Kagiso Rabada

The five youngest bowlers to reach top spot in the ICC Test Rankings

ICC rankings

Hit For Six!

Kagiso Rabada is the youngest player to reach the top of the Test bowling rankings. Who else reached the top at a tender age?

By returning figures of 3-34 and 2-41 in South Africa’s New Year’s Test victory over India at Cape Town, Kagiso Rabada leap-frogged England’s James Anderson to top the MRF ICC Rankings for Test bowlers. He became the seventh South African to reach top spot following Dale Steyn, Shaun Pollock, Hugh Tayfield, Peter Pollock, Vernon Philander and Aubrey Faulkner – who uniquely managed to top both Test batting and bowling tables.
However, a little-known record set by Rabada this week was the fact that he became the youngest player to ever top the Test bowling table, surpassing a record which had stood since the 19th Century. Here we count down the youngest Test bowlers to reach the top spot.
5. Waqar Younis, Age: 8448 days, January 1993

With his potent in-swinging yorkers and fearsome pace, the Pakistani speedster brought a new word to the cricketing vocabulary.  Batsmen were “Waqared” with legs or stumps spread-eagled with alarming regularity throughout his Test career – no more so than at Hamilton in the 1993 New Year’s Test.  His figures of 4-59 and 5-22 helped his side to a thrilling 33-run victory when the home side collapsed to just 93 all out chasing a mere 127 to win.  That effort moved him above Curtly Ambrose into top spot, wherein total he spent 39 matches (367 days) as the top-ranked Test bowler between 1993 and 1995.
Waqar Younis
Waqar Younis
4. Joey Palmer, Age: 8,410 days, March 1882

A medium-paced spinner who was often unplayable on pitches favouring his type of bowling, he led Australia’s attack in the early years of Test cricket.  Having taken eleven wickets in the February 1882 Test at Sydney which Australia won by five wickets, he followed up with nine more wickets the following month at the same venue.  His figures of 5-46 and 4-44 brought another home victory – this time by six wickets – and propelled him to the top of the bowling table, ahead of Fred Spofforth.  His reign at the top lasted 12 matches and 933 days between 1882 and 1886, when he fractured his knee and was never the same again.
George ‘Joey’ Palmer (left) drawn alongside fellow Australian Hugh Massie
George ‘Joey’ Palmer (left) drawn alongside fellow Australian Hugh Massie
3. Ian Botham, Age: 8,309 days, August 1978

It is doubtful if anyone has had such a spectacular start to their Test career as Ian Botham.  It took him a mere 11 Tests to overtake team-mate Bob Willis and reach number one for the first time.  At that stage he had taken 64 wickets at just 16.54 runs apiece and it was his match return of 6-101 and 5-39 against New Zealand at Lord’s which moved him into top spot.  At that stage, he was also averaging more than forty with the bat too.  Injuries took their toll later in his career, but he still spent 60 Tests – 845 days – as the top-ranked bowler between 1978 and 1980 – no mean feat considering he was competing with the West Indian pacemen, Dennis Lillee and Richard Hadlee at the time.
Ian Botham was probably the most prolific all-rounder to turn out for England
Ian Botham was probably the most prolific all-rounder to turn out for England
2. George Lohmann, Age: 8,288 days, February 1888

Although the game has changed unrecognisably from the early days of Test cricket, George Lohmann’s career bowling figures still inspire awe now – more than a hundred years after his death.  He still owns the best bowling average and strike rate of any bowler with more than fifty Test wickets and held the world record for the best innings bowling figures for more than sixty years.  His first great performance came at The Oval in 1886 when he took twelve wickets and after returning 8-35 at Sydney in early 1887 he returned the following year to take 5-17 and 4-35 to rout Australia for just 42 and 82.  He lost top spot later that year but reclaimed it after a sensational 1896-96 series in South Africa in which he took 35 wickets at just 5.80 apiece.  He spent a total of six matches and 339 days on top.
George Lohmann (fifth from the left in the front row) poses with Surrey County Cricket Team in 1887
George Lohmann (fifth from the left in the front row) poses with Surrey County Cricket Team in 1887
1. Kagiso Rabada, Age: 8,261 days, January 2018

And so to the latest table-topper.  He first captured the limelight at ICC U/19 World Cup 2014 in the UAE when South Africa won the title.  He took 14 wickets in the tournament, including 6-25 against Australia and subsequently made his Test debut at Mohali the following year.  He took a match haul of 13-144 against England at Centurion in early 2016 and took ten in the match against Sri Lanka at Cape Town in January 2017 to move into the world’s top ten for the first time. He continued to impress throughout the year, with another ten-wicket haul coming against Bangladesh at Bloemfontein in October before his Cape Town efforts finally pushed him top.  No one-trick pony, he also reached the top spot in the ODI bowling table – albeit for just five days – in May and June 2017.

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