With too many eyeballs being grabbed by the heroics of willow-wielders, the craftsmen with the ball in hand have been reduced to the stature of mere bowling machines with very little help on offer from the surfaces across the world, a fact especially true for limited-overs cricket. Add to that, the batsmen-friendly rules, shorter ground dimensions and bats that are heavier than ever, which act as salt on the already grievous wounds of the bowlers.
But braving the adversity and coming out triumphant is something we, humans, are so adept at doing and the art of bowling is no exception to this age-old experience of mankind. Amidst the uncontrolled mob of batting heroes, lie some very proficient exponents of the bowling trade who, with their expertise, have come out with flying colors to stake an important contribution in their respective teams’ successes over the past few years.
Here, we take a look at 10 such bowling heroes to watch out for in the next edition of cricket’s quadrennial carnival which commences from 30 May in England and Wales:
1. Jasprit Bumrah (India)
He is arguably India’s biggest fast bowling sensation of this decade. He shot into the limelight while playing for the Mumbai Indians franchise in the Indian Premier League (IPL) under the tutelage of Lasith Malinga. By his own admission, his association with Malinga had a big role to play in shaping up his most potent weapon of bowling inch-perfect yorkers when it really matters for the team. An economy of just 4.5 runs per over (RPO) is a really commendable feat for a death bowler in the modern age of slam-bang batting. With an average of just 22.15 runs apiece for his 85 wickets from 49 ODI appearances, batsmen should gear up for a really tough time against the Indian quick.
2. Kagiso Rabada (South Africa)
Rabada of the U-19 World Cup 2014 fame was touted to succeed the great Dale Steyn as the leader of the South African pace attack. But with his sheer hard work and determination, Rabada has already out-shone the veteran pacer to become the spearhead of his national team in all the three formats of the game. His USP lies in his control while bowling at menacing speeds, a quality which has fetched him 106 ODI scalps in just 65 ODI innings while giving away just 26.43 runs apiece at an impressive economy of 4.98 RPO. Like their 2014 U-19 World Cup campaign, Rabada’s performance holds the key for South African success in England this June.
3. Mitchell Starc (Australia)
The most menacing left-arm paceman going around in the cricketing circuits. Starc bagged the prestigious Man of the Tournament award in the last World Cup as his 22 wickets played a key role in handing Australia their fifth World Cup title. Though his last four years have been dotted by regular injuries, Starc’s 62 wickets from 32 ODI innings since the last World Cup will hardly fail to impress anyone. Starc, who regained his bowling form in the two-match Test series against Sri Lanka, will be crucial to Australia’s title defence campaign in England as his left-arm menacing pace acts as the x-factor in the Kangaroo bowling line-up.
4. Pat Cummins (Australia)
It is safe to say that Pat Cummins has been the most disciplined paceman from the Kangaroo pack for the past 12 months. An economy rate of 4.96 RPO in the 36 ODIs (63 wickets) played since April 2015 fully vindicates this statement. He has been Australia’s best performer right through the Australian summer. Be it the 2-1 Test loss against India or the 2-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka or the miraculous 3-2 ODI win over India away from home, Cummins was there starring with his match-winning contributions in each one of these series. He will be at his relentless best again in an Australian bid to win their second World Cup title on the English soil.
5. Rashid Khan (Afghanistan)
No other bowler in the ODI arena has averaged better than Rashid Khan’s average of 15 runs apiece for his 123 wickets from just 54 ODI innings since the Afghan leggie’s debut in 2015. Only Adil Rashid is ahead of him in the wicket-count with a scalp tally of 125 while only his fellow countryman Mujeeb Ur Rahman shines brighter when it comes to tightening the leash on the scoring rate with an economy rate of 3.74 RPO as compared to Rashid’s 3.90 RPO, taking in account the performances of bowlers in last four years. But the Afghan spin-maestro holds the aces again (with the best strike-rate of a wicket every 23rd ball) when weighed on the strike-rate metric for the past four years. Such impressive stats are a clear warning for the batsmen to play cautiously against Rashid’s conventional leg-spin which comes from a fast-arm action.
6. Adil Rashid (England)
Many eyeballs might go for a ferocious rolling after seeing Rashid’s name in this illustrious list but if they heed to the bowling stats’ story for the past four years, they will surely be left biting their lips. The English leg-spinner leads the wickets’ tally with 125 scalps from 72 ODI innings. His economy rate of 5.58 RPO may be bordering on slight extravagance but his knack of picking up crucial wickets at regular intervals makes him a must-have asset for England who will be banking upon an impressive showing from his bowling wrists as the hosts look to get their hands on their maiden World Cup trophy.
7. Kuldeep Yadav (India)
He bowls slower through the air, gives ample flight to the ball to do its tricks in the air and has a very effective wrong'un – traits of a complete leg-spin bowler. Bowling through his left-arm allows Kuldeep to add an unconventional factor to his bowling which makes life very difficult for the batsmen trying to tackle him after reading the ball off the pitch instead of reading it from his hand. His guiles and tricks have so far accounted for 87 wickets from 42 ODI innings. He averages less than 22 and is quite miserly with the ball as is evident from his economy of 4.93 RPO. Kuldeep is India’s most successful bowler in last four years on the wickets’ metric and will be raring to make a mark in his debut World Cup sojourn.
8. Trent Boult (New Zealand)
With 107 wickets from 54 ODI outings since the World Cup final in April 2015 at an average of 24.59 and an economy of 5.30, Trent Boult is the third most successful bowler in past four years. His left-arm pace can become really menacing if there is slightest of help on offer from the wicket or from the weather conditions. He, in partnership with Tim Southee, makes a really potent swing bowling partnership for New Zealand which will have to play an important role in the English conditions if the Black Caps want to successfully traverse the distance to their maiden trophy in the mega-event.
9. Imran Tahir (South Africa)
The 40-year-old leg-spinner will be playing his last World Cup and will surely want to end his career on a high. More importantly for South Africa, Tahir has been in excellent form in the run-up to the World Cup. He was the best bowler in the ODI series against Sri Lanka and also continued his golden run with the ball for Chennai Super Kings in the 12th edition of IPL. He has been the second most successful bowler for South Africa, after Rabada, in past four years with a wicket-tally of 92 wickets from just 59 ODI innings. His bowling in the middle overs will be especially important for his national team as he can tighten the screws on the scoring rate (economy rate of 4.8 RPO) while also chipping in with important wickets (has a decent strike-rate of a wicket every 34th ball).
10. Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh)
The king of pace-bowling variations from Bangladesh, Mustafizur will be turning 24 during the World Cup in June. Regardless of his raw age, he has already established a reputation for being a brilliant exponent of seam-bowling variations which includes yorkers, slower-ball bouncers, fatal cutters to go with conventional swinging skills. His repertoire of skills has been instrumental in his success in past four years which saw him scalp 77 batsmen from 42 ODI innings at an impressive average of 21.71 while conceding just 4.71 RPO in the process. Bangladesh will want him to be in the pink of his fitness if they want to repeat their 2015 heroics.