India's 5 highest wicket-takers in T20 World Cups ft. Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh

Ravichandran Ashwin (L) and Harbhajan Singh.
Ravichandran Ashwin (L) and Harbhajan Singh

India have just one bowler, Ravichandran Ashwin, in the top 20 wicket-takers in the history of T20 World Cups and he's not in their squad for the 2024 edition, which begins on Sunday, June 2. This is even though he was one of the best in the second half of IPL 2024.

That's how quick this format is. And that's how it's continuously evolving for bowlers. Despite 17 years passing since the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 and a recent data and analytics boom, teams are still struggling with finding the right combinations and making brave calls instead of going the safe, ODI way.

Below, we recollect the five bowlers who have done the best for the Men in Blue in the tournament.

#5 Ashish Nehra

There's a reason why the Gujarat Titans were so successful in 2022 and 2023 in Ashish Nehra's first assignment as head coach. The seamer just understood T20 cricket better than most and had the willpower to be successful for a long time. In World Cups, he snapped up 15 wickets in just 10 innings at an average of 17.93.

He played across two editions - 2010 and 2016 - and remarkably didn't go even one of the 10 matches without picking a wicket. He started with a brilliant spell of 3/19 against Afghanistan and ended with an even better 1/24 against West Indies in the 2016 semi-final when the visitors scored a belligerent 196/3.

His economy of just 6.89 in his T20 World Cup career epitomizes how good he was and how much more he could have contributed if not for injuries.

#4 Harbhajan Singh

Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was one of India's heroes in the 2007 T20 World Cup win, picking seven wickets in five matches until a wicketless final against Pakistan. The fact that MS Dhoni even considered him to bowl the 20th over of the chase ahead of Joginder Sharma tells you how good a season he was having.

It didn't go as well after that. He played in the 2009, 2010 and 2012 editions too but couldn't find similar wicket-taking consistency. Instead, in most games, he was holding a strong economy rate for the team and had two brilliant moments -- a 3/30 and a 4/12 against England in 2009 and 2012 respectively.

Overall, after 18 innings, he concluded with 16 wickets at an average of 29.25.

#3 Irfan Pathan

Irfan Pathan's presence in this list shows you what India's missing. Hardik Pandya's bout with injuries, a lack of development of all-rounders, and now the Impact Player rule have deprived India of a big-match pace all-rounder with the ability to bowl four overs and score some handy runs in the lower order.

Pathan bowled on 14 occasions between 2007 and 2012, picking 16 wickets at 20.06. His best was often reserved for the most high-pressure games, like the 2/44 against Australia in the 2007 semi-final and 3/16 in the final versus Pakistan.

2009 didn't go too well for him as he played just three games. But in 2012, his final appearance in a T20 World Cup was much better as he picked up five wickets in as many games to bid goodbye to the format and international cricket.

#2 Ravindra Jadeja

Left-arm spin all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is the only one on this list to be with India's 2024 T20 World Cup squad. However, the situation is such, that he's had arguably the most underperforming IPL 2024 among all members of the 15.

Perhaps what made the selectors overlook the minute details was his record in T20 World Cups, which is even better than his IPL numbers. In 22 tournament matches, he has 21 wickets at an average of 25.19 and an economy rate of 7.14.

Overall, a bit like Harbhajan, his career in the competition has been up and down, with phases of no wickets followed by a couple of good matches. India would hope that if there's help from the pitches, he'll be able to make the most of it.

#1 Ravichandran Ashwin

Ravichandran Ashwin is that bowler we spoke about at the start of the piece. He's the seventh-highest wicket-taker in the history of the tournament with 32 scalps in 24 matches at an average of 17.25. He has the second-best economy rate of 6.49 among the top-10 wicket takers and his brilliant 4/11 against Australia in 2014 is still the best spell by an Indian at the tournament.

And it's not like most of this excellent record was made in the first half of his career. He has played five editions of the tournament and picked at least five wickets in four of them. He has never gone more than one game without picking a wicket in the tournament and has bowled four spells of three or more wickets.

There's simply been no one better than him for India in the format and how he has taken his game a step further as a defensive bowler for Rajasthan Royals, setting an example of "letting wickets happen" is a testament to his evergreen quality.

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