Bowling May 13, 2011

Fast bowlers: An endangered species

From Mrinal Kumar, United States

From Mrinal Kumar, United States

Lasith Malinga’s retirement from Test cricket marks yet another instance of a fast bowler’s career being curtailed by injury. Fast bowlers are a breed in steady decline, as the strains of excessive schedules take a toll on their bodies. The physical requirements of pace bowling - an endless run-up, a slinging arm, a fearful grimace at the end of it all - have not meshed well with innumerable number of matches their team plays. As bowlers look to push the speed barrier, they push their bodies beyond the limit. Brett Lee, Shoaib Akthar, Shaun Tait- the three fastest bowlers of this decade. The other similarity they share? They have all played less than 55% of their team’s Test matches since their respective debuts.

Injuries ranging from a troublesome knee to genital warts have kept the fastest men in the game on the sidelines. With Malinga the latest addition to that list, Dale Steyn stands as the only genuine fast bowler left in the world (it is too early to gauge young Kemar Roach). Steyn’s clean injury sheet can only be attributed to the excellent way he has been handled. He has been rested from several ODI series to save his fitness for the purest form of the game- Test cricket. By reducing his workload, South Africa have managed to extract the best from their premier fast bowler - the last of a dying breed.

Fast bowlers of yesteryear had significantly fewer fitness problems. Malcolm Marshall, the face of that West Indies quartet, played more than 75% of his team’s Test matches since his debut. With a schedule unclogged by a limited-overs match every three days, Marshall was able to leave his mark on history without giving up an ounce of pace. Men who try to replicate him these days, however, are met with nothing but frustration and pain- how can one expect their body to survive that type of physical exertion on such a regular basis?

The advent of Twenty20 has served the perfect arena for fast bowlers to express their art - in short, fiery bursts. This comes at the expense of the longer form, however, and one dreads to ponder upon the future of genuine pace. How long can speedsters wage the battle against this elastic schedule? It is time for the ICC to step in and breathe life into the most spirited members of the game. As Steyn hustles into the crease, ball in hand and scowl firmly entrenched on his face, hope – pray - that the ICC takes steps to save this species before it withers away.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on June 29, 2011, 8:57 GMT

    I disagree that we all want to see only batsmen bashing runs; there is no more exciting sight than a bowler bowling unpleasant express deliveries and making the batsman hop around and fight for runs. However most of the fast bowling greats of the past were great because of their terrific control and variety as well as sheer speed. I'd put Thomson, Larwood, Holding and Tyson at the top of the sheer speed list. Lindwall, Marshall, Lillee, Hadlee and Akram lead my all-round fast bowler list. I remember fast bowlers for a few particular spells I've witnessed; angry Donald against Atherton in the 1990s, Flintoff against the Aussie top order in 2005, Flintoff against Kallis in 2008, Holding at the Oval in 1976, Steele defying Lillee and Thomson in 1975 the highlights. We have plenty of promising truly fast bowlers at the moment in the world; which of them will go on to greatness? An under used fast bowlers weapon; I'd like to see more slower balls in tests.(eg Harmison/Clarke in 2005)

  • testli5504537 on June 5, 2011, 4:11 GMT

    I still remember the first game played in Australia with a speed gun. All the commentators were talking about how 'slow' McGrath was bowling that day. By the end of the season it had dawned on everyone that the reason batsmen always seemed rushed and out of position when facing McGrath wasn't because he was fast, but because his line & length were unplayable. I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if the same was true of the great 'fast' bowlers of the past (ie Trueman, Marshall, Spofforth etc). So it the schedule or the speed gun destroying the legend of fast bowling?

  • testli5504537 on May 24, 2011, 15:27 GMT

    @Jonesy,the only reason Johnson doesn't get injured is his simplicity.His run up is so fluent and easy,he hardly has any risk of breaking down.Other bowlers run quickly and break down.

  • testli5504537 on May 19, 2011, 8:20 GMT

    When there is a problem there is a solution too........... All fast men should be on rotation and no paceman should be allowed to bowl 50 % of the overs of entire season. this restriction should be imposed by ICC. besides fast bowlers match fees should be doubled to compensate for their loss. This will ensure grooming of more fast men (considering the amount of population and unemployment finding more fast bowlers should not be a problem). every team should have a parallel battrey of pacemen all the time.

  • testli5504537 on May 19, 2011, 6:15 GMT

    one of the reason why bowlers of yesteryears played more without injuries was becasue they practiced in nets lot more than their bodies in the gym. the new age training routine has made bowlers weak. they are used to weights and what not and when get in the middle body doesn't like the rigours of bowling. bowl more in the nets, will be fitter for in the game !!! the point about ICC stepping is very valid and must be done. useless bilateral ODI series where 7ODIs are played is a joke. after a side wins the series the rest of the matches should be curtailed.

  • testli5504537 on May 19, 2011, 5:11 GMT

    Watch out for nuwan pradeep in the future

  • testli5504537 on May 19, 2011, 3:51 GMT

    The article does make some interesting points, however I would disagree with the assertion that Dale Steyn is the only genuine pace bowler in the world. While Steyn is probably the best, there are most certainly others; Mitchell Johnson immediately springs to mind, a genuine quick who is known (when he's firing of course) for bowling with pace, deadly late swing and ferocious aggression. And to be perfectly honest, I really don't think that the bowlers of yesteryear were quite as fast as they are often made out to be - The lack of accurate and consistent speed recordings prior to the late 90's leaves a lot of room for exaggeration when talking up the likes of Marshall or Lillee.

  • testli5504537 on May 18, 2011, 6:20 GMT

    The comment re Malcolm Marshall and bowlers of his era is not correct. The WI bowlers especially played nearly all year round in county cricket and their own domestic comps. Similarly in Oz the bowlers actually played some Sheffield Sheild. So I suspect the workload is not as different as people make out, except for the travel, which may be a big factor. Other than that I am stumped as to why the injuries are so commonplace these days. But are we overstating it? I remember both Lillee and Thomson being out for months and momths in the 70's

  • testli5504537 on May 18, 2011, 5:19 GMT

    Hmmm. I think this article proves the old cliche that Americans are ignorant of cricket. The reason Lee and Tait haven't played the bulk of Australia's test matches is that both were bowling too poorly to warrant selection. Akhtar missed many games because of suspensions and internal politicking than injury. Nothing to do with their bodies being unable to stand the strains of the modern game. Genuine lack of quality and team disharmony are the reasons they've played so few tests.

  • testli5504537 on May 17, 2011, 17:55 GMT

    issue raised in this article is true some extent but given argumenta not matched with the subject as every one knwos lasit malinga's retirement is cause of attitude towards him by slankan's national selectors while injury is a pretend to hide the real things. Test match is genuine form of the cricket where a bowlers have plenty of approtunity to manage their energy while shortest form of cricket is more responsible for the injuries. If one want to have long career one has to leave up the attractions of league.

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