In recent years, with the might of the bat overtaking the ball in limited-overs cricket, a strong bowling unit has become vital to succeed in ODI World Cups. With the twelfth iteration currently underway, Rhodri Evans profiles the greatest wicket-takers in the history of the World Cup:

Trent Boult

[caption id=”attachment_584932″ align=”alignnone” width=”667″]Trent Boult has taken 39 wickets in 19 World Cup appearances Trent Boult has taken 39 wickets in 19 World Cup appearances[/caption]

Trent Boult is arguably New Zealand’s finest seamer ever to play ODI cricket. Now with two Cricket World Cup runners up medals, and having come so agonizingly close in 2019, 2023 will be his last ride in the competition and an opportunity to make it third time lucky. The prodigious swing he finds opening the innings is key to his devastating influence in the powerplay, and despite having distanced himself from international cricket, whenever he returns to ODI colours his returns give the illusion he’s never been away.

His best performance in a World Cup came in just his fourth appearance, against Australia in 2015. He took 5-27 to restrict Australia to 151 before New Zealand almost faltered chasing down the runs, getting over the line with a wicket to spare.

39 wickets @ 21.79, SR: 28.3, BBI: 5-27


Imran Tahir

[caption id=”attachment_110667″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Imran Tahir has shone bright in a South African team filled with talented fast bowlers[/caption]

A crafty leg-spinner, Imran Tahir has often performed when it has mattered most. In a country replete with high-quality pace bowling talent, Tahir has shown that there is always room for slower bowlers to flourish too. Equipped with a very threatening googly and infectious enthusiasm, he has bamboozled many a batsman in the marquee event, breaking into the top 10 World Cup wicket-takers list during the ongoing 2019 edition.

Among his more noteworthy spells at the World Cup was the five-wicket haul he picked up against a dangerous West Indies side in Sydney, 2015, including the scalps of Dwayne Smith and Andre Russell.

37 wickets @ 19.21, SR: 26.4, BBI: 5/45


Javagal Srinath

[caption id=”attachment_109172″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Srinath is the only Indian faster bowler to appear in four World Cups[/caption]

Often slipping under the radar when it comes to mentioning quicks of the 90s, Javagal Srinath is the only Indian fast bowler to appear in four World Cups, from 1992 to 2003.

The right-arm quick played his last ODI at the World Cup in 2003, and was the leading Indian wicket-taker at the tournament. That, despite being expensive in the final, where he took no wickets and conceded 87 runs in an Australian victory. Srinath took 16 wickets in the 2003 edition, at an average of 23.06 and an economy rate of 4.04.

44 wickets @ 27.81, SR: 38.6, BBI: 4/30


Zaheer Khan

[caption id=”attachment_106143″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Zaheer Khan took 2-60 as India won their second World Cup in 2011[/caption]

Zaheer Khan helped India make it to the finals of the 2003 World Cup and finished the tournament as the fourth highest wicket-taker, with 18 wickets from 11 matches at an average of 20 runs per wicket. He is also the fourth highest wicket-taker in ODIs for India with 282 scalps, behind Anil Kumble (337), Javagal Srinath (315) and Ajit Agarkar (288).

Khan was key to India reaching two World Cup finals, in 2003 and 2011, eventually winning the title in the latter one. Along with Oram, Khan has played at the least number of World Cup editions, and featured in only 23 matches, making his haul of 44 wickets all the more impressive.

44 wickets @ 20.22, SR: 27.1, BBI: 4/42


Chaminda Vaas

[caption id=”attachment_108564″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Vaas featured in four World Cups for Sri Lanka[/caption]

Sri Lanka have a long and successful World Cup history, and central to a lot of their success has been Chaminda Vaas. His country’s most prolific fast bowler, Vaas will be remembered for often bowling in tandem with Muttiah Muralitharan. It is a testament to Vaas’ abilities that he was not often overshadowed by Muralitharan, the world’s most successful bowler.

Vaas had his most successful tournament in 2003, helping his side reach the semi-finals, and taking 23 wickets at 14.39.

49 wickets @ 21.22, SR: 32.0, BBI: 6/25


Mitchell Starc

[caption id=”attachment_110668″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Mitchell Starc has picked up 37 wickets from just 14 World Cup games so far[/caption]

Generally regarded a devastating bowler anyway, Mitchell Starc has displayed a tendency to take his game up a notch in World Cups. In just 18 matches across 2015 and 2019, he has picked up a mind-boggling 49 wickets, no little thanks to judicious utilisation of a toe-crushing yorker, which he lands at will. It’d be an understatement to say he was instrumental to Australia lifting the Trophy at home in 2015 – he was, after all, named Player of the Series for his 22 wickets at 10.18 and a strike rate of 17.4! He continued the trend at the 2019 World Cup and finished as the leading wicket-taker for the second time in succession.

His best ODI bowling figures actually came in a losing cause against New Zealand in a thrilling low-scorer in Auckland in the 2015 tournament. At 131-4, New Zealand had seemed set to cruise past the target of 152. But Starc came back and rattled the lower order to leave them tottering at 146-9 before Kane Williamson held his nerve to take the hosts home.

49 wickets @ 14.81, SR: 19.1, BBI: 6/28


Wasim Akram

[caption id=”attachment_108536″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Akram won the World Cup with Pakistan in 1992[/caption]

Arguably Pakistan’s greatest bowler, Wasim Akram featured in five World Cups from 1987 to 2003. Known for his extreme pace and mastery of reverse swing, Akram became the first bowler to reach the 500-wicket mark in ODI cricket, during the 2003 World Cup.

In 2002, Wisden released its only list of best players of all time. Wasim was ranked as the best bowler in ODIs, with a rating of 1223.5, ahead of Glenn McGrath and Muttiah Muralitharan. Akram famously took two key wickets in two balls in the 1992 World Cup final which turned the match in Pakistan’s favour and delivered the trophy to them for the first time.

55 wickets @ 23.83, SR: 35.4, BBI: 5/28


Lasith Malinga

[caption id=”attachment_106513″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Malinga is the only player on this list not to have retired from international cricket[/caption]

With his distinctive low-arm slinging action and wicket-taking abilities, Malinga became the face of T20 cricket, but has also had an excellent record at the World Cups for Sri Lanka. Well known for his extensive and deadly variations, most notably slower-balls and yorkers, he took 13 wickets at 20.76, even as his team lost in the final against rivals India, in 2011.

He is the only player on this list to have not retired from international cricket and will no doubt be looking to climb higher up this list during the 2019 World Cup.

56 wickets @ 21.50, SR: 22.87, BBI: 6/38


Muttiah Muralitharan

[caption id=”attachment_97922″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Muralitharan won his first World Cup in 1996, but lost in the final in 2007 and 2011[/caption]

Muttiah Muralitharan, one of only two spinners in the top 10, was Sri Lanka’s talisman for over 15 years, no less so at the World Cups, taking 68 wickets at the lowest economy rate by anyone on this list.

Despite coming second, Muralitharan never took a World Cup five-for, but his quality of bowling was unquestionable. Ending with the most Test and ODI wickets, Muralitharan was in the top five wicket-takers list in each of his last three tournaments. Statistically, the 2007 edition was his most successful, where he took 23 wickets at an average of 15.26.

68 wickets @ 19.63, SR: 30.3, BBI: 4/19


Glenn McGrath

[caption id=”attachment_109183″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Glenn McGrath finished with figures of 7 for 15 against Namibia in 2003[/caption]

The most wickets and the best figures in World Cups, both belong to Glenn McGrath. The pacer won three of the four World Cups he played in, reaching the final in each one.

McGrath holds the unique distinction of taking a wicket off the final delivery of his Test and T20I career; his last ODI was the finals of the 2007 World Cup, against Sri Lanka, where he took a wicket off his penultimate delivery. He claimed the Man of the Tournament award for his outstanding bowling, which was instrumental in Australia winning the tournament for the third time in a row.

71 wickets @ 18.19, SR: 27.5, BBI: 7/15