The Wisden Cricketer - February 2008 January 24, 2008

The men with the most

Before Warne and Murali jumped ahead, other bowlers held the distinction of being the leading wicket-takers of the time. The Wisden Cricketer trawls through the record-breakers of their day

Before Warne and Murali jumped ahead, other bowlers held the distinction of being the leading wicket-takers of the time. The Wisden Cricketer trawls through the record-breakers of their day

Who is better? Warne or Muralitharan? 'There has possibly never been a sporting debate so poisonously polarising' © AFP

1 Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan - December 2007
Back and forth they went, light-footed, rubber-wristed, heavyweight conjurors from opposite sides of the track, duelling for that sacred grail until Warne stuck on 708, leaving the younger man to carry on twisting. If only the Australian maestro's doughty efforts to undermine the Sri Lankan sorcerer's challenge had not been quite so unseemly. As to who is better, there has possibly never been a sporting debate so poisonously polarising.

2 Allen Hill - March 1887
His action made Lasith Malinga's look textbookish. Short of run-up, defiantly round-arm of mode, it brought him the first Test wicket of all when he bowled the exquisitely named Australian Nathaniel Frampton Davis Thomson ("Nat" to everyone) for 1 at the MCG. The Yorkshireman also held the first catch, and once clean-bowled six Surrey batsmen in each innings.

3 Johnny Briggs - February 1895
Briggs, a tragic Lancastrian slow left-armer, was first to three figures after seeing off Affie Jarvis at the SCG, but it was a typically bittersweet landmark: Australia won by an innings. Briggs narrowly beat Charlie Turner to 100 wickets; the Australian managed it two days later in the same match. An epileptic, Briggs suffered a seizure during the 1899 Headingley Test and died in an asylum. While there, it is said, he imagined himself bowling in the ward and at the end of each day announced his figures to nurses.

4 George Lohmann - March 1896
Some of the deft Surrey medium-pacer's milestones are unlikely to be surpassed. The first to take nine wickets in a Test innings and to conclude a Test with a hat-trick, he still owns the lowest average and best strike-rate by anyone with 100-plus wickets (10.75 and 34.1). He overtook Briggs with his 104th, though Briggs, in a feat not emulated until Murali and Warney began grappling, soon reclaimed the throne. Died at 36 of TB.

George Lohmann still owns the lowest average and best strike-rate by anyone with 100-plus wickets © Getty Images

5 Hugh Trumble - January 1904
Beat Briggs's eventual 118 before sticking on 141, all Poms. No one dismissed more Englishmen for 75 years until another moustachioed Australian, Dennis Lillee, usurped him. Trumble's moustache was spectacular; Monty Noble likened his neck to that of "a gigantic bird"; Pelham Warner dubbed him "that great camel". Opponents were undone by an unorthodox offspinner who baffled with changes of pace, trajectory, and fiendish bounce. He is the only man who, in his final act as a Test player, contrived a hat-trick.

6 SF Barnes - December 1913
Rumbled Trumble en route to a final tally of 189 that, but for the Great War, might have been many more. Even now no one can touch the 49 scalps he reaped in four Tests against South Africa in 1913-14. Unhelpfully, he treated his captains with about as much deference as Fidel Castro accords the White House. "There's only one captain when I'm bowling," he proclaimed, "and that's me." Or, as Archie MacLaren consoled himself during a rocky post-Ashes voyage: "At least if we go down, we'll take that bugger Barnes down with us."

7 Clarrie Grimmett - January 1936
The first to 200 in February 1936, this gnomic Australian flipper fiend would have looked more at home in the Lord of the Rings than at Lord's. Arthur Mailey reckoned him "one of the gentlest bowlers" but he was also a health hazard. Victoria gave him only five outings in six years - well, he was Kiwi-born and he was in his 30s before South Australia gave him a regular gig. A mystery never solved, he took 73 wickets in nine Sheffield Shield games at the age of 48. His next job, selling insurance, was apt.

8 Brian Statham - January 1963
The Lancashire stalwart passed Alec Bedser's 236 when his mucker/rival Fred Trueman caught Barry Shepherd at Adelaide. A walking advert for the benefits of the post-stumps fag and pint, he bowled straight, talked straighter. "If I want to get fit for bowling," he once divulged with characteristically fearless pragmatism, "I do a lot of bowling." Raffles to Trueman's Bill Sykes, according to Old Trafford legend he once proved his fitness for a Test by hitting a single stump, then when asked, repeated the trick. Never knowingly underbowled.

Brian Statham: never knowingly underbowled © The Cricketer International

9 Fred Trueman - March 1963
Took barely six weeks to prowl ahead of Statham, skewering New Zealand's Barry Sinclair at Christchurch en route to nine in a match that he finished as the first to 250. Not a bad postscript to an Ashes tour that saw him at his diplomatic best. What did Fred think of "our bridge", wondered one Sydneysider? "Your bridge," he harrumphed. "Our bloody bridge you should say - bugger it - a Yorkshire firm built it and you bastards still ain't paid for it."

10 Dennis Lillee - December 1981
Passed Lance Gibbs' record of 309 and held on for another five years before Aussie-tormentor Ian Botham knocked him down the list. Being DK Lillee must have been fun. Wickedly witty ("Geoffrey [Boycott] is the only fellow I've met who fell in love with himself at a young age and has remained faithful"), fecklessly frank ("I want to hit a batsman ... and I want it to hurt so much he never wants to face me again"), he epitomised the unbearable arrogance of being that fires the world's foremost cricketing nation.

11 Ian Botham - August 1986
The Oval. Beefy has returned from a two-month ban for recklessly inhaling the occasional spliff. With his first ball he ejects New Zealand's Bruce Edgar to equal Lillee's 355. Next ball Jeff Crowe edges past third slip, but he succumbs in Botham's second over. Up trots Graham Gooch: "Blimey, Beef. Who writes your scripts?" Someone with a warped sense of humour, plainly. Later that day Viv Richards phones: Somerset have sacked him and Joel Garner, igniting the mutiny that would see ITB quit Taunton.

This article was first published in the February 2008 edition of The Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here