Fast bowling is perhaps the most exhilarating of cricketing disciplines. It’s hard not to feel the frisson of excitement when a fast man marks his run up and pulls the throttle, gathering pace into a leap, and then explodes into a knuckle scraping finale hurling the cherry with a primal urge to intimidate, and breach the defenses of batsmen.
World Cricket: Pace Bowlers - best of the rest
It is also a dangerous art. The leap exerts three times the body weight on a pivoted front foot, the calf rotators and hamstrings are stretched at angles they weren’t designed to, the spine and the glutes can be jarred, and even the toughest of them have had their shins splintered or stress fractures. No surprises then, that with every success story of repeatable action and strong core muscles there are also men who had all the desire and skills of top class fast bowling, yet things didn’t come together as favorably.
Here’s a look at few men who were potential fast bowling greats only to end up short:
- Ian Bishop (West Indies) – 161 wkts ( avg: 24.27, S/R 52.2) – Bishop joined a team still chock full of bowling greats. Walsh, Ambrose, and Marshall were regulars and Patterson just about fading. He had raw pace, and a sharp outswing. Soon he learned to curve it in too. Like any self respecting Caribbean bowler – he could bounce the life out of a batsman, and his tussle with Robin Smith is part of cricketing folklore. After racing past 50 test wickets in only 11 test matches, he was diagnosed with stress-fractures. He went through intense rehabs, changed his action from side-on to front-on and returned with a fiver on a Perth flyer. Yet, the spine gave away soon after again, and after another couple of aborted comebacks he retired aged only 26.
- Bruce Reid (Australia) – 113 wkts (avg. 24.63, S/R 55.2) – Think McGrath, bowling left-handed, and a yard quicker! He had nearly all of the great Glenn’s attributes – ability to pitch in on the corridor, move it in air and off the seam, and steepling bounce from a 6’7’’ frame. His match figures of 13/148 in Melbourne(vs Eng) included seven batsmen falling in single digits. Crucially, his extra pace came from a vigorous action unlike McGrath’s economic one, and his frame couldn’t sustain it. He played his last at 29 and moved to coaching.
- Brett Schultz (South Africa) – 37 wkts (avg. 20.24, S/R 46.8) – Another left handed firebrand. Schultz was let loose against India (those great rabbits against pace until the batting greats came along) on a green Durban pitch. Schultz showed he could’ve done it just as well on a dead Asian track with his pace in air, firing in full length thunderbolts which had the Indians hopping. For good measure, he lived up to that reputation when he nailed six Aussies on a sedate Centurion track before scalping 20 in three tests in Sri Lanka. However, his knees were battered with multiple operations and he was history at the age of only 27.
- Shane Bond (New Zealand) - 87 wkts (avg. 22.09, S/R 38.7) – Bond gave New Zealand’s honest toiling seamers the bleeding edge which they’ve missed since Hadlee’s retirement. His smooth action culminating into late swing at consistent pace in excess of 90 mph was a handful for the best of them. He reserved his best for his trans-Tasman rivals too, repeatedly decimating a world-beating Aussie line-up, including a 6/23 (WC 2003) and a hattrick in Hobart. With his kind of stats and armed with the best in-swinging yorker since Waqar ( and before Malinga) – it’s a shame that it took a wire fused in his spine, multiple foot and knee operations and abdominal tear to stop him. He was advised to cut down on pace to prolong his career. Then again, that would be to insult the competitive, ruthless spirit of a man who was an ex-cop. The name is ‘Bond’…and slow isn’t his thing.
- Fanie De Villiers (South Africa) – 85 wkts (avg. 24.27, S/R 56.5) – Fanie’s miserly ODI spells led most to believe he was fit for only that format. Yet, before Shaun Pollock came along, he was the best foil for Donald. While Donald was explosive, Fanie was calculated yet no less menacing. His fast off-cutters whirred off the pitch to trouble Tendulkar’s and Inzamams. Injury to his eyes during his army days, and ligament tears eventually forced him out of the game. He also is possibly the man who inadvertently triggered the greatness of Glenn McGrath. McGrath was the last man dismissed by de Villiers in South Africa’s famous Sydney win of 1993-94 and reportedly muttered ‘never again…’ as he walked back.
- Shabbir Ahmed (Pakistan) – 51 wkts (avg. 23.03, S/R 50.5) – The prodigal world of Pakistan cricket affords such luxuries with its bowling talent (Asif, Aamer, Shoaib, Rana Naved, Mohd. Zahid etc. to name a few) that it’s a minor miracle that Shabbir is a rare case who hasn’t been lost of selectorial whim or injuries. Yet it’s sad for a man who shares Pakistan’s record of fastest fifty test wickets with Waqar Younis, and could’ve used more support for his mild-mannered ways. Shabbir’s 6’5’’ frame allowed him to extract disconcerting bounce from the flattest of decks, and gave him more tools apart from the Pakistan’s staple of swing – conventional and reverse. Bowling from closer to stumps, he had the ability to keep it pretty tight as well. However two bans for suspect bowling action within a year put paid to a promising career.
- Simon Jones (England) – 59 wkts (avg. 28.2, S/R 47.8) – Like his father Jeff the younger Jones was a fiery character with pace to match. Like his father, his was a career blighted by injuries as well. Perhaps the least remembered of the band-of-brothers who out-paced the Australians in the seminal 2005 series, Jones nevertheless finished with 18 wickets at 21 runs apiece from the four tests he played. More importantly he unnerved the bullying Australian batsmen (including Hayden) to extract sweet revenge of the taunts he faced as he lay injured in the outfield trying to slide and prevent a boundary during his Ashes debut in Brisbane. His career strike rate is one of the best, barring the ankle injury which robbed him of top level cricket at only 26 he would’ve certainly done more. Michael Clarke can testify!