Great Fast Bowlers In Test Cricket

The best Test cricket fast bowlers combine pace, sideways movement, and accuracy to run riot against opposing batsmen. Here are the great fast bowlers from Test cricket history.

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Dennis Lillee (Australia 1971-1984)

Dennis Lillee bronze statue at the MCG
The fiery Dennis Lillee in bronze. mikecogh (Flickr)

70 Tests, 355 wickets, best bowling 7/83, average 23.92, economy rate 2.75, strike rate 52.0

Like Trueman, Dennis Lillee was another great fast bowler with a classic side-on action, and he left an impact on Test cricket with his broad arsenal of deliveries and his on-field aggression. Lillee's hallmark was a rare combination of speed and movement, both off the pitch and in the air, frequently dismissing batsmen by taking the edge of the bat and having them caught behind. He had the ability to back up an exterior that was often openly hostile to batsmen, most infamously in a clash with Pakistan's Javed Miandad. Since his retirement, Lillee has served as a coach and mentor to numerous Australian and international fast bowlers.

  • See footage of Dennis Lillee in action here.
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George Lohmann (England 1886-1896)

18 Tests, 112 wickets, best bowling 9/28, average 10.75, economy rate 1.88, strike rate 34.5

Take a look at George Lohmann's career figures. The other fast bowlers on this list are truly great, but none can compare to Lohmann's statistics. He achieved the best average (runs per wicket) and best strike rate (balls bowled per wicket) of any established bowler in Test cricket history. We obviously can't see any footage of Lohmann in action, but reports from the era described him as unerringly accurate and a danger in any match situation. Sadly, he died at age 36 after contracting tuberculosis.

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Fred Trueman (England 1952-1965)

67 Tests, 307 wickets, best bowling 8/31, average 21.57, economy rate 2.61, strike rate 49.4

Fred Trueman was the top wicket-taker in Test cricket history for almost 13 years, and he was the premier bowler of the 1950s and 60s. With a classical side-on action, Trueman bowled with genuine pace and developed an ability to swing the ball over the course of his career. He was also one of the game's great characters, fond of exaggerating his own legend, and went on to write a number of cricket books after retiring from the game.

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Sir Richard Hadlee (New Zealand 1973-1990)

86 Tests, 431 wickets, best bowling 9/52, average 22.29, economy rate 2.63, strike rate 50.8

The one genuine all-time great player in New Zealand's cricket history, Sir Richard Hadlee almost single-handedly dragged his nation from easybeat status to competitiveness on the global stage. Hadlee was not overly fast, but just fast enough for his mastery of bounce and seam movement to cause serious problems for any batsman. Quite unlike Lillee or his more fiery West Indian contemporaries, Hadlee was a calm figure on the field, preferring to let his bowling do the talking.

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Malcolm Marshall (West Indies 1978-1991)

81 Tests, 376 wickets, best bowling 7/22, average 20.94, economy rate 2.68, strike rate 46.7

This list could almost entirely be filled by West Indian pacemen of the 1970s and 80s but I've restricted myself to just two, and the first of those is the complete fast bowler: Malcolm Marshall. Marshall was quick, intelligent, dangerous on any surface, loaded with variations in movement, and threatening - all with a devilish sense of humour. "Are you going to get out now or am I going to have to bowl around the wicket and kill you?" he reportedly once said to Australia's David Boon, a classic example of Marshall toying with a victim before getting them out. However, this was not blind aggression; Marshall bowled at a consistently high standard and his professionalism made him very popular among his peers. This made his death from cancer at age 41 even more tragic.

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Wasim Akram (Pakistan 1985-2002)

104 Tests, 414 wickets, best bowling 7/119, average 23.62, economy rate 2.59, strike rate 54.6

Arguably the greatest left arm fast bowler of all time, Wasim Akram had the power to beguile even the most talented and focused batsmen. He could bowl equally quickly off a long or short run, often surprising the batsman by suddenly turning around and charging in, and possessed a dazzling array of swing and seam talents. Wasim could bowl for long spells, even late into his career, and generated remarkable pace from an unconventionally whippy arm action. All bowlers on this list were rarely taken apart by a batsman, but Wasim always seemed particularly in control.

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Curtly Ambrose (West Indies 1988-2000)

98 Tests, 405 wickets, best bowling 8/45, average 20.99, economy rate 2.30, strike rate 54.5

Curtly Ambrose entered the West Indies team at the end of nearly two decades of world class Caribbean quicks, but he was the equal of any of them. From a height of six foot seven, Ambrose loped in and wrought havoc with steepling bounce. For most of his career, he also bowled very fast, and relied on continued accuracy and subtle seam movement to bring wickets as his pace dropped with age. Ambrose was a mostly silent figure on the field, and even less loquacious off it, but his wide smile was often seen throughout the 1990s as he ran through opposing batting line-ups.

  • Curtly Ambrose's most famous fast bowling effort was a rampant spell of seven wickets for one run against Australia in 1993. Here's a video.
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Waqar Younis (Pakistan 1989-2003)

87 Tests, 373 wickets, best bowling 7/76, average 23.56, economy rate 3.25, strike rate 43.4

Waqar Younis was synonymous with the yorker: a full, fast delivery aimed at the stumps that pitches around the batsman's toes. He was bound to miss the length sometimes, which meant he got hit around a little more than the other quicks on this list, but when he got it right he was virtually unplayable. (See that amazing strike rate of 43.4.) Waqar married extreme pace and that deadly yorker with another innovation, reverse swing, which he developed in tandem with his great teammate and competitive rival Wasim Akram.

  • A long (and relentless) video of Waqar Younis yorkers can be found here.
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Glenn McGrath (Australia 1993-2007)

124 Tests, 563 wickets, best bowling 8/24, average 21.64, economy rate 2.49, strike rate 51.9

The most successful (by wickets) fast bowler in Test cricket history, Glenn McGrath was never very fast, but there have been few more accurate or determined bowlers in the game. McGrath generally bowled straight down the centre of the pitch, standing tall with a balanced, front-on action, and relied on the slightest seam of swing movements to pick up wickets. His consistency of line and length was metronomic even from early in his career. McGrath's straightforward style however belied a deeply aggressive and competitive streak, something which is present in most players on this list of great fast bowlers. Perhaps it's just part of bowling quick.

  • Young fast bowlers aiming for the McGrath line-and-length method should watch the Glenn McGrath Bowling Masterclass to pick up some tips.
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Dale Steyn (South Africa 2004-present)

65 Tests, 332 wickets, best bowling 7/51, average 22.65, economy rate 3.30, strike rate 41.1 (figures correct as of 28 February 2013)

Dale Steyn is the one fast bowler of the current era who can claim to be among the greats of Test cricket history. From his statistics, what stands out is an incredible strike rate of 41.1 balls per wicket. To fully appreciate the power of Steyn, though, one must see him in action. He is a very likable and friendly guy off the field, but on it, he becomes 'The Bowler', a creature of speed, skill, and aggression who will stop at nothing to get you out. His impeccable action and energetic delivery stride give him the ability to bowl very fast and swing the ball towards or away from the batsman. As fearsome as his bowling are his celebrations of each wicket, usually punctuated by a vein-popping yell and a glare at the departing player