After the top 5 batsmen of 2012, we move onto a list that is often overlooked as far as viewership and popularity is concerned. Bowling is a thankless job, especially in Test Cricket. Everyone loves watching runs scored, but the 5 players here could be the chief architects of team victories through the year- despite not always being the highest wicket-takers in the calendar year.
5. Tim Southee (NZ)
While New Zealand play half the matches played by most other test teams a year, two things are very clear about this modern NZ-team-in-transition: Their batsman are probably the least effective lineup over 5 days. And secondly, their bowlers are the ones who win them games, if they ever do. A very mild version of the modern Pakistan team, NZ don’t hold any world class batsmen, but if there was ever one bowler close to that term (apart from a fading Vettori), it is Southee- the most underrated pace bowler in world cricket. What brings him to this list is his ability to swing the ball in subcontinental conditions- picking up as many as 21 test wickets over 3 tests in India and Sri Lanka. His 7-for at Bangalore brought NZ closest to a test win in India, and his 8-wicket haul at Colombo got his team their first win in Lanka in 26 years. He has also been New Zealand’s top bowler in ODIs and T20s- as little as they have played in 2012.
4. Morne Morkel (SA)
While Steyn has consistently been the one with shattering 5-over spells that many consider the best outbursts of pure pace in decades, Morkel has been the backbone of a South African attack that has taken them to the top of the Test Rankings. The most improved bowler over 2 years, Morkel uses his height to great advantage, slamming in spell after spell of probing lengths- setting up the batsmen for Steyn and Kallis through the year. Just two 5-fors illustrate this point, but he was easily South Africa’s best bowler in the historic Australia series- making up for an underwhelming Steyn until Perth. Morkel has been South Africa’s most effective bowler in ODIs and T20s, even enjoying his best IPL season to date.
3. HMRKB Herath (SL)
Sri Lanka have played a ton of ODIs (over 30) and T20s in 2012, rendering most of their statistics in those forms beyond comparison. But their shining light this year, in whites, has been the surprise package left-arm spinner Herath- who has finally come into his own after living in the shadows of Muralitharan and mystery-spinner Mendis for 3 years. 55 Test Wickets against countries like South Africa (abroad), England (3 consecutive 6-fors), Pakistan and New Zealand have demonstrated that Herath- like his batting teammates- can be the new bowling home bully in world cricket, just as most sub continental spinners should be. He is not a regular in the ODI and T20 teams, but his contribution to their sole win in SA, and home series draws against England and NZ propel him into this list.
2. Sunil Narine (WI)
West Indies haven’t had much to boast about in the Test arena, as usual, in 2012. Their chief strength- their mini resurrection- continues in the limited over forms of the game, with one thing very apparent: If Narine decides to run through a batting lineup, it’s game over for the opposition. Rising to the top in IPL 2012, Narine remains the main reason (apart from Samuels) behind the World T20 win- the biggest win for this team in a decade. His variation has put him above the other mystery spinner Mendes this year, though he is yet to hit his straps in the longer form of the game. 45 wickets in ODIs and T20s have put him above the very impressive Steve Finn (of England) in the limited over formats.
1. Saeed Ajmal (Pak)
Once again, the spinners have dominated the list in 2012. Ajmal, easily the most prolific bowler in 2011, has now added even the ODI format to his hat- rising to the top of the world in T20s and destroying lineups in the 6 tests he played in. He edges out Narine due to his Test performances, as well as the fact that he has now been Pakistan’s best bowler for 2 years now- the destructor in chief of England over 4 ODIs, exposing their frailties against spin to the world and helping begin their slide down from the top. 2 4-fors in T20s have made sure that Pakistan remain the most dangerous T20 team in world cricket.
Honorable mentions include those like Swann, Finn, Philander, Starc and Ojha- all of whom don’t make the list because of their team’s considerably weak performances over 2012.