It has been almost seven years that Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan retired from Test cricket but his legacy still looms large on the sport. The legendary off-spinner had a lasting impact in establishing Sri Lanka as one of the top cricketing nations.
By the time he retired, in July 2010, Muralitharan had claimed 800 wickets in just 133 matches in Test cricket – the first bowler to do so in the history of the game. To this day, the record stands with no other bowler coming even close to his mark.
Since Murali’s retirement, however, no other spinner has quite yet been able to take on his mantle. Indeed, a few have come close but no other spinner has been as feared as he was during his heydeys.
Here, we take a look at seven of the most successful spinners in Test cricket since Muralitharan’s retirement.
(*Note: All statistics are updated as of the time of writing)
#7 Yasir Shah – 124 wickets
After Saeed Ajmal’s ban from international cricket, it was Yasir Shah who led the Pakistani spin attack. The 30-year-old leg-spinner made his Test debut in October 2014 (four years after Murali’s retirement), against Australia in the United Arab Emirates and has never looked back since.
He picked up his first five-wicket haul in the next series against New Zealand. When Pakistan toured Sri Lanka the following year, he became the fastest Pakistani bowler to claim 50 Test wickets. The wrist spinner then went on improving on his Test record and would soon become the second fastest bowler in the world to claim 100 wickets in Test cricket.
As of now, Yasir has amassed 124 dismissals to his name in just 23 Test matches at an average of 31.52. Yes, he has shown a lot of promise but given how less Pakistan feature in Test matches (as opposed to other nations), it is very unlikely he will ever catch up with Muralitharan.
#6 Ravindra Jadeja – 129 wickets
Ravindra Jadeja was first called up to the national team following his impressive performances at the start of the 2012–13 Ranji Trophy season in which he notched up two triple centuries. The southpaw made his debut in the fourth Test match of England’s tour of India in 2012.
Although brought in primarily as a batting all-rounder, Jadeja has, since then, established his credentials as a top spinner. Over the years, he has forged a formidable partnership with Ravichandran Ashwin and the duo has played an important role in helping India climb to the top of the rankings.
The left-arm orthodox spinner has picked up 129 wickets in 28 Test matches at an average of 23.44. His recent performances, in fact, have seen him climb to the top of the ICC rankings for Test bowlers alongside Ashwin.
The 28-year-old still has a long way to go before he can catch up with Muralitharan but he can definitely be one of the most successful left-arm spinners in the history of the game.
#5 Saeed Ajmal – 160 wickets
Yet another Pakistani spinner finds his name on this list. Saeed Ajmal was the one who had taken the art of doosra to a whole new level. However, the ICC imposed a ban on him over his bowling action and cut his career short.
The off-spinner had mastered the one that spins the other way and had used it to good effect in international cricket. Yes, he was late to arrive on the scene – debuting at 31, when he was fielded against Sri Lanka back in 2009. However, he was quick to get off the blocks and claimed his first 100 dismissals in just 19 Tests.
Until his ban, Ajmal picked up a total of 169 wickets in 33 Test matches, out of which 160 came after Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement in July 2010. Had it not been for the problems with his action, he could have gone down as one of the best off-spinners in the history of the game.
#4 Graeme Swann – 164 wickets
The only bowler on this list who has already retired from the game, Graeme Swann is one of England’s most successful spinners in Test cricket. Although he was first included in the national squad in 1999, the off-spinner had to wait until 2008 to make his Test debut in a match against India.
The following year, he played a vital role in England’s Ashes victory over Australia. He contributed both with bat and ball as England clinched the hard-fought series 2-1. Again, in the 2010-11 Ashes, Swann was a key member of England’s squad that won the series 3-1. At that time, England even ascended to the top of the rankings in Test cricket.
However, following a recurring elbow injury, the offie was forced to retire in December 2013. Through the course of his career, Swann claimed 255 wickets in 60 Test matches. However, the majority of his wickets – 164, to be precise – came after Murali’s retirement from Test cricket in 2010.
#3 Nathan Lyon – 241 wickets
Nathan Lyon has been Australia’s premier spinner in the last few years. The offie had the Indian cricket team in their hunches in the recently concluded Test match in Bangalore where he took eight wickets in the first innings.
His ability to spin the ball a lot and to extract bounce off any pitch at the same time has helped to him to be one of the top spinners of the current generation. When he made his debut in 2011, he made an immediate impact, picking up a wicket in his first delivery against Sri Lanka. Since then, he has never had to look back.
Only 29 years old, Lyon has a long way ahead of him. So far, in 65 Test matches, he has picked up 241 wickets. Whether or not he can possibly catch up with Muralitharan, will depend on how much Australia tour the sub-continent in the coming days. Anyway, it would be a remarkable feat.
#2 Ravichandran Ashwin – 269 wickets
Since his Test debut against the West Indies in November 2011, Ravichandran Ashwin has been India’s most successful bowler and has played a pivotal role in India’s ascension to the top of the Test rankings. His recent exploits in the ongoing Test series against Australia saw him break into the top 5 Indian wicket-tackers.
While many have argued that he wouldn’t be as successful as he is if the pitches were less spin-friendly, the matter of fact is, Ashwin is one of the most skilful spinners in world cricket at the moment. With a host of variations up his sleeve, he has proved time and again how vital he is to the Indian team’s progression in Test cricket.
In just 47 Test matches, the 30-year-old has picked up 269 wickets at an incredible average of 24.79. Clearly, the numbers speak for themselves and if there is one bowler who can realistically come close to Murali’s feat then it is Ashwin.
#1 Rangana Herath – 295 wickets
Since Murali’s retirement, Rangana Herath has spearheaded Sri Lanka’s spin bowling department. The left-arm spinner has, on many occasions, almost single-handedly won the match for his country. Recently, he broke the record for the highest wickets by a left-arm spinner in Test cricket when he overtook Daniel Vettori.
Herath debuted back in 1999 when he rose to prominence with his mystery ball. However, he would be dropped after only two matches only to make a comeback 10 years later in 2009. In his comeback match, he won the man of the match award and since then he has been on the rise.
Filling the big gaping hole left by Murali’s retirement was not an easy task but Herath has done a very commendable job so far. In his career, he has claimed 366 wickets, out of which 295 have come after Murali’s retirement. The numbers are a testimony to how crucial he has been to Sri Lanka’s fortunes in Test cricket over the last few years.