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Courtney Walsh picks his 11 best ODI fast bowlers of all-time

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8.09K   //    03 Feb 2015, 13:28 IST
Courtney Walsh

Putting together my top XI fast bowlers in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), let me assure you, has not been an easy task. There will be names missing and I am sure eyebrows will be raised and questions asked at some omissions and inclusions. 

And rightly so. Over the years, we have had some great fast bowlers, who have not only performed exceptionally well, but also adjusted to different conditions and changes in the rules and regulations. 

I am not ranking my choices in any particular order, so those who may want to can feel free to place them as you see most appropriate.

Curtly Ambrose

Not shy of height, he was naturally seen as Joel Garner’s replacement early in his playing days. He did not disappoint either. Like Joel, Curtly had a very dangerous yorker, was very accurate and did not like to give away runs. He was so tight that getting a drink off him at the bar was hard work! Curtly played in 176 ODIs, taking 225 wickets at an average of just over 24. He had six four-wicket hauls and four five-wicket hauls, and will always be remembered for that memorable spell in Sydney when he was asked to remove his wristbands by Dean Jones and responded by taking 5-32.

Allan Donald

Allan Donald

Allan had real pace, enough to have batsmen around the world hopping around against the new ball. He led the South Africa attack for some time, playing in 164 matches and taking 272 wickets with 11 four-wicket hauls. His economy rate was just over four and for an out-and-out strike bowler that's pretty good. Allan enjoyed many battles with opening batsmen of high quality, but never held back with his effort.

Joel Garner

This giant of a man made life very difficult for batsmen around the world. You had to make massive adjustments when facing him because of his height, but what was most impressive about him was his accuracy. Joel would get good bounce on any surface because of his height, but to me his yorker was one of the best, if not the best. He really mastered it and made it special. In 98 ODIs, he took 146 wickets at a remarkably low average of just 18.84, with an economy rate of 3.09.

Richard Hadlee

Hadlee was the main pace bowler for New Zealand for a long time and in assessing his returns, this should earn him lots of credit. He only played 115 ODIs, taking 158 wickets, but his average of 21.56 and economy rate of 3.30 is excellent. Most times he was the strike bowler, so batsmen would wait for him to just bowl out his spell. So, imagine how good he was for his stats to be as impressive as they are.

Michael Holding

It seems now that 102 ODIs is not such a big amount, but in those days it was the norm. Mikey and Andy Roberts were the strike force for the West Indies before we had Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Wayne Daniel. Mikey had one of the best approaches in the business of fast bowling, but what he also had was real pace and that would test any batsman’s skills. In his limited overs career, he took 142 wickets at an average of 21.36, with a miserly economy rate of 3.32.

Brett Lee

Brett had genuine pace and was always coming at you. He was very accurate and, in my view, got better as he lost just a bit of pace. He was, to me, the perfect foil for Glenn McGrath. Having played in 221 ODI games and taken 380 wickets with an average under 24, including 14 four-wicket hauls and nine five-wicket hauls, he played a vital part in Australia’s success in this format of the game. His raw pace helped him stand out.

Malcolm Marshall

To me, Malcolm was the complete fast bowler. He was not as tall as a lot of us, but he had lots of pace and could swing and seam the ball both ways. This made him very dangerous. In his 136 games, he took 157 wickets at an average of just under 27. But when you look at his economy rate of 3.53 and his strike rate of 45.7, you know he was special. What he lacked in height he made up with courage and will.

Glenn McGrath

Glenn McGrath

In my books, one of the most accurate and consistent fast bowlers to ever play this format. He led the Australia attack for a long time, playing in 250 ODIs and taking 381 wickets, just one more than Brett Lee. This is how Glenn was; very competitive and he wanted to be the best at whatever he was doing. His spell of 7-15 was his best return with an average of 22.02 while his economy rate was under four runs per over. He used to surprise batsmen with the extra pace he could generate.

Andy Roberts 

Although Andy only played 56 ODIs, with two World Cup medals, I wonder what he would have achieved had he had the opportunity to play more, or if he were around today. He had pace and, to me, was the ultimate thinking fast bowler. He took 87 wickets with an average of 20.35 and economy rate of 3.40 and his strike rate was good too. Andy had genuine pace and it often felt like he could hit batsmen at will.

Wasim Akram

One of the most devastating left-arm fast bowlers in my time and one who I have lots of respect for. He was quite simply a genius. Wasim could gather pace from any surface, swing the ball both ways at high pace and had a terrific yorker. And, of course, the reverse swing. His record explains itself, playing in 356 ODIs and picking up 502 wickets - he is still the second-highest wicket-taker ever in the format. To do it at an average of just 23.52, an economy rate of 3.89 and a very good strike rate as well was truly special. He would be a captain’s dream in any ODI side, capable of taking wickets and containing batsmen.

Waqar Younis

Last, but by no means least, the king of reverse swing, Waqar. He was very quick in his prime as well. Along with Wasim, Waqar made life very uncomfortable for batsmen. Having played 262 matches and taken 416 wickets at an average of under 24, including 14 four-wicket hauls and 13 five-wicket hauls, he was truly special. On his day, the Pakistan great was a genuine match-winner. Between them, the two Ws took over 900 ODI wickets. What a combination this was and it bears comparison with the partnership between Curtly Ambrose and myself.

*This column first appeared on 

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