A casual glance at the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI bowlers shows an unusual top of the table. The top four bowlers are all spinners and three of them – Daniel Vettori, Shakib al Hasan and Ray Price – are left-arm spinners. Graeme Swann – up into third place after his recent successes in England’s ODI series with Pakistan – is the only off-spinner among them. Conversely, a glance at the Test bowling table shows that Swann is the only slow bowler in the top nine, with Harbhajan Singh sneaking in at number ten.
The early years of Test cricket were littered with spinners who reached Number 1 such as Billy Bates, Bobby Peel and Johnny Briggs, but in terms of the shorter form of the game, this current level of success is almost unprecedented.
From the first match played in January 1971 it wasn’t until December 1987 that a spinner managed to reach the number one spot. The early years had been dominated by the speedsters with the likes of Andy Roberts, Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall all enjoying lengthy stays in the number one position. When the breakthrough finally came after the 482nd One Day International ever played, it was a surprising name to make it. And after he had faded from view, it was another six years before another spinner equalled his performance. So – in nearly the first quarter of a century of ODI cricket, only one spinner was able to look down on the rest of the cricketing world.
Seen as the heir-apparent to Bishan Bedi, Maninder Singh debuted as a raw seventeen-year-old against arch-rivals Pakistan in late 1982 and beguiled opposition batsmen with his flight and guile. He was a huge success on India’s triumphant 1986 tour of England in which he took 12 wicket in the three-Test series and although suffering the ignominy of being Greg Matthews's final victim in the second Tied Test at Madras later that year, he continued his successes against Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
His performances also picked up in the shorter form of the game and five years after his debut, his consistent, economical performances saw him move above Malcolm Marshall after taking 1-19 in his nine overs against the West Indies in Guwahati. However, it was an all-too brief stay at the top as two months later Richard Hadlee usurped him. The following year he regained the lead position for another six months before disappearing from the international game in 1989. He did briefly resurface in 1993 but with none of his earlier magic and his first-class career ended at the age of just 29.
His Test career followed a similar path and he peaked at number 6 in March 1987 after he took ten wickets against Pakistan at Bangalore. However, they weren’t enough to bring victory to the home side as Pakistan sneaked home by just 16 runs to claim a 1-0 series win.
It was back to the pacemen after Maninder’s short interlude and it wasn’t until 1995 that a certain Shane Warne managed to muscle his way above Wasim Akram for a brief stay at number one. The floodgates had been opened though, and Saqlain Mushtaq strolled straight through, bamboozling everyone with his newly-invented doosra and enjoying a 49-match stay on top. Muttiah Muralitharan enjoyed a lengthy stay at number one, and Anil Kumble also hit the heights back in 1996, but of the 32 bowlers to top the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI bowlers, only seven have been spinners. Graeme Swann and Ray Price will be hoping to become the eighth in the near future and – with ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 just around the corner – who would bet against them?