An interesting list of spinners who were arguably the best during their time and of all times.
They say ‘spin to win’ in cricket. Spinners play a huge role in a team. They often control the game by bowling overs in relatively lesser time compared to fast bowlers and that helps the team to bowl quickly.
More often than not, they also pick wickets at regular intervals of the game, making them an attacking option. Some of them also act as a barrier to the flow of runs. In a nutshell, they’re helpful in many ways. It’s not easy to have a team without spinners.
Read More: 10 Best Fast Bowlers of All Time
When we talk about the greatness of a cricketer, we see many factors like performances in home/away/neutral conditions, performance against top teams, impact in the team, impact on wins, and so on.
This is one such list made in order to judge how good the spinners have been over the years across eras, across formats. The spinners before WW2 aren’t considered as there is not much footage available of them.
The 10 Best Spinners of All Time in Cricket
Here’s our pick for the 10 best spinners of all time in cricket:
10. Bhagwath Chandrashekhar
Kicking off our list of the best spinners of all time is Bhagwath Chandrashekhar. His journey in cricket itself is amazing. He suffered from polio during his childhood and yet became one of the greatest spinners of all time. He made his disability his biggest strength and became a great spinner of his time.
He wasn’t a great turner of the ball, but he could bowl quickish leg breaks. He was often described as the fast bowler with spin action. It sort of made batsmen plays early as they didn’t have much time to judge the ball.
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Probably his best performance with the ball came when India toured England for a Test series in 1971. India had never won a Test series in England and they sensed a chance in 1971 when the series was 0-0 after the first two tests.
After dismissing England for 355 in the first innings at Kennington Oval, India could manage just 284 in their first innings. A lead of 71 was good and India had to create magic to be back in the game. Chandrashekhar did exactly that.
His amazing spell of 18.1-3-38-6 helped India restrict England to just 101 in their second innings as India went on to win the match and first-ever series in England.
He has the unique record of most wickets in a Test series among Indians. The effort came against England in 1972/73 when Chandrashekhar picked up 5 wickets in the series.
He’s also well known for his impact on Indian test wins. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the draws were common and a result was rare, and very rare among Indian tests. But Chandrashekhar played a key role in most of India’s wins, especially away wins.
He took 98 wickets in the winning cause at an average of 19.27 at a strike rate of 45.40 including 8 five-wicket hauls and a ten-wicket haul.
9. Daniel Vettori
Coming from a country that offers literally no spin, picking over 700 international wickets is just incredible. A left-arm orthodox spinner, he was able to turn the ball decently. He was one of those spinners who were successful in all three formats of the game.
His best with the ball probably came against the great Australian team of late 1990s and early 2000s. Australia had toured New Zealand in 1999/00 and the first test happened at Auckland, a venue that traditionally offered nothing for the spinners.
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And against a world class batting lineup, he took fifers in both the innings of the test. In the first innings, his 25-8-62-5 helped New Zealand restrict Australia to 214 in their first innings. In the second innings, he registered his career best figures.
His spell of 35-11-87-7 allowed Australia to score only 229 in their second innings. Sadly, New Zealand lost the match by 62 runs.
His spell in the match is the second best for a New Zealand bowler ever in tests after Richard Hadlee. Currently, he has the most international wickets for a bowler from New Zealand. That just tells how good he was.
He was also a part of New Zealand world cup teams of 2011 and 2015, that made to semifinals and finals respectively. He was a handy batsman too. But he’d be remembered for his spin bowling.
8. Lance Gibbs
One of the best right arm orthodox spinner of all time. He was the first ever spinner to claim 300 test wickets. Coming from West Indies, which offered almost nothing for the spinners, his achievement was tremendous to say the least.
His best with the ball probably came against India in 1962 at Bridgetown. In the first innings, he bowled for 16-7-25-1. His spell in the second innings was just incredible. His 53.3-37-38-8 was a long spell, yet economical and helped West Indies win by an innings and 30 runs.
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Spinners would be considered based on their performances in away conditions. Indians are especially good players of spin and not many spinners were successful in India of past. But Gibbs was very successful in India. He picked up 39 wickets in 9 tests at an average of 23.28 in India, which is remarkable.
He too, was a very impactful bowler in his team’s wins. In the winning cause, he picked up 154 wickets in 30 tests at an average of just 19.16 at a strike rate of 60.40 including 14 five-fwicket hauls and two ten-wicket hauls.
7. Graeme Swann
Graeme Swann was a very successful spinner across conditions in Test cricket. His average might be slightly on the higher side, but his consistency was amazing. For a spinner from England, 410 international wickets are just incredible.
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His best with the ball probably came at Birmingham in 2010 against Pakistan. In the second innings of the match, Swann bowled for 37-20-65-6. He bowled a magic ball to dismiss Imran Farhat, which is claimed to be the ball of the 21st century by many.
He’d forever be remembered for his performance in away tours. England in 2010 beat Australia in their own backyard after many years. Swann in that series picked up 15 wickets. In 2012, England beat India in their own backyard and Swann picked up 20 wickets in the series.
He also played a key role in England’s T20 world cup win in 2010. He picked up 10 wickets in 7 matches at an average of just 14.40 and ended the tournament as the third joint-highest wicket-taker.
In England’s test wins, he picked up 150 wickets at an average of 22.66 at a strike rate of 47.80 including 11 five-wicket hauls and 3 ten-wicket hauls. He was truly a great spinner.
6. Saqlain Mushtaq
The spinner who popularised doosra in cricket. He had a lot of variations in his armory and that made him a difficult customer to deal with. Saqlain used to bamboozle the batsmen more often than not.
His best performance with the ball probably came in 1999 at Chennai against India. He helped Pakistan bowl India out for 254 in the first innings. He finished with figures of 35-8-94-5. His performance in the second innings was match-defining.
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A target of 271 was threatened to be chased. Sachin Tendulkar was batting extremely well even after not being fully fit.
He dismissed Sachin when India needed just 17 to win with 4 wickets in hand. Pakistan went on to win the match by 12 runs and Mushtaq finished with figures of 32.2-8-93-5.
Mushtaq was the fastest bowler to claim 200 and 250 wickets respectively in ODIs. He’s one of the fewest bowlers to have two hat tricks in ODIs. He was a very good test bowler but was an excellent ODI bowler.
His impact in ODI’s wins of Pakistan was outstanding. Mushtaq picked 188 wickets at an average of just 15.84 at a strike rate of just 25.10 at an economy of 3.78 in winning cause in ODIs. He’d forever be remembered as one of the greatest ODI bowlers of all time.
5. Anil Kumble
Next up on our list of the 10 best spinners of all time is India’s, Anil Kumble. Kumble has the third-most international wickets for a spinner.
He never turned the ball hugely, but used his height to perfection and often got something out of pitch to aid him. His bounce used to trouble most of the batsmen.
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Kumble’s best with the ball came at Delhi in 1999 against Pakistan. After posting 252 in the first innings, India restricted Pakistan to 172 in the first innings. Anil Kumble bowled for 24.3-4-75-4.
His performance in the second innings was one for ages. Pakistan was chasing 420 and Anil Kumble dismissed all 10 batsmen of Pakistan. He became only the second bowler to dismiss all ten batsmen of the opposition team in a single innings.
He has the most wickets for a bowler from India and has the fourth most test wickets for a bowler. He also holds the record of most wickets via lbw (156). His 956 international wickets are the third-highest for a bowler.
He’s considered to be the greatest match-winner of India. His numbers in winning causes are amazing. He picked up 288 wickets at an average of just 18.75 at a strike rate of 44.40 including 20 five-wicket hauls and 5 ten-wicket hauls.
4. Derek Underwood
Arguably the greatest left-arm spinner of all time. He too never turned the ball hugely and relied on his accuracy and length. He could bowl in the channel day in and day out and caused troubles to most of the batsmen.
Derek’s best came at Lord’s against Pakistan in 1974. He bowled for 14-8-20-5 in the first innings and helped England to restrict Pakistan for 130 in the first innings. His performance in the second innings was one of the best in the history of tests.
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He bowled well for 34.5-17-51-8 and restricted Pakistan to 226 in the second innings. The match ended in a draw as the rain interrupted the game continuously. Still, his performance in the game was exceptional.
He took 123 wickets at an average of just 15.18 at a meager economy of 1.75 including 10 five-wicket hauls and 4 ten-wicket hauls in the winning cause.
The specialty about him was he bowled at a fast pace, like a medium pace bowler, and was often unplayable on sticky or wet pitches. Not many spinners in the past or now would be successful in such conditions.
3. Jim Laker
Another brilliant spinner and one of the greatest of all time. He could turn the ball, but not heavily. It was his accuracy that caused the problems for the batters. At times, he was unplayable.
Laker’s best performance with the ball undoubtedly came at Old Trafford in 1956 against Australia. It’s arguably one of the greatest bowling performances of all time. England in their first innings posted 459 runs on the board.
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What followed next was totally amazing. Jim Laker took 9 wickets in the first innings and all the 10 wickets in the second innings of the Test match to claim 19 wickets in a Test match. It’s a world record to date and almost impossible to break.
While he’d forever be remembered for his 19 wickets at Manchester, he’d also be remembered as one of the most impactful match winners of all time. England never lost a Test when Laker picked 4 or more wickets in an innings.
In the winning cause, Jim picked up 101 wickets at an average of just 13.65 at an economy of just 1.70 including 7 five-wicket hauls and 3 ten-wicket hauls. He is certainly one of the greatest spinners of all time.
2. Muttiah Muralitharan
The number 2 spot on our list of the best spinners of all time goes to Muttiah Muralitharan. Arguably the greatest off-spinner of all time, Murali has the most international wickets, most Test wickets, and most ODI wickets in the history of cricket. He just picked wickets for fun across formats.
He could spin the ball heavily on the flattest of pitches and he could do that either way. His off spin was his biggest weapon and he had an equally effective doosra. Most of the batsmen found him to be the most difficult bowler to face.
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His best came at The Oval in 1998 against England on a flat pitch. He bowled marathon spells in both the innings. In the first innings, he bowled a whopping 59.3 overs and claimed 7 wickets.
In the second innings, he bowled 54.2 overs of which 27 were maiden and he conceded just 65 runs to pick 9 wickets in the tests. He picked up a total of 16 wickets in the match and helped Sri Lanka win the one-off test.
He was equally good in ODIs. His 7/30 against India in 2004 was one of the best Odi spell. His performance in both tests and Odis make him arguably the greatest off spinner of all time.
His 438 test wickets in winning cause came at an average of just 16.18 at a strike rate of 42.70 including a whopping 41 five-wicket hauls and 18 ten-wicket hauls. It wasn’t any different in Odis. 368 wickets at an average of 18.23 at a strike rate of 29.70 at an economy of 3.67 including 13 four-fors and 9 five-fors is simply incredible.
1. Shane Warne
The magical spinner from Australia is probably the greatest spinner of all time. He had the reputation of turning the ball viciously on any kind of pitch. His ball of the century was just an example of that.
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Though he was a master in Test cricket, his best probably came in Odis, where he’s a bit underrated. He was a man who performed when it mattered the most. Warne’s one of the best performers in ICC World cup knockout matches.
In the 1996 world cup semifinal against West Indies at Mohali, his 4/36 initiated a collapse and helped Australia win a game out of nowhere. From 165/2, WI was dismissed to 202.
In the 1999 world cup semifinal against South Africa at Edgbaston, his 10-4-29-4 was a sensational spell that constantly kept Australia in the game. Australia made it to the finals courtesy of his amazing efforts.
In the finals of the tournament at Lord’s against Pakistan, he took no time to kill the game. His 9-1-33-4 helped Australia to restrict Pakistan to just 132 as they later won the match and their second world cup title.
Warne has the second most test wickets and second most international wickets for a bowler. Australia is often referred to as hell for spinners. Bowling most of his career in such conditions and picking tons of wickets tells how great he was.
His 510 wickets in winning cause are the most for a bowler in tests. It came at an average of 22.47 at a strike rate of 51.20 including 27 five-wicket hauls and 7 ten-wicket hauls.
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So, there you have it folks- the 10 best spinners of all time. Many great spinners like Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Rangana Herath, and so on couldn’t make it to the list. Some spinners like Bill O’Reilly, Clarrie Grimmett, Hedley Verity, and so on couldn’t make it into the list as they played before WW2.
Do you agree with our list? Who would you add to our list of the 10 best spinners of all time? Leave a comment down below!