From Johnson to Irfan, T20 cricket’s top five miserly spells
Left arm pacers Mitchell Johnson and Mohammad Irfan produced riveting fast bowling spells (Getty Images)

Even though his side lost, Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Irfan was able to etch his name in the record books for producing the most economical four-over spell of bowling in T20s. Irfan, playing in the Caribbean Premier League for Barbados Tridents, produced miserly figures of 4-3-1-2, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the opposition – St Kitts and Nevis Patriots – from coming out on top.

As Irfan beat the previous record held by Sri Lanka’s Chanaka Welegedara and South African fast bowler Chris Morris, we look at the five most economical spells delivered in T20 cricket, including Irfan’s stunning effort from Sunday.

Mohammad Irfan (4-3-1-2 against Barbados Tridents)

Patriots’ chase of 148 began with a required rate of just over seven per over, but thanks to Irfan it ballooned to over 10 once the left-armer was done with his quota of four over. He began his unbroken four-over spell with a wicket off the first ball, of the dangerous Chris Gayle who was out nicking to wicketkeeper Nicholas Pooran. Second over, he sent back Evin Lewis, offering a paint edge to Pooran while going for a pull and completed back-to-back wicket maidens. Irfan was literally unplayable. For the most part, the batsmen struggled to lay bat to ball. Even Brandon King, who eventually went on to win the game for the Patriots, was had a torrid time faring against Irfan. 23 consecutive dot balls were bowled before King finally got one to connect and scampered through for a single.

Chris Morris (4-3-2-2 against Nashua Cape Cobras)

Unlike Irfan, Morris did not bowl his four overs in one go but it didn’t make any difference. Against Nashua Cape Cobras in the 2014-15 Ram Slam T20 challenge, Morris turned in a sensational performance bowling 23 dot balls and stifle Cobras’ chase of 142. Coming off figures of 0/37 and 0/50 in his last two outings, Morris bowled an opening spell of two maidens that included the wicket of Richard Levi. Cobras never recovered and slipped to 88/6. That is, when Morris returned in the 18th over to snare up George Linde and concede his first run. He followed up with a maiden 20th over as Cobras failed to even enter three digits.

Chanaka Welegedera (4-2-2-4 vs Sinhalese Athletic Club)

Sri Lanka’s Welegedera equalled Morris’ record returning figures of 4-2-2-4 for Tamil Union during the SLC T20 tournament in 2015. The Sinhalese Athletic Club needed 143 to win, but the Tamil Union captain had other plans. Welegedera, bowling the fifth over, struck twice to remove Minod Bhanuka and his counterpart Thilina Kandamby. In his next over, Sachithra Senanayake became his third victim. Welegedera then snuffed out Charith Jayampathi in the 11th over, trapping him leg before wicket. This was the first time Welegedera had taken four wickets in his T20 career, an effort that left SSC reeling at 62/7. They were eventually bowled out for 97 in 15.3 overs, with Dasun Shanaka scoring 43 of them.

Mitchell Johnson (4-2-3-3 vs Melbourne Heats)

A year and more after he had retired from international cricket, Mitchell Johnson proved why he remained a threat in the shortest format. And what an occasion to prove it, in the semi-final of the Big Bash League. ‘Menacing Mitch’ produced an inspiring spell of fast bowling that set up a seven-wicket win for Perth Scorchers. Johnson produced some serious pace during his four overs often clocking speeds of over 145 km/h. First ball of the match, Johnson removed Rob Quiney for his second golden duck in three innings.

Two deliveries later, Luke Wright offered a catch to gully for a double wicket-maiden over. Off his next over, five penalty runs were given, but that no runs came off the bat and Johnson had delivered back-to-back maidens. His next delivery – first ball of his third over – produced the wicket of Kevin Pietersen. Three gone. The next over was almost like a cherry on top. In a serious exhibition of fast bowling, Johnson gave away just two singles that ended one of the best T20 spells ever seen. Fittingly, the WACA gave Johnson a standing ovation. Scorchers went on to win the title that year.

Shoaib Malik (4-2-3-1 vs Antigua Hawksbills)

In the inaugural edition of the CPL in 2013, Shoaib Malik showed how much of an asset he can be in T20s. Dismissed for 14 in Barbados Tridents’ total of 97/9, Malik tried to make amends with the ball, defending the modest total. He squeezed in four tidy overs giving away just three runs and picking up the wicket of Kieran Powell, for a crawling 9 off 29 balls. That was Malik’s only wicket but the fact that the Hawksbills came within touching distance of ending up on the losing side remains a testament to his effort. The Hawksbills managed to hold their nerve and won the game off the last ball of the 19th over.