Cricket ball, green grass and stumps on a sunny day
21st July 2016 The MALESTROM

Need For Speed – The Art Of Fast Bowling

Watching the Pakistani quick’s toiling for two days on a lifeless Old Trafford pitch as Joe Root constructed what has to go down as one of the great English batting performances in recent times, got us at The MALESTROM wondering how England’s bowling unit would have fared had Alistair Cook lost that pivotal toss.

What followed was actually a debate about genuine pace bowling in the English cricketing scene. You see, watching Amir put in a tireless shift, with his quick skiddy left armers, it appeared there really was nothing in this pitch, but you can’t help thinking a Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath combo would have sucked what little life there is out of that wicket and left England facing a more considerable task. The England bowling contingent, where there reside two of the world’s most supreme bowlers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who at the time of writing have taken 741 test wickets between them, would also surely have had more joy. With Jimmy’s experience, their shared nous and variety in addition to a sheer will, it’s hard to imagine Pakistan compiling such an unassailable lead.

However, the conversation still comes back to raw pace – wouldn’t it be great if England had within their ranks a genuine fast bowler? It is true that Ben Stokes and the increasingly composed Chris Woakes are both capable, regularly clocking speeds in the late eighties and able to extract genuine bounce – they are both excellent options, especially considering their all round status. But it’s not frightening pace, every cricket fan and pundit alike loves nothing more than seeing a bowler who can fling the red ball down in the mid to late ninety miles an hour range.

Steven Finn is the closest, an excellent bowler, who’s tested the speed gun in the past – somewhere in the 94 mph region and he has the tools, but you can’t help thinking someone needs to just give him a good shake. Tell him to forget about everything, trust his technique and most significantly his run up, and just go in and bowl as fast as he can. We saw some serious glimpses of it in the last Ashes series, and when his confidence is up, he’s a frightening prospect for any top order batsmen. Injuries have certainly played a big part, and tweaks made to his technical approach, in the form of his run up, have supposedly made him a more consistent, comfortable bowler, but they also seem to have knocked a few miles off the old speedometer. Finn could be the man, but to date, he has failed to ever really cement his position in the national team.

Do England have any genuine options coming through the county game? As always rumours abound of youngsters that are able to reach the golden threshold of 90 mph plus and are ready and willing to step up – the naivety of youth spurring them on. The Overton brothers and likewise the Currans are considered big prospects, but it is Liam Plunkett who has been there, the man in waiting, who may lay claim to being heir to the fast bowling throne. Alas, it has not happened yet, and you question if it ever will. Mark Wood, of course, was set fair but ultimately injuries are interrupting that story, a common feature it would seem with England’s quick’s. Just ask Tymal Mills, who can confidently attest to hitting the wicket at 95 mph, his story is a sad one that offers no solutions in the test arena.

Chris Jordan is another who’s got pace and pedigree, but has been overlooked when it seemed his time had arrived. What is clear is there are indeed a multitude of options in the first class game here in England – but if it’s devastating pace we’re after, we might be waiting a little while longer yet.

Thinking back to stories of Devon Malcolm moving the sightscreen to complete his approach to Mike Atherton, whets the appetite and sets pulses racing, moreover, his incarnation at the Oval in a devastating display of fast bowling, lives long in the memory. There have of course been many others over the years, Steve Harmison frequently hit the nineties and from a great height and angle. Freddie Flintoff was no stranger to a seriously quick short of a length delivery and long forgotten Simon Jones was fast before once again injury curtailed superstar status.

There is a tale of one Craig White, solid all-rounder, brought up in Australia, who once flung the ball down at 97 mph, although finding verification proves difficult, and therefore becomes an urban cricketing myth. We’ve been fortunate with many fast bowlers in England over the years, and nothing goes down better with a cold glass of beer, on a late summer’s afternoon than watching a giant of a man begin a lengthy gallop towards the crease, leaving opposing batsmen quivering as they attempt to pick a 98 mph delivery out of the bowlers hand. We shall have to wait a while longer, at least in the longer format of the game, and in the meanwhile if there’s any pleasure to be had from watching the Aussies, perhaps it’s Mitchell Starc shooting 100 mph jaffers at overwhelmed tail enders.

Fast bowling will always be the golden fleece of the cricketing world, a never ending story like that of how fast a man can run the 100 meters. Let’s just hope one of England’s young guns can smash through the 90 mph barrier on a consistent basis and elevate our excitement. Who cares if his line is off and his length is all out of whack – just give us some serious pace, please!

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