30 Best Bowling Averages in the History of Cricket
To win a Test match, a captain needs his bowlers to pick up 20 wickets. Even if your batters post mammoth totals, if your bowlers fail to pick up 20 wickets, the match will end in a Draw. So in a way, bowlers are the real match winners of a Test match.
Bowling averages are a great way to measure a bowler’s effectiveness. Bowling average is the number of runs conceded per wicket taken. For example, if a bowler takes five wickets for 100 runs, then his bowling average is 100/5; that is 20. The lower the bowling average, the better the bowler’s performance.
Let’s take a look at the bowlers who have the best bowling average in cricket history. (Note: Only bowlers who have picked up 150-plus wickets are considered.)
30. Brian Statham
Career stats in Tests: 70 matches, 252 wickets, 24.84 average, 63.7 strike rate, 2.33 economy, 7-39 best bowling, 9 5w
Bottom line: Brian Statham is one of the greatest English bowlers of all time. He formed a successful bowling parternship with Fred Trueman.
Statham made his debut in 1951, but it took him three years to cement his place on the England Team. However, he forced his back into the national team by taking 97 wickets in county cricket at 15.11 in 1951, 110 at 18.08 in 1952, 101 at 16.33 in 1953.
He had a terrific year in Tests in 1954, picking up 41 wickets at 24.93. And he improved his wicket-taking ability in the very next year, picking up 33 wickets at 18.30.
29. Courtney Walsh
Country: West Indies
Career stats in Tests: 132 matches, 519 wickets, 24.44 average, 57.8 strike rate, 2.53 economy, 7-37 best bowling, 22 5w
Bottom line: Courtney Walsh had seen the rise and fall of vintage West Indies bowling attack. He made his debut in 1984, and the playing 11 featured three fearsome bowlers of West Indies's golden era: Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding.
In the 1990s, Walsh formed a successful bowling pair with another West Indian great Curtly Ambrose. When he retired in 2001, after 17 long years, West Indies bowlers had lost their venom.
Walsh bowled equally well both home (average: 23.69) and away (25.03). England was his home away from home where he picked up 87 wickets at an average of 24.45.
28. Ravindra Jadeja
Career stats in Tests: 59 matches, 242 wickets, 24.44 average, 60.4 strike rate, 2.42 economy, 7-48 best bowling, 10 5w
Bottom line: Ravindra Jadeja has always performed exceptionally well as a bowler in India, as he picked up 172 wickets at an average of 20.66. However, Ravichandran Ashwin was preferred over him in overseas conditions, where India plays a lone spinner in most of the matches.
Jadeja's fortunes took a turn in the recent past as he was picked ahead of Ashwin, thanks to his superior skills with the bat. He has a very good record in Australia, taking 14 wickets at an average of 21.79.
The left-armer is one of the best fielders of the current generation. His direct hits and breath-taking catches turned the game in India's favor umpteen times.
27. Ian Bishop
Country: West Indies
Career stats in Tests: 43 matches, 161 wickets, 24.27 average, 52.2 strike rate, 2.78 economy, 6-40 best bowling, 6 5w
Bottom line: Ian Bishop took his first fifer in his second match against India in 1989, by picking up 6 wickets for 87 runs. He was fast and had an excellent outswinger. However, after a promising start to his career, Bishop was forced to take a break at the end of 1990, due to a back injury.
After remodeling his action, he made a comeback to the team in November 1992. Bishop picked up six wickets for 40 runs against Australia in Perth on a fast pitch and helped West Indies beat Australia in January 1993.
However, Bishop was again forced to take another break in 1993 and could only make a comeback in 1995. He retired in 1998, thanks to back-to-back, back injuries.
26. Clarie Grimmet
Career stats in Tests: 37 matches, 216 wickets, 24.21 average, 67.10 strike rate, 2.16 economy, 7-40 best bowling, 21 5w
Bottom line: Clarrie Grimmet grabbed the eyeballs in his very first Test by taking 11 wickets for 82 runs against England in 1925. He was a genuine leg spinner and possessed all variations — leg break, top spinner, googly and flipper.
Grimmet was at his best during the away tour to South Africa in the 1935-36 series. He picked up 44 wickets in the five-match series at an incredible average of 14.59, including his career-best 7-40.
The Australian bowler took 13 wickets for 173 runs in the fifth Test of the series and became the second oldest bowler to take 10 wickets in a Test match. Grimmet was 44 years old when he accomplished this record.
25. Ravichandran Ashwin
Career stats in Tests: 86 matches, 442 wickets, 24.13 average, 52.2 strike rate, 2.77 economy, 7-59 best bowling, 30 5w
Bottom line: Ravichandran Ashwin is arguably the best spinner in world cricket at the moment. He has been a match-winner for India in the past decade and scripted many famous victories.
The offspinner has claimed nine Man of the Series in Tests, which is second only to Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan. He is also the second-fastest bowler to take 400 wickets, a feat he accomplished in 77 Tests.
With 442 wickets in the longest format of the game, Ashwin is only behind Anil Kumble’s tally of 619 wickets as an Indian bowler. Ashwin has also been a handy batter and has scored five Test centuries.
24. Dennis Lillee
Career stats in Tests: 70 matches, 355 wickets, 23.92 average, 52.0 strike rate, 2.75 economy, 7-83 best bowling, 23 5w
Bottom line: Dennis Lillee was the best fast bowler of his generation. He had serious pace early in his career, but he had to slow down in the latter part due to frequent injuries to his back.
Lillee formed a formidable and fearsome opening bowling attack with Jeff Thomson. The Sunday Telegraph during Ashes 1974-75 season wrote, "Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, if Thomson don't get ya, Lillee must."
The Australian fast bowler broke the record of most wickets in Tests when he overtook West Indies' Lance Gibbs's tally of 309 wickets. When he retired, he had 355 wickets — most of any bowler.
23. Bill Johnston
Career stats in Tests: 40 matches, 160 wickets, 23.91 average, 69.00 strike rate, 2.07 economy, 6-44 best bowling, 7 5w
Bottom line: Bill Johnston was a perfect foil to the famous new ball pair of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller in the late 1940s and '50s. He set the stage on fire in his very first Ashes Test against England at Nottingham in 1948, by taking nine wickets for 183 runs. Johnston’s effort helped Australia beat England by eight wickets.
He had a great bouncer which he used to good effect. He was the then fastest bowler to take 100 wickets in terms of days — a feat he achieved in four years and 24 days.
22. Michael Holding
Country: West Indies
Career stats in Tests: 60 matches, 249 wickets, 23.68 average, 50.9 strike rate, 2.79 economy, 8-92 best bowling, 13 5w
Bottom line: Michael Holding is a well-known commentator, but before that, he was a fiery fast bowler who terrorized the batters around the world. He was known as "Whispering Death."
Holding took 14 wickets against England in 1976 in a Test at the Oval — best bowling figures by a West Indian in England. The then 22-year-old took eight wickets for 92 in the first innings and took six wickets for 57 runs in the second innings.
Holding bowled one of the greatest overs of all time to Geoffrey Boycott at Bridgetown on March 14, 1981. He breathed fire throughout that over and each bowl was faster than the previous one. Boycott somehow survived the first five deliveries but was bowled in the final delivery of the over.
21. Wasim Akram
Career stats in Tests: 104 matches, 414 wickets, 23.62 average, 54.6 strike rate, 2.59 economy, 7-119 best bowling, 25 5w
Bottom line: Wasim Akram is known as the "Sultan of Swing" since he swung the ball in the air and off the pitch equally well. Along with Waqar Younis, he formed a deadly combo for Pakistan, and the duo was a nightmare for batsmen all around the world.
When Akram was drafted into the Pakistan national team by then captain Javed Miandad, he hadn’t played a single first-class game. Miandad saw Akram in a trial held at Gaddafi Stadium and selected him for national duty.
Akram is arguably the greatest left-arm bowler cricket has ever seen. He has picked up 916 wickets in international cricket and is the second-highest wicket-taker by a pace bowler.
20. Waqar Younis
Career stats in Tests: 87 matches, 373 wickets, 23.56 average, 43.4 strike rate, 3.25 economy, 7-76 best bowling, 22 5w
Bottom line: Waqar Younis was nicknamed "Toe Crusher," as he bowled full and fast aiming at batters' toes. He made his debut in 1989, and one year later, he showed the world that he was here to stay, as he claimed 49 wickets at an average of 17.04 in nine matches.
The Pakistan great's best year came in 1993 when he picked up 55 wickets at an incredible average of 15.24. He took fifers against New Zealand, West Indies and Zimbabwe during that year.
Younis formed a lethal opening bowling pair with Wasim Akram and the duo picked up 559 wickets. They took 57.45 percent of team wickets — the third most of all time.
19. Shaun Pollock
Country: South Africa
Career stats in Tests: 108 matches, 421 wickets, 23.11 average, 57.8 strike rate, 2.39 economy, 7-87 best bowling, 16 5w
Bottom line: Shaun Pollock began his career under the shadow of Allan Donald, the best South African bowler of that time. When Pollock retired, he held the record of most wickets by a South African in Tests (421) and ODIs (393).
Pollock’s main weapon was his accuracy, and he swung the ball both ways. After making his debut in 1995, the South African pacer grabbed the eyeballs in 1998 by taking 69 wickets — the second-best by a bowler in that calendar year.
Pollock was a useful batter, too, as he scored 3,781 runs, including two hundreds and 16 fifties.
18. Ray Lindwall
Career stats in Tests: 61 matches, 228 wickets, 23.03 average, 59.8 strike rate, 2.30 economy, 7-38 best bowling, 12 5w
Bottom line: Ray Lindwall was Australia’s pace bowling leader in the late 1940s and '50s. He, along with Keith Miller, formed a formidable new-ball attack.
Lindwall used bouncers occasionally to surprise batters and had slow balls in his kitty as well. He also used Inswinger to a good effect, and his inswinging yorker against one of the all-time greatest batters, Len Hutton, at Headingly in the 1953 Ashes series was the epitome of his ability.
The right-arm fast bowler was the first-ever pacer to pick 200 wickets in Tests. He was a handy batter, too, and scored two hundreds and five fifties.
17. Keith Miller
Career stats in Tests: 55 matches, 170 wickets, 22.97 average, 61.5 strike rate, 2.24 economy, 7-60 best bowling, 7 5w
Bottom line: BBC called Keith Miller Australia's greatest all-rounder. Although he played only 55 Tests, he made an impact by taking 170 wickets and scoring 2,958 runs.
Miller was Royal Australian Air Force Pilot during World War II. The war experience helped him absorb pressure in cricket like a duck to water.
The Australian all-rounder played an important part in Don Bradman's 'Invincibles' — one of the greatest cricket teams of all time. A career spanning 10 years, only once his bowling average went above 30, shows his remarkable consistency. He had slower deliveries. He also took batters by surprise by bowling faster with short run-up.
16. Dale Steyn
Country: South Africa
Career stats in Tests: 93 matches, 439 wickets, 22.95 average, 42.3 strike rate, 3.24 economy, 7-51 best bowling, 26 5w
Bottom line: Dale Steyn is arguably the greatest fast bowler of this generation. The South African bowler swung the ball at an express pace.
Steyn rose to the World No. 1 rank for bowlers and held that position for a record 2,343 days. He achieved his highest rating points (908) against Pakistan in 2013 when he picked up 6-8 in the first innings and 5-52 in the second innings.
India is a tough place for fast bowlers, as the pitches suit spin bowlers. However, Steyn excelled in India by taking 26 wickets at an enviable average of 21.38, including 7-51 at Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur in 2010.
15. Imran Khan
Career stats in Tests: 88 matches, 362 wickets, 22.81 average, 53.7 strike rate, 2.54 economy, 8-58 best bowling, 23 5w
Bottom line: Imran Khan is known for leading Pakistan to an ODI World Cup win in 1992. He also was successful in Tests, as he took 362 wickets and scored 3,807 runs.
The former Pakistan Prime Minister won the Player of the Series award eight times in the longest format of the game — the fourth highest by any player. He is the only cricketer to play less than 30 series and win eight or more Player of the Series awards.
Imran picked up eight wickets for 60 runs against India in the second innings of the Karachi Test, 1982, and his eight-wicket-haul is the second best figures by a captain.
14. Muttiah Muralitharan
Country: Sri Lanka
Career stats in Tests: 133 matches, 800 wickets, 22.72 average, 55.0 strike rate, 2.47 economy, 9-51 best bowling, 67 5w
Bottom line: Muttiah Muralitharan holds the record for most wickets in Tests (800). He took all these wickets at an impressive average of 22.73, making the stat all the more noteworthy.
The Sri Lanka match-winner had to face numerous tests to check that his action was legal. It was a bit unfair that he had to go through all these because none of the tests could prove his action was illegal.
The off-spinner picked up five wickets in innings a whopping 67 times, whereas he took 10 wickets in a match 22 times. His career-best performance came against Zimbabwe in 2002 when he accounted for nine wickets by conceding 51 runs.
13. Kagiso Rabada
Country: South Africa
Career stats in Tests: 52 matches, 243 wickets, 22.41 average, 40.7 strike rate, 3.29 economy, 7-112 best bowling, 11 5w
Bottom line: Kagiso Rabada rose from the ranks quickly and became South Africa’s pace bowling leader when their famous trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander left the team. In 2018, he became the youngest to ever be named No. 1 bowler in the ICC rankings.
Strike rate is also a good measure of a bowler’s effectiveness. Rabada’s strike rate, 40.7, is the best bowling strike rate of anyone who has picked 112-plus wickets.
Rabada, a genuine quick bowler, holds the second-best match figures by a South African bowler — he picked up 13 wickets for 144 runs against England in 2016.
12. Vernon Philander
Country: South Africa
Career stats in Tests: 64 matches, 224 wickets, 22.32 average, 50.8 strike rate, 2.63 economy, 6-21 best bowling, 13 5w
Bottom line: Vernon Philander had a great start to his international career, as he was awarded the Player of the Series for his 14 wickets in a two-match series against Australia in 2011.
Philander formed a successful trio with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel for South Africa, and the trio made batting difficult for even the best of batters.
The South Africa medium pacer is the second-fastest bowler to take 50 wickets in Tests. He picked up 50 wickets only in his seventh Test against New Zealand in 2011 at Wellington.
Philander, also, was a handy batter lower down the order and scored eight fifties in his career.
11. Richard Hadlee
Country: New Zealand
Career stats in Tests: 86 matches, 431 wickets, 22.29 average, 50.8 strike rate, 2.63 economy, 9-52 best bowling, 36 5w
Bottom line: Richard Hadlee is unarguably the greatest New Zealand cricketer. He was a prolific fast bowler and a genuine all-rounder.
Fast bowlers generally have a short career, as they are more prone to injuries. However, Hadlee played from 1973 to 1990. The New Zealand great rarely had a poor year in his 17-year career. He averaged a world-class 23.20 with the ball even in the last year of his career.
When he hung up his gloves, the Kiwi all-rounder was the highest wicket-taker in Tests (431 Wickets). The Kiwi all-rounder was also a handy batter and made 3,124 runs at an average of 27.14, including two hundreds and 15 fifties.
10. Allan Donald
Country: South Africa
Career stats in Tests: 72 matches, 330 wickets, 22.25 average, 47.0 strike rate, 2.83 economy, 8-71 best bowling, 20 5w
Bottom line: Allan Donald was South Africa's first superstar in the post-apartheid era. He is the first South African bowler to pick up 300 wickets in Tests.
Donald bowled with serious pace and threatened even the best batters of his generation. He was known as “White Lightning,” as he bowled at a lightning pace.
Donald’s fiery spell against Mike Atherton in 1998 at Trent Bridge was a pure exhibition of fast bowling. The South African’s short-pitch deliveries at express pace were too much to handle for Atherton.
9. Glenn McGrath
Career stats in Tests: 124 matches, 563 wickets, 21.64 average, 51.9 strike rate, 2.49 economy, 8-24 best bowling, 29 5w
Bottom line: Glenn McGrath was nicknamed "Pigeon" by his New South Wales teammates because of his thin legs as a youngster. Little did they know that he would become arguably the greatest fast bowler of all time.
McGrath was known for his accuracy and could hit the same line and length time and again. His battles against Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, the two greatest batters of his generation, were one for the ages.
The right-arm bowler performed equally well both home and away. At home, he picked up 289 wickets at an average of 22.43 whereas, in away, he accounted for 274 scalps at 20.81.
8. Fred Trueman
Career stats in Tests: 67 matches, 307 wickets, 21.57 average, 49.4 strike rate, 2.61 economy, 8-31 best bowling, 17 5w
Bottom line: Fred Trueman became the first bowler to pick up 300 wickets in Tests at the Oval in 1964. Although James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ian Botham and Bob Willis overtook Trueman's wicket-tally, he is still regarded as the greatest English bowler by many.
Trueman made his debut against India at Headingly in 1952 and took seven wickets in the match. India lost four wickets with zero in the second innings as Trueman rattled India's top-order by picking up three wickets without conceding a single run.
The fast bowler took his career-best eight for 31 in his third Test. After the first series, Trueman's stats read 29 wickets at 13.31.
7. Patt Cummins
Career stats in Tests: 41 matches, 197 wickets, 21.27 average, 46.4 strike rate, 2.74 economy, 6-23 best bowling, 7 5w
Bottom line: Patt Cummins started his career with a seven-wicket-haul in his Test debut against South Africa in November 2011 and won the Player of the Match award. However, he didn’t play another Test in the next five years due to constant battles with injuries.
Cummins returned to the Test team in March 2017 and hasn't looked back since. With improved fitness levels, he has slowly become Australia’s best bowler.
Cummins became the world No. 1 ranked bowler in August 2019, and he has yet to slip to No. 2. He also reached 914 rating points, which is the fifth-highest rating point of all time.
6. Jim Laker
Career stats in Tests: 46 matches, 193 wickets, 21.24 average, 62.3 strike rate, 2.04 economy, 10-53 best bowling, 9 5w
Bottom line: When you hear the name "Jim Laker," the first thing that comes to mind is that he is the first cricketer to pick up 10 wickets in a Test inning. Laker, an off-break bowler, picked up 10 wickets in an inning against Australia in the second inning at Manchester.
Laker was unplayable in the first innings, too, as the English bowler rattled the Aussies lineup by taking nine wickets. Although Laker's 10-wicket-haul is matched by Anil Kumble (India) and Ajaz Patel (New Zealand), his 19-wicket-haul in a Test match is yet to be matched and could stay as a record for a long time.
5. Curtly Ambrose
Country: West Indies
Career stats in Tests: 98 matches, 405 wickets, 20.99 average, 54.5 strike rate, 2.30 economy, 8-45 best bowling, 22 5w
Bottom line: Curtly Ambrose wanted to become a professional basketball player, and if he couldn't do that, he wanted to become a football player. Cricket was never his choice. However, Ambrose's mother, an ardent cricket fan had other plans. She made Ambrose switch to cricket.
Ambrose started playing for Antigua in 1984 and earned a place on the Antigua national team in a year. It took only him another three years to be drafted into the West Indies team.
The tall West Indian was the leader of the Windies bowling attack in the 1990s and terrorized batters around the world with his pinpoint accuracy and vicious bouncers.
4. Joel Garner
Country: West Indies
Career stats in Tests: 58 matches, 259 wickets, 20.97 average, 50.8 strike rate, 2.47 economy, 6-56 best bowling, 7 5w
Bottom line: Joel Garner was called "Big Bird" — the West Indies fast bowler was 6-foot-8, and he did make batters uncomfortable just with his high arm action.
"The trouble is that Garner’s hand delivers over the top of the sightscreen, which makes him impossible to sight early. When you have one ball getting up chest height and another coming in at your toenails," former England captain, Mike Brearley said.
It was very difficult to score against Garner. Even Viv Richards, known as the best batter of his generation, never hit Garner, said Ian Botham, who was a teammate of both Garner and Richards at Somerset.
3. Malcolm Marshall
Country: West Indies
Career stats in Tests: 81 matches, 376 wickets, 20.94 average, 46.7 strike rate, 2.68 economy, 7-22 best bowling, 22 5w
Bottom line: Malcolm Marshall, known as "Striding Death," is regarded as the greatest fast bowler of all time by many. Even though he had a poor start to his career and could only pick up his first fifer in his 14th match, West Indies persisted with him. The move paid rich dividends, and he went on to pick up 21 more fifers during his career and earned the Player of the Match award 10 times.
Marshall made his mark in 1983 by taking 54 wickets at an average of 20.67. In the next year, he bettered his record by picking up 73 wickets in 13 matches at an average of 20.15.
2. Alan Davidson
Career stats in Tests: 44 matches, 186 wickets, 20.53 average, 62.2 strike rate, 1.97 economy, 7-93 best bowling, 14 5w
Bottom line: Alan Davidson was one of the finest left-arm pacers of his time. He dominated bowling rankings in the last three years of his career. Except for a brief period in 1962 when he was ranked No. 2, Davidson was the top-ranked bowler from 1960 to 1963.
He was the first cricketer to score 100 runs and pick up 10 wickets in a Test. Only four players have achieved this rare feat to date.
Davidson scored 124 runs and picked up 11 wickets in the tied Test against West Indies in 1960. He did this with a broken finger, and it made the feat look all the better.
1. Sydney Barnes
Career stats in Tests: 27 matches, 189 wickets, 16.43 average, 41.6 strike rate, 2.36 economy, 9-103 best bowling, 24 5w
Bottom line: Sydney Barnes has the best average, 16.43, among bowlers who have picked up 150-plus wickets. His strike rate, 41.66, was world-class and only Kagiso Rabada has a better one (criteria: 150-plus wickets).
The English bowler grabbed many eyeballs in his very first Test innings when he claimed five wickets for 65 runs. His bowling helped England gain a sizeable lead of 296 runs in the first innings, thereby beating Australia by an inning and 124 runs.
Barnes was virtually unplayable, and the best batters of his generation found it tough to score against him. The year 1912 was his most productive when the right-arm bowler picked up 61 wickets in just nine matches at an average of 14.15.