Top 5 Best Swing Bowler in the World

Know who has been the best swing bowler in the world of cricket and how good they were in their art. Also, understand what swing bowling is and how it works.

Subhayan Dutta
Subhayan Dutta

Last Updated: 2023-12-01

Dillip Mohanty

5 minutes read

Best Swing bowlers of all time

Without a shred of doubt, former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram is the best swing bowler in the world to have played the game of cricket. His wrist work and use of both old and new balls are often used as examples by many while learning swing bowling.

The craft of swing bowling in cricket involves a bowler manipulating the movement of the ball using aerodynamics. A swing bowler can control the sideways movement of the ball through the air, which can be done by using a combination of polished and rough surfaces and varying air pressure while generating lateral movement.

A good swing bowler can trouble the batsman by either inswinging the ball - where the ball swings away from the shiny side - or the reverse swing - where the ball swings in towards the shiny side. Both kinds of bowling, if done well, are difficult for a batsman to play, but one requires precision, skill and a comprehensive understanding of atmospheric conditions to master it.  

While there have been many swing bowlers in cricket who made a name for themselves through this craft, none comes close to Wasim Akram. He tops our list.

Wasim Akram (Pakistan) - 916 wickets

Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis Test Bowling.jpegBeing regarded as the best bowler of Pakistan, a country that has produced the likes of Imran Khan, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and more, pretty much establishes Akram’s place on this list. Popularly known as the sultan (king) of swing in cricket, Akram was a natural who stepped into the Pakistan cricket team without much first-class experience. While one legend (Javed Miandad) spotted him, another (Imran Khan) took him under his wings and taught him the art of swinging the ball. The towering Akram’s superhuman discipline of line and length had already made him a difficult bowler to face before his insane understanding of swing bowling virtually made him unplayable. Akram ended his career with a whopping 414 Test wickets and 502 ODI wickets.

Describing Akram, former West Indies legend Brian Lara had said, “He bowled over and round the wicket, swung the ball both ways, a master of reverse swing and at times he cut the ball prodigiously. His bouncers were fast and slow too, and very aggressive when in full flow and very competitive as well. I never felt in control when facing Wasim because he was always very unpredictable.”

Malcolm Marshall (West Indies) - 533 wickets  

Malcolm Marshall Test Bowling.jpegWidely considered to be the most complete bowler in the history of cricket, West Indies legend and fast bowler Malcolm Marshall could trouble batsmen with brutal pace, bloodthirsty bouncers as well as magical swing bowling. The kind of intelligence, ball control, expertise and ability that Marshall possessed all at once was rarely found in a bowler before or after him. 

Not the most gifted in terms of physique, unlike all his compatriots in that West Indies team, Marshall made up for it with tremendous deception and an insane intuition about a batsman’s next move. Players like Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting, Michael Holding, Ian Botham and many more idolized Marshall as the Caribbean star ended his career with a whopping 376 wickets in just 81 Tests and 157 scalps in 136 ODIs.

James Anderson (England) - 959 wickets

James Anderson Test 3.jpegJames Anderson might not be a natural like Wasim Akram, but the Lancashire lad is blessed with the best fast-bowling action in world cricket. Almost every aspiring bowler has tried imitating Anderson’s smooth run-up and impeccable wrist position that lends him sustainable spells, good pace and brilliant control of the ball. 

What Anderson lacked in talent, he compensated through his longevity, which also allowed him to master the bullet in-swinger as well as the calling out-swinger with the new ball, and the tricky reverse swing with the old one. Anderson has rarely failed to deliver for England, taking a mammoth 690 Test scalps and 269 ODI wickets. The 41-year-old is still a regular fixture in England’s Test-playing eleven.

Praising Anderson’s work ethic and work-load management, former India coach Ravi Shastri had said, “I used to watch him so closely when I was a coach on tours of England every time. And what I used to admire was his work ethic. Even in Indian conditions, there were times he didn't play in India. But he would go out to bowl at lunch or straight after the day’s play or before the day’s play… He would give it his all. And at times I would tell my fast bowlers, ‘Just watch that. Just watch the professionalism, the work ethic’.

Glenn McGrath (Australia) - 944 wickets

Glenn McGrath Test.jpeg

It would be hard to ignore Australia in a list of fast bowlers, given how many great pacers the country has produced in the past few decades. Not blessed with a super train speed, which was the case with most of his contemporaries in the 90s, McGrath had to focus on accuracy to attain greatness, and thank God he did! 

McGrath’s bowling was an institution in itself with impeccable seam position, faultless line and length, lethal swing and unusual bounce, which were almost scientifically calculated. A calm figure who controlled the ball like no one else, the thinking Australian bowler could produce the slightest of movements to catch batsmen off-guard. He ended his career with 563 Test scalps and 381 ODI wickets.

Sarfraz Nawaz (Pakistan) - 240 wickets

Sarfraz Nawaz Bowling in Australia.jpegOne glance at his number of wickets wouldn’t do justice to the greatness of former Pakistan cricketer and legend Sarfraz Nawaz, the man who discovered reverse swing in the 1970s. The world of cricket was used to seeing pacers swinging only the new ball before Nawaz’s genius, which showed the world what the old ball could do. 

It was Nawaz who first swung the ball in the opposite direction, leaving the batsman perplexed and stunned. A 6 '6'' Sarfraz didn’t have pace but a very powerful upper body allowed him to produce medium pace, which was ideal for reverse swing. His best outing was against Australia in 1979 in Melbourne, where Sarfraz 9/86 handed Pakistan a stunning 71-run victory.

This list, however, doesn’t do justice to all the great swing bowlers that cricket has seen in the last century, whether it be Imran Khan, Sydney Barnes, Kapil Dev, Joel Garner, Dennis Lillee, Mike Holding, Allan Donald, Andy Roberts, Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn and many more. Among the contemporaries are Jasprit Bumrah, Pat Cummins, Trent Boult, Jofra Archer, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Shaheen Shah Afridi, who have also proven their mettle with swing bowling.

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Subhayan Dutta
Subhayan DuttaSports Writer

An M.A. in English Literature, Subhayan is an experienced journalist and sports writer. Having worked as a journalist at Hindustan Times, Subhayan covered diverse beats including sports, education, and health, showcasing his versatility and in-depth understanding of various subjects.