May 7, 2014

The last of the long run-up

The sight of a fast bowler running in from a distance, sometimes starting in a position only vaguely related to the position of the wicket, is a thrilling one. And it's increasingly rare now
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Imran Khan turned from a stroll to high speed
Imran Khan turned from a stroll to high speed © PA Photos

One of the first days of county cricket I saw was at Hove, where Imran Khan and Garth Le Roux, Sussex's feared and noble quicks, took it in turns to rush down the slope towards the sea, the ball a fuzz of red from our side-on view.

What stayed with me was the sheer theatre of it all. Both Imran and Le Roux had great manes of hair that trailed behind them as they ran in from somewhere near the boundary: they looked like thoroughbreds on the gallop, throwing their heads back with a haughty kind of disdain as the hurried, discomforted batsmen thrust and parried. Then they would begin the walk back to their mark. Imran especially would amble as if he was out for a Sunday stroll. It was all part of it: the batsman had to contend with this dreadful, slow build-up to the next delivery, the agony extending and extending until Imran would at last spin on his heel and charge back at great speed, his final leap and coil full of that equine grace.

It was the era of the long run. Almost every fast bowler had one, and if they didn't have a long run, they would certainly have a quirky one. Michael Holding, the "Whispering Death" of legend, came in from so far out that even on the full boundaries at The Oval his mark seemed to be just a few yards from the fence. He appeared to skim the earth as he approached, the ground passing a hidden kinetic force up into his feet as his stride got longer and longer. Malcolm Marshall had a run-up like a scythe, a great semi-circle that he would inscribe with knees and elbows pumping madly. Bob Willis ran in a semi-circle too, his bowling arm waggling behind his back, his great mop of hair - tribute to his idol Bob Dylan - alive above him. Jeff Thomson turned sideways in his final few strides like a man about to launch a javelin. Dennis Lillee came in front-on until the very end, a bright headband dividing the jet-black locks above and below it.

Joel Garner had a much shorter approach than any of the others. He began in a crouch but then his giant limbs, all moving in apparently different directions, catapulted him upwards into a delivery stride that blotted out the sun. Colin Croft ran in fairly conventionally but then jumped outwards and away from the stumps as he speared the ball viciously throatwards.

Sarfraz Nawaz had a running style where he barely seemed to lift his knees. Waqar Younis brought us one of the last great runs, a vast, head-first charge taken up by the Rawalpindi Express himself, Shoaib Akhtar, a man who wrung every last second of drama from his flailing approach.

It seems to be over now, another part of the game that is yielding to sports science and the endless demands of the fixture list. Many of the greats could cut their run if they felt like it: Marshall developed a tactic whereby he would alternate between long and short run with no obvious difference in pace. Garner was wickedly effective in the old John Player League, where the run was limited to eight yards or so to ensure that 80 overs could be delivered in an afternoon.

There are still some wonderful sights. Dale Steyn has a tremendous, concentrated energy in his skittering stride. Morne Morkel is a present-day Garner. Mitchell Johnson looks like a malign cartoon character as his wrist ticks and his knees pump in the remodelled run that has brought him such success. Mitch understands the role of theatre, hence the moustache. But we have probably seen the last of the long run in, or any approach that begins in a direction only vaguely related to the position of the wicket. We should lament its passing, because it was a thrill to watch.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on May 9, 2014, 10:45 GMT

    It was sheer poetry in motion, akin to a well-bred race horse in full gallop. He ran in from near the sight-screen at northern end at the Kensington Oval, Barbados. He instilled genuine fear in the terrified English batsmen at the other end, dressed as if to the battlefields of war.

    In a way, it was war. It was also a delight to sit in the comfort of the stands, with a cold beverage in hand, to witness such legendary stuff unfolding in the middle. I am not sure if there will ever be another one quite like him. The year was 1986 and his name was Michael Holding, now a legend in the commentary booth!

  • on May 10, 2014, 8:08 GMT

    lovely article i felt you should have mentioned the Legend Wasim too who evolved his run up from long to short, with shorter run up he was an absolutely perfect magician and treat to watch

  • MrPud on May 9, 2014, 21:37 GMT

    My first sight of a long run up in live action was Michael Holding against England at Adelaide Oval in an ODI in 1979-80. His run up was so long that he appeared to be pushing off the sightscreen but he would be at the crease in no time at all. He reminds me of a speed skater gliding across the ice. Roberts, Garner and Willis played in that game as well. A nice introduction to this strange species. They say that fast bowling is a mug's game. Just as well there is no shortage around the world!

  • on May 9, 2014, 17:42 GMT

    Irfan is present day's Garner

  • stueyh1 on May 9, 2014, 11:36 GMT

    For me, Dennis Lillee running in and delivering the ball was always poetry in motion. Smooth, with a flawless action. I always enjoyed Willis, who one commentator described as a "Manic Ostrich". Going further back, Truman and Miller were both beautiful bowlers. Again, smooth, with the hair flowing, bit of theatre!!!!

  • on May 9, 2014, 9:33 GMT

    The greatest fast bowler run up was always Brett Lee for me. He pounded in .. really sprinted. Put everything in to it. loved watching him.

    Also loved Curtly Ambrose run up. Really intimidating

  • ruester on May 9, 2014, 9:02 GMT

    Two of the best sessions of test cricket I have ever seen was Atherton vs Donald and Malcolm vs all SA batters. Fantastic theatre and wonderful to see fast bowlers giving it everything!

  • LateefLabeeb on May 9, 2014, 6:32 GMT

    Amazing species the FAST BOWLERS of scricket are..when in flow a sight to watch. I grew up watching Imran,marshall, Hadlee, Lillee, Waseem Akram, Waqar, donald,Ambrose etc and I thoroughly enjyed waychig each and everyone. If you ask me whats the best sight in cricket it would be a genuine fast bowler bowling with full throttle nose-up...without any restrictions like one bouncer in an over or defensive approach like yorker can fetch boundary for opponents so don't bowl..captains are defensinve mainly in modern day cricket due to the quality of wickets batsmen friendly and batsmen's frame of mind aggrssive due T20 cricket and their kit like helmet, forearm guard, ribcage guard etc helping them as well so all in all batsmen play more freely and aggrssively against genuine fast bowlers thats why we dont see a real successful fast bowler these days only some exceptions are there likes of Steyn, Asif, Amir, Johnson..otherwise its all the time batsmen and batsmen. That's so sorry to see!

  • on May 8, 2014, 19:05 GMT

    after reading the article remembering the attack of 2000 of pakistan the tow w and rawalpindi express awesome to watch there runup and bowling u donot get these sights nowdays

  • on May 8, 2014, 18:53 GMT

    From the oldies: Harold Larwood, Ray Lindwall, and Wesley Hall - long flowing poetry in motion climaxed with incredible venom

  • on May 9, 2014, 10:45 GMT

    It was sheer poetry in motion, akin to a well-bred race horse in full gallop. He ran in from near the sight-screen at northern end at the Kensington Oval, Barbados. He instilled genuine fear in the terrified English batsmen at the other end, dressed as if to the battlefields of war.

    In a way, it was war. It was also a delight to sit in the comfort of the stands, with a cold beverage in hand, to witness such legendary stuff unfolding in the middle. I am not sure if there will ever be another one quite like him. The year was 1986 and his name was Michael Holding, now a legend in the commentary booth!

  • on May 10, 2014, 8:08 GMT

    lovely article i felt you should have mentioned the Legend Wasim too who evolved his run up from long to short, with shorter run up he was an absolutely perfect magician and treat to watch

  • MrPud on May 9, 2014, 21:37 GMT

    My first sight of a long run up in live action was Michael Holding against England at Adelaide Oval in an ODI in 1979-80. His run up was so long that he appeared to be pushing off the sightscreen but he would be at the crease in no time at all. He reminds me of a speed skater gliding across the ice. Roberts, Garner and Willis played in that game as well. A nice introduction to this strange species. They say that fast bowling is a mug's game. Just as well there is no shortage around the world!

  • on May 9, 2014, 17:42 GMT

    Irfan is present day's Garner

  • stueyh1 on May 9, 2014, 11:36 GMT

    For me, Dennis Lillee running in and delivering the ball was always poetry in motion. Smooth, with a flawless action. I always enjoyed Willis, who one commentator described as a "Manic Ostrich". Going further back, Truman and Miller were both beautiful bowlers. Again, smooth, with the hair flowing, bit of theatre!!!!

  • on May 9, 2014, 9:33 GMT

    The greatest fast bowler run up was always Brett Lee for me. He pounded in .. really sprinted. Put everything in to it. loved watching him.

    Also loved Curtly Ambrose run up. Really intimidating

  • ruester on May 9, 2014, 9:02 GMT

    Two of the best sessions of test cricket I have ever seen was Atherton vs Donald and Malcolm vs all SA batters. Fantastic theatre and wonderful to see fast bowlers giving it everything!

  • LateefLabeeb on May 9, 2014, 6:32 GMT

    Amazing species the FAST BOWLERS of scricket are..when in flow a sight to watch. I grew up watching Imran,marshall, Hadlee, Lillee, Waseem Akram, Waqar, donald,Ambrose etc and I thoroughly enjyed waychig each and everyone. If you ask me whats the best sight in cricket it would be a genuine fast bowler bowling with full throttle nose-up...without any restrictions like one bouncer in an over or defensive approach like yorker can fetch boundary for opponents so don't bowl..captains are defensinve mainly in modern day cricket due to the quality of wickets batsmen friendly and batsmen's frame of mind aggrssive due T20 cricket and their kit like helmet, forearm guard, ribcage guard etc helping them as well so all in all batsmen play more freely and aggrssively against genuine fast bowlers thats why we dont see a real successful fast bowler these days only some exceptions are there likes of Steyn, Asif, Amir, Johnson..otherwise its all the time batsmen and batsmen. That's so sorry to see!

  • on May 8, 2014, 19:05 GMT

    after reading the article remembering the attack of 2000 of pakistan the tow w and rawalpindi express awesome to watch there runup and bowling u donot get these sights nowdays

  • on May 8, 2014, 18:53 GMT

    From the oldies: Harold Larwood, Ray Lindwall, and Wesley Hall - long flowing poetry in motion climaxed with incredible venom

  • on May 8, 2014, 17:04 GMT

    What I would not give to see Shoaib Akhter steaming in from the boundary take that high jump cry out loud ,throw a rocket at the batsmen and then start on his air plane celebration. Alas, those times are now gone. Steyn and Jhonson are no young guns and might not be around in another 5-6 years. Who is there to take their place? Truth is fast bowling is the most physically exerting thing to do in cricket. Theatricality only comes with confidence which is achieved through continuous hard work and training to enable their bodies to bowl 90+mph day in day out for years. You pick any of these legends and ask them how tough their routine was in those early days of cricket. Kids nowadays are not willing to go through that specially when they can hone their batting skills a bit to make some money from 20 20 cricket.Everyone wants it easy. That being said,fact is genuine fast and skillful bowling is the biggest asset to have in test cricket. It alone separates good teams from great ones.

  • Oxonion on May 8, 2014, 17:00 GMT

    Comparing Wasim Akram's economical run up to long run ups of other fast bowlers is just like saying when a suzuki can can you from A to B, why do you need to drive a mercedes?! Long runs, ups when employed by genuine fast bowlers, result in not only high pace, but sustained high pace. That is exactly the reason why some of the fastest bowlers ever such as Jeff Thomoson, Imran Khan, Mike Holding, Alan Donald, Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis, Brett Lee, Pat Patterson all were not only faster than Wasim Akram but also were able to sustain that pace consistently over their careers, while Wasim was never consistently fast. Besides pace and sustainability, long run ups are one of the dying beauties of cricket, just like a Majid Khan or a David Gower are with a bat in their hands. People like Mohsin Kamal might not have made it big in international cricket but ask anyone who saw him bowl and they would pay anything sit in the stands behind from where he was operating! Magic sir, magic...

  • Engle on May 8, 2014, 16:34 GMT

    Bob Willis and others, such as Salim Altaf from Pakistan seemed to be running unecessarily long for no discernable reason. John Snow had an awkward movement of hand to chest before unleashing fury. Lillee had, arguably, the most economical run-up and action, every movement building up into a crescendo before exploding.

  • on May 8, 2014, 12:44 GMT

    Without any doubt Waqar, such smooth and fast long run up and great action................ no match these days.

  • on May 8, 2014, 12:44 GMT

    The Afghan opening bowlers- Shapoor and Dawlat Zadran, have run-ups that rival any of old...

  • Cool_Jeeves on May 8, 2014, 11:31 GMT

    For a magnificent run up, google "Dennis Lillee, Pakistan 1976-77 youtube"

  • kaushikroy47 on May 8, 2014, 10:38 GMT

    I guess the long run up had a lot to do with the psyche of the batsmen. Various thoughts would undergo his mind and there is a possibility of a cloudy mind due to such clustered thoughts which may be detrimental to the batsman playing proper shots. It is more like a build up of stress before the actual ball is delivered; the possibilty of wavering focus is more for the batsman when the bowler takes time to deliver. These days we see spinners stopping and delivering to unsettle the batsmen due to similar reasons. In the 80s I remember Rodney Hogg used to run from the boundary to deliver; I remember him bowling one such spell in fading light at the Eden Gardens and the batsman later on said he could hardly see Hogg while he ran to the wicket!!

  • on May 8, 2014, 9:56 GMT

    I'd like to throw in a couple of honourable mentions for the Levers JK and Peter, Ken Shuttleowrth, JSE Price and does anyone else remember Hugh Wilson, who played for Somerset in the mid-1970s, his run-up was counted at 43 paces, which seemed excessive even at the time.

  • AvmanM on May 8, 2014, 1:17 GMT

    On the other hand, Wasim Akram, even in his late 30s and suffering from diabetes, could bowl 90+ mph off eight or nine strides. Why exert yourself unnecessarily if an economical run-up and good delivery action would suffice?

  • on May 7, 2014, 21:09 GMT

    The 1968-78 New Zealand left arm fast bowler Richard Collinge, had an extremely long run up. It was so long that he was only a few yards beyond the boundary when he began his run up and when he got to his delivery stride it was a quick twirl of arms before his deliveries were unleashed. The other Kiwi Richard - Hadlee, also had a long delivery (though not quite as long as Collinge), which used to begin with a side shuffle before running in. From 1982 he shortened his run up to allow him to prolong his career. At the time it was deemed very controversial, but fortunately as far as his team mates and his country were concerned, it proved to be absolutely the right choice and made him into an even greater bowler.

  • Insightful2013 on May 7, 2014, 19:03 GMT

    The best run up has to be Colin Croft's. I always wondered if he had experienced an incident of drowning, because his run up reminded me of a man desperately clawing water, seeking to save himself from inevitable death! I think Sobers had a beautiful run up. Very Cheetahish. And, can you imagine if Murali was a fast bowler, with his expression on delivery. I'd be terrified!

  • Paul_Somerset on May 7, 2014, 16:29 GMT

    Vanburn Holder of Barbados and Worcestershire had an excellent long-distance cross-country run-up. He bowled the last over of the greatest ever ODI, the 1975 World Cup final at Lord's. You needed radar to pinpoint his location even in good light, but on this occasion it was nearly half past eight and, against the backdrop of the Lord's pavilion, it's doubtful whether Jeff Thomson even knew where Holder was until he finally reached the crease.

  • on May 7, 2014, 14:42 GMT

    Agree about Procter. A very long run in his younger days. But I have schoolboy memories of Frank Tyson as having the longest run-up of them all. Exaggerated by time ? I don't think so !!

  • muzika_tchaikovskogo on May 7, 2014, 13:40 GMT

    Its just part of a cycle. Its just a matter of time before longer run-ups make their appearance again. Remember, it wasn't so long ago that people were talking about the decline/ death of finger spinners.

  • cornered_again on May 7, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    Pakistani's are evry where ..feeling proud

  • DauD_ on May 7, 2014, 13:03 GMT

    Did you not see Shapoor Zadran, Afghanistan fast bowler, during the Asia Cup at WCT20? He has a massive run up.

  • IndianInnerEdge on May 7, 2014, 12:09 GMT

    Amongs the modern greats - surely the rhythmic runup & that leap of Allan Donald was terrific to watch, wasim A with his no jump before delivery action and probably the only guy in my limited knowledge who bowled with his back leg pointing towards mid on at his delivery stride......also Merv hughes had a bit of theatre with his bulldozer runup and that big mo....Malinga is not too bad and xciting to watch....

  • Jonathan_E on May 7, 2014, 11:04 GMT

    And it was said that Wes Hall had possibly the longest run-up of them all

  • brusselslion on May 7, 2014, 10:08 GMT

    Anyone remember John Price (Middlesex & England) from the 60s/70s. Now that was some run up. Satrted off almost facing the crowd before arcing his way up to the crease.

  • nikhilonly123 on May 7, 2014, 9:12 GMT

    This is a beautifully written blog which captures few things we are losing or have already lost in last 10-15 years. However, I'm little surprised seeing the omission of Curtley Ambrose and Allan Donald. Both had different yet equally menacing long run up which would culminate in an explosive delivery. You might want to publish a sequel to this blog!

  • Cool_Jeeves on May 7, 2014, 8:57 GMT

    Bob Willis ran in a clockwise semi circle though he was a right hander. Roberts ran in nearly from the boundary line in the Delhi Test of 1974. Some bowlers of that era with high speeds and short runs were Hadlee, Daniel, Clarke.

    I dont think run ups have shortened all that much as this articles makes them out to be.

    An interesting match was the 1992-93 one day series between West Indies and India. Interesting merely because I saw this match live. In the first innings, West Indies batted. Opening bowler Manoj Prabhakar ran in like Romario, bending, dodging, ducking, 20 steps, leapt deceptively, and bowled outswingers from wide of the crease.

    When India batted, Curtly Ambrose measured out his run. It was longer than Prabhakar's. But just 7 steps, and man, did the ball fly...!

  • EdwinD on May 7, 2014, 7:48 GMT

    Worth finding the footage of the '76 Oval Test, Eng. v W Indies - it was such a dry summer that the bowlers (Holding in particular) runups were engraved in the grass at around 40m!

  • Vic010 on May 7, 2014, 7:05 GMT

    There is one glaring omission from the list here. Although he played mainly for Gloucestershire and Natal. The one & only Mike Procter. His run up was awesome and very long.

  • Vic010 on May 7, 2014, 7:05 GMT

    There is one glaring omission from the list here. Although he played mainly for Gloucestershire and Natal. The one & only Mike Procter. His run up was awesome and very long.

  • EdwinD on May 7, 2014, 7:48 GMT

    Worth finding the footage of the '76 Oval Test, Eng. v W Indies - it was such a dry summer that the bowlers (Holding in particular) runups were engraved in the grass at around 40m!

  • Cool_Jeeves on May 7, 2014, 8:57 GMT

    Bob Willis ran in a clockwise semi circle though he was a right hander. Roberts ran in nearly from the boundary line in the Delhi Test of 1974. Some bowlers of that era with high speeds and short runs were Hadlee, Daniel, Clarke.

    I dont think run ups have shortened all that much as this articles makes them out to be.

    An interesting match was the 1992-93 one day series between West Indies and India. Interesting merely because I saw this match live. In the first innings, West Indies batted. Opening bowler Manoj Prabhakar ran in like Romario, bending, dodging, ducking, 20 steps, leapt deceptively, and bowled outswingers from wide of the crease.

    When India batted, Curtly Ambrose measured out his run. It was longer than Prabhakar's. But just 7 steps, and man, did the ball fly...!

  • nikhilonly123 on May 7, 2014, 9:12 GMT

    This is a beautifully written blog which captures few things we are losing or have already lost in last 10-15 years. However, I'm little surprised seeing the omission of Curtley Ambrose and Allan Donald. Both had different yet equally menacing long run up which would culminate in an explosive delivery. You might want to publish a sequel to this blog!

  • brusselslion on May 7, 2014, 10:08 GMT

    Anyone remember John Price (Middlesex & England) from the 60s/70s. Now that was some run up. Satrted off almost facing the crowd before arcing his way up to the crease.

  • Jonathan_E on May 7, 2014, 11:04 GMT

    And it was said that Wes Hall had possibly the longest run-up of them all

  • IndianInnerEdge on May 7, 2014, 12:09 GMT

    Amongs the modern greats - surely the rhythmic runup & that leap of Allan Donald was terrific to watch, wasim A with his no jump before delivery action and probably the only guy in my limited knowledge who bowled with his back leg pointing towards mid on at his delivery stride......also Merv hughes had a bit of theatre with his bulldozer runup and that big mo....Malinga is not too bad and xciting to watch....

  • DauD_ on May 7, 2014, 13:03 GMT

    Did you not see Shapoor Zadran, Afghanistan fast bowler, during the Asia Cup at WCT20? He has a massive run up.

  • cornered_again on May 7, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    Pakistani's are evry where ..feeling proud

  • muzika_tchaikovskogo on May 7, 2014, 13:40 GMT

    Its just part of a cycle. Its just a matter of time before longer run-ups make their appearance again. Remember, it wasn't so long ago that people were talking about the decline/ death of finger spinners.