'Fresh' Tait sets sights on Akhtar's record
Shaun Tait believes he has made the right decision to abandon first-class cricket and focus on the shorter formats after delivering the fastest ball ever recorded in Australia on Friday night. Tait's third delivery in Australia's Twenty20 win over Pakistan hit 160.7kph, a speed that has only been bettered by Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee since measurements became common.
Tait had clocked 160kph before but this was his quickest ball and he maintained a consistent pace - he didn't drop below 150kph in his opening two-over spell. The record on Australian soil was a fullish ball that Imran Farhat missed, and Tait expended such energy that he stumbled and nearly fell over in his follow-through.
He picked up Farhat with a 152kph ball that was edged to slip and for the rest of his overs hovered in the low to mid 150s. He said he would love to break Akthar's mark of 161.3kph, set during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, but Tait believes the effort required means that his speed peak can only last for a couple of balls per match.
"It's not something that I think about all the time but there's only certain moments when you're bowling, maybe even in your career, when you've probably got a chance to do it," Tait said after the win. "Today it was my third ball and I had a crack the next ball after that just to have a go and I think after that it's hard to get back up to that pace.
"I think when everything's feeling really good and your timing is right, I think you've only got two deliveries in a game to try and break a record like that. It's a pretty hard task. That's an amazing record. But anyway, I'll see how I go, keep pushing. Shoaib bowled whatever he bowled and that's amazing. I almost killed myself out there tonight."
Most importantly, Tait's pace didn't bring with it an erratic line. He was accurate, hard to get away and was named Man of the Match for his 3 for 13 from four overs. At his best, Tait can be one of the most dangerous Twenty20 bowlers in the world and he could be a valuable weapon for Australia at the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies in May.
Tait has had his problems over the years, including a series of injuries and a self-inflicted break from the game due to physical and mental exhaustion in 2008. But by giving away four-day cricket - he hasn't played a first-class match since December 2008 - and playing only Twenty20 and 50-overs games, he has allowed his body to deliver super-fast balls in short, sharp spells of severe impact.
"I think it's freshness, to be honest," Tait said. "Looking back on it now, the decision that I've made at this stage to play the shorter form of the game has been a pretty solid one. I've been fresh for the majority of the games this season, apart from a couple maybe. I'm really enjoying the shorter form, the Twenty20s."
If Tait does head to the World Twenty20, he could form a fearsome and very fast attack along with Dirk Nannes, who hovered in the low 150s on Friday, and the proven danger-man Mitchell Johnson. Until then, Australia will hope for four more Twenty20 assaults from Tait to warm-up for the global tournament.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo