Test bowling nominees January 15, 2018

Turn, turn, turn

Seven of our top ten Test bowling performances of 2017 came from spinners. Who was the best?

Steve O'Keefe's 12 for 70 were the best match figures by a visiting spinner in India © Associated Press

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Steve O'Keefe
6 for 35 v India
first Test, Pune

With eight victories in their last nine matches, India were overwhelming favourites, as the Border-Gavaskar Trophy began amid widespread predictions of a 4-0 sweep. But on a dry and spiteful turner in Pune, Australia stunned the home team by besting them in their own game, O'Keefe ruthlessly exposing their frailties against quality spin. Australia had cobbled together 260 after winning a crucial toss; India, in reply, crashed to 105 all out. O'Keefe snared 6 for 35, the wickets arriving in a 25-ball spell on the second day. O'Keefe was relentlessly accurate, and alternated between subtle turn, sharp turn, and on some occasions, no turn, to disintegrate the Indian order. Identical figures in the second innings gave O'Keefe 12 for 70 - the best for a visiting spinner in the country - and India were consigned to their second-biggest home defeat, by 333 runs.

Nathan Lyon
8 for 50 v India
second Test, Bengaluru

Lyon reinvented himself as an offspinner in 2017, ending it as Test cricket's leading wicket-taker of the year, with 63 scalps at 23.55. He flashed some of that brilliance early, when he registered the best innings figures by a visiting bowler in India, on the opening day of a Test no less. With India trailing 1-0, Lyon settled into the ideal pace to suffocate India's batsmen, who displayed uncharacteristic nerves after winning the toss. He stuck to tight lines and lengths, found sharp turn on occasions, used drift, and intelligently varied his trajectory to prevent the batsmen from meeting the pitch. At no juncture was that more evident than during his dismissal of Virat Kohli. With the Indian captain having made a conscious decision to play from the crease, Lyon flattened his trajectory, causing Kohli to misread the length and get hit on the pad.

Keshav Maharaj's career-best figures gave South Africa a big win in Wellington © Getty Images

R Ashwin
6 for 41 v Australia
second Test, Bengaluru

Lyon had limited India to 189. Australia took an 87-run lead. Their pacers then snuffed out a much-improved Indian second innings, sending them hurtling from 238 for 4 to 274 all out. With 188 to get, Australia needed to tick just one more box to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy: negotiate R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on a day-four surface. Their pursuit lasted all of 35.4 overs. Ashwin struck first with Australia well on their way at 42 for 1, nipping out David Warner in a marginal lbw call. Then, with Australia four down, he hastened India's victory push with three wickets in as many overs, relying on the odd explosion outside off, and natural variations that foxed batsmen with their lack of turn. A double-strike in his 13th over wrapped up his 25th Test five-wicket haul and a famous, series-levelling win for India.

Keshav Maharaj
6 for 40 v New Zealand
second Test, Wellington

In a rare Wellington Test where spinners had a fair bit of say, Maharaj produced his career-best performance in the second innings to give South Africa an unassailable 1-0 lead. Typically freezing autumn weather - made harsher by a sharp wind blowing through the Basin Reserve - and a lavish smearing of green on the surface made these far from ideal conditions for spin bowling. But what Maharaj couldn't generate off the surface, he made up for with control. He didn't exactly conjure spitting cobras; he simply enticed batsmen with his lines, and used drift to force error after error. Henry Nicholls was lured into a wide sweep that he edged onto the stumps. Jimmy Neesham and Jeet Raval were drawn out of the crease with loop. Colin de Grandhomme was castled by a ripping turner. And Tim Southee and BJ Watling miscued lofted strokes.

Shannon Gabriel
5 for 11 v Pakistan
second Test, Bridgetown

Battling to keep the series alive, West Indies had conceded an 81-run lead despite a competitive 312. Shai Hope's tenacious 90 gave West Indies' second innings some respectability, but Pakistan had the whole of the final day to knock off 188 runs. Gabriel then cooked up a storm to send them clattering to 81 all out. Gabriel found allies in variable bounce and reverse swing; Azhar Ali became the first victim of that untrustworthy bounce, when Gabriel had him pulling to midwicket. With Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder making for an able support cast, Pakistan, at 36 for 7, were in danger of succumbing to their lowest Test score. Sarfraz Ahmed saved them the ignominy by providing the only meaningful resistance in the company of Mohammad Amir. Gabriel ended it by luring Amir into a drive and then pegging back Yasir Shah's off stump to help West Indies script a famous win.

Shakib Al Hasan now has 17 five-wicket hauls in Test cricket © Getty Images

James Anderson
7 for 42 v West Indies
third Test, Lord's

Running in to a chorus of "Oh Jimmy, Jimmy" from the Lord's faithful, Anderson became the first Englishman to 500 Test wickets, and took his career-best figures to secure a series win for England in the deciding third Test. He claimed an early wicket, ended a brief period of resistance, scythed through the middle order, and wiped out the tail. He got the ball to move prodigiously both ways. The 500th came via an inswinger that flattened Kraigg Brathwaite's middle stump, and his next strike was with one that ripped away from the left-hand Kieran Powell and grazed the top of off. Anderson continued to probe in that channel, getting his fifth with one that cut away and kissed Shai Hope's outside edge. Another scorching inswinger cleaned up Kemar Roach to give Anderson his seventh and wrap up the West Indies second innings.

Shakib Al Hasan
5 for 85 v Australia
first Test, Mirpur

Crafty left-arm spinner. Intrepid batsman. A keen ability to grasp and react to situations. Over a decade, Shakib has evolved into Bangladesh's greatest and most proven match-winner. Never was his value more evident than when he inspired Bangladesh to their maiden Test win over Australia. Shakib dented a sure-footed Australian response to a chase of 265 by ending a burgeoning stand between their two best batsmen, David Warner and Steven Smith. These were typical fourth-day subcontinent conditions, and Shakib used all the variants one could expect from a spinner in such circumstances - loop, flight, sometimes the lack of it, and skiddy turn - to flummox Australia's batsmen. Having begun his 50th Test with a revitalising 84 in Bangladesh's first innings, Shakib closed it out with his second five-for of the match, in a riveting finish.

Nathan Lyon
7 for 94 v Bangladesh
second Test, Chittagong

On a Chittagong track that didn't offer too much in terms of turn, Lyon adjusted by quickening his pace and sliding the ball sharply into the batsmen's pads. He claimed the first four wickets of the Bangladesh innings, all of them lbw, becoming the first bowler in Test history to do so. Each of the four deliveries had been fired in quick through the air. Having bagged a five-for on the opening day, Lyon struck with his second ball the next morning, clattering the stumps of Mushfiqur Rahim with sharp turn. He ended with 7 for 94, limiting Bangladesh to 305. Australia would take a 72-run lead, before Lyon returned to nip out 6 for 60 for his best match haul, 13 for 154, and set up a series-levelling win.

Ranga the raider: Herath took 16 wickets in Sri Lanka's 2-0 win over Pakistan in the UAE © Francois Nel/Getty Images

Rangana Herath
6 for 43 v Pakistan
first Test, Abu Dhabi

A run glut seemed to be tapering towards a listless draw, with both teams racking up totals in excess of 400 in their respective first innings. Well into the fourth day, little separated the two sides, with Pakistan holding a three-run advantage over Sri Lanka's 419. And then, the wickets arrived in a heap. Sri Lanka were sent packing for 138 in 66.5 overs. Pakistan's innings was even briefer. Herath, the master of the fourth innings, found himself front and centre of a stunning turnaround, ripping out six wickets after lunch on the final day. He tantalised Pakistan's batsmen with non-existent turn and had them playing all over his left-arm spin. He went on to complete his 11th fourth-innings five-wicket haul, and get to 400 Test wickets - a quarter of which had come against Pakistan.

Josh Hazlewood
5 for 48 v England
third Test, Perth

England's dubious relationship with 400-plus first-innings totals threw forth an all-too-familiar template, as Australia regained the urn in the WACA's farewell Ashes Test. England won the toss and piled on 403. A Steven Smith double-century and Mitchell Marsh 181 gave Australia a first-innings lead of 259. With the cracks having opened up significantly, Hazlewood expertly used the conditions, sending England hurtling to 218 with his first Ashes five-wicket haul. He made the ball do all sorts of things off the cracks: got it to climb, managed a grubber or two, found movement off them, and got the odd one to stop on the batsman. His 5 for 48 gave Australia an unassailable 3-0 lead.

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Akshay Gopalakrishnan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo