse swing—adding another string to his bow with the old ball.
Lots of bowlers can swing the ball, but it is Steyn’s pace, competitive edge and skill that set him apart from the competition.