It has been more than 84 years since India entered the Test fold. With the nation developing a culture of producing one great batsman after another, the bowlers have not been bestowed the same mystic status. However, their contribution to the evolution of Indian cricket is arguably even more important than their eminent batting team-mates. After all, it takes 20 wickets to win a Test match.
In this regard, ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has been a revelation of sorts over the last couple of seasons. His wicket-taking spree has helped India take shape into a formidable unit under Virat Kohli’s captaincy. During the recently completed second Test against Australia in Bengaluru, the Tamil Nadu off-spinner went past the iconic Bishen Singh Bedi‘s wickets tally and entered a distinguished club.
Here are the top five wicket-takers for India in Test cricket.
#5 Ravichandran Ashwin – 269 wickets
With the wicket of Mitchell Starc in the second innings, Ashwin managed to overhaul Bishan Singh Bedi’s tally of 266 scalps. His average and strike-rate are comfortably better than everyone in this list. To put the numbers in perspective, his average is 4.85 lower than that of the second-best Kapil Dev and he takes a wicket in nine lesser deliveries than the second-most penetrative bowler Zaheer Khan.
Admittedly, Ashwin’s numbers might dip when India embark on their next round of overseas trips. However, if he manages to stay fit and maintains his form over the course of the next five years or so, there’s no telling how high he could go in the list of India’s leading wicket-takers.
*Overall Career – 269 wickets from 47 Tests at an average of 24.79 and strike-rate of 51.4 with 25 five-wicket hauls and 7 ten-wicket hauls
(*Note: All statistics are updated at the end of the second Test between India and Australia in Bengaluru)
#4 Zaheer Khan – 311 wickets
The only left-arm bowler in this list, Zaheer Khan was the cornerstone of one of India’s most successful teams. Possessing the tactical nous of setting a batsman up, he methodically worked on his prey and delivered several game-changing spells for his country.
When he broke through the ranks in 2000, Zaheer relied primarily on raw pace. However, a County stint with Worcestershire in 2006 helped him acquire the ability to outthink a batsman. Since then, he relentlessly troubled opposition teams across conditions ranging from Trent Bridge to Mohali.
A slew of high-impact spells propelled India to the top of the Test rankings in 2009. Zaheer’s value to the side was evident in the 2011 England tour when his early injury emotionally crippled the bowling attack.
Overall Career – 311 wickets from 92 Tests at an average of 32.94 and strike-rate of 60.4 with 11 five-wicket hauls and 1 ten-wicket haul
#3 Harbhajan Singh – 417 wickets
Capable of extracting vicious bounce from the good length area on pitches with a semblance of turn, Harbhajan Singh and his top-spinner confounded numerous world-class batsmen during the 2000s. Nicknamed the ‘Turbanator’ for his exploits against Australia in the unforgettable 2001 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the off-spinner formed a dangerous partnership with Anil Kumble.
With 417 scalps, Harbhajan is the joint tenth-highest wicket-taker (along with Dale Steyn) among all nations. Even though he has not officially announced his retirement yet, it is highly unlikely he will be able to add to his wickets tally.
Overall Career – 417 wickets from 103 Tests at an average of 32.46 and strike-rate of 68.5 with 25 five-wicket hauls and 5 ten-wicket hauls
#2 Kapil Dev – 434 wickets
To a nation that had considered fast bowling as an exotic art, Kapil Dev’s arrival granted succour and ultimately self-respect. Sunil Gavaskar still recalls the glee on the Indian slip fielders’ faces when the ball thudded onto the wicket-keeper’s gloves during the 1978 Faisalabad Test.
Upon beginning his career as a tear-away quick, Kapil gradually perfected the outswinger to become a serious threat with the new ball. Often toiling hard on unresponsive tracks in India, his distribution of wickets between home and away (219-215) stands as a testament to his versatility. When he left the game, the ‘Haryana Hurricane’ did so as the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket.
Overall Career – 434 wickets from 131 Tests at an average of 29.64 and strike-rate of 63.9 with 23 five-wicket hauls and 2 ten-wicket hauls
#1 Anil Kumble – 619 wickets
Shunning the leg-spinner’s classic weapon of flight, Anil Kumble defeated batsmen through control and quickness off the surface. He remains the third most prolific wicket-taker in Test history after fellow spin giants Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne.
In matches won, Kumble’s collection of 288 wickets and average of 18.75 reiterates his stature as India’s greatest Test bowler. Often unplayable on the third and fourth innings when pitches begin to deteriorate, he was the primary reason behind his team’s indomitable home record in the 90s. After a stellar 18-year career, he returned to the dressing room last year in a different capacity.
Overall Career – 619 wickets from 132 Tests at an average of 29.65 and strike-rate of 65.9 with 35 five-wicket hauls and 8 ten-wicket hauls