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Cricketers reflect on their lives and times

Jeff Thomson

'I didn't bowl your little outswingers'

Thommo says what he thinks - of his mates, his contemporaries, that bastard Bradman, fast bowling and fast bowlers, the establishment, and himself

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi

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'I never said much. I was the quiet assassin' Cricinfo Ltd
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I was a footballer, in all honesty. I used to play football professionally. So I could run all day. And I had a slow heartbeat. Playing soccer.

When they timed me around the 161Ks, that was done at the batting end. These guys today are timed at the bowlers' end. Who's standing two metres in front of a bowler facing the ball? Nobody. They're trying to make them look as quick as us. We were timed further down the pitch, where it slows down. If they had timed me out of the hand, it would have been close to 180Ks.

There were lots of scary bowlers during my time. Probably the scariest ever 20 years of bowling in history.

Chasing pigs was one way of staying fit. I liked it. I could still chase them now. I love hunting, fishing, surfing. Always been an outdoors man - don't like computers and all this garbage.

I happened to break my big toe in the lead-up to my debut Test. I thought, "Aw, it'll just go away". I wasn't worried. Went away and didn't play the rest of the season. The doc said, "Come back next summer." Unfortunately, the New South Wales selectors didn't put me in the side, so that made me angry. I was destroying people in grade cricket. It was ridiculous. I finally got a game against Greg Chappell and the Queensland guys and bowled them all out. Then NSW thought, "Oh yeah, he's back again". But I went to Queensland because I was really browned off at NSW.

Intimidation was a key factor in the way I bowled.

Cricket was something we always did. My dad was a good cricketer, but didn't have the opportunity that we had. He had to work a lot. Things changed by my time, and I was lucky that I had his ability. I bowled like my dad, my boys bowl like me. I didn't teach them; it was given.

With that action, you can bowl really quick off a couple of steps. You play in the backyard - obviously you don't have the same area as that of a cricket ground, so off a shorter run-up you develop pace.

I signed with [Kerry] Packer initially as one of the originals, but I was contracted in Queensland by a radio station. I had a 10-year contract with them, which was worth a lot more than the Packer deal. They didn't want me to go because I was going to be vice-captain of Australia. I only wanted to go because I wanted to play with my mates, the Lillees, the Chappells. I stayed with the establishment for one year. And when I got the opportunity, I got released, but they still wouldn't allow me to play World Series Cricket in Australia. I only played in the West Indies.

I knew what I could do. That's not being big-headed.

Towards the end of my career, around 1981, I got chipped around a lot by the board. I was the bad boy, so I was picked as a last resort, even if I picked up the most wickets.

Apart from that injury in the first Test, the broken foot, I wouldn't have had an injury in a cricket match - no hamstrings, no backs, no nothing - the whole deal. No injuries. So what does that tell you about my action? It's got to have had something right about it. And I bowled the quickest.

Greg Chappell was unbelievable - he was the best bloke I played with or against in my time. He was very correct, very upright, very strong on the on side, just very hard to get through - didn't give you many chances and could score quickly. Freddo (Roy Fredericks) was the best at having a little bit of time to play against me.

I could bowl a bouncer much fuller than everybody else because I could get it to sort of jump like a cobra. It was a bit of a blessing. It was the style I was given.

I always say what I think - whether that's good or bad, I don't know. Never die wondering.

 
 
I don't really believe in bowling coaches. They create all these jobs and then you've all these parasites hanging around. I'm not saying all of them are parasites, but there's a lot of bullshitters around
 

The people in authority are bloody people that sit on a board for a free ticket to a match, not for the good of cricket. The ICC are a waste of space. Have they ever gone through with anything they've said? They always pass the buck.

Ian Chappell was the best captain. He was just a good bloke: accepted you as you were, knew how to manipulate you to get the best out of you. He was good at getting the lesser players to perform above themselves without yelling and screaming. He's a good judge of character. Led from the front. Went out there and took all the bullets himself.

There don't seem to be any pace bowlers now. Brett Lee and Akhtar are sharp, but they are timed differently. Tait's sharp, but he seems to have lot of injuries, even if he is a big, strong young bloke. I don't know why there were so many good fast bowlers in the 1970s and so few now.

Without Dennis it would've made me work twice as hard. And it would be same for him.

I never said much. I was the quiet assassin. If you mouth off, you're losing the plot, you're not concentrating on what you are supposed to do.

Don't go out with him in the night time: that's what I learned from Dennis Lillee. I'm just joking. His determination would stand out and he was aggressive, always full-on. He would never laugh off anything.

Malcolm Marshall was the best bowler. He was not huge, released the ball late, bowled sharp, was up there, bowled pretty quick. He just got wickets everywhere, on pitches where we never did.

One of my stupid statements when I was young was: "Never turn down a request from a kid for an autograph - he might have a good-looking sister."

I didn't come in and bowl your little outswingers and all that. I came in and let you know, "Hey, this is my turf. Get out."

When I turned back from my mark, what was on my mind? The ball I was going to bowl next. Actually, when I bowled the previous ball, straightaway I knew what I would bowl next. You look at their feet, you look at their grip and you work them out.

On a rest day during the Indian tour in 1977-78, Don Bradman was around in the nets. I was bowling only legspin to him, but he had a couple of young blokes trying to get him out. With no pads, no nothing ... for a 68-year-old, he belted the hell out of them on a turf wicket. And he hadn't batted for 20 years. I went back in and said, "Why isn't this bastard playing with us tomorrow?" That's how good I thought he was.



With Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee ('Without him, I'd have had to work twice as hard'), and Greg Chappell ('The best bloke I played with or against') © Getty Images
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Once Greg Chappell said to me, "I don't want to bat against you anymore." I said, "That's all right, mate, I don't want to bowl against you." He was the best man at my wedding.

It wasn't satisfying to get my 200th wicket on my last Ashes trip (1985). I got hit by Botham and I couldn't bowl properly. I struggled through that Test through the sheer fact that AB (Allan Border) had picked me and I wanted to do the job for the boys. So it didn't mean anything to get the 200th wicket - it was just another wicket.

I started with an injury and ended with an injury.

I don't want to talk about the MCG Test of the 1982 Ashes. I lost. I should've got those extra-cover runs and I didn't. The Michael Kasprowicz wicket in the 2005 Ashes (Old Trafford) was déjà vu. I said to my kids, "Ah, they are gonna win this." I should've shut my mouth.

I don't really believe in bowling coaches. They create all these jobs and then you've all these parasites hanging around. I'm not saying all of them are parasites, but there's a lot of bullshitters around. If I was a young bloke wanting to know about fast bowling, I would ask somebody who's been there and done it.

I'm a bit of a joker.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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