T20 is said to be the most unjust format of them all. It is because the conditions usually favour batsmen more than the bowlers, in order to entertain fans who flock to the ground to watch a highly entertaining 120 ball innings, which has to involve fours and sixes. But there have been some bowlers, who with their skill and determination have made maximum use of the 24 balls they are allowed to bowl in an innings and have actually revolutionized the format with wickets on a regular basis. They have been able to prove over time that T-20s can be won with the ball as well. Here are the highest wicket takers in T-20 internationals of all time –
1) Shahid Afridi (Pakistan) – 54
‘Boom Boom’ Afridi is ranked 10th when it comes to being the highest run-getter ever in T-20 cricket. But he is the 1st in the highest wicket-takers list, making him the perfect all-rounder for this format. It is no surprise then, that he is the most expensive player in the inaugural Bangladesh Premier League!
Afridi has transformed from an opening batsman who can bowl a bit to a spin bowler who can bat a bit, these days. Pakistan have been highly benefitted by his skills, and he is the cause for his country being one of the most consistent teams in T-20 internationals. The team finished second in the 2007 World T-20 in South Africa where Afridi was adjudged the ‘Player of the Tournament’ having picked 14 wickets in the tournament.
However, in England in 2009 Afridi and his nation’s desire to win the championship was fulfilled where his performances in the semifinal against South Africa and the final against Sri Lanka turned out to be crucial in the end, rightfully winning him man of the match awards in both the games. He picked 11 wickets by the end of the tournament, but more importantly he gave away very few runs which added to the pressure being created.
Come the 2010 edition of the title and Shahid Afridi was captain this time. But captaincy did affect his bowling performance as he finished with 4 wickets in 6 matches at an economy rate of 7.20, as Pakistan were knocked out of the semifinals by a thrilling counter-attack from Australia’s Michael Hussey.
His best bowling performance in T-20s is 4/11 in 4 overs which was against the lowly Netherlands in the World T-20 2009. He is expected to be the key in Pakistan’s pursuit to be the two-time champions in this format, with the 2012 championship to be held in Sri Lanka.
2) Umar Gul (Pakistan) – 50
Pakistan has a dearth of bowlers in the shorter formats of the game and that explains their success in it. Umar Gul is by far the team’s bowling spearhead and has all the ingredients to be an ideal T-20 bowler. He has the pace but more crucially, a terrific length in the end overs which could either stop the runs flowing or take wickets. He can bowl the yorker with aplomb and batsmen all over the world fear that, in T-20 cricket in particular.
He made his T-20 debut in the World Cup in 2007. And he was the surprise package of the tournament, ending with 13 wickets, second behind his team mate Shahid Afridi. This was an exceptional performance considering the format being nascent for him then and the exit of Shoaib Akhtar earlier in the tournament. That also ensured him of cementing his place as a regular in not just the T-20 team but also the ODI and Test sides respectively.
Kolkata Knight Riders were so impressed with his performances that they decided to purchase him for the 2008 IPL competition, but unfortunately his contract was bought out after one season following the prohibition of Pakistan’s players to play in the IPL from 2009 onwards.
But for Pakistan in T-20 internationals, Gul continued to produce superb performances time and again as the team began to live without Shoaib. He picked 4 wickets in 4 overs in a T-20 match against Australia in Dubai, a few days before the World championship in England in 2009.
That was a prelude to some stunning performances in the tournament, which included his best bowling effort till date. In a match against New Zealand at The Oval, he picked 5 wickets for 6 runs in 3 overs! That spell not only helped Pakistan to the next round, but also helped Gul equal his 2007 record as he ended with another 13 wicket haul in the championship. Only this time Pakistan won.
In the last two years though, he has picked 11 wickets which is as good as a drought for him having missed out on the World T-20 in 2010. However, he already has 50 wickets in this format to his name and should be 100% fit by the time September arrives, for the 2012 World Cup in Sri Lanka.
3) Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan) – 46
Ajmal is according to some, the world’s No.1 spinner in all three formats of the game currently. And they are correct to hold such an opinion, since his performances off late have been terrific and more importantly, match winning for Pakistan. When Afridi and he bowl in tandem, it makes life miserable for the opposition batsmen as both of them have the ability to pick wickets at regular intervals, and if Afridi is not able to, he can atleast dry up the runs while Ajmal takes wickets or vice-a-versa.
Pakistan’s bowling is the prime reason why they win more than they lose in T-20 internationals, and it is an irony considering that they do not possess the best of batting line-ups in this format and T-20 is considered to be more batsmen-friendly.
Ajmal’s rise has been astronomical considering that he made his T-20 debut for Pakistan in as late as 2009. He was still a rookie bowler, when he appeared in the 2009 World Cup in England. Yet, oppositions seemed to be have underestimated him and they paid the price for it, as he finished with 12 wickets in the tournament, also having an economy rate as low as 5.82. By the end of the year, he had bagged 19 wickets which already made him Pakistan’s premier spinner.
Come 2010 and there was another World Cup for him to make a long-standing impression. Unfortunately for him, one of the matches in the tournament was his lowest point of his cricketing career, and that was the semifinal against Australia where Michael Hussey hit him for 20 runs in the last over of the game that too. Otherwise, he had bowled well having picked 11 wickets in the championship, single-handedly guiding the ship when Shahid Afridi seemed to be out of form.
However, Ajmal took the Hussey bashing as a blessing in disguise and learnt from his mistakes, which is a hallmark of a great bowler. He cannot be called great as yet, but has the makings of being one. In 2011, he gave away runs below 6 runs per over having picked 5 wickets in 5 T-20 internationals.
He already possesses 46 wickets in the format at an economy rate of 6.29. The million dollar question is if he can continue to carry the same form for a long period of time. He currently is second in terms of the ICC rankings for T-20 bowlers.
4) Ajantha Mendis (Sri Lanka) – 40
The Sri Lankan offie is ranked No.1 in the T-20 bowler rankings. And this has been due to a fine run in 2011. But even during the period of 2008-2010, he was a prolific wicket-taker for Sri Lanka in the format which speaks volumes of his consistency and why he deserves to be on the top of the rankings. Afterall, he is innovative as well by introducing the ‘carrom ball’ which is similar to a doosra but bowled in a different manner and can straighten much faster into a batsman, increasing his chances to get out leg before wicket.
He took 11 wickets in the first three matches of his T-20 career, which were four wicket hauls against Zimbabwe and Canada and a three wicket haul against Pakistan in King City in Canada in 2008. This started off his career in style and he was an obvious pick in the Sri Lankan playing XI for the World T-20 in 2009.
And in that tournament, Mendis was the key in Sri Lanka reaching the final and when he failed in that game, Sri Lanka’s winning streak came to an end. He picked 12 wickets at an economy rate of 5.42, making sure that he was amongst the top three wicket-takers.
The 2010 World T-20 in the West Indies was a poor outing for him as he only managed to pick 4 wickets in the entire tournament, but fortunately Sri Lanka had Lasith Malinga to make them reach the semifinals so Mendis’ performances were not highlighted as such even as he was to an extent successful in drying up the runs from time to time.
However, 2011 was great for him with the two T-20 internationals Sri Lanka played Australia at home. In the first game at Pallekele, he picked his career best figures of 6 wickets for 16 runs in 4 overs. It is amazing, considering that this spell was achieved against a side which has capable T-20 batsmen such as Shaun Marsh, Shane Watson and David Warner. He was able to expose Australia’s woes against spin and prove that they can be beatable in this format, despite them building a young team for the 2012 World T-20.
He will feel confident going into the World Cup this year as the Worlds No.1 bowler, and the best part of all is that the tournament is going to be played in home conditions, which perfectly suit his style of bowling.
5) Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka) – 38
Lasith Malinga along with Mendis form the crux of Sri Lanka’s bowling in ODIs and T-20s. ‘Slinga’ Malinga as he is called has won the world over with his low yet slingy action which always troubles even the best of batsmen. When he is at his best, he is unstoppable as a tiger in the pursuit of hunting for his prey. But when he is at his worst, he sometimes can be erratic and hit for runs and his failure usually his team’s failure too.
Yet, he is one of the finest bowlers in this format of the game, and his worth has been proved in the IPL with Mumbai Indians retaining him in the 2011 IPL auction and being amongst the highest wicket-takers in the tournament history.
But even when it comes to playing in national colours, Malinga is as efficient a bowler. He made his T-20 debut in 2006 on the tour of England. But it was in the 2007 World T-20 that he started taking wickets on a regular basis for his side. He ended with 7 wickets, but unfortunately Sri Lanka were knocked out in the Super 8s stage of the competition.
He had a better outing in the 2009 edition of the tournament, ending with 12 wickets in the route of Sri Lanka making the finals of the championship. But he proved why he was lethal as he hardly gave away any runs, which is proven with an economy rate of 7.22 on average, which is close to his career economy rate of 7.34.
While come 2010, he struggled in the West Indies having picked 6 wickets in the World Cup where Sri Lanka were knocked out in the semifinal. However, what Malinga is even better at is containing runs which is also a skill a bowler must possess to be a hit in T-20 cricket. So even if he cannot pick wickets, he atleast can stop the run flow and that can actually help his bowling colleagues to apply pressure on the opposition.
He currently has picked 38 wickets in 31 T-20 internationals, with his best figures being 3/12 against New Zealand in one of the T-20s in the USA in 2010. He would look to make a bigger impact for Sri Lanka, when they host the World T-20 this year.
6) Stuart Broad (England) – 37
He will always be remembered by fans, in particular Indian fans, for being smashed by Yuvraj Singh for 6 sixes in an over in one of the Super 8s matches in the 2007 World Cup in South Africa. However, what also must be taken into account is that few bowlers have the capacity to bounce back quickly after such a trauma. It is this quality which perhaps the English selectors have seen him, and consequently he was named captain of the national T-20 team succeeding the World Cup winning skipper, Paul Collingwood.
Broad is by far England’s numero uno bowler as the country has a dearth of talented pace bowlers in Tests but not so much in ODIs and especially T-20s. He has risen up to the challenge whenever England has needed him to, more often than not and has flourished in a format which is said to be cruel to bowlers.
He picked 6 wickets in 5 matches of the 2009 World Cup at home, which went in vain as England were yet again knocked out of the competition in the Super 8s. However, 2010 was a fine year for Broad who was improving like never before, following England’s Ashes win at home and it was showing in the T-20 internationals as well. Besides, he has not played the IPL till date and this decision has assisted him in being fresh and fit to appear as much as possible for the national side.
He started off with 3 wickets in 2 games against Pakistan in Dubai and carried that form into the World Cup in the West Indies. Without James Anderson, Broad was the uncrowned leader of the bowling attack and reveled in this role of responsibility. By the end of the championship, he had picked 8 wickets in 6 matches, at an average of 6.69 runs per over as this helped England win a global event for the first time ever and get rid of a huge monkey off their backs. On an aggregate, he had 11 wickets in 2010 which was one of the highest amongst all the bowlers in the calendar year.
Now that he is England’s captain in T-20 cricket, the pressure on him is likely to mount as he only has to lead with the ball, but also on the field. It remains to be seen if he can again prove his critics wrong by helping England defend the World T-20 this year.
7) Mitchell Johnson (Australia) – 36
Undoubtedly, he has been Australia’s top bowler in this format over the years. He has a wayward line and length which makes it tough for any batsman in anticipating to play a shot. But his unpredictability works in T-20 cricket as this is the main feature a bowler must have in his armoury. Besides, he generates an excellent amount of pace in any conditions and that makes him the numero uno strike bowler for his team.
In fact he first made a name for himself in international cricket in this very format itself. He made his debut in the World T-20 2007 in South Africa, and above average performances in the competition made him a prime contender for the Test and ODI teams respectively. He finished with 8 wickets in 6 games, at an economy rate of 6.38 throughout the competition.
Australia’s embarrassing first round exit in the 2009 edition in England meant that Johnson was only a part of 4 T-20 games in the entire year. But he was determined to make 2010 his own, with 10 wickets in the World T-20 in the West Indies as he was the key in Australia making the final of the tournament, only to lose to archrivals England. While he picked 6 more wickets throughout the year, 2 against West Indies in a home game, 3 against New Zealand in an away game while 1 against Pakistan at Birmingham.
Like Broad, Johnson too has been averse to the perks of the IPL over the years and that has benefitted Australia the most which makes the most loyal cricketer alongside his senior team-mates Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. But now that he is out of reckoning for Australia, he has decided to contest in the IPL auction this year so he can gain vital experience of the Indian subcontinental conditions and of course try to win a place back in the national side, atleast for T-20s. Even an out-of-form Johnson can be a threat for any opposition and he will crucial in Australia’s quest to win their first ever T-20 World Cup and complete their illustrious trophy cabinet this year itself.
8) Daniel Vettori (New Zealand) – 35
The Kiwi tweaker is the highest wicket-taker in T-20 internationals for his country and understandably so, since he is the most experienced out of all the bowlers knowing how to use his skills better, in this version of the game. His 35 wickets may have come in as many as 28 games, but more crucially he has an amazingly low economy rate of 5.36, which is also decent in ODI cricket these days!
Vettori’s first exposure to T-20 internationals was in the World T-20 2007 and considering that he was nascent to this format, he did extremely well with his bowling having the same intensity throughout the competition. His best figures so far in his career came in a match against India, having picked 4/20 in 4 overs and making India suffer their only defeat in the competition. He finished with 12 wickets by the end of the semifinal, when they lost to Pakistan.
Vettori is unique from the other bowlers in this list because he has not had one relatively bad year in particular from 2007-2011, as he has been a consistent wicket-taker for New Zealand. In 2007, his wicket tally reached 14. The following year there were just 5 wickets to his name, having just played 2 T-20 internationals against the West Indies in the end of the year. But in 2009, he picked 9 scalps. And by the end of 2010, he added another 8 wickets to his record with his last match being against Sri Lanka in the USA.
He has a massive fan-following in India due to his gentlemanly attitude towards the game and his stature as one of the world’s leading spin bowlers. He turned out for Delhi Daredevils in the first 3 editions of the IPL and is currently the captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore with Vettori leading them to the finals of the IPL and the Champions League last year.
9) Graeme Swann (England) – 34
Many fans or let’s just say English fans may have got the shock of their lives if they did not see Swann’s name appear in the list. Since his debut in 2008, he has matured into the world’s top most spin bowler in all three formats of the game, despite Saeed Ajmal giving him tough competition in the last twelve months. Swann has played 27 T-20 internationals for England, and has achieved 34 wickets at a miserly economy rate of 6.69.
England has never been a land of spin but Swann is the first perhaps to be a wholesome spin bowler the country has ever produced. His entire 2008 went in playing 3 T-20 matches against the Black Caps and he picked 5 wickets in aggregate. While he continued to remain in the wilderness in this format, with 6 wickets in 2009. Although these are moderate numbers, there were no performances of high impact to watch from him in his first two years.
He decided that enough was enough and his prayers were answered with the World Cup 2010 being hosted in the West Indies; in those conditions which favour spin the most. He ended up with as many as 15 wickets in the competition at 6.17 runs per over on average. Alongside Broad he has to be credited to build the platform for England successfully chasing in knockout matches of the tournament, and going on to win it eventually.
2011 saw him take only 4 wickets, but he would remember this year for captaining England for the first time in his career, against the West Indies in 2 T-20 internationals in September 2010 at home. Swann may struggle in Indian sub continental conditions as seen in the World Cup 2011, and that will be his biggest obstacle to overcome this year.
He too has preferred not to participate in the IPL, although he was not picked by any of the franchises in last year’s auction as there was a cloud of uncertainty over his availability for the entire tournament. But this attitude proves that those players have been successful for their countries in a calendar year, who have tried to avoid the IPL.
10) Nathan McCullum (New Zealand) – 31
The final name to feature in this list is the other McCullum, Nathan McCullum. The McCullums have it in their genes perhaps to succeed in the shortest version of the game! One does it with the bat; the other does it with the ball. Anyway, Nathan McCullum is still a surprise to see but it goes to show that he is more of a T-20 specialist and a bowling all-rounder who can hit the big shots with a bat, being a player of high value for his country.
Being one of the most experienced Kiwi to have played in T-20 cricket, it is understandable that he has 31 wickets to his name and is the second highest wicket taker after Daniel Vettori. In 2009, he did not exactly show what he is capable of, as he was a newbie back then, ending the calendar year with 9 wickets. But in 2010, he was one of the most successful bowlers in the world in this format, picking up 17 wickets in total, with 8 wickets in 5 matches at home and 7 in the World Cup.
In 2011, New Zealand just played 2 T-20 internationals in the entire year, against Zimbabwe in Harare where McCullum picked 5 wickets. He is a handy player for the Black Caps and his spin will come into play the most in Sri Lanka, where New Zealand would look to win their first global event since the ICC Champions Trophy 2000.
In the IPL, he was picked by Pune Warriors India in the 2011 auction after his stellar performances in 2010.