Cream of the Crop - Fast Bowlers

Feature Article by Peter Argent

All fast bowlers like seeing the batsman at the other end of the pitch, ducking and weaving due to the pace of an express delivery.

Looking at the strength of the Australian side, many critics and lovers of the game would agree the current Aussie pace bowling attack rates with the best yet.  Their effect would compare favourably with any of the great fast bowling line-ups.

Glenn McGrath, the current ‘Rolls Royce’ of the Australian pace attack, is the pre-eminent fast bowler in world cricket today. He will (if injury doesn’t interfere) for a time, become the games greatest all time wicket taker. Blonde bombshell Brett Lee, who exploded onto the international scene against India with a five wicket haul in the Boxing Day Test of 1999, is frighteningly quick. South Australian Jason Gillespie, has overcome more than most to ensure he has a baggygreen cap on his head. What these players give the Australian captain is a mean, aggressive and respected trio to scare the life out of any top-order batting line up in the game.

The last time an Australian side had such a venomous attack, was when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, were scaring the life out of anyone with a piece of willow in their hands during the early and mid 70s. These two men, fired the passions of a generation of Australian cricketers, bringing many spectators through the gate to see them take the game up to any batsman they encountered.

Prior to this, the years immediately after Word War II created another exceptional pair of pacemen named Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. Miller; a tall dark haired charismatic man, who could have come off the pages of a “Boys Own” book, played Aussie Rules in Melbourne before moving up to Sydney. He was also an excellent middle order batsman.  With the ball he could paralyze an opposition batting side in a matter of a couple of overs.

Lindwall was shorter, but as athletic as Miller and had one of the smoothest run-ups in the game. Together they made a potent pair. Lindwall also played first-grade rugby league for St George, before being enticed to move to Brisbane amd focussing more on his cricket. 

Delving even further into history, the ‘Big Ship’ Warwick Armstrong, captain of the Australian team during the early 1900’s, had a couple of quick men that played havoc with the English batsmen. Jack Gregory, who was a member of the great Gregory cricketing family, “had little rhythm in his approach, but abundant vigor and venom, all thunder and lightning like and electric storm.” according to legendary writer Johnny Moyes.   Besides his bowling abilities, Bill O’Rielly rated him as the best slips fieldsman that he had ever seen. His all-round skill was topped off with some destructive efforts with the bat, this included a century in 135 minutes, in the Melbourne test of 1921. Later, against the South African’s, the fastest Australian test century of all time, in 70 minutes.

Gregory’s partner at the time Ted McDonald, was a more fluent quick bowler. The great English writer Neville Carduss, described him as the most aesthetically pleasing quick bowler in the world. He was an enigma who was to play a mere eleven tests for Australia before moving to English County ranks, after a term in the Lancashire League. There was also a misrepresentation that he was credited with the creation of leg-theory and the subsequent intervention of “Bodyline”. This first Australian brutal pairing, became members of Wisden’s 1922, five cricketers of the year, for their part in Australia’s eight straight test wins, during this period.

Australia has not had a monopoly on fast bowling pairings over the years.  In the Caribbean, after many years of relying predominately on spin bowlers, the West Indies unleashed a pair of pace men named Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, in the early 1960s. Hall, whose muscular athletic body was described by many, as perfectly suited to the pursuit of fast bowling. With unnerving pace in 48 tests for the West Indies side, he captured many wickets.

Barbadian Charlie Griffith, had some question marks about the legitimacy of his action, but was extremely fast as Indian captain Nari Contractor unfortunately discovered. After being struck near the right temple by Griffiths with a rising delivery, he required a series of operations to save his life. It wasn’t only the Indian he caused to tremble. Many batsmen from England in 1963 and against Australia during their tour of 1965, felt like they were preparing for combat. During the latter tour, Richie Benaud, commentating on the series, caused some controversy by suggesting during the first test that he was a “chucker.”

Arriving in the mid 1970s, was an Antiguan called Andy Roberts and an athletic Jamaican named Michael Holding. They helped the West Indies become a world power in cricket. Roberts, had the ability to do most things with the ball and had two bouncers in his repertoire. The first was quickest and could get you ducking for cover. The second, with no discernible change to the run-up was more menacing and could put you in physical danger. Australian batsman David Hookes, found out how dangerous this was, suffering a broken jaw in a World Series Super Test.  A splendid performance of 8 for 29 on a quick deck in Perth during the 75-76 series heralded the rise to prominence of this bowling star.

Holding nicknamed ‘Whispering Death’ by eccentric English umpire Harold ‘Dickie’ Bird, first came to prominence during the Test series against England in 1976. His 14 wicket haul, in the final Test at The Oval on a docile wicket, was testament to his all-round bowling ability.

From the time of the Holding and Roberts pairing, the West Indies dominated cricket for the next 20 years, using a battalion of fast-men from Croft to Garner, including the great Malcolm Marshall. Other speed demons of this golden Windies era included Curtly Ambrose and the current leading all time Test wicket-taker Courtney Walsh. The West Indies generally played at least four pacemen, even on the slower wickets to ensure their was no respite for the opposing batsmen.

Perhaps the closest attack around over recent times to compare with the current Australian pace line-up, was the South African duo of Allan Donald and the Protea’s recently deposed captain Shaun Pollock. Donald had the same work ethic as McGrath and is the first South African to collect 300 test wickets. For more than a decade he was either on tour with the national side, playing domestically in South Africa or on the County scene in Britain.

Shaun, is the son of the oldest of the Pollock brothers Peter, whose international careers were sadly shortened because of Apartheid prevalent in South Africa during the 1960’s. Peter, took over 100 test wickets and was a capable lower order batsman. He also had a good bowling partner when destroying the Australian touring side of 1970, in Mike Procter. He gained much lift and sharpness with his awkward wrong-footed deliveries.

In the 1950’s, the South African’s nicknamed the Springboks, had a pair of opening bowlers that produced sustained pace and fire. Former Australian captain and combatant Bob Simpson, had a great respect for both the temperamental Adcock and Heine, rating them highly amongst the most fearsome bowlers he had faced. It has been suggested these two men, could have been more devastating, if they had better support from other bowlers in the side at the time.

England’s lack of dominance over the last thirty years, could be related to the fact, their last great fast bowling combination was Trueman and Statham. Alongside them, a ‘typhoon’ called Frank Tyson, battered the Australians during the 1954/55 tour, with some media of the period, describing Tyson’s pace as faster than anything the Australian batsmen had ever encountered. This trio’s domination at the time, bare a strong resemblance to the results being attained by the current Australian pace line-up.

Back in the days of the British Empire, England had Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. Both menwere sent out to Australia in the summer of 1932-33, to dull the effectiveness of Australia’s batting sensation Don Bradman, with a bowling tactic know as fast leg-theory and later dubbed ‘Bodyline’ by the Aussie media. Many commented their method of attack wasn’t palatable and ties between the two countries became strained. However, England captain of the time Douglas Jardine, was able to present the coveted Ashes, back to the men of the Long Room at the MCC by using the Bodyline method.

Many other teams have had champion fast bowlers, who lacked the required support from the other end. Bowlers like Davidson, McKenzie, Bedser, Willis, Imran, Wall, Dev, Snow and Hadlee readily come to mind. Just imagine if these men had an “equal” at the other end.

There is no doubt there are many facets to the make up of a great side. But, when you have a pair of champion fast bowlers to lead your attack, there is, as long as injury doesn’t interfere, a great basis for a dominant team. If you are lucky enough to have three quick’s or as the West Indies did during the 80s and early 90s a flotilla of them, your chances of sustained success are immensely elevated.

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