The Pakistani legend is undoubtedly the best left-arm fast bowler of all time, and possibly even the greatest fast bowler ever, according to some experts. High pace, terrifying yorkers, searing bouncers and bewildering variations in the air and off the pitch – Akram was a master of them all, and he changed the face of fast bowling soon after his debut. Akram was also a useful batsman, with a test double century to his name.
Not many will know the name, but before Akram, Davidson was regarded as the finest left-arm fast bowler ever. The Australian was in his pomp in the 1950s and ’60s, and he, like Akram, had pace, swing and seam movement aplenty. He demolished India during a series in 1959, taking 29 wickets at less than 15 runs apiece, in a country where fast bowlers normally came to die. He was a true all-rounder, known for his six-hitting ability and his outstanding catching in the close cordon. Through his test career, he conceded less than two runs per over.
Sir Garfield Sobers
‘Garry’ Sobers is widely regarded as the best cricketer to have lived, bar none, because there was literally nothing he couldn’t do on a cricket field – he was an absolute ace at batting, bowling and fielding. Best-known for his exploits with the willow in his hand, Sobers was also an extraordinarily gifted left-arm bowler, who was able to send down fast, medium-fast and spinning deliveries in the course of one over. Exactly how many of his 235 test wickets were taken with fast deliveries is unknown, but there’s no doubt that his place on this list is a must.
Vaas certainly runs away with the title of ‘left-arm fast bowler with the longest name’ – Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas. Other than verbally tying people in knots, however, Vaas was one of the canniest southpaws to ever hurl a cricket ball in anger. He was quite quick early in his career, but as he cut down on sheer speed, he added variations in pace and an impeccable line and length, all of which would fetch him 855 wickets in tests and ODIs. His 8 for 19 against Zimbabwe remains the best ODI bowling figure of all time.
Indian cricket will be different without ‘Zak’, who recently retired. He led India’s fast bowling pack for just over a decade, and is quite possibly the best ‘impact’ fast bowler we’ve ever had. Beginning life as a young tearaway, with plenty of speed but not much variation, Zaheer quickly mastered the art of thinking a batsman out. Injuries took their toll on his career, but Zak adjusted, becoming one of the smartest fast bowlers of his generation and inspiring others like RP Singh and Irfan Pathan.
Perhaps no bowler on this list used the brute-force technique quite like ‘Mitch’ – he was big, broad, brash on the field and batsmen didn’t want to be at the receiving end of his vicious bouncers, some bowled at over 150 kph. Johnson used pace as his primary weapon, which meant that when his radar was off, he could be hopelessly wayward. When he was firing on all 12 cylinders, however (as he did during his finest hour, the 2013 Ashes series, where he destroyed England with 37 wickets – and a handlebar moustache), it was best to be off strike – just ask Graeme Smith, who had his left and right hands broken by Johnson thunderbolts in successive series. Mitch has just called time on his career, much to the relief of bruised batsmen everywhere.