The decade 2010-2019 has been a rather interesting one as far as Test cricket is concerned. The early years of the decade saw India rising to the number one spot in the Test rankings under MS Dhoni. However, that was completely to do with a tremendous run at home. They got a rude awakening when they visited England and Australia in 2011/12, as an ageing side full of stalwarts was whitewashed 4-0 in both the series.
The biggest Test triumph of the decade undoubtedly was Alastair Cook’s men conquering India in India in 2012. That apart, it has mostly been a case of teams utilising their home advantage to the fullest. Of course, there have been some stunning exceptions, with Sri Lanka becoming the first Asian team to register a Test series win in South Africa in 2019, ending the latter’s streak of seven home series wins. India also created history Down Under, albeit against a weakened Aussie outfit.
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Some fine bowlers have played significant roles in memorable Test wins for their respective sides over the course of the decade. Here’s a look at Top 5 Test bowlers of the decade. Performances in wins away from home have been given additional consideration.
#5. Rangana Herath
Matches -- 72, Wickets -- 363, Average -- 24.61, Strike Rate -- 57.50, Best Bowling in an innings -- 9/127
For a major chunk of his Test career, Rangana Herath lived under the shadow of the illustrious Muttiah Muralitharan. However, once the legendary Sri Lankan retired, the left-arm spinner came into his own, and blossomed into a match-winner himself. Herath is the fourth leading wicket-taker in the decade with 363 wickets from 72 Tests at an average of 24.61. He picked up as many as 30 five-fors in the decade, the best of the lot.
Like Murali, Herath starred in numerous Test wins at home for Sri Lanka, utilising the spinning conditions to the best of his ability. His accuracy while not getting wickets meant that the pressure was constantly on the batsmen. Herath’s best of 9 for 127 came in Pakistan’s first innings during the Colombo Test of August 2014. His 5 for 57 in Pakistan’s second innings bowled Sri Lanka to a 105-run triumph. Herath thus finished with career-best match figures of 14 for 184.
With 7 for 48 in India’s second innings, the left-arm spinner led the hosts to a famous 63-run triumph at Galle in August 2015. Chasing a small target of 176, India crumbled to 112. Galle was also the venue of another stunning performance by Herath, against England in March 2012. The spinner picked up six-fors in both innings as Lanka won by 75 runs. Herath featured in six away Test wins, and claimed 38 wickets at an average of 18.73. His finest moment came during the Durban Test in December 2011, a game in which he picked up nine wickets, which resulted in one of Sri Lanka's most famous wins.
By the time the decade neared its end, Herath had distinctly created a place for himself among the all-time great spinners.
#4. James Anderson
Matches -- 105, Wickets -- 427, Average -- 24.19, Strike Rate -- 54.7, Best Bowling in an innings -- 7/42
James Anderson has been the leader of England’s pace attack right through the decade and, along with Stuart Broad (398 wickets in 110 Tests), has done a commendable job for the team. His record in the decade speaks for itself -- 427 wickets in 105 Tests at an average of 24.19. In fact, Anderson and Stuart Broad are the two leading wicket takers of the decade. With their incredible success, they have taken the phrase hunting in pairs to an altogether different level.
However, if you are wondering why Anderson doesn't feature at number one in the list despite the bucketful of wickets, it is primarily because of his average record in away wins. Anderson has only featured in 11 Tests that England have won away from home, and has 41 wickets to his credit. While he maintains an impressive average of 24.85, he doesn’t have a single five-for to his name. Anderson’s best in an innings away, 4/43, came against West Indies at St George's in April 2015.
In away Ashes, Anderson’s best in an innings is 4 for 44 at Melbourne way back in December 2010. The numbers clearly state that the English’s paceman’s success has been build primarily on home advantage. The story is something similar with Broad, who has merely 28 wickets in 10 away Test wins that he has featured in. Broad thus doesn't make the top five shortlist.
#3. Ravichandran Ashwin
Matches -- 70, Wickets -- 362, Average -- 25.36, Strike Rate -- 53.6, Best Bowling in an innings -- 7/59
By the start of the decade, Harbhajan Singh’s powers had begun to fade. In fact, in the 23 Tests that Singh featured in during the decade, he picked up 74 wickets at an average of 40.05. This is where Ravichandran Ashwin stepped in and took over the mantle of India’s lead spinner rather seamlessly. His transition from IPL to Test cricket has been amazingly successful. 362 wickets in 70 Tests are returns any team would gladly accept. Ashwin has 27 five-fors in the decade, next only to Herath.
Ashwin’s variations, especially his carrom ball, grabbed a lot of headlines during his early years in international cricket. However, with batsmen beginning to read his wrong'un better with time, Ashwin has kept improving his repertoire, and remains a match-winning wicket-taker, in combination with left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, particularly at home. The constant endeavour to outdo opponents has seen Ashwin capturing seven ten-wicket match hauls.
The off-spinner’s best figures in an innings, 7 for 59 (second innings), came against New Zealand at Indore in October 2016. In fact, Ashwin picked up 6 for 81 in the first innings to register career-best match figures of 13 for 140. He picked up nine wickets in his debut Test against West Indies in November 2011. Ashwin’s other memorable performances at home include 7 for 103 and 5 for 95 vs Australia (Chennai 2013), 5 for 32 and 7 for 66 vs South Africa (Nagpur 2015), 6 for 112 and 6 for 55 vs England (Mumbai 2016).
In away Test triumphs, Ashwin has claimed 45 wickets in nine Tests at an average of 23.60. His best of 7 for 83 came against West Indies at North Sound in July 2016. Ashwin also registered two five-fors in Colombo, in August 2015 and August 2017. However, he doesn’t have any five-wicket hauls in Australia, England and South Africa.
#2. Nathan Lyon
Matches -- 93, Wickets -- 370, Average -- 32.36, Strike Rate -- 64.5, Best Bowling in an innings -- 8/50
Undoubtedly, Nathan Lyon is no Shane Warne. But, the fact that Lyon finds himself so high on the list speaks volumes of his grit and ability to maximise his potential. Taking over from Warne was unarguably an unenviable task for Lyon. But, with his volume of wickets, the 32-year-old has created his own legend in world cricket.
Like Ishant, Lyon’s figures are not earth-shattering in any sense. However, he walked into a side that was completely in rebuild mode as Australia lost one legend after the other to retirement. Slowly but surely, Lyon has turned into a world beater, and with a few years still left in his kitty, he might even end up with 500 Test scalps, which will be a huge achievement from someone of whom great feats were never expected.
Lyon’s greatest asset has been his ability to bowl Australia to wins away from home. In away Test triumphs, Lyon has 77 wickets in 17 Tests at an average of 23.85. He picked up 13 wickets in a Test against Bangladesh at Chattogram in September 2017. More significantly, he claimed 6 for 49 in England’s second innings at Birmingham in August this year, 5 for 34 against Sri Lanka at Galle in August 2011, and 4 for 53 at Pune in February 2017, which remains India’s last Test defeat at home.
#1. Dale Steyn
Matches -- 59, Wickets -- 267, Average -- 22.29, Strike Rate -- 43.9, Best Bowling in an innings -- 7/51
When it comes to the best Test bowler of the decade, South African legend Dale Steyn towers head and shoulders above the rest. Nagging injuries have restricted Steyn’s appearances to 59 in the decade. But, when fit, he was mostly in a zone of his own. Steyn is among the rare breed of bowlers in world cricket who didn’t need help from the surface to turn in match-winning performances. His pedigree is so great that he could make the most docile of pitches talk. And, when there was seam and bounce of offer, there was little batsmen could do to keep him at bay.
Some of Steyn’s incredible performances came in away wins, which is why he is the clear winner of the Test bowler of the decade. In 10 away wins that the legendary pacer featured in, he picked up 66 wickets at a sensational average of 15.31 and a strike rate of 32.1. His best of 7 for 51 came against India at Nagpur in February 2010. Steyn’s incredible spell of bowling gunned down India, as they fell from 221 for 5 to 233 all out.
In July 2014 at Galle, a surface renowned for assisting spin, Steyn came up with magnificent performances in both innings -- 5 for 54 and 4 for 45 -- to bowl South Africa to a memorable triumph. Further, Steyn also had five-fors in West Indies (Port of Spain, June 2010), Zimbabwe (Harare, August 2014) and England (The Oval, July 2012). Modern batsmen should consider themselves lucky that Steyn retired from Tests in August this year.