Which Test nation’s top five wicket takers would form the most balanced attack?

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For no reason at all, let’s go through each of the Test-playing nations and work out whether their all-time top five wicket takers would form a balanced attack if they were to play in the same team.

We could argue that the constitution of each attack says something about that particular Test nation, but really this is just a stupid thing that we want to do, so we’re doing it.

The rules

A balanced attack means at least one spinner but probably no more than two. Extra points for left-armers and for anyone who bowls a bit weirdly.

For added intrigue, let’s also see if those five players would form a credible lower order. We’re looking for at least one person who can score hundreds to bat at seven and also someone who can hit fifties to bat at eight. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

Whichever nation has the best all conditions attack and lower order wins the first however-many-years of Test cricket and then we’ll move onto a new cycle that starts when you finish reading this.


  1. Rashid Khan – 23 wickets
  2. Yamin Ahmadzai – 10
  3. Mohammad Nabi – 8
  4. Amir Hamza – 6
  5. Zahir Khan – 5

A slightly weird start in that Afghanistan’s fourth-highest wicket-taker has only taken six wickets. Leg-spin, fast-medium, off-spin, slow left arm and left-arm wrist spin. This attack is brilliant and demented but unarguably a little light on pace bowling.

Despite his Test average of 5.50 we’d argue that Nabi is capable of Test hundreds. Rashid Khan is definitely capable of fifties. This is a half-decent lower order.



  1. Shane Warne – 708
  2. Glenn McGrath – 563
  3. Nathan Lyon – 390
  4. Dennis Lillee – 355
  5. Mitchell Johnson – 313

This is actually very good. A leggy, a finger spinner, a line and length bowler, a fast left-armer of unpredictable line and length and then Dennis Lillee to round things off.

If there’s a flaw, it’s that this is quite a tail. Johnson made a Test hundred, but we have taken to imposing a ‘multiple Test hundreds’ clause to our definition of an all-rounder (Nabi is given leeway because (a) he only played three Tests and (b) he’s Nabi). Johnson is a number eight and Warne offers handy support, but there’s no all-rounder here.



  1. James Anderson – 590
  2. Stuart Broad – 507
  3. Beefy – 383
  4. Bob Willis – 325
  5. Fred Trueman – 307

Derek Underwood was 11 wickets from balancing this. As it is, England have predictably fielded a load of right-arm seamers.

Beefy is a more than handy number seven, while early era Stuart Broad offers a bit of support at eight. Peters out quite quickly after that though. Neither Bob nor Fred ever made a Test fifty, while Jimmy has made just one.



  1. Anil Kumble – 619
  2. Kapil Dev – 434
  3. Harbhajan Singh – 417
  4. R Ashwin – 365
  5. Zaheer Khan – 311

A near-unbeatable attack in home conditions, but maybe a little spin-heavy for most away tours. They do have a left-arm seamer at least.

The batting is excellent. Zaheer is the only real rabbit. Kapil Dev’s the standout, but Ashwin has four Test hundreds, Harbhajan two and Kumble one.



  1. Tim Murtagh – 13
  2. Stuart Thompson – 10
  3. Boyd Rankin – 7
  4. Mark Adair – 6
  5. James Cameron-Dow/Andy McBrine – 3

Right-arm fast-medium, right-arm fast-medium, gangly right-arm fast-medium, right-arm fast-medium and then either a left or right-arm finger spinner to salvage things.

Not too sure you’d want anyone batting higher than number nine though.


New Zealand

  1. Richard Hadlee – 431
  2. Daniel Vettori – 361
  3. Tim Southee – 284
  4. Trent Boult – 267
  5. Chris Martin – 233

They’ve got a spinner, they’ve got a left-armer, they’ve got Sir Richard Hadlee. This is a rounded attack. You’d maybe want a little more pace, but not bad at all.

Pretty solid batting too. Vettori made six Test hundreds and Hadlee two. Then you’ve got Southee to hit sixes and Martin to miss a straight one, which is absolutely what you want from your number 11.



  1. Wasim Akram – 414
  2. Waqar Younis – 373
  3. Imran Khan – 362
  4. Danish Kaneria – 261
  5. Abdul Qadir – 236

Pakistan go with the standard three fast bowlers, two leg-spinners line-up. It’s not crazily varied, but Wasim gives you a left-arm angle and it feels like they could do the job in most conditions. Kaneria’s stinking up the place a bit. It would be nice to swap him for Saqlain Mushtaq, but rules are rules.

Imran’s the all-rounder and Wasim made three Test hundreds – he can go at eight.

7/10 (minus one for having Kaneria in there)

South Africa

  1. Dale Steyn – 439
  2. Shaun Pollock – 421
  3. Makhaya Ntini – 390
  4. Allan Donald – 330
  5. Morne Morkel – 309

Predictably predictable from predictable South Africa, the country where right-arm seam is king. We’re asking a lot of Morkel’s height and Ntini going wide on the crease here.

Shaun Pollock made two Test hundreds. The rest of them have two fifties between them (both Steyn’s). Lamentable.


Sri Lanka

  1. Muttiah Muralitharan – 795
  2. Rangana Herath – 433
  3. Chaminda Vaas – 355
  4. Dilruwan Perera – 156
  5. Suranga Lakmal – 151

You imagine there’d be lots of spinners, but of course there aren’t because for most of their history Sri Lanka just picked Murali. Appropriately enough, he’s doing most of the heavy-lifting here too. Two normal wrist-spinners, a left-arm seamer, a right-arm seamer and a Murali isn’t bad, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that one of the opening bowlers would be Suranga Lakmal.

Vaas made a Test ton and Murali is of course the best batsman ever, but this is a pretty weak lower order.

6/10 (an extra point for having Murali)

West Indies

  1. Courtney Walsh – 519
  2. Curtly Ambrose – 405
  3. Malcolm Marshall – 376
  4. Lance Gibbs – 309
  5. Joel Garner – 259

Pretty much as you’d expect with Lance Gibbs saving the Windies from out-and-out SouthAfricadom. In terms of variety, this attack is essentially Ireland Deluxe.

Marshall is batting at seven with no Test hundreds. Garner is batting at eight with one Test fifty.



  1. Heath Streak – 216
  2. Ray Price – 80
  3. Paul Strang – 70
  4. Henry Olonga – 68
  5. Graeme Cremer – 57

Two right-arm quicks, two leggies and a very angry finger spinner. Flawed but respectable.

Batting-wise, Streak and Strang both made a Test hundred and somehow so did Cremer. They’re all eights and nines though really.



New Zealand win round one of Test cricket. On to round two.

First published in October 2019.


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  1. If you add to the mix the greatest test batsmen of all time for each of the teams, West Indies gets Garry Sobers by virtue of those stats and he can bowl pace and very handy left-arm slow bowling (various styles) too. Joel Garner only just pips Sobers in the test wickets department.

    The Ireland bowlers might enjoy the West Indies greats being described as Ireland Deluxe. Tim Murtagh is known as “The Lambeth Lara” around our parts, which supports an element of your argument there.

    While not adding variety to the bowling attack, South Africa would have Jacques Kallis in its side if/when you add the greatest batsmen of all time to the mix. Can we not have a special dispensation for South Africa to allow, say, Paul “Frog-In-A-Blender” Adams to play on the basis that you don’t need five great bowlers plus Kallis? Just so we can watch him bowl again…


    …oh sod the rules, let’s watch Adams bowl again anyway.

  2. I assume that this ranking is based 100% on balance and not skill, because if you are ranking that West Indies line-up lower than the Afghanistan one on any other metrics then you probably need to be kept away from sharp scissors.

      1. If skill is out of the equation, shouldn’t Sri Lanka be ranked higher? Right arm spinner, left arm spinner, right arm seamer, left arm seamer, and right arm seamer.

        Also Muralis batting magnificence.

      2. They should, but come on – Suranga Lakmal?

        Maybe we were wrong to agree with “100% based on balance”.

        It’s 100% based on balance as a starting point and then we whittled away at that percentage based on bias and whim.

      3. Bias and whim are excellent parameters for these sort of lists. And the Suranga Lakmal argument is inarguable.

        Too bad Sri Lanka. Malinga didn’t get you enough wickets.

  3. What’s Round 2 going to be? Are there likely to be more than just two rounds? If so, how many?

    These are important questions, because I wouldn’t want to leap in with some devastating statement (*), only to find that this would be adequately covered in Round 7.

    (*) I haven’t got a devastating statement. If I’m honest, I just want to know what Round 2 is. I mean, Round 1’s rules have NZ beating Australia, so it’s already better than rugby league and most forms of cricket.

    1. Dunno. Maybe all-time top top five wicket-takers again, in which case it’ll presumably pan out almost exactly the same.

  4. Great article, KC. “Pointless Cobblers.” Missed opportunity there for a Hundred team.

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