Paying the price for speeding

On the 13th July 2012 the cricket world woke up to the retirement of Brett Lee. He will always be one of the fastest bowlers of the modern game whether in Colours or whites, Or holding a bat or ball. He had a deadly bouncer and Yorker. In his peak he was able to reach searing paces of up to 98MPH but as he got older he gradually resigned from 98 MPH to around  88 MPH. Famed for his furious speed gun battles with Shoaib Akhtar,  he contributed to a global legacy of fast bowling but also reinforced a legacy that fast bowling meant being blighted by injury and inconsistency.

Shoaib Akhtar responded to  Lee’s retirement regretfully saying the following:  ”Cricket had very few express pace bowlers and now after the retirement of Lee we don’t have any bowler who can bowl 99 mph and the terror on the batsmen will be less”. Whereas the quickest are rated as the most dangerous to batsmen and i wouldn’t for a minute dispute that, their success  in terms of taking TEST wickets and longevity is questionable.

I am considering whether  it is ‘worth’ being an express quick bowler. I am not disputing ability and definitely not their place in the game. Long may it continue. However, the strain on the body of an express pace bowler like Allan Donald, Shane Bond and Brett Lee combined with the lack of breaks in International cricket means a limited career to limited overs due to fatigue, injury and a lack of management.  A quick bowler that suffers an injury is also unlikely to return at the same potent level of pace, as seen with Lee and Shoaib. Is it really worth all the ‘Blood Sweat and tears’?

Shoaib was lethal when he combined accuracy, control and raw blinding pace

Focusing on accuracy as opposed to pace means a bowler has a better wicket taking ability. A batsmen has less margin for error. If they make a mistake they are out. There are less gaps as more precise fields can be set and therefore the batsmen has to force the pace and make mistakes. The out and out quicks  tend to bowl less balls on the stumps. Fast bowlers also tend to bowl a little shorter, as fuller balls are easier to hit and race away at that pace. The typical fast bowler will use a full ball sparingly and focus on a good or short length trying to take catches not lbws or bowled wickets. It is the crucial difference. In this sense fast bowlers can arguably be less potent in terms of wicket taking.

Quick bowlers have less time to play due to losing their lethal pace and injury. For example Holding 60 tests and 249 wickets and retiring from tests at 33. Garner: 58 tests with 259 wickets in a ten year career, Roberts: 47 tests and 202 wickets and playing until just over 30 years old.  Ntini was relatively impotent nearing the end of his career and even Lee was down on pace. It’s inevitable that a fast bowler will have a much more limited period of effectiveness. This questionably implies quicks can not play as long as ‘line and lengthers’

Lee managed 76 tests and 300 wickets and Shoaib ended up with 178 wickets in under 50 games and both contributed to an incredible legacy of fast bowling. But, Mcgrath as the archetypal line and length bowler on the other hand played 124 games and 564 wickets. This is nearly 50 more games and producing an additional 200 more test scalps. McGrath was of course one of the best bowlers ever, but the point is they time period he was able t play and the wickets taken during that time.

Ambrose who was extremely fast enjoyed 98 tests and 405  wickets but even he was out bowled when compared to the more line and length but still very fast counterpart Walsh: 132 tests and 519 wickets. Walsh was able to play longer and still be effective by dropping his pace. Fast bowlers must generate pace somehow. Lillee and Thompson were lethal.  Lille had a classical but efficient fast action and played 70 games taking 355 wickets whereas Thompson  got 201 wickets in 51 games. Both lost pace and became less effective.

It is not that Fast bowling is not worth it, because it is. I am merely bringing attention to the limited character of their careers and arguable lack of management. Perhaps the key exceptions are Malcolm Marshall ( 81 games taking 376 wickets)  at an average of 20. and  of course Wasim Akram who had 104 games and over 400 wickets in tests and was the first to 500 ODI wickets.

We are seeing a further development in the story of the express bowler. Shaun Tait may be able to ‘terrify’ the batsmen with 100 mile an hour balls, but  the huge strain on his body has transformed him into a T20 specialist. He won’t be recognized in the test match arena and  will never leave a strong fast bowling legacy, because he does not play test or even ODI.

Essentially to conclude i would say, YES fast bowling is a good thing. Extreme pace bowling is also a good thing. Maybe it is unfortunate that bowling faster means injuries and a limited career, but i think it is something that should be accepted as opposed to change. The current state of fast bowling is healthy with plenty of very fast bowlers like Steyn, Morkel, Finn, Siddle, Harris, Malinga, Tait, Roach and plenty of others. We don’t want to lose them by making them slower but more importantly we don’t want to lose them through injury. It is increasingly my view that quick bowlers should scrap ODI cricket and focus on tests which is the pinnacle of the game and T20 which is the newly emerged ‘quick’ format and offers a financially viable form of cricket.

3 thoughts on “Paying the price for speeding

  1. Good article. One thing that gets forgotten by many cricket aficionados is the importance of the fast bowler in getting people interested in cricket – and particularly test cricket – in the first place. Thommo and Holding held a fascination for me that got me excited about the game. In terms of pace versus injury, I made the analogy once with the old days of Formula 1 – adding just 5% more pace to an F1 car was likely to make it about 50% more likely to fall to bits, but winning sometimes demanded it, and it certainly brought the crowds in. We need some more blood and thunder quicks to get people excited – a far better solution to popularising cricket than dressing people in pyjamas and playing annoying musical jingles all the time – even if they must slow down with age if they want a full career.

    • Really great point ! I love fast bowling and i spoke consistently in this article about ‘Legacy’ which is precisely what you talk about. Popularizing cricket with achievement and exciting action especially of fast bowling.

  2. Pingback: Paying the price for speeding - The Armchair Selector

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