Left-arm orthodox spinners are as important as the leg-spinners for the simple reason that they turn the ball away from the right-handers. While leg-spinners have hogged all the limelight in recent times, the left-arm spin bowlers strive hard to create a name for themselves in cricket.
I have tried to put together a team of the best ever left-arm spinners to grace the field. Performances at Test level are given more importance in this evaluation for the obvious reason that it tests the skill of a spinner more.
11. Monty Panesar
The England spinner was a treat to watch when on song with his rhythmic run-up, fluidic arm movement and guile, and control when bowling. He made his Test debut in India in 2006, and immediately showcased how good a talent he can be with his exceptional skills. While his batting and fielding were ridiculed during the initial stages of his career, his sheer ability to square batsmen up with the ball won him 50 Test caps. He picked up 167 wickets from these matches at an average of 34.71 with 12 five-wicket hauls. He is eighth in the list of most successful left-arm spinners stat-wise.
10. Colin Blythe
Blythe is a rather unfamiliar name in cricketing circles for his feats came way before World War I. His career spanned over a decade from 1900 to 1914 before he gave up cricket to join the English army for the World War, where he lost his life in 1917. He represented Kent and picked up 100 wickets in his very first season, relying on deception through the air and an accurate arm ball to bring about the downfall of batsmen. He was considered unplayable of wickets which assisted spinners and was named Wisden Cricketer of the year in 1904. His 17 wickets in a day remain the most any bowler has taken in a single day of cricket.
9. Iqbal Qasim
Iqbal Qasim was a rather underrated spinner from Pakistan who relied on accuracy and control. His career was overshadowed by the more celebrated Abdul Qadir, but people often forget the fact that Qasim had an impressive average, even better than Qadir’s, and picked up wickets at a rate better than that of Lance Gibbs. He was very much a modern spinner with his skiddy, accurate bowling and variations in pace. He is the only Pakistan left-arm spinner to capture more than 100 Test wickets. He finished with 171 wickets in 50 Tests, a shade above Panesar but averaged 28.11 and struck at a rate of 76.1.
8. Tony Lock
Graham Tony Lock was often regarded as one of England’s finest spinners of all time. He and Jim Laker formed a potent partnership as soon bowlers and created a nightmare for batsmen in an era where fast bowlers were the more feared group. He is more remembered for spoiling Jim Laker’s perfect 20 in a Test when he swooped in to pick up a wicket as Laker finished with 19. He kept tweaking his much-criticised action right through his career but that did not deter him from picking up 174 wickets in 49 Tests at an average of 25.58, best among the six left-arm spinners up to him in the top wicket-taker’s list.
7. Ravindra Jadeja
While Jadeja’s name in a list of several greats of the game might raise a few eyebrows, there is no denying the fact that he has been a terrific bowler statistically in Test cricket. For a simple fact, among left-arm spinners with atleast 120 Test wickets, nobody in the history of the game has a better average than Jadeja’s 23.73. His strike rate is second to Rangana Herath alone, the most successful left-arm spinner of all-time. Jadeja relies on pace variations, accuracy and control to fox batsmen and has worked his magic mostly within the sub-continent but this is true for most Asian spinners. As such his 165 wickets in 35 Tests puts him at no.7 in this team of left-arm spinners.
6. Wilfred Rhodes
Wilfred Rhodes is the first Englishman to complete the double of 1000 runs and 100 Test wickets. He quickly established himself as one of the finest slow bowlers in the World. However, his batting took over soon after World War I and he is more known for his batting skills and stupendous record-breaking feats rather than his skillful bowling which remains a mystery area to date. He possessed sharp spin, exceptional control and deceived batsmen in flight. His 127 wickets came in 58 Tests at an average of 26.96 and a strike rate of 64.7.
5. Shakib Al Hasan
The Bangladeshi all-rounder is the fifth most successful Test spinner among the category of left-arm orthodox spinners. While not a huge turner of the ball, his queer action, and deadly arm ball have carved a niche for itself in World cricket. He has been in the Bangladesh side for more than a decade now and has 188 wickets in 51 Tests at an average of 32.37. His average is better than that of Daniel Vettori while his strike rate trumps that of Bishan Singh Bedi, Derek Underwood, and Vinoo Mankad.
4. Derek Underwood
Often considered as a mix of left-arm medium bowling and left-arm spin, Underwood was nicknamed “Deadly” by his teammates for his ability to don an unplayable Avatar on wet wickets. Accuracy was his strongest skill and he used it to force the batsmen to make a mistake. Underwood is known to have deciphered the Indian sub-continent where most of the reputed overseas spinners like Muralitharan and Warne struggled to make an impact. In 16 Tests in India, he picked up 54 wickets at an average of 26.51. He finished his career with 297 Test wickets at an average of 25.83 and a strike rate of 73.6. His deadly accuracy gave him an economy of 2.10, among the best in the history of the game.
3. Bishan Singh Bedi
One of the finest exponents of slow left-arm bowling in his prime days, Bishen Singh Bedi was a textbook style spinner, the one who you would pick to tutor a group of young spinners. His flight, loop in the air and dip remain unmatched in the history of the game. Drift, turn, flight, dip…he had it all in his repertoire and wound a web around d hapless batsmen. He used pace variation along with the flight to deceive batsmen with some of the flighted deliveries quickening up after pitching. He finished his First-class career with 1560 wickets and is the fourth most successful left-arm spinner of all-time with 266 scalps in 67 Tests at an average of 28.71.
2. Daniel Vettori
The reputed New Zealand left-arm spinner lived in the shadows of some of the best spinners the game has known – Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble and Saqlain Mushtaq. He is probably the most underrated cricketer of his generation for his herculean feats with the ball often went unnoticed against the longevity of the aforementioned spinners. Vettori picked up 705 wickets across formats and handled New Zealand’s spin department all by himself for a quite a long time. Despite having to play on some of the most seamer-friendly wickets in the World, Vettori finished with 362 Test wickets in 113 matches at an average of 34.36 and a strike rate of 79.5 with 20 five-wicket hauls.
1. Rangana Herath
His numbers speak for themselves. 415 wickets in 89 Tests at an average of 28.17 and a strike rate of 60.0 makes him the most deadly left-arm spinner ever in cricket history. He has 33 five-fors in the Test format, a record among left-arm spinners. He is the only left-arm spinner to pick up more than 409 Test wickets.
Unlike most of the other famed Sri Lankan spinners, there is no mystery about Herath the spinner. He is a conventional spinner who relies on flight, turn, and accuracy to bamboozle batsmen. Subtle variations in pace and flight are his forte and he has never even attempted to change the same throughout his career. He has leaped over Wasim Akram’s tally of wickets and is now the most successful left-arm bowler (pace or spin) to walk the face of the earth.