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The hardest job in cricket: meet the bowlers set to take the T20 World Cup by storm

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Expert
15th October, 2021
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Bowling in Twenty20 cricket is tough.

You have to deal with batsmen physically stronger than ever, wielding bats designed to hit the ball further than ever, and with rules specifically setting up phases of the game to make it easier to score runs than ever. It doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Nevertheless, world cricket is stocked with bowlers who can defy all these obstacles and still win matches for their team at the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup.

Deciding who would make this list was a tough call; it was important to balance factors such as wicket-taking ability, average and also economy rates. On top of that, there was consideration put towards the likelihood that the pitches at the tournnament are going to play lower and slower, making it harder for the quicks to state their case. With all that in mind, here are the bowlers who are set to make an impact and set their team on the path to glory.

>> Every match, every opponent: Check out Australia’s full T20 World Cup fixture

Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh)
T20I stats – 80 matches, 106 wickets at 20.68, economy 6.73

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There’s little doubt Al Hasan deserves to be classed as an all-rounder rather than a bowler alone. But this list is all about the men who will be crucial to their teams with ball in hand – and he definitely ticks that box.

The 34-year old might be in the tail end of his career, but his threat with the ball relies more upon frustrating accuracy and subtle deviation – elements that he’s still able to deliver consistently for Bangladesh.

He’s become a specialist of tying down teams in the middle of their innings just as they are desperate to accelerate; being able to maintain an economy rate of below seven runs per over in that sort of environment is impressive.

Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan celebrates a wicket

Shakib Al Hasan is in rare form at the World Cup. (Photo by Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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His career has not been without incident. He was suspended in 2019 from all cricket for a year just months after a spectacular ODI World Cup campaign, after being found guilty of not reporting approaches from bookies. This year, he was banned for three matches from the Dhaka Premier League when he kicked the stumps and argued with an umpire who had turned down his LBW appeal.

He’s got one final big tournament in him, and the pitches set to be rolled out in the UAE and Oman suit him perfectly. With the Group Stages as a great chance to get into rhythm before facing the top tier nations in the Super 12, Shakib is going to have a big World Cup. Woe betide the batsman – or indeed, umpire – who gets in his way.

Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh)
T20I stats – 52 matches, 76 wickets at 18.65, economy 7.48 rate

Shakib isn’t the only man Bangladesh will be relying upon to deliver: the left-arm seam of ‘the Fizz’ will be just as important.

His ability to move the ball both ways off the wicket at a decent pace has troubled many batsmen in his international career thus far, and the World Cup is the perfect place for him to become a household name worldwide. The pitches will be slower, so his lack of out-and-out pace in the vein of a Jofra Archer or Mitchell Starc won’t be an issue; while his mix of slower balls and lethal yorkers are a brutal combination.

His average and economy rate might seem a little high, but it’s important to remember that the game is harder for bowlers in general and faster bowlers especially. Mustafizur also tends to frequently bowl the so-called ‘death overs’, when batsmen swing for the fences and conceding 10 runs an over is considered more than handy.

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His variations make him effective in the early and late overs of an innings, and he’ll be certain to add many more scalps to his tally of 76 wickets in 52 matches come the end of the World Cup.

Ish Sodhi (New Zealand)
T20I stats – 57 matches, 73 wickets at 21.72, economy 8.07

If you value economy over wickets captured, then finding Sodhi on this list might surprise you. Born in India before moving to New Zealand when he was four years old, the leg-spinner has become a crucial part of the Black Caps’ T20 plans.

When he bowls, he hunts wickets rather than just trying to tie batsmen down, which has seen him pick up 73 scalps so far from his 57 internationals. But that comes with a trade-off: he can leak runs, and he’ll need to be careful opponents don’t target him in the middle overs.

His spin partner, Mitchell Santner, offers control and stability to match Sodhi’s raw wicket-taking ability, allowing the leggie to go on the attack more often. The pair formed a dangerous partnership in the last T20 World Cup back in 2016, when they topped their group over even hosts India before losing to England in a semi-final.

With his aggressive bowling style there will certainly be some fireworks when Sodhi gets the ball. He could be just the game-changer the Kiwis need to add to their World Test Championship crown and become the kings of T20 as well.

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Tabraiz Shamsi (South Africa)
T20I stats – 42 matches, 49 wickets at 21.63, economy 6.79

Go on, guess who the top-rated bowler in the ICC T20 rankings is heading into the tournament. Pat Cummins? Nup. Rashid Khan? Think again. It’s actually this South African left-arm wrist-spinner.

Shamsi has had a surprising rise to the top of the ICC T20 bowler rankings; having started his career as a pace bowler, his coaches persuaded him that his ability to bowl decent cutters would make him far more effective as a spinner.

Shamsi made his T20 debut for South Africa in 2017, but it’s been in the past year or so that he’s really found his groove. The 31-year old has taken more T20I wickets in 2021 – 28 – than anyone else, and his rare accuracy for a wrist-spinner has him in line to take plenty more in the World Cup.

He doesn’t turn the ball a huge amount, but his control and variations tie batsmen down, which has helped him pick up plenty of wickets. He’s got a well-disguised googly as well and should do very well over the coming weeks.

He’s also, indisputably, the best celebrator in world cricket.

South Africa have lost many of their biggest names over the past few years; if they are going to stand any chance in this tournament, then they need Shamsi to put in some great performances.

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Rashid Khan (Afghanistan)
T20I stats – 51 matches, 95 wickets at 12.63, economy 6.21

The man, the legend. Rashid is regarded as one of the very best limited-overs bowlers in the world, and his performances in countless T20 leagues provides plenty of evidence to back up that claim.

He often catches batsmen out with his unusual pace for a spinner, which makes it even harder to pick his deliveries. This combined with the fact that he bowls his googly and stock deliveries with almost exactly the same action and ball grip makes him a nightmare to read, let alone face.

Rashid Khan of the Strikers celebrates

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

He’s been incredibly effective in T20 cricket, from the Big Bash League to the IPL, and delighted Adelaide Strikes fans when he announced recently that he’s re-signed for another season. He’s ranked in the top 10 of IPL bowlers of all time from a stats point of view, with a great economy rate of under 6.5 runs per over. A disappointing ODI World Cup in 2019 offers him extra incentive to redeem himself in his favourite format.

With the current political challenges that the Afghanistan team are facing, Khan’s leadership will be more important than ever. As long as he gets the chance, he’s bound to have a very good World Cup with the ball.

Wanindu Hasaranga (Sri Lanka)
T20I stats – 25 matches, 36 wickets at 15.47, economy 6.57

Another leg-spinner to make this list, Hasaranga has built on some early promise with a series of strong performances in 2021 to stake his claim as one of the best in the business.

He first came to international attention in 2017 when he picked up a hat-trick against Zimbabwe on his ODI debut. Then, in 2019, he put his hand up to tour Pakistan when many of the country’s big names refused to travel.

He was the highest wicket-taker in that T20 series with eight, including bowling Pakistani captain Sarfraz Ahmed in all three matches. A deserving Player of the Series, Hasaranga had arrived and he has never looked back.

Sri Lankan coach Mickey Arthur speaks very highly of the 24-year old’s mental strength. “He’s got that attitude,” the former Australian head said recently. “Any player who has that is gold.”

“He wants to be making the decisive plays with bat, ball and hitting the stumps from cover point.”

Going into the World Cup Hasaranga is ranked second in the world when it comes to T20 bowlers and Sri Lanka will need him to demonstrate all the talent that helped him get to that ranking. He’s also no slouch with the bat and has often been crucial in scoring the final few runs to help his side to victory.

Jasprit Bumrah (India)
T20I stats – 50 matches, 59 wickets at 20.25, economy 6.66

Fast bowling is probably the hardest job in T20, but Bumrah proves that doesn’t mean you can’t be a deadly weapon. He’s already established himself as one of the best bowlers in the world, and if he continues in the same vein then he’s every chance of becoming one of the game’s all-time greats.

His unusual action sees him deliver the ball from a high, wide angle, and the way he spears it into the batsman at high pace has caused many of them real issues – 59 in fact so far in T20I cricket.

His yorker is famously deadly and he can deliver it with great accuracy time after time at speeds of over 144 kph.

Bumrah had a good IPL, picking up the third-most wickets in the tournament and at a decent strike rate of 15.71. With India picked as one of the favourites for the World Cup, he should see plenty of action over the next few weeks.

One to watch – Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Afghanistan)
T20I stats – 19 matches, 25 wickets at 17.72, economy 6.15

The 20-year old spinner has just started to make a name for himself on the international stage and is worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.

BBL fans will remember his time with the Brisbane Heat, where in just eight games in the 2020/21 season he was able to pick up 14 wickets, while conceding just 6.27 runs per over.

He’ll benefit hugely from being able to play alongside spin twin Rashid Khan, but although his more senior teammate will get most of the attention, do not take your eyes off Mujeeb.

Did we miss anyone? Who is your tip to take the T20 World Cup by storm with the ball?

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