In cricket's history, many bowlers terrorized and troubled batsmen with sheer speed and guile. So many past and current quick bowlers excelled at their craft that picking the best of them guarantees that some greats are omitted. To make the subjective task of picking the best easier, one must use relevant criteria. These criteria should be both subjective and objective, with due emphasis on statistics. The best fast bowlers must have:
Impressive Test statistics: Test matches are the yardstick by which fast bowlers are measured
Genuine pace: able to bowl at 140 kph/86 mph
A good career average: Below 25.00 for this list
Number of matches/ number of wickets: The best should have either at least 50 Tests or 300 Test wickets (not necessarily both)
Bowling strike rate: The best fast bowlers are genuine strike bowlers (maximum 55)
These criteria rule out good quick bowlers who played a limited number of matches and many good quick bowlers from the 19th and early 20th century. Still, the all time fast bowling eleven (who satisfy all the criteria) has instantly recognizable names in the cricket world. The best fast bowling eleven (in random order) are:
1) Glenn McGrath (Australia)
As the leading pace bowler on the all-time Test wicket-takers list (563 wickets), Glenn McGrath is indisputably one of the best. Apart from fulfilling all criteria, McGrath has regularly dismissed top batsmen of his time like Mike Atherton (19 times), Brian Lara (15 times), Sachin Tendulkar (6 times).
2) Richard Hadlee (New Zealand)
This fast bowler carried the fortune of his team on his shoulder. He took 36 5-wicket innings hauls and nine ten-wicket match hauls. His Test wicket tally of 431 wickets from only 86 Tests was phenomenal. Whether Hadlee bowled in Asia, the Antipodes or Europe, his figures in all conditions are astonishing.
3) Wasim Akram (Pakistan)
Wasim is the best fast left-arm fast bowler to have played cricket. His variations, pace and guile made him a dangerous fast bowler on any surface. This master of reverse swing was adept with both the old and the new ball- enabling him to take over 400 Test wickets.
4) Waqar Younis (Pakistan)
Known for toe-crushing in-swinging Yorkers and the ability to swing the ball both ways, Waqar Younis would even make a top-five list of best fast bowlers. His Test bowling strike rate of 43.4 puts him far above most fast bowlers on the list. That he often bowled on the flatter sub-continental pitches makes Waqar's achievements even greater.
5) Curtly Ambrose (West Indies)
This giant of West Indian fast bowling terrorized batsmen with pace and steep bounce in the 90s. Curtly Ambrose bowled with an aggression that you could discern beyond the boundary. He created bunnies out of batsmen like Mike Atherton, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh and Graeme Thorpe.
6) Imran Khan (Pakistan)
Before Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, there was Imran Khan. This fast bowler raised the bar for Pakistan fast bowlers with a series of match-winning performances. 362 wickets from 88 Test matches cements Imran Khan's place among the all-time best.
7) Malcolm Marshall (West Indies)
Malcolm Marshall was highly rated by all batsmen who faced him- including Indian batting legend, Sunil Gavaskar. As the best of the demonic West Indian fast-bowling quartet on the 80s, Malcolm Marshall's strike rate of 46.7 puts him in the fast bowling stratosphere.
8) Dennis Lillee (Australia)
Dennis Lillee's destruction of the West Indies in the 1975/76 series Down Under inspired the creation of the West Indies' fearsome fast-bowling quartet. Lillee was dangerously quick and effective. He was the fastest fast bowler to reach 300 Test wickets (by matches). His aggregate of 355 wickets from only 70 Tests declare his greatness.
9) Allan Donald (South Africa)
The 'White Lightning' from South Africa kept batsmen on their toes. His Test bowling strike rate of 47.00 in taking 330 wickets from only 72 Tests made the 'White Lightning' a daunting proposition for batsmen.
10) Joel Garner (West Indies)
Joel "Big Bird" Garner was a metronomic West Indian fast bowler. Although he did not scalp 300 Test wickets, it was because he played only 58 Test matches. His strike rate of 50.8 was impressive and he averaged 20.97 with the ball- the mark of a great fast bowler.
11) Fred Trueman (England)
Fred Trueman set the fast-bowling standard back in the 50s an 60s. He was the first fast bowler to break the 300 test-wicket mark. Even decades after he graced the field, cricket pundits mention his name as one of the greatest of all time.
Naturally, many great names are omitted from this list. The competition was so tough that Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Shane Bond and Dale Steyn- among others- are not on the final XI. However, Steyn- still an active Test cricketer in 2009- has the chance to displace another great in the near future.
And now you can read brief profiles of some of the best spinners that the game of cricket has ever seen: