Top 5 bowling attacks ever assembled in Test cricket

Morkel Steyn Rabada Philander
South Africa unleashed four fearsome seamers in the Cape Town Test against India

During the opening Test of the 3-match series between South Africa and India, the hosts assembled a formidable bowling attack to exploit the conditions on offer at the Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town. Even though comeback man Dale Steyn could not quite last the match, he briefly formed a daunting seam unit with the likes of Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada.

Also Read: 5 great bowling pairs whose coordinated work don't fade away

Considering Steyn's recent history of injuries as well as South Africa's affinity for team balance, such a robust bowling combination might just have endured a solitary match. The quartet could have joined a distinguished set.

In such regard, let us revisit the five best bowling attacks assembled in the history of Test cricket. Emphasis has been placed on those instances when four great bowlers operated together. While peak phases of all four bowlers in a given combination may not necessarily overlap, the overall potency of the attack has been factored into account.

#5 Imran Khan/Wasim Akram/Waqar Younis/Abdul Qadir

Imran Wasim Waqar
Imran mentored the talented duo of Wasim and Waqar during their early years

By the time Waqar Younis made his Test debut towards the end of the 1980s, Wasim Akram had already established himself as Pakistan's pace heartthrob. The legendary duo, who would go on to form one of the most devastating seam pairings ever, played alongside the exalted Imran Khan in quite a few matches. The three iconic fast bowlers joined hands with ace leg-spinner Abdul Qadir to form a complete attack in four Tests spanning across 1989 and 1990.

Admittedly, Imran was past his best during those four particular matches and featured predominantly as a batting all-rounder. However, the prospect of facing three of Pakistan's greatest pacers greeted Indian batsmen during the first and fourth Test of the 1989 series. Despite the presence of the pace troika as well as wrist-spinner Qadir, both matches ended in stalemate.

The foursome bowled Pakistan to a memorable eight-wicket victory against the domineering West Indies side at Karachi and subsequently eked out a creditable drawn series. In the four matches that they played together, Akram topped the bowling charts with 27 wickets at a remarkable average of 17.85.

#4 Shaun Pollock/Allan Donald/Jacques Kallis/Makhaya Ntini

Donald Pollock Ntini Kallis
The careers of Donald, Pollock, Ntini and Kallis overlapped during the late 1990s

Perhaps, it comes across as a massive surprise that the pairing of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock do not feature among the top ten most productive bowling duos in Test history. Interestingly, Jacques Kallis features in the list twice - along side Pollock and Makhaya Ntini. The latter two bowlers also formed a fruitful combination during their heydays. All four seamers played together in nine Tests from 1998 to 2001.

Not the one to be diminished by advancing age, Donald continued to bowl quick till the end of his career. While Pollock offered relentless control, Ntini's bustling energy added a different dimension to the bowling attack. Aside from his consistent exploits with the bat, Kallis also doubled up as a reliable fourth seam option.

From those nine matches, South Africa won on six instances and lost only once. With 45 scalps at an impressive average of 19.62, Donald was the leading wicket-taker in the matches featuring all four fast bowlers in tandem.

#3 Curtly Ambrose/Courtney Walsh/Malcolm Marshall/Ian Bishop

Ambrose Walsh Marshall
Marshall's latter years coincided with the emergence of Walsh and Ambrose

In what was a ceaseless trial by fire for opposition batsmen, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh formed one of the most lethal pace partnerships in the history of the sport. The colossal giants amassed as many as 757 Test wickets together. When they were in the early phases of their respective stellar careers, the duo had the opportunity to hone their skills under the tutelage of the great Malcolm Marshall. With Ian Bishop completing a four-pronged pace attack, West Indies continued to be a menacing proposition towards the end of the 1980s.

While Ambrose exploited vagaries in pitches like no other fast bowler, Walsh and Bishop could extract steep bounce from even docile surfaces. On the other hand, Marshall's slippery pace as well as unmatched tactical nous elevated him to a different pedestal. The fearsome foursome played six Tests together in 1989 and 1990.

While they brushed aside India in three of those home matches, West Indies had to remain content with a drawn 1-1 series against Pakistan during that period. In those six matches, Bishop outshone his three pace compatriots by picking 32 wickets at a splendid average of 20.53.

#2 Glenn McGrath/Shane Warne/Jason Gillespie/Brett Lee

McGrath Warne Lee Gillespie
Warne's mesmerising skills complemented the three versatile seam bowlers

Even though a star-studded batting lineup reigned supreme, Australia's unparalleled dominance during the late 1990s and early 2000s was often attributed to the presence of two champions bowlers. With 980 wickets from 104 matches, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne remain the most prolific bowling duo in Test history.

The metronome seamer and magical leg-spinner were joined by the likes of Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie at the turn of the millennium. While McGrath put batting techniques to the sword and Gillespie generated awkward bounce, Lee's hostile pace often unsettled opposition lineups. Adding Warne's trickery to the equation, Australia unfurled the most dynamic bowling attack in Test history.

From 16 Tests which featured all four bowlers together, Australia won ten matches and lost only twice. Having had to tackle such a strong bowling unit, England bore the brunt of their damage. In those matches between 2001 and 2005, Warne picked 89 wickets and McGrath scalped 77 wickets. While Lee accounted for 52 victims, Gillespie fell short of the 50-mark by just three wickets.

#1 Andy Roberts/Michael Holding/Colin Croft/Joel Garner

Roberts Holding Garner Croft
Batsmen across the globe shuddered at the prospect of facing the menacing Caribbean pacers

In what could be construed as cricket's equivalent of biblical retribution, West Indies unleashed a sustained spell of terror on hapless batting lineups on either phase of the 1980s. Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner stomped all over opposition teams to spearhead the Caribbean juggernaut.

The 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' played 11 Tests together from 1979 to 1982. West Indies won five of those matches and lost on only one occasion. It took a gallant century from Kim Hughes to buck the trend at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground in the 1981 Boxing Day Test. In those eleven matches, Holding topped the bowling charts with 51 scalps. While Garner and Croft picked up 47 and 46 wickets respectively, an ageing Roberts chipped in with 28 scalps.

With all his experience and shrewd intellect, Roberts showed the way for the other pacers. Holding's ability to concoct stifling pace from a smooth action made bowling appear like poetry in motion. When batsmen somehow managed to get past them, Garner's propensity to extract gargantuan bounce and Croft's slinging angle lurked in the horizon. A more belligerent and intimidating pace quartet has never been assembled in the history of Test cricket.

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