Bowlers in T20: The Impact Makers

A look at the top impact makers with the ball across all T20 cricket.

By Jaideep Varma and Jatin Thakkar

It is interesting that in what is largely considered a batsman’s format, bowlers not only hold their own they even dominate it in some quarters. The glamorous aspect of big-hitting batsmanship (the most prominent in this format) however does not let them bask in the limelight for too long. Hence, a piece like this will probably be very revealing to most fans of the game.

What is even more revealing is that spinners, who are considered cannon fodder by casual viewers of this format of the game, are actually the highest impact bowlers in this format. 4 out of the 5 highest impact bowlers in T20 cricket internationals and also domestics around the world are spinners (that’s 8 of the highest impact 10 bowlers discussed here). Some of this does indeed have to do with the role of spinners in this format – most of them do not bowl during the powerplay and death overs – but they also don’t get the benefit of easy wickets being squandered due to excessive risks. 

T20 Internationals

The following are the five highest impact bowlers in T20 Internationals.


Ajantha Mendis – It is one of the great mysteries of modern-day cricket why he has not got more games (and why IPL teams don’t fall over each other to get him and then play him as their strike bowler). The most effective wicket-taker on this list, and pretty much all others (in T20Is), both top/middle-order wickets and lower-order wickets, he has also a remarkable run-saving capacity. He tops this list despite not having a single Series/Tournament-defining performance – a testament to his consistency and effectiveness as a bowler.

Shahid Afridi –
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Afridi’s extraordinary improvement as a bowler came with the advent of T20 cricket. Maybe the shorter format focussed his intensity as a bowler more than anything else had before – and it famously affected his fortunes as a 50-over bowler too (and curiously affected his overall batting adversely). His ability as a big match player puts him so high on this list.

Daniel Vettori – It would not be hyperbolic to say that this is the format that Vettori made his own, as it brought his biggest strength as a bowler – the ability to choke runs, into the forefront (a key function in this format). This quality makes him one of the premier T20 bowlers in the world in both internationals and domestics.

Abdur Razzak – A lethal wicket-taker in this format – Bangladesh’s highest impact T20 bowler also has taken several wickets in succession to have the highest Pressure Building IMPACT here. If his team had helped him add a tournament-defining performance, he might well have been number 2 on this list. 

Irfan Pathan –
India’s biggest loss in the last decade has been Irfan Pathan’s decline as a bowler. He was at his best when India famously took to T20 cricket (in 2007, when they won the T20 World Cup) – and his tournament-defining performance also comes from that phase.

3 Highest Impact T20 International Bowling performances (Tournament Context):

These performances are high impact for the timing of the performances – they all came in a knock-out game with the bowler’s team going on to win the tournament – in other words, these are all tournament-defining performances in varying degrees (some semis, some finals).

1) IK Pathan, 3-16 in 4 overs v Pakistan in Johannesburg (neutral venue), 2007 – Bowling IMPACT 6.12


The most significant T20 match in Indian history, and perhaps cricket history, as it led to the advent of the IPL. Pathan’s outstanding bowling in the middle overs won him the Man-of-the Match award – he strangled run-scoring and took wickets, including two in quick succession to send Pakistan in a tizzy during a crucial phase (Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi in a space of 1 run at 76-4). Later, he took another one with the last ball of his spell, as Pakistan looked out of it (104-7 at that stage). The comeback they made thereafter (off Harbhajan and Sreesanth) was further accentuated by Irfan Pathan’s absence from the bowling line-up thereafter.

2) S Sreesanth, 2-12 in 4 overs v Australia  in Durban, 2007 – Bowling IMPACT 5.55


In the 2007 semi-final match rightly famous for Yuvraj Singh’s majestic 70 off 30 balls, no one perhaps remembers the impact Sreesanth’s bowling made. In a match where the average run-rate was 9 runs an over, Sreesanth averaged 3 an over. He also took the first two wickets to fall in the Australian innings (Gilchrist and Hayden, the second at a crucial juncture) and set up the match for India on the field.

3)  Shahid Afridi, 2-16 in 4 overs v South Africa  in Nottingham, 2009 – Bowling IMPACT 4.50


In the first semi-final of the 2009 World Cup, which Pakistan went on to win, South Africa were 40-1 when Afridi came on to bowl in the 7th over. He bowled out his 4 overs non-stop, and at the end of the 13th over, South Africa were 73-3, with Afridi having accounted for Gibbs and de Villiers, and completely strangled the batsmen. It would prove to be a match-winning effort with just the ball. If you combine this what he did with the bat earlier (51 off 34 balls – actually higher impact than even what he did with his bowling) – this would have to be have to be one of the highest impact performances in T20 cricket ever.

3 Highest Impact T20 International Bowling performances (Match Context):

These memorable performances are only within a match context.

1) TG Southee, 5-18 in 4 overs v Pakistan in Auckland, 2010 – Bowling IMPACT 8.78


New Zealand thrashed Pakistan in a T20 series in their backyard 3-0 (all with big margins) and in the first match, Pakistan had an excellent start – they were 51-1 after 5 overs and looked set to put on a big score. Yorker-specialist Tim Southee came on, and had taken 3 wickets before his second over was finished. By the time his spell was completed, he had taken two more wickets and given away hardly anything - Pakistan were 75-6 – all advantage gone. They managed 143 eventually but the Kiwis won comfortably by 5 wickets.

2) SJ Benn, 4-6 in 4 overs v Zimbabwe in Trinidad, 2010 – Bowling IMPACT 8.34


In the sole T20I of the Zimbabwe tour of West Indies in 2010, West Indies opened with left-arm orthodox bowler Sulaiman Benn, and Zimbabwe were soon 0-3, then 11-4 – all wickets taken by Benn (who finished for 4-6 eventually). Zimbabwe stuttered to 105 and then…guess what? A bizarre batting display saw West Indies just manage 79-7 in 20 overs, and Zimbabwe won by 26 runs. The Zimbabwe spinners actually outclassed the West Indian batsmen on a two-paced pitch, despite Benn’s amazing figures.

3) DL Vettori, 3-6 in 4 overs v Bangladesh in Hamilton, 2010 – Bowling IMPACT 8.14


In the only T20I of Bangladesh’s tour of New Zealand in 2010, Bangladesh were 39-2 after 6 overs when Vettori came on. In the three overs he bowled consecutively, he changed the game, as Bangladesh were left reeling at 53-5 after 11 overs. Eventually, Bangladesh managed 78 and New Zealand finished off the match in their 9th over, winning by 10 wickets.

The following are the five highest impact bowlers in T20 Domestic matches across the world.


Sunil Narine – Currently making a serious mark in the IPL for KKR, 23-year-old Trini – Sunil Narine is actually the highest impact bowler in T20 domestic history (whatever the sample sizes of this format allow us to determine). Highly proficient in choking runs and squeezing out wickets from that.
Cliffe Deacon – The only fast-medium bowler in this highest impact list, this 31-year-old South African who plays predominantly for Eagles, has been surprisingly (or perhaps not that surprisingly) overlooked by the IPL.

Ganesh Gaikwad
– Pune Warriors had him last year but he has not played IPL yet. His ability to choke runs while picking a reasonable amount of wickets was on display in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy over the last three seasons. At 24, surely his career should just be beginning.

Devendra Bishoo
– The most lethal wicket-taker in T20 domestic cricket – this 26-year-old legbreak bowler from Guyana is another one whom IPL franchises should be falling over each other to sign up.

Samuel Badree – The most economical T20 domestic bowler by a distance. Not surprisingly again, yet to play in the IPL. Not a prolific wicket-taker but a perfect example of how that doesn’t matter that much in this format of the game.

It is indeed very interesting that 3 of the 5 highest impact T20 domestic bowlers in the world today are West Indian spinners. A sign of how thought-processes might have dramatically changed in the Caribbean in a very short span.

3 Highest Impact T20 Domestic Bowling performances (Tournament Context):

These performances are high impact for the timing of the performances – they all came in a knock-out game with the bowler’s team going on to win the tournament – in other words, these are all tournament-defining performances in varying degrees (some semis, some finals).

1) J Ormand, 4-11 in 4 overs v Warwickshire in Nottingham, 2003 – Bowling IMPACT 9.20


In the Twenty20 final of 2003, Surrey medium-pacer Jimmy Ormand destroyed Warwickshire straight up, reducing them to 33-5 of which he took 4 wickets. It knocked the stuffing out of them as they somehow staggered to 115 in about 18 overs. Surrey knocked off the runs in 11 overs, losing just one wicket.

2) MM Mabuza, 5-14 in 4 overs v Northerns (Zimbabwe) in Bulawayo, 2009 – Bowling IMPACT 7.70


In the Metropolitan Bank Twenty20 final in 2009, Westerns first put up a seemingly inadequate 116. Northerns raced to 60-odd for 2 in the 10th over, and looked like they’d finish the match with time to spare. Mbekezeli Mabuza, a remarkably versatile player, came on to bowl off-spin, and changed the match in a matter of minutes by taking 5 wickets in 4 consecutive overs. Despite the presence of Tatenda Taibu (who stayed unbeaten on 28), Northerns could not keep the panic at bay, as they fell short by 4 runs.

3) DE Bollinger, 4-13 in 4 overs v Deccan Chargers in Mumbai, 2010 – Bowling IMPACT 7.48


The 2nd semi-final in IPL 2010 - chasing CSK’s 142, DC have started calmly (conversely, CSK have kept things in control), with 19-0 in 5 overs. Then, Bollinger gets Gilchrist, and DC know their biggest source of magic is gone. Bollinger gets Suman shortly too – and the rest is attrition cricket. Bollinger is impossible to get away – and he finishes with figures that get him the Man-of-the-Match award.

3 Highest Impact T20 Domestic Bowling performances (Match Context):

These memorable performances are only within a match context.

1) JPR Scantlebury-searles, 4-5 in 3 overs v Canada in Bridge Town Barbados, 2011 – Bowling IMPACT 13.52


Barbados play Canada in January 2011 in a Group B game of the Caribbean T20. Barbados make 139-7 in their 20 overs. Javon Searles bowls a surreal second over in the Canada innings, where he gets 3 wickets – it is 3-3. He takes one more shortly, and Canada are 15-5, fight extinguished. The rain comes down shortly and ends the match at 29-5 in 6 overs, where the par D/L score is 63.

2) M Diwakar, 5-6 in 3.1 overs v Tripura in Dhanbad, 2009 – Bowling IMPACT 10.12


In a group match of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2009, Tripura batted first and Mihir Diwakar ran through them completely without opposition. In 3.1 overs, he took 5-6 and Tripura were dismissed for the lowest total in T20 cricket – 30. A 10-wicket win took 15 more minutes to achieve. Match over in an hour and five minutes. 

3) JC Maynard 4-9 in 4 overs v St Kitts in Antigua, 2006 – Bowling IMPACT 9.24


Stanford 20/20 tournament match between Nevis and St Kitts in 2006. John Maynard started quietly, giving 5 runs in the first over, no wickets. 1 run in his second. 1 run and two wickets in his third. 3 runs and 2 wickets in the fourth. End of over 7, 29-6 when he finishes his spell. Nevis just about managed 100 still. St Kitts knocked it off in 11 overs, winning by 7 wickets.

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